Should I Get a Starwood Amex or Marriott Rewards Card?
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TPG reader Glen sent me a message on Facebook to ask about co-branded hotel cards:
“Which card is better to get: the SPG Amex or the Marriott Premier?”
I answered a similar question earlier this year, but a lot has changed since then. In September, Starwood Preferred Guest and Marriott Rewards began allowing members to link accounts and transfer points between the two programs. That development not only created an assortment of valuable new redemption options, but also changed the game on the earning side.
There are a number of credit cards that could prove useful to SPG/Marriott guests, and the co-branded cards are at the top of the list. Choosing between them depends somewhat on the value of available sign-up bonuses and other benefits, but in terms of pure earning potential, I'd go with the Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express. You'll earn 2 points per dollar spent at both Starwood and Marriott properties, and 1 point per dollar elsewhere. I consider Starpoints to be the most valuable loyalty currency out there, so I think this card is a good option for everyday spending.
By comparison, the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card earns 5 points per dollar at Starwood and Marriott properties, 2 points per dollar on airfare purchased directly with the airline and at car rental agencies and restaurants, and just 1 point per dollar elsewhere. Given the 1:3 transfer ratio from Starwood to Marriott, the SPG Amex outperforms the Marriott Premier in all these categories, since you're effectively earning 6 Marriott Rewards points per dollar within the two brands and 3 points per dollar elsewhere.
On the other hand, the Marriott card has the edge in terms of other features. Most importantly, the Marriott Premier card offers a free night at a Category 1-5 property each year after your account anniversary. In my opinion, that alone makes this card worth the annual fee. This card also offers a more immediate status boost, since you get enough elite credits to automatically qualify for Marriott Silver.
Beyond that, the Marriott Premier card currently offers a sign-up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $3,000 in the first three months, and you can earn another 7,500 points when you add an authorized user and make a purchase in that same period. That's better than the standard offer on the Starwood card (25,000 Starpoints after spending $3,000 in the first three months), though Amex has offered larger bonuses in the past and the card is currently offering up to 35,000 Starpoints to new cardholders. The Starwood card waives the annual fee for the first year, but the Marriott card is slightly less expensive beyond that ($85 per year rather than $95).
If your main goal is to maximize your points on spending, I'd go for the Starwood Amex. If you're mostly interested in the annual free night and elite status bump, I'd go with the Marriott Premier. If you're a hardcore SPG/Marriott loyalist and you spend a lot within the two brands, you might consider getting both cards to cover all your bases.
For more on co-branded cards and other aspects of the Starwood/Marriott merger, check out these posts:
- Earn Bonus Starpoints at Marriott, Bonus Marriott Points at Starwood
- Should I Keep Points with Marriott Rewards or Starwood
- The Top Cards for Instant SPG and Marriott Elite Status