How To Use Starwood Starpoints For Low-Mileage Premium Cabin Travel

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I’ve been a fan of Starwood’s Starpoints for quite a few years and while the currency’s lustre appears to have faded a bit in the miles and points world I still collect Starpoints on a regular basis.

As I don’t really visit many SPG properties my primary channel for earning Starpoints are my Amex/Starwood co-branded cards and my primary use for them is usually as a conversion to an airline’s loyalty program (they convert at a 1:1 ratio into a surprising number of airline programs) – it’s just one such conversion I’m going to write about today.

A TFM reader, Spencer, reminded me of this conversion option last week in the comments section of my post about Cathay Pacific’s new routes between Hong Kong and Europe and I thought it was worth discussing it in greater detail.

Converting Starpoints To JAL Mileage Bank

Things to know:

  • JAL (Japan Airlines) is in the oneworld alliance so its loyalty currency can be used to book flights on a variety of worldwide airlines.
  • JAL Mileage Bank is a distance based rewards program which means that the number of miles needed for an award is based on the distance you plan to travel.
  • Collecting JAL Mileage Bank miles for those of us in the US and Europe is hard because there aren’t any major credit cards available to us that earn JAL Miles in any serious numbers and JAL isn’t a transfer partner of any of the major banks – that makes Starpoints one of the only options open to us.

Here’s the JAL award chart, for travel on partner airlines, which is key to most things that follow:

JAL is changing the cost of its awards from 1 October 2017 so, for simplicity’s sake, I’m just going to focus on the new award costs (the red columns).

I’ve picked out a few city pairs and, using the Great Circle Mapper tool, I’ve noted down the distances involved for roundtrip travel and used the chart above to work out how many JAL miles would be needed.

Note: JAL’s chart refers to the total distance of a roundtrip booking.

USA – ASIA

  • Vancouver – Hong Kong – 12,785 miles = 85,000 miles Business Class/135,000 miles First Class
  • San Francisco – Hong Kong – 13,853 = 85,000 miles Business Class/135,000 miles First Class
  • Los Angeles – Hong Kong – 14,520 miles = 100,000 miles Business Class/155,000 miles First Class

Cathay Pacific First Class

When you see that you can book Cathay Pacific transpacific First Class for just 135,000 miles (Cathay Pacific First Class reviewed here) or Business Class for just 85,000 miles you know you’re on to a winner….but it gets better!

Because Starwood will give you a 25% bonus for every 20,000 miles you transfer over to JAL you need fewer Starpoints than it may first appear to book these awards.

A 85,000 mile Business Class award would cost 70,000 Starpoints while a 135,000 mile First Class award will cost 110,000 Starpoints.

Compare those award costs to how much it would cost if you were paying with AAdvantage Miles (120,000 miles Business Class/220,000 miles First Class) and you can see how much you can save.

Even if you’re using Alaska Mileage Plan miles you can’t beat JAL’s value in Business Class (Milage Plan charges 110,000 miles for a roundtrip Business Class award)….although things are even for First Class awards in this case.

USA – EUROPE

  • New York JFK – London – 6,903 miles = 63,000 miles Business Class/100,000 miles First Class
  • Dallas – Paris – 9,895 miles = 65,000 miles Business Class/105,000 miles First Class
  • Los Angeles – London – 10,911 miles = 80,000 miles Business Class/115,000 miles First Class

In terms of Starpoints you’d need just 53,000 for a Business Class return award between New York and London and just 80,000 Starpoints if you’d like to try out First Class. The best deal would probably be First Class from Los Angeles to London for just 95,000 Starpoints.

British Airways A380 First Class

Here you would be looking to book SAAver awards on American Airlines (an airline on which, admittedly, it’s nearly impossible to find premium cabin SAAver Awards) or British Airways so neither is going to blow you away (BA A380 First Class reviewed here)…but the low number of miles needed for the awards is still fantastic.

EUROPE – ASIA/MIDDLE EAST

  • Paris – Doha – 6,182 miles = 63,000 miles Business Class/100,000 miles First Class
  • Brussels – Hong Kong – 11,660 miles = 80,000 miles Business Class/115,000 miles First Class
  • London – Singapore – 13,529 miles = 85,000 miles Business Class/135,000 miles First Class

The Paris – Doha route looks incredible value when you consider you could be flying in Qatar Airways A380 First Class or, as it will soon be operating the route, in Qatar Airways QSuites (Business Class).

80,000 Starpoints (which will convert to 100,000 JAL Miles) for a roundtrip First Class award in one of the better First Class cabins around can be a great redemption.

Qatar Airways A380 First Class

Even London – Singapore looks good when you consider that it will set you back 85,000 JAL Miles (70,000 Starpoints) for a roundtrip Business Class award when BA will charge you 175,000 Avios for the same flight!

Caveats

Where there’s good news there’s often bad news too and this time things are no different.

Firstly it’s important to note that JAL will add fuel surcharges to awards so that’s an extra cost to take into account (both when pricing things up and when comparing to other award options) and, secondly, it’s important to face up to the fact that good oneworld awards are getting harder and harder to find….so don’t expect to be booking Qatar First Class awards whenever you feel like it – you’ll have to be flexible.

Bottom Line

Starpoints are probably the hardest of the major currencies to collect but if you keep collecting them there can be some great fight redemptions to be had if you look around…especially if you use JAL Mileage Bank. The examples I gave above are really only the tip of the iceberg…when you add in the fact that JAL Miles can also be used on airlines like Emirates the options just seem to multiply.

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