How To Maximize Starpoints For Free Night Redemptions

In the interest of full disclosure, One Mile At A Time earns a referral bonus for anyone that’s approved through some of the below links. These are the best publicly available offers that we have found for each card. Please check out our advertiser policy for further details about the partners we work with. Thanks for your support!

Links: Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express

Starpoints are so valuable thanks to how versatile they are, including the ability to convert them into airline miles, redeem them for Nights & Flights packages, and redeem them for free night hotel stays. While we’ve talked about several types of ways to redeem Starpoints, I figured I’d talk about the most popular redemption of Starpoints in a bit more detail — how do you maximize Starpoints for free night redemptions?

If you’re exclusively looking to redeem Starpoints for hotel stays, you have three main options:

  • Free Night redemptions — redeem Starpoints without blackout dates for a standard room at any Starwood hotel
  • Fifth Night Free redemptions — when you redeem Starpoints for Free Night awards, you receive your fifth night free; that means on a five night stay you only have to redeem Starpoints for the cost of four nights
  • Cash & Points redemptions — through this redemption option you can redeem part cash and part points for a hotel stay; this redemption is capacity controlled, meaning not all hotels will always have availability

To start, here’s a chart showing the redemption costs for the above three types of redemptions:

CategoryWeekday Free NightWeekend Free NightFifth Night FreeCash & Points
13,0002,000n/a1,500 + $30
24,0003,000n/a2,000 + $35
37,0007,00028,0003,500 + $55
410,00010,00040,0005,000 + $75
512,000 - 16,00012,000 - 16,00048,000 - 64,0006,000 + $110
620,000 - 25,00020,000 - 25,00080,000 - 100,00010,000 + $180
730,000 - 35,00030,000 - 35,000120,000 - 140,00015,000 + $275

With that in mind, let’s talk about these redemption options in more detail:

Using Starpoints for Free Night redemptions

The number of Starpoints required for a free night varies based on the category a hotel is in. Categories are typically determined by a combination of the average daily rate at a hotel, along with the average occupancy. The cheaper the hotel and the less full it is on average, the lower the hotel’s category will likely be.

For Category 1 & 2 properties, the redemption rates are different on weekdays and weeknights, as you get a discount of 1,000 Starpoints per night on weekends. That means you can stay at hotels for as little as 2,000 Starpoints per night.

SPG-Category-1

For Category 5-7 properties, the redemption rates vary seasonally. In other words, redeeming at a resort in a ski town will cost you more in winter than in summer.

My personal valuation of Starpoints is ~2.2 cents per point, so I decide whether to redeem points based on the revenue rate at a hotel.

If I’m going to redeem points, I assign roughly the following values to these redemptions:

CategoryFree Night CostValue Of Points
12,000-3,000$44-66
23,000-4,000$66-88
37,000$154
410,000$220
512,000 - 16,000$264-352
620,000 - 25,000$440-550
730,000 - 35,000$660-770

As you can see, redemptions at Starwood’s top properties are actually really expensive. Redeeming at a Category 7 property costs you 30,000-35,000 Starpoints per night, and those are points I value at $660-770.

In general the sweet spot for Starwood redemptions is more with mid-range hotels, especially in categories 2-5.

To give a few examples…

The Sheraton Dubrovnik is a Category 2 property, and rates can be 150EUR+ per night:

Sheraton-Dubrovnik

The St. Regis Mumbai is a Category 3 property, and rates can be $220+ per night:

St-Regis-Mumbai

The Walt Disney World Dolphin is a Category 4 property, and over school holidays rates can be $300+ per night:

Disney-Swan

The Westin Dublin is a Category 4 property, and in summer rates can be ~400EUR per night:

West-Dublin

These all represent fantastic values, though of course I could find dates for the same hotels where redeeming points wouldn’t be a good value. The key to redeeming Starpoints efficiently is to know what you value the points at and to always crunch the numbers on your redemptions.

Hotel stays aren’t always a good use of Starpoints, and the reason for that is because of how efficiently they can be converted into airline miles. When there’s a direct opportunity cost of a certain number of airline miles, it can be tough to justify redeeming points in many cases.

One last thing I’d note is that in many cases quoted rates don’t include taxes, so be sure you compare the cost including all taxes and fees to the number of points required. Since the rate for a free night redemption is “free,” you don’t typically owe any taxes on those stays. This can be especially important in markets where taxes and service charges can be 20%+ of the daily rate.

For example, at the Sheraton Grand Dubai you’d want to compare the points rate not to 599AED, but rather to 739AED, which factors in the 10% taxes and 10% service charge (which you don’t pay when redeeming Starpoints). Also keep in mind that’s for the pre-paid rate, which is much more restrictive than a points redemption. The more direct comparison would be with the flexible rate, which has similar terms.

Sheraton-Grand-Dubai

Using Starpoints for Fifth Night Free redemptions

Redeeming Starponts for Fifth Night Free redemptions is a way to stretch your points even further. The numbers work out the same as above, except you come out 20% ahead.

The one thing to note is that Fifth Night Free redemptions aren’t valid at Category 1-2 properties.

In the past I’ve used Fifth Night Free for stays at some high end hotels, as a way of making me feel better about redeeming so many points.

For example, a couple of years ago I took my parents to the St. Regis Bal Harbour for Christmas. While redeeming 35,000 Starpoints per night was painful, I felt slightly better when a Fifth Night Free redemption meant my real out of pocket was 28,000 Starpoints per night.

St-Regis-Bal-Harbour-1
View from our balcony at the St. Regis Bal Harbour

That’s still a ton, though also better than the paid rates at this hotel.

St-Regis-Bal-Harbour

Sometimes we redeem points irrationally, for experiences we’re excited about rather than just strictly crunching numbers. And sometimes that’s okay (in my opinion).

Using Starpoints for Cash & Points redemptions

Cash & Points redemptions are capacity controlled, and hotels will typically only make these rates available if they know the hotel won’t be full. When available, they can represent a great value. Why? Let’s look at Category 4 hotels, as an example.

A free night redemption would cost 10,000 Starpoints, while a Cash & Points rate would cost 5,000 Starpoints plus $75. That means you’re paying $75 in order to save 5,000 Starpoints, which is like paying just ~1.5 cents per Starpoint. That’s an excellent value.

The one thing I’d note is that the $75 is still subject to taxes and service charges, so when crunching the numbers be sure you’re looking at the all-in cost. For example, the W Bali recently became a Category 7 property (which is completely ridiculous), and now has Cash & Points availability almost every day.

Yet when you look at the rates, it almost always represents a terrible value. The flexible rate at this hotel is $310, while Cash & Points costs 15,000 Starpoints plus $275. Anyone who redeems 15,000 Starpoints for $35 is insane.

W-Bali

So I’ll almost always choose a Cash & Points booking over a Free Night booking if available, though it always still makes sense to look at paid rates, as those can still represent a better value.

For hotels where it’s tough to find Cash & Points availability, it’s worth noting that you can use the calendar function on spg.com to easily search months of availability at a time.

SPG-Cash-Points

Bottom line

Starpoints are immensely valuable thanks to how versatile they are. They’re one of the few hotel points currencies which can efficiently be converted into airline miles, which means there’s a pretty direct opportunity cost to redeeming them.

I tend to think the sweet spot with redeeming Starpoints is for mid-range hotels when they’d otherwise cost the most on paid rates. So it’s not just about which hotel you’re redeeming at, but also about what time of year you’re redeeming. And I think most people can figure out when they’d get the best values by using their intuition — Dublin is going to be a better value on points in summer than in winter. Aspen is going to be a better value on points in winter than in summer.

Make sure you’re always crunching the numbers when redeeming Starpoints. When comparing a Free Night redemption to a paid stay, factor in the taxes and service charges which you might have to pay on a revenue stay, but also factor in the points you’re forgoing by booking an award stay.

Using the above tips, hopefully everyone is getting at least ~2.2 cents of value per Starpoint for their redemption… hopefully even much better than that! And hopefully those are points you’ve picked up with the SPG Personal Amex and SPG Business Amex.

What’s your favorite use of Starpoints when redeeming for hotels?

Regarding Comments: The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Comments

  1. Lucky,
    Very helpful summary.
    Clarifying: Isn’t the Westin Dublin Category 5, SPG Free Nights for 12,000 Starpoints?
    Thanks.

  2. Ben, this article reminded me of something that I read about last year on one of the other blogs about “lesser known SPG hotel redemptions”…I tried to find it, but I think the blogger was referring to when it says “contact us to redeem your Starpoints” when searching for a availability…??? Does that sound right…??? Maybe you could do a follow-up article on that…Sorry for the vague response here, I just can’t remember the details, and now I can’t find the original post…

  3. “I value Starpoints at ~2.2 cents each, meaning 35,000 Starpoints are worth $770 to me.”

    They will be worth about that much when redeemed (assuming no devaluation before then), but for now their monetary value is whatever you need to cough up to earn them… 😉

  4. Tks for this helpful overview. I guess you also need to take into consideration the budget you have for a trip. For example, even if redeeming points is not the best alternative (meaning you are not getting the maximum value for your points) that might be the only option you have. I just booked a summer vacation for my family of 4 in Europe. As you know it is very difficult to get 4 people (2 adults and 2 kids) on the same room in European hotels. Thus, I had to book 2 rooms in every city (suites we not a great option). Thus, if I am spending EUR500 per night for one room I don’t really care if 35,000 points for the other room is not a good redemption. I just cannot spend EUR1,000 per night for my family to stay in a hotel. Thus, based on my budget, that redemption makes sense.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *