Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Hotel Loyalty Program Airline Transfer Partners

One of the things to consider when deciding which hotel loyalty program to go and build a stash of points with is the ability to use their points.  Of course, free night redemptions is likely the key aspect of the program that should be used to decide but assuming you're one of those people who don't stay at hotels too frequently or don't have enough hotel points to redeem for free nights, transferring to or topping off air mile balances might be a strong secondary consideration to take into account.

To help determine which program has the best transfer ratio to partners, we'll make use of the Universal Hotel Point (UHP) to help evaluate the value of the transfer programs.  The UHP conversion below is based on regular spending on the best hotel associated credit card for each program where 1 UHP is earned after spending $1.

1 UHP = 4.5 HH (Hilton HHonors)
1 UHP = 1 SPG (Starwood Preferred Guest) 
1 UHP = 1.4 HGP (Hyatt Gold Passport)
1 UHP = 1.4 MR (Marriott Rewards)

Starwood, by far, offers the strongest transfer program to about 30+ airline partners at an excellent rate of 1:1 for most programs.  In addition, if you transfer 20,000 points to a program, SPG offers a bonus 5,000 points so that 20,000 SPG points can get you 25,000 airline miles, enough for one domestic US award.  Although I do value Starwood Points more than airline miles, this transfer ratio seems pretty fair and definitely worth considering if you're looking to top up some points.  Using the UHP system, 1 SPG = 1 UHP = 1.25 air miles in the best case.  This equates to 1 air mile costing just 0.8 UHP, a pretty good deal.  Particularly considering all those airline credit cards that gives just 1 air mile per $1.  Here, $1 spending gives us 1 SPG which can translate to 1.25 airline miles (which incidentally is the same rate you get with the Chase British Airways Visa card)!

Hyatt offers transfers to about 30+ airline partners and while the rates are not as poor as the Marriott transfer ratios, at 2 HGP = 1 air mile, I would be pretty hesitant about moving valuable Hyatt Gold Passport points at such a questionable transfer ratio to airline loyalty programs.  Especially if we do UHP conversions, 2 HGP = 1.43 UHP = 1 air miles, so that means 1 air mile costs 1.43 UHP, almost double the 0.8 UHP cost required for the SPG program!

Hilton offers transfers to about 30+ airline partners but the rates for these transfers are quite substandard compared to Starwood.  Generally (I haven't checked every single airline but on pretty standard programs like BA Avios, Air Canada Aeroplan, US Airways etc), the best ratios I've found are a very weak 10 HH = 1 air mile.  Given that 4.5 HH = 1 UHP, 10 HH = 2.22 UHP = 1 air mile.  At this rate, 1 air mile costs 2.22 UHP which is almost 3 times the 0.8 UHP cost of what it would take to transfer Starwood points!!  An awful deal no matter how you slice it.

Marriott offers transfers to about 30+ airline partners as well but the rates are generally substandard.  Generally, the best transfer ratio is 2.5 MR = 1 air mile in your airline of choice down to a very weak 6.7 MR = 1 air mile depending on how many points you choose to transfer at any one time.  Marriott also offers transfers to car rental, rail, cruise and other partners but the point value of these transfers is even less appealing than the airline transfers.  Again applying our UHP math, 2.5 MR = 1.8 UHP = 1 air mile so 1 air mile costs 1.8 UHP, again worse than the Starwood transfer and Hyatt transfers.

So what does this mean?  In general, its not a great idea to transfer over hotel points to airline partners, especially if you own points in the Hyatt, Hilton or Marriott programs.  If you have too many Starwood points than you can spend, you could consider donating some to me =) or transfer them over to some good airline partners such as US Airways or British Airways etc. to top off mileage balances.  By far, Starwood offers the most lucrative airline transfer partner program which could be a factor if you are deciding whether to get the Starwood American Express credit card or the Hilton card.

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