Starwood Serves Up Free Air Travel

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide is putting the redemption back in frequent flyer miles.

The hotelier today (Sept. 2) launched “SPG Flights.” This new program enables members of the Starwood Preferred Guest program to use their hotel points for purchasing air travel. Perks include no blackout dates or redemption restrictions.

Starwood, based in White Plains, N.Y., joins Wyndham Hotels and Resort Worldwide, and Hilton as the latest chain to allow loyalty program participants to convert points to miles.

To introduce this new reward its 10 million active SPG members, the chain will use direct marketing. New member recruitment will rely on the use of bloggers, and banner ads with messages like “Taking redemption to a higher level. Much higher.”

SPG Flights simply converts Star Points into a ticket price that includes tax and fees. For example 10,000 points rolls into $150 for air fare; 30,000 points will get members air fare ranging between $345 and $410. Members can book flights with domestic and international carriers through  If SPG members find an available seat, they can buy it with points unlike airline miles which only can be applied to seats that the carriers has designated available for redemption.

“We focus a lot on the stay in the hotel experience, but what I like about [SPG Flights] is we’re extending the boundary beyond that stay in our property by addressing a pain point that our members have with not being able to use their frequent flyer miles,” said Mark Vondrasek, svp-interactive marketing and loyalty program.

Flyers have long grumbled about not being able to redeem miles with airlines, particularly during the summer and holidays. Adding to that frustration is airlines are desperately seeking ancillary revenue to offset the rising cost of jet fuel. American Airlines, starting Oct. 1, will charge frequent flyers $50 for upgrades on domestic routes. Delta Air Lines is slapping a $25 fee onto frequent flyer redemptions; United raised its threshold of miles needed to earn travel and added online booking fees, and US Airways stopped giving bonus miles to its elite frequent flyers club members while adding a $50 fee to redemption bookings.

Vondrasek doesn’t see SPG Flights as a competitor with airline loyalty program because it is, after all, helping carriers sell seats.  “The genesis of this program was to help our members by filling a need. It remains to be seen how much of a shift there will be from miles programs to other loyalty programs.”