SPG Amex vs. SPG Luxury Amex: Which Card Is Right For You?

Aug 25, 2018

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In the good old days of about a month ago, the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express was widely regarded as one of the best all-around credit cards on the market. Not only were SPG Starpoints considered to be the most valuable single airline or hotel currency, but the Amex card was by far the easiest way to earn them. Sure, some people got more value out of Hyatt points and their similarly cheap award chart, but with Chase Ultimate Rewards transferring 1:1 to Hyatt, the co-branded Hyatt credit card never had quite the same appeal as the SPG Amex.

But all that has changed, and we find ourselves in the post-Marriott-merger world with new card offerings and point values to consider. So today let’s take a look at the standard SPG Amex and the brand new Starwood Preferred Guest® American Express Luxury Card to see whether the old card has held its ground and whether the new one can justify its premium price tag. If you only want one SPG card in your purse or wallet moving forward, read on to figure out which one is right for you.

Main Benefits and Features

SPG Amex SPG Luxury Amex
Annual Fee $95 (waived first year) (See Rates & Fees) $450
Welcome Bonus 75,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months 100,000 points after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months*
Earning Rates
  • 6x at Marriott hotels
  • 2x on all other purchases
  • 6x at Marriott hotels
  • 3x at US restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines
  • 2x on all other purchases
Credits None

Up to $300 in statement credits for purchases at participating Marriott hotels


Elite Status

Automatic Marriott Silver status

Earn Gold status after spending $35,000 on the card

Automatic Marriott Gold status

Earn Platinum status after spending $75,000 in a calendar year

Free Night Certificates Annual free night (up to 35,000 points) after card renewal Annual free night (up to 50,000 points) after card renewal
Other Benefits
  • 15 elite night credits (beginning in 2019, limited to once per member not once per credit card)
  • No foreign transaction fees (See Rates & Fees)
  • Complimentary Boingo Wi-Fi access
  • Access to Amex Offers
  • 15 elite night credits (beginning in 2019, limited to once per member not once per credit card)
  • Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit
  • Priority Pass Select membership (with guesting privileges)
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Complimentary Boingo Wi-Fi access
  • Access to Amex Offers
*Limited-time welcome bonus offer through October 31, 2018.
All points and earning rates refer to Marriott points in the new combined award program, which TPG currently values at 0.9 cents each.

When You Should Get the SPG Luxury Amex?

When comparing an entry-level credit card to its premium competition — such as the Hilton Ascend versus the Hilton Aspire — the question I always ask myself is “do the premium perks I’m receiving outweigh the increased annual fee?” In this case, the difference in annual fees between the $450 SPG Luxury card and the $95 regular SPG Amex card is $355, so you’d have to get at least that much added value to make the Luxury card worth it.

Let’s start with the biggest and most attractive perk — the $300 annual Marriott property credit. Although the terms and conditions regarding this perk are slightly ambiguous, Marriott has confirmed that this credit will apply to room rates, as well as incidentals charged to your room:

“Eligible SPG or Marriott Rewards property purchases must be made directly with the participating SPG or Marriott Rewards property and charged to your Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Luxury Card account for the benefit to apply. Incidental charges (including charges made at restaurants, spas and other establishments within the hotel property) must be charged to your room and paid for with your Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Luxury Card at checkout in order to be recognized as SPG or Marriott Rewards purchases.”

If you’re committed enough to a single brand such as Hilton or Marriott to even consider its premium co-branded credit card, then I’ll assume this travel credit is worth face value to you. I easily spend $300+ a year on Marriott/SPG stays, and even if I didn’t spend that much purely on the room rate, I’d be able to use this credit for food and drink or onsite amenities like spa treatments.

So while the SPG Luxury card might cost more, it automatically provides $300 in extra value, narrowing our “gap” down to only $55. This is actually the exact same difference between the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which makes the math much easier to conceptualize. Outside of the property credit, does the SPG Luxury card provide $55 more value than its cheaper counterpart?

Well, one of the other reasons this is a “luxury” card is because it offers a much more valuable annual free night certificate, worth up to 50,000 points instead of the 35,000 point cap on the regular SPG Amex. Simply operating off TPG’s valuation of Marriott points at 0.9 cents each, that 15,000 point difference is worth $135, giving a clear edge to the SPG Luxury card. But the gap can get much wider than that. Some of the best uses of the 50,000 point free night certificate are five star hotels like The Ritz-Carlton Bali or Mykonos Theoxenia, which can easily sell for over $500 during peak season. There are plenty of incredible ways to use the 35,000 point certificates as well, but you’re looking at more like $300 in value from them at the high end.

Photo courtesy of Mykonos Theoxenia
Use your SPG Luxury free night at the Mykonos Theoxenia hotel in Greece. (Photo courtesy of the hotel)

If we were to keep going, the next most valuable perks on the list are the Priority Pass membership and the Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credits. You may already have access to these two benefits through other premium credit cards, but if you don’t, these perks are easily worth more than $55, even if you only use a Priority Pass lounge or restaurant once or twice a year.

That being said, I’m tempted to value these perks at $0 given how redundant they’re becoming nowadays. Most people considering the SPG Luxury card probably already have a premium credit card, and if they don’t, this probably isn’t the most valuable one to start with. But if you have another premium card already, you almost definitely have a Priority Pass membership, and there’s no benefit at all to having a second one. Similarly, I’m running out of friends I can gift my Global Entry application credits to and see no personal value in getting any more.

Still, even discounting those two widely available benefits, it should be easy enough to cover the $55 spread with the complimentary Marriott Gold elite status that the SPG Luxury card comes with. While Gold status in the new program is nowhere near as valuable as it was in the old program, it still includes a 25% point bonus, a welcome gift and upgrades to enhanced rooms. Another consideration that gives the SPG Luxury card an advantage is the ability to earn Platinum status by spending $75,000 in a calendar year. If you’re not staying enough to earn status organically, you won’t get the full value out of it, but if you’re anticipating putting a large amount of spending on this card, suite upgrades and club lounge access are a quick way to add value to your stays.

One last argument in favor of the SPG Luxury comes down to Amex’s application rules. Whereas Chase limits the total number of cards you can open with them in a two-year time period, Amex has a “once-in-a-lifetime” bonus policy for each card product. Since the SPG Luxury card is a new product, it presents an opportunity for many people to snag a valuable bonus. However, starting on August 26, this card will feature heavier restrictions than previous Amex cards, so if you’re interested in applying, make sure you know all the details.

When the Regular SPG Might Make More Sense

Now that we’ve gotten through all of the math, let’s take a look at a few cases where it might make more sense to stick with the entry level SPG Amex card. The first scenario is eligibility. If you’re applying for the SPG Luxury card after August 26, you’ll be subject to the following restrictions:

“You are ineligible for the welcome offer if any of the following are true:

Currently have or have had any of the following Cards in the last 30 days

  • The Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card from JP Morgan

OR have acquired any of the following Cards from Chase in the last 90 days

  • The Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card from Chase
  • The Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card from Chase
  • The Marriott Rewards Premier Business Credit Card from Chase

OR have received a welcome or upgrade offer for any of the following Cards from Chase in the last 24 months

  • The Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card from Chase
  • The Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card from Chase
  • The Marriott Rewards Premier Business Credit Card from Chase”

This will exclude many people who want the Luxury card. On the other hand, the restrictions on the standard SPG Amex are much simpler and the timeframe is much shorter:

“You are ineligible for the welcome offer if any of the following are true:

Currently have or have had any of the following Cards in the last 30 days:

  • The Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card from Chase ($85)
  • The Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus Credit Card from Chase ($95)
  • Marriott Rewards Credit Card from Chase ($45)
  • The Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card from JP Morgan ($450)”

So if you can’t get the SPG Luxury card due to the restrictions but still want a card in the SPG co-branded family, you’ll have the SPG Amex to fall back on.

The next group of people who should stick with the regular SPG Amex are those who don’t want to pay the hefty $450 annual fee upfront for the Luxury card. Yes, you can get that much in value from the card, but maybe you have other premium credit cards and can’t justify adding another one to your wallet. Or maybe you think you’d get more value out of the Luxury card in the long term, but aren’t willing to front the annual fee in the short term. Whatever your reasoning, there’s no way around it: $450 is a lot of money, especially compared to $95 for the standard SPG Amex (which is even waived for the first year).

The last group of people is perhaps the most surprising, and might seem counterintuitive: Marriott elites who qualify organically for Platinum status (or for Gold status, but aren’t able to spend the $75,000 a year to upgrade to Platinum). Somehow, these people get the least value out of the SPG Luxury premium credit card. They won’t get any incremental benefits from the complimentary elite status and they’ll earn the same 6x points on hotel stays that they would get with the basic SPG Amex. Really, the only added value for them will be the higher category free night certificate. I think anyone in the market for a premium credit card should be able to get outsized value from the 50,000 point free nights that come with the SPG Luxury card, but you can make the argument that elites who qualify organically have plenty of points already and might not want to pay extra money just to get another free night certificate.

One last note: With the recent changes to the standard SPG Amex card, many current cardholders are closing their accounts and changing loyalties, but I think that’s premature. While the SPG Amex suffered a 33% devaluation in terms of its everyday earning rate — it now earns 2 Marriott points per dollar on non-bonsed spend instead of the 3 it did before — the points are just as valuable as before, if not more so. High-value airline transfer options are intact and points can now be redeemed at more hotels than ever. At the very least, I think anyone can get well over $95 out of the annual 35,000 point free night certificate, and this is reason enough for me to keep both my SPG Amex and SPG Business Amex cards open.

Bottom Line

If you’re eager for a large welcome bonus, confident you can use the full $300 property credit and excited for a fancy hotel night with your annual free night certificate, I think the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Luxury Card is a no-brainer. At the same time, even with the devaluation in earnings, I think the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express remains one of the more compelling cards on the market, both for everyday spending and its valuable free night certificates.

For rates and fees of the SPG Amex Card, please click here.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points


CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Plus earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases within your first year of account opening.
  • Earn 2X points on dining including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel. Plus, earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
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Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
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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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