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In light of the current 35,000-point sign-up bonus offers on the Starwood Amex and its business version, TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Nick Ewen takes a look at how much value you can get from the SPG Amex cards and their respective benefits.
As you’re hopefully aware, American Express recently announced its highest-ever sign-up bonuses on two very popular travel rewards credit cards: the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express and the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express. While earning a 35,000-point bonus is incredibly appealing, the cards also carry some added benefits that can make them quite valuable even beyond the first year when the annual fee comes due. Today I’ll go through each of the key benefits to peg a value on each of them.
As with any of these analysis posts, it’s important to note that this is just one way to help decide whether or not one of these cards is worth carrying once the annual fee hits. Everyone has their own factors when it comes to a decision like this. If you don’t travel internationally at all, it may not matter to you that the cards waive foreign transaction fees. If you frequently pay for four-night hotel stays, you may find that the Citi Prestige Card and its 4th Night Free benefit offers a better value proposition at SPG properties than the bonus points you’d get. As always, feel free to adjust my numbers and assumptions to fit with your unique situations.
In addition, I am once again making some assumptions as I craft this post:
- I’m ignoring the sign-up bonus. Even though this perk is probably leading many of you to apply before March 30, this post is about holding the card long-term. It can also apply to those who have held either card in the past, since Amex started restricting sign-up bonuses on personal cards to once per lifetime back in 2014 and just recently expanded this to business cards as well.
- I’m using the same spending criteria I used for my post on One Year of Earning and Burning with the SPG Amex but assuming that you only put roughly half of that total ($15,000) on the card. The SPG Amex is a great option for everyday spending, but there are many other cards that offer more valuable rewards for different bonus categories.
- $2,000 of that spending occurs outside the US.
- Any spending at SPG properties is above and beyond that total.
Finally, I calculated the final value of the benefits based on the three different tiers of status within the program: regular, Gold and Platinum. This is because some of the perks of the cards are included when you earn SPG elite status and are thus worth nothing at those levels. I’ve also used TPG’s most recent valuations when calculating the value of any Starpoints you earn and have rounded all values up to the nearest $5.
Now with all that out of the way, how much value can you get out of the SPG Amex in a year? Here are the final numbers at which I arrived (and keep reading for how I arrived at these calculations):
Here’s a details breakdown of the key benefits and how I came to my final figures:
1. Everyday spending: $375
This first category is relatively straightforward. Both the personal and business versions of the card offer one Starpoint per dollar spent, so if you spend $15,000 per year on non-bonus category spending, that equates to 15,000 Starpoints. Using TPG’s valuations, these earnings are worth $375.
2. Bonus category spending: $50 – $250
The second benefit on the cards gets a bit trickier. Both the personal and business version offer you 2 Starpoints per dollar spent at SPG properties (this is in addition to the points you’d earn through the program if you paid for the stay with a different card). However, the amount of money that you’d spend depends on how frequently you stay at SPG hotels, how much you typically spend during these stays and whether or not you’re even able to charge these stays to the card of your choice (when I travel for work, I have to use my corporate Amex and thus can only use these cards on personal stays).
Here are the numbers I’ll use for this calculation:
- Regular member: $1,000 per year (2,000 Starpoints, worth $50)
- Gold member: $2,000 per year (4,000 Starpoints, worth $100)
- Platinum member: $5,000 per year (10,000 Starpoints, worth $250)
As always, feel free to adjust these numbers up or down if your spending varies significantly in either direction.
3. No foreign transaction fees: $60
When the benefits were enhanced on these two cards last year, one positive change involved the elimination of foreign transaction fees (though the annual fees on the cards were raised from $65 to $95). Many other cards charge fees that are generally 2.7 – 3% of the purchase amount, so if you charge $2,000 per year outside the US, this benefit will save you roughly $60.
4. Boingo Wi-Fi access: $100
Another new benefit as of last August is complimentary, unlimited Boingo Wi-Fi access. This allows you to connect up to four devices to over a million hotspots worldwide and pay no roaming fees for access. You do need to enroll to access this benefit, but it’s most comparable to Boingo’s Global plan, which usually costs $39 per month though does limit you to 2,000 minutes. I can’t (in good conscience) peg this perk at retail value ($468) given the proliferation of free Wi-Fi networks, but it can be somewhat valuable, especially in those airports that still don’t offer free internet.
5. Premium internet access: $0 – $25
Last February, SPG added complimentary internet for all members who book their stays through an official Starwood channel (like SPG.com or the SPG app). However, if you hold an SPG Amex card, you can enjoy complimentary premium internet access during your Starwood stays. This is actually the same benefit offered to both Gold and Platinum SPG members, so if you qualify for one of those levels (or get automatic Gold status courtesy of the Platinum Card from American Express), this benefit is technically worth nothing, since you aren’t getting any additional value for holding the card.
To be honest, I haven’t found that these theoretically faster networks offer blazing speed when compared to the regular ones, though if you’re frequently streaming videos or doing other high-bandwidth activities when traveling, this could be worth much more. I’ll keep my valuation at a conservative $25 (or $0 for SPG elite members).
6. Elite credits: $100
Another really nice thing about these two cards is that they can help your elite status qualification. Every year, you’ll get 2 stays and 5 nights of credit toward SPG status, and these tend to post within the first couple of weeks of January (or within a few weeks of opening your card). This benefit is exceedingly difficult to accurately value, since there are many factors that come into play.
For example, if you’re a regular member who normally completes 4-5 stays or 10-15 nights, getting the additional credits does nothing. However, if you normally complete 8-9 stays or 20-24 nights as a regular member, this perk becomes an effective upgrade to Gold status. You can extend similar logic to Gold and Platinum members as well, especially if the 5 night credits could bump you to one of the higher Platinum tiers and unlock benefits like Suite Night Awards.
I’ll keep this at a conservative $100 ($50 per stay credit or $20 per night credit).
7. Protections: $100
Like many credit cards out there, both the personal and business SPG Amex offer a variety of coverage when you are traveling or shopping, including (but not limited to):
- Travel Accident Insurance: Covers accidental death and dismemberment when traveling if you charge your entire fare to the card.
- Extended Warranty: Provides an additional year of coverage beyond the original manufacturer’s warranty on many items.
- Purchase Protection: Covers damage or theft to many items within 90 days of purchase, up to $1,000 per occurrence (or $50,000 per calendar year).
- Return Protection: Offers refund of purchase price when a merchant refuses to accept a return within 90 days of purchase up to $300 per item (or $1,000 per calendar year).
I (fortunately) have never had reason to use any of these benefits, but given the right (or wrong) circumstance, they can put a bunch of money back in your pocket. I’ll peg each one at $25.
8. Sheraton lounge access (business card only): $0 – $100
The final benefit is actually reserved for the business SPG Amex and offers cardholders and one guest automatic access to the Sheraton Club Lounge during stays. Unfortunately, this only applies to Sheraton properties and doesn’t extend to other brands like Westin or Le Méridien. This is another perk with different values depending on your elite status level:
- Platinum members get automatic lounge access, so this benefit is worth $0 for them.
- Gold members don’t get automatic lounge access but would likely stay in more Sheraton properties than regular members, so I’ll value this benefit at $100 for them.
- Regular members also don’t get automatic lounge access and may not stay in many (or any) Sheraton properties during the year, so I’ll value this benefit at $50 for them.
Both the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express and the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express offer some fantastic value, and there’s never been a better time to sign up (as long as you haven’t held the one for which you’re applying in the past). However, you may want to continue to hold and use the card after the first year, even with the $95 annual fee. While everyone values the benefits on these cards differently, I hope this post has given you a framework to utilize as you try to decide whether it makes sense to keep them in your wallet.
For more information on the cards and the Starwood Preferred Guest program, check out the following posts:
- 6 Best Ways to Use Starpoints from the SPG Amex Cards
- How to Use 35,000 Starpoints from the SPG Amex Card
- Starting off 2016 Strong With Starwood Preferred Guest
- The Award Traveler’s Guide to Starwood Preferred Guest
- 9 SPG Properties that Make for Awesome Award Redemptions
- Redeeming Starwood Preferred Guest Points for Maximum Value
How do you value the benefits on the SPG Amex cards?
Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
|Intro APR||Regular APR||Annual Fee||Foreign Transaction Fee||Credit Rating|
|N/A||15.49%-19.49% Variable||$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.||2.70%||Excellent Credit|