The Best Credit Cards For Starwood Guests
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If you frequently stay at Starwood properties or simply want to rack up enough points to book some award stays, it helps to have the right credit cards in your wallet. TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Jason Steele walks you through some of the best options for earning rewards and enjoying elite benefits within the Starwood Preferred Guest program.
Starwood has been in the news quite a bit recently due to its on-again, off-again acquisition by Marriott. But none of this matters to travelers in the short term, as the consequences of the now-approved merger aren't likely to take effect for at least another year. If you're interested in award stays at Sheratons, Westins and other Starwood brands, it's still worth looking into these credit cards that offer rewards that can be redeemed for free nights, plus elite benefits to make your stays more enjoyable.
Choosing Credit Cards for Starwood Fans
The obvious choice for frequent guests at Starwood hotels is the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express, which is also available in a business version. Still, there are some good reasons to complement one or both of these cards with another product that offers additional benefits to travelers staying at Starwood brands.
Here are the credit cards you should consider if you're planning on staying at Starwood properties in the next year:
Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express
Peek inside the wallet of any award travel enthusiast, and you will almost certainly find this card. And to anyone familiar with the Starwood Preferred Guest program, the reasons are clear: outstanding value when it comes to redeeming for hotel award nights with the fifth award night free, and unparalleled options for transferring points to airline miles, with a 5,000-mile bonus for every 20,000 points you transfer.
Currently, new applicants can receive 25,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 within three months of account opening. You'll earn double Starpoints for all purchases at Starwood hotels, including dining, spa and even meeting expenses. This is in addition to the 2 or 3 Starpoints that you always earn as an SPG member. You only earn 1 point per dollar on all other purchases, but according to TPG's latest monthly valuations, Starpoints are worth 2.5 cents each — more than any other loyalty currency.
Other benefits include free premium in-room internet service, complimentary unlimited Boingo Wi-Fi and the ability to earn Starwood Gold status when you use your card to spend $30,000 in a calendar year. Finally, cardmembers receive credit for 5 nights and 2 stays each year toward SPG elite status. There's a $95 annual fee for this card that's waived the first year, and after many years of imposing a 2.7% charge, finally there are no foreign transaction fees.
Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express
The business version of this card offers nearly identical features to the personal version, but it has a few additional benefits. In my opinion, the biggest one is complimentary access to the Sheraton Club lounge, which applies to cardholders staying on both paid and award bookings.
And as an American Express business card, it also features the OPEN Savings program. For more information on maximizing this benefits, see TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Richard Kerr's post on 6 Ways to Maximize Amex OPEN Savings Discounts and Rewards. Other business card features including the ReceiptMatch app and Account Manager functions to keep track of employees spending. As with the personal version, there's a $95 annual fee for this card that's waived the first year, and no foreign transaction fees.
The Platinum Card® from American Express
While this is a great all-around travel rewards card, it's a particularly compelling choice for those who only stay at Starwood hotels a few times a year, or are planning to be frequent Starwood customers in the near future and don't have status yet. That's because it offers cardholders immediate Gold status in the Starwood Preferred Guest program. Benefits include 4pm late checkouts, room upgrades and a welcome gift. In addition, you'll receive 3 points per dollar spent at Starwood properties (instead of the standard 2 points). The card also offers complimentary Hilton Honors Gold and elite status with a variety of rental car companies.
The Platinum Card offers a myriad of other benefits including access to Delta Sky Clubs, Priority Pass Select lounges and Amex Centurion lounges; a $200 annual airline fee credit; and a $100 fee credit toward the application fee for the Global Entry or TSA PreCheck programs.
For each dollar spent, you earn 1 point in the American Express Membership Rewards program, and double points for travel reservations booked through the Amex travel agency. Although you can transfer points to the Starwood Preferred Guest program, note that the the transfer rate is a poor 3:1. There's a $550 annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fees.
Citi Prestige Card
The Citi Prestige is another high-end option that would make a fantastic complement to an Amex SPG card. This card offers a 4th night free on any consecutive four-night paid stay booked through its travel agency. In addition, travelers can attach their Starwood Preferred Guest number to their reservation to receive points for their stay and earn night credits toward elite status while still enjoying any perks they've already earned as a Starwood elite.
Other benefits include access to American Airlines Admirals Clubs and Priority Pass Select airport lounges, a $250 annual air travel credit and a $100 fee credit toward the application fee for the Global Entry or TSA PreCheck programs. The current sign-up bonus is 40,000 ThankYou points after spending $4,000 within three months of account opening. You also earn 3x points for purchases from airlines and hotels, 2x on dining and entertainment and 1x on everything else.
You can transfer ThankYou points earned with this card to airline miles or the Hilton Honors program, or redeem points for 1.6 cents toward airfare purchased from American Airlines, or 1.33 cents each toward tickets from other carriers. There's a $450 annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fees.
Citi Premier® Card
This card could also be a strong option for those who stay at Starwood hotels and would like to diversify their rewards. The card is currently offering 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in the first three months. The card offers 3x rewards on all travel, including gas; 2x on dining and entertainment; and 1x on all other purchases.
Points can be transferred to airline miles or the Hilton Honors program, or redeemed for 1.25 cents toward airfare, hotels, cruises and car rentals through the ThankYou Travel Center. There's a $95 annual fee for this card that's waived the first year, and no foreign transaction fees.
Picking the Best Cards for Your Needs
The Starwood Preferred Guest Cards from American Express are almost a must for any award travel enthusiast, not just those who prefer Starwood properties. In fact, I know many holders of the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card who never use their points for free nights; they just save them to transfer to airline miles as needed. And if you had to choose between the personal and business versions, the business card comes out slightly ahead due to its Sheraton Club lounge benefit. If you're wondering whether these products are still worth considering given the upcoming merger with Marriott, see this post with more information.
In addition to one or both of the co-branded cards, a frequent traveler should consider holding a premium travel rewards card such as the Amex Platinum or the Citi Prestige for their lounge access benefits and generous airline fee credits. The Platinum Card would be more ideal for those who want instant Starwood Gold status (as well as elite status with Hilton and several rental car agencies), while the Citi Prestige comes out ahead for those who book paid stays of four nights or more. Finally, the Citi Premier® Card offers a good way for Starwood guests to earn both Starpoints and ThankYou points for their stays, while minimizing the annual fees paid.
By considering all the rewards benefits of these cards, travelers who enjoy Starwood properties can choose the best products for their needs.