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From Starwood: Cash in Hotel Points for Airline Flights

Starwood's Preferred Guest (SPG) program has always boasted two notable benefits: their "No blackout dates for award stays" policy, and the ability to exchange Starwood points for miles in the loyalty programs of many airlines. Taken together, they afford Starwood points a degree of flexibility and range unmatched by most other hotel programs.

Today, Starwood introduced what it hopes will be a third compelling benefit to the award side of its program.

SPG Flights is a new program feature that allows members to redeem their points "to fly on hundreds of airlines, with no blackout dates. With SPG Flights, you avoid the standard restrictions that limit most frequent-flyer awards because you can redeem Starpoints for airline tickets whenever you choose, even during peak periods such as holidays."

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In practice, to use points for flights, program members use the SPG Flights widget to find a flight that meets their needs. The booking application is clean and easy to use. Enter an itinerary and the booking application displays available flights and the number of points required for each. Choose the desired flights, the reservation is made, and the points deducted.

The question then becomes one of value. Starwood's award chart is fully transparent, beginning with 15,000 points required for tickets costing between $150 and $215. So points are worth between 1.0 and 1.5 cents each.

Note that because these are paid tickets, they are not subject to the restrictions and capacity controls that encumber airline award tickets. They also earn mileage credit. And more important for many, a coach award can be upgraded to first class using miles.

Still, in many if not most cases, SPG members can squeeze more value from their points by redeeming them for free hotel stays, or even exchanging them for airline miles which can then be cashed in for free flights. Of course, in the latter scenario, availability restrictions abound.

Given the somewhat lackluster value of points when used for flights, this is not a game-changer. But for Starwood Preferred Guest members who have significant caches of unused points, or for travelers who earn many points in competing hotel programs, it's a decent enhancement to a solid program. And given the current direction of airline programs—more fees and higher award levels—any change for the better is to be welcomed.

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