Homework Due: Alaska-Virgin-Starwood-Marriott

Time to finish your exam papers and turn them in: Starwood transfers to Virgin American end January 6, 2017.

Alaska Virgin AmericaThe offer is:

  • Marriott points convert 3:1 to Starwood
  • Starwood points convert 1:1 to Virgin America
  • Converting Starwood points to airlines, for every 20,00-point block you get a 5,000-mile bonus*
  • Virgin America points will convert to Alaska at 1:1.3
  • Voila! You get a 62.% bonus going this route instead of directly transferring Starwood to Alaska
  • This all goes away after 1/6/17

*Daily limit is 99,999 miles so an 80,000 Starwood points -> 100,000 airline miles transfer will fail; instead, don’t send more than 60,000 Starwood points in a day

A No Brainer, Right?

Not so fast. This assumes giving up a lot of flexibility for an airline program that is currently pretty good is a good deal for you.

We don’t know the fate of Starwood airline transfers, or even what the combined Marriott-Starwood program will look like. So far, like this news, changes been communicated in advance. It is reasonable to think changes will continue to be communicated in advance. It is not reasonable to assume all changes will be positive for you.

Things to weigh:

  1. What do you use Marriott points for?
  2. What are your opportunities/cost to earn Marriott points?
  3. What do you use Starwood points for?
  4. What are your opportunities/cost to earn Starwood points?
  5. Are there other airlines you may have use for Starwood airline transfers (however long they last)?
  6. Is Alaska Mileage Plan a good program for you?
  7. What are your opportunities/cost to earn Alaska miles?

Here’s is my thinking for my situation, based in New York, prioritizing international economy air travel:

  1. Marriott is for 7,500 points/nights in small town America visiting family and need a convenient bed to sleep. Marriott Reward Travel Packages/SPG Nights & Flights have interested me though I have no current need for long hotel stays and never pulled the trigger, even with the recent United transfer bonus.
  2. No longer a corporate traveler and the current Chase credit cards having such poor earning, I earn minimal Marriott points
  3. SPG is for occasional Cash & Points rates when there are few other options. This year that was one case: in Gabon. Otherwise, I save them for air transfers and hesitate to do them because I keep telling myself SPG points are supposed to be so valuable.
  4. Like Marriott, I have few paid stays. I do not have a SPG credit card and do not MS at a rate to justify one.
  5. I like the idea of flexibility, though for my travels I find so many of the frequent flyer programs disappointing compared to my core of Delta and United. JAL is an example of a program with some great values and no other major US transfer partners; the only time I transferred to JAL, the transfer took over a week and by then my wife had changed our plans and the points languish there to today.
  6. Alaska Mileage Plan seems like it should be good for me.
    • Alaska has generous routing rules hampered by limited allowable routes for each partner.
    • Limiting to one partner on an award means from NY that I have to overcome scarce Alaska Airlines availability to Seattle, and when it is available, it often means an extra hop down to SFO or LAX to pick up my international flight.
    • My primary target has been Fiji Airways: when I have needed Fiji Airways awards either they haven’t been available or American Airlines has been as good an option.
    • Delta is going away May 2017, further reducing non-West Coast domestic utility.
    • British Airways already covers me for what little American Airlines availability exists in the US.
    • With Emirate awards now prohibitively expensive, few of the partners stand out, and fewer still are irreplaceable with other programs.
  7. I am hopeful it continues to be possible to earn Alaska Miles as I always have: 30,000 at a time from Bank of America.

My conclusion: going through this exercise for myself, Alaska came out worse than I thought. I will not transfer any miles in this closing window.

Your conclusion: try it out and let me know what you come up with.

Two types of travelers immediately come to mind as benefiting a lot from beefing up Alaska balances:

  1. US West Coast-based flyers with lots of regional travel.
  2. Asia-bound travelers wanting to redeem for premium cabin on Cathay Pacific (that legendary US-Hong Kong-Johannesburg award) and now, also JAL.

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  • Agree about JAL miles being incredibly valuable and hard-to-get currency. I’ve been really torn with the SPG options of the late: Cathay, Alaska with 62% bonus, or JAL, because there are no other ways to get JMB miles.

  • calwatch

    I think SPG has more value used as hotel points than Alaska, especially since low end redemptions can be satisfied by getting an Alaska Airlines credit card. I did the math, with my current SPG point sale bonus of 2.45 cents (30% off), basically 1.51 cents a mile for Alaska which is a big meh. I only have 27,000 Starpoints and, like you Stefan, can easily find Fairfield Inns that beat 0.8 cents per point value in suburban areas and around national parks.

    For intra-west coast travel Southwest points are much more flexible than Alaska points (due to their refundability) and are cheaper based on availability (for instance, one of their featured 7500 point pairs, LAX-Portland, has regular availability in the 4000-5000 point range, even on Fridays and Sundays). Alaska has more nonstops from the alternate Los Angeles airports to the Pacific Northwest than Southwest and elites get business class, but I’ll take the flexibility even if I might have to pay slightly more in points.

  • Aleks

    Delta link is broken.

  • Fixed, thanks.