Sunday Reader Question: Deciding Between Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and Starwood American Express

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TPG reader Mark is in a situation where he needs to decide which card is best for his upcoming increase in travel:

“I am trying to decide between getting the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and the Starwood Amex.  I am going to start traveling and entertaining a lot for work so the idea of the 2x travel and dining on the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is great (I would book through Ultimate Rewards).  I will be going to Detroit and trying to stay at an SPG property when I am there, though, and  I fly American.  I can’t decide if the bonus categories outweighs the exchange of the SPG points. Can you help a junior points guy out?”

Both are great cards and points programs and I personally carry them in my wallets to boost my Ultimate Rewards and Starwood accounts.

However, if I had to only choose one, I’d choose the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card for the following reasons:

1. Better point earning: You get the 7% dividend on top of the bonus miles, so it’s essentially 2.14 base on all travel (which beyond airfare, hotel and car rentals includes mass transportation like subways and trains, taxis and even parking so it’s a base 2.14x. Plus, the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal allows you to book travel through sites like Hotwire for an additional 2 points per dollar – 4.28 Ultimate Rewards points for booking airfare far outweighs 1 Starwood point plus any portal bonuses (you need to have a Chase card to get the Ultimate Rewards points and should use a Chase card for the purchases, but some people have had luck using other cards).

2. Another key consideration is that the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card doesn’t have foreign transaction fees, so if you plan to travel abroad at all, you won’t want to use the Starwood American Express, which charges a crazy 2.7% fee on every dollar charged in a foreign currency vs. 0% on the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. Even when I stay at Starwood hotels abroad, I use the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card to avoid that fee, though I do use the Starwood Amex to pay for Starwood hotels in the US.

3. The final kicker is that Chase points transfer instantly to the transfer partners 1:1 to partners United, British Airways, Southwest, Korean, Hyatt, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton and Amtrak. They also transfer to Priority Club, but it takes about 2 days and I wouldn’t recommend transferring to them because you’ll get more value leveraging partners like United and Hyatt.

4. Starwood transfers can take  up to a month (though usually a week or less), which can be a dealbreaker when trying to book airfare. Starwood does have more airline parters, but they only transfer to United at a 2:1 ratio and I personally find United miles to be the most valuable currency.

I carry both the personal and business versions of the Starwood Amex.
I carry both the personal and business versions of the Starwood Amex.

Don’t get me wrong, the Starwood Amex is great – I actually have both the personal and business versions, which each give me 5 nights/2 stays towards elite status every year. It is nice having 10 stays on January 1 – only 40 more to retain Platinum and 90 more for Ambassador! Starwood points are also extremely valuable because Starwood has great redemptions like Cash & Points (though they are jacking up the cost of those awards in March) and for every 20,000 points you transfer to an airline partner, you get a 5,000 mile bonus – a nice built-in 25% transfer bonus.

However, I think the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is a better all-around card for travelers, though that might change if the Starwood Amex drops the foreign transaction fee, speeds up partner transfers and adds in some more category spending bonuses!

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