One Year of Earning and Burning with the SPG Amex

Sep 2, 2015

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I often discuss how helpful credit card sign-up bonuses and spending can be for earning award travel, but some readers are intimidated by the idea of opening new accounts. So today, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Nick Ewen demonstrates how much a single card can offer you in travel rewards.

Award travel can be a daunting hobby to take up, especially when it comes to credit cards. If you don’t travel regularly for work, your everyday spending habits play a huge role in earning (and then redeeming) points and miles. However, with so many options, you may not know where to start. In this post, I’ll continue my series looking at how easy it is to earn rewards by opening and using even a single card for one year. In previous posts, I’ve looked at the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card, the Chase Ink Plus Business Card, the Citi Premier® Card, the Wyndham Rewards Visa Card and the Marriott Rewards Premier Card. Today, I’ll focus on another co-branded hotel option: the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express.

The SPG Amex can open up a ton of valuable redemptions like the Le Méridien Pyramids.

Sign-up Bonus and Benefits

Through March 30, 2016, the card is offering an increased sign-up bonus of 35,000 points after spending $3,000 within the first three months. This bonus alone is worth $875 based on TPG’s most recent valuations and comes in addition to the standard benefits on the card (many of which were recently added):


  • LIMITED TIME OFFER: Our highest Starpoints offer ever—ends 3/30/2016. Get 35,000 bonus Starpoints® after you use your Card to make $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on international purchases.
  • Receive free in-room, premium internet access. Booking requirements apply.
  • Enjoy complimentary, unlimited Boingo Wi-Fi at more than 1,000,000 Boingo hotspots worldwide. Enrollment required.
  • Get free nights at over 1,200 hotels and resorts in over 100 countries with no blackout dates. Some hotels may have mandatory service and resort charges.
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • Terms and conditions apply


You’ll also receive 2 stay credits and 5 night credits toward elite status each year, but if you spend $30,000 on the card in a calendar year, you’ll be automatically upgraded to SPG Gold. This includes some valuable benefits like bonus points, late check-out, “enhanced” rooms at check-in and a welcome amenity.

Note that these same benefits (including the sign-up bonus) and the analysis that follows also apply to the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express. There are only two slight differences:

  1. The business version requires you to spend $5,000 within the first three months to earn the sign-up bonus.
  2. The business version also gives you Sheraton Club Lounge access on eligible stays.
You may fall above the national average, leading to even more point-earning ability!
If you spend more than the national average, you’ll earn even more than what I’ve outlined here. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

So if you open the Starwood American Express (or the business version), earn the sign-up bonus and use the card exclusively for the first year, where does that leave you? Obviously, the answer depends on your spending patterns, so for this analysis I used consumer-expenditure data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2013 and 2014 to estimate what an “average” household would spend (and thus earn) on the SPG Amex card in one year.

In doing so, I made the following assumptions:

  • 60% of “Housing” expenditures cover mortgages or rent, and thus can’t be paid with a credit card (unless you’re willing to pay fees by using a service like Venmo or ChargeSmart).
  • “Transportation” expenditures are split evenly between car payments (which typically can’t be paid with a credit card), gasoline and other transportation costs (parking, tolls, train/subway/bus tickets, etc.).
  • All “Healthcare” and “Other” expenditures can be paid with a credit card.
  • All “Personal insurance and pensions” expenditures can’t be paid with a credit card.
  • $500 of the “All other expenditures” category is spent on Starwood stays.
  • The expenditures all took place during a single calendar year.

Again, your situation may differ substantially, so feel free to adjust these assumptions in order to calculate your own earning potential.

Here’s a quick table that shows how these spending patterns in the first year of card membership translate to Starpoints:



Earning Rate


Sign-up bonus




Food – At home


1 point/$


Food – Away from home


1 point/$




1 point/$


Apparel and services


1 point/$


Transportation (gasoline)


1 point/$


Transportation (other)


1 point/$




1 point/$




1 points/$


Starwood stays


2 points/$


All other expenditures


1 point/$






As you can see, the “average” American consumer would earn 60,947 Starpoints points in the first year. Not too shabby!

What Does This Get You?

For starters, because you’ve spent more than $30,000 in a calendar year, you’ll earn automatic Gold status in the Starwood Preferred Guest program. In my valuation of SPG elite status, I pegged Gold status at $319 thanks to benefits like the 50% point bonus, 4pm checkout and upgrades to “enhanced” rooms, though Gold status can be worth even more if you stay at Starwood properties more frequently. It’ll also earn you access to the Crossover Rewards program, which gives you additional Starpoints when you fly on qualifying paid Delta flights.

Of course, earning points is one thing; knowing the different ways to use them for maximum value is a completely different story. Here’s a sampling of what you can do with the first year’s haul of points from the SPG Amex:

The spa pool at Equinox, an SPG Category 5 property in the ski area of Manchester Village, Vermont
The spa pool at Equinox, an SPG Category 5 property in the ski area of Manchester Village, Vermont

1. Six nights in a Category 5 property (during off-peak season)

One of the nice things about Starwood Preferred Guest is that the program offers the fifth night free on all award redemptions. Category 5 properties are usually 12,000 points per night outside of the hotel’s defined peak season (check out the Category 5 hotel listing for details on each property). As a result, you can book a six-night stay for 60,000 points, since the fifth night of the stay is free.

Two of these properties made my list of 9 awesome SPG award redemptions: the Equinox Resort in Manchester Village, VT and the Park Tower in Buenos Aires. Both of these are part of the program’s Luxury Collection, and I recently redeemed 36,000 Starpoints for a three-night stay at the Equinox over Columbus Day weekend. Revenue rates for my stay were $899/night ($988.90 with taxes and fees), giving me an incredible value of 8.24 cents per point!

2. At least three round-trip domestic flights on Alaska, American or Delta

In addition to redeeming your Starpoints for free hotel stays, you can transfer those points to 34 different airlines (Korean Air is the most recent addition). Better yet, you’ll receive 5,000 bonus miles for every 20,000 points you transfer in a single transaction. As noted above, you would earn just over 60,000 Starpoints during your first year of card membership, so you could turn those points into 75,000 miles in Alaska Mileage Plan, American AAdvantage or Delta SkyMiles. All three of these programs offer round-trip economy flights within the US for 25,000 miles. You would need to find saver award space, though Delta recently joined Alaska and American in listing this inventory on ExpertFlyer, so that search is a little easier now.

I say “at least” three round-trip domestic flights because Delta has run several “sales” at lower mileage amounts this year:

Naturally, if you can score any of those awards, your miles (and thus your Starpoints) will stretch even further.

Enjoy an evening swim at the Four Points Puntacana Village.

3. Up to 30 nights in a Category 1 property or 20 nights in a Category 2 property

In addition to aspirational redemptions like the St. Regis Bal Harbour and the Westin Paris – Vendôme, the Starwood Preferred Guest program has a wealth of valuable redemptions in lower categories. Category 1 properties will set you back just 2,000 points per night on weekends (or 3,000 points per night during the week). Category 2 properties are just a shade higher, at 3,000/4,000 points per night on weekends/during the week.

4. Up to 8 round-trip award flights using British Airways Avios

Another terrific redemption option using this haul of Starpoints is available when you transfer points to the British Airways Executive Club program. Again, transferring 60,000 Starpoints would yield 75,000 Avios. Even though the Executive Club program just underwent a significant devaluation, there are still a lot of gems to be had on its distance-based award chart, especially when you take advantage of British Airways’ Oneworld Alliance partners like American Airlines and Cathay Pacific. A one-way flight of 650 miles or less will set you back just 4,500 Avios, so you could book flights like New York to Toronto, Washington to Chicago, London to Zurich and Hong Kong to Taipei.

Here are a few other sweet spots:

  • Three round-trip flights from the West Coast to Hawaii (25,000 Avios apiece on Alaska, American or US Airways)
  • Five round-trip flights from Miami to the Caribbean and Central America (15,000 Avios apiece on American for flights under 1,151 miles in length, like Miami to San José, Costa Rica and Miami to San Juan, Puerto Rico)
Cathay Pacific's refreshed first class cabin
Cathay Pacific first class is within reach with this first year’s haul of points from the SPG Amex!

5. One-way first class flights to Asia

If you’d rather travel in style, consider converting 60,000 points to either 75,000 Alaska or American miles. That would be enough for a one-way first-class flight from the US to Asia in either program. Both of these carriers partner with Cathay Pacific, while American also partners with Japan Airlines, giving you a myriad of ways to cross the Pacific in comfort. TPG has flown both first class on Cathay Pacific and first class on JAL. Just keep in mind that Cathay may start restricting partner awards moving forward.

6. A redemption through SPG Moments

One of the best things about this hobby is the ability to share our experiences with family members and friends, and SPG Moments is a terrific way to do just that. TPG redeemed Starpoints for VIP tickets to the Knicks with his dad last year, and felt that it was quite possibly his best redemption ever. At the time of writing, there are a ton of options on SPG’s website for less than 60,000 points, including (but not limited to) the following:

  • One Direction in the SPG Luxury Suite at the O2 in London (15,000 Starpoints for 2 tickets)
  • The Who in the SPG Luxury Suite at the Staples Center in Los Angeles (35,000 Starpoints for 2 tickets)
  • Honorary Cubs manager at Wrigley Field (bid at time of writing is 30,500 Starpoints)

Final Thoughts

The Starwood Preferred Guest Amex and its current sign-up bonus give you some great redemption options, especially when it comes to free nights. However, you also have a wealth of valuable awards at your disposal by converting Starpoints to airline miles or looking at SPG Moments for unique experiences. This plethora of options is the main reason that TPG’s monthly valuations regularly peg Starpoints as the most valuable loyalty currency out there.

In addition, keep in mind that the above calculations may be too conservative:

  • The calculation assumes that you’re the average consumer. If you typically spend more in a year, then your earnings will be even higher.
  • The calculation assumes that you only open one card. Other travel rewards credit cards with terrific sign-up bonuses (like the Citi Premier® Card or the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card) can be opened and used alongside the SPG Amex for even more earning potential.

These items notwithstanding, I hope I’ve illustrated that one card (especially in the first year) can open up a wealth of redemption possibilities.

How would you redeem one year of points from the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express?

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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