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As both a family miles and points traveler and writer, I think a lot about which credit cards, destinations, airlines and award redemptions are of interest to families who want to travel more for less. Over the years, I’ve heard a fair number of stereotypes about traveling families, and while there is some truth to those stereotypes (yes, Disney World is great for families!), there are other assumptions that I question a bit more. For example, with some regularity I hear that premium credit cards with $450+ annual fees simply aren’t for families. I hear that families want no annual fee credit cards with points you can use to book any type of travel instead of hotel points or airline miles.
Now in many cases, those statement are true and plenty of busy families will do great with a no annual fee card that rewards card that earns them with easy-to-use points. However, I haven’t fully given in to the assumptions that luxury credit cards aren’t for families. I certainly don’t believe that families can’t make use of award charts and get out-sized value from program-specific miles and points — just like travelers without kids. At the very least, those sentiments don’t hold true to my family.
Instead of a generic discussion on the topic, let’s look at the relatively new Starwood Preferred Guest® American Express Luxury Card and whether or not it makes sense for family travelers.
To those who are eligible, this shiny new luxury card product awards 75,000 Marriott Rewards points after $3,000 in spending during the first three months. TPG values those 75k Marriott Rewards points at $675
Why would anyone think this card isn’t for families? Most likely because of the hefty $450 annual fee that is not waived the first year.
With daycare expenses, diapers costs, groceries, saving for college, paying for soccer, etc. does it make sense for families to have a $450 per year credit card? Some say no. In fact, many I talk to say no. However, I say, maybe. In some cases, absolutely. Math doesn’t stop being math just because you have children, so let’s do some basic math on whether the SPG Luxury Card makes sense for family travelers.
As mentioned, this card launched with a welcome bonus of 75,000 points after $3,000 in spending in the first three months. That’s worth $675 based on TPG’s most recent valuations at .09 cents per Marriott Rewards point. Also keep in mind that Amex recently implemented new restrictions that will limit your ability to collect a new member bonus if you’ve had Marriott products from Chase.
Frankly, the welcome bonus makes the card an attractive offer at $675 in value for a $450 annual fee, but there is much more to this story than just those one-time bonus points. Next to the welcome bonus, the two other most attractive elements of the SPG Luxury Card for families are the annual free night award and the $300 in annual statement credit.
- Annual Free Night Award — Each year on your card-opening anniversary, you’ll receive a free night award worth up to 50,000 points. That 50,000 point valuation makes this free night award much more useful for families than the free night certificates that come with the other SPG Amex and Chase Marriott cards that are capped at 35,000 points. Since families often need to travel during peak times, it is not hard to get several hundred dollars in value from a 50k Marriott certificate. Some great places for families to use these certificates include: Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort & Spa, the on-property Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin and The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island. Any of those options can easily cost $200 to $300 per night, though, of course, be careful in valuing an award night above what you would have spent with cash.
- $300 Statement Credit for Marriott and SPG purchases — During each card member year (defined by when you opened the account), you receive up to a total of $300 in annual statement credits for Marriott and SPG purchases charged to your card. Since Marriott has confirmed that this credit applies not just to incidentals charged to the room, but also for room rates, this is almost as good as cash for families who spend at least $300 per year on SPG/Marriott stays. In fact, this annual $300 effectively drops the annual fee from $450 to $150 if you value the credit at a dollar-to-dollar rate.
- Priority Pass Lounge Access — Priority Pass is pretty much “table stakes” for premium travel rewards cards these days. But if a family doesn’t already have a premium card with Priority Pass, then it is a pretty big deal. This card comes with a Priority Pass Select membership, which gives you and two guests unlimited access to more than 1,200 airport lounges worldwide and, perhaps more importantly, included meals up to a certain amount at a growing list of airport restaurants.
- Application Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck — Again, these credits are standard for more premium rewards credit cards, but they also still have value for families where you have lots of application fees to keep up with. The SPG Luxury Card will reimburse you when you charge the application fee for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck to the card (up to $100) once every four years. And remember, Global Entry includes PreCheck, so that’s the smarter choice — even if your family only travels international once every year or so.
The SPG Luxury Card has other perks, too, but I don’t associate them with as high of a monetary value as those first few perks. The card offers automatic Marriott Gold status and the ability to earn Platinum status after spending $75k in a calendar year, should your family happen to spend a bunch on cards each year. The most valuable benefits of Gold status are upgrades to enhanced rooms and a 25% point bonus on hotel spending. In other words, it isn’t all that exciting, but is better than nothing.
Cardholders receive free enrollment in the Boingo Preferred plan, which gets you unlimited access to over 1 million Wi-Fi hotspots at airports and other locations around the world on up to four devices. Beginning in 2019, cardholders receive 15 elite qualifying night credits per year. This does not stack with the nights you earn with other SPG/Marriott cards the way it did with the old SPG Amex cards.
Earning and Redeeming Marriott Points
The SPG Luxury Card’s earning structure is pretty similar to that of the regular Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card, but with two additional bonus categories: dining and airfare. Cardholders earn 6 points per dollar at participating Marriott/SPG hotels, 3 points per dollar points at US restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines, and 2 points per dollar points on all other purchases. With TPG’s recent valuations in mind, that’s essentially a return of 5.4% on Marriott purchases, 2.7% on restaurants and flights and 1.8% on everyday spending, which isn’t earth-shattering, but also isn’t bad.
You may want to use the card to rack up more Marriott Rewards points because using them is pretty exciting. Until February 2019, Marriott and legacy SPG properties cost a maximum of 60,000 points per night for a standard room. This means you can snag award nights at top-tier resorts like the St. Regis Maldives and the St. Regis Bora Bora where room rates are well outside the budgets of most families I know. Those aren’t exactly family-friendly hot spots, but at the top of the award chart you will also find some pretty lux but still family-friendly properties like the St. Regis Princeville in Kauai, the St. Regis Punta Mita in Mexico and the slopeside St. Regis Deer Valley.
Beginning in early 2019, the prices at the top of the Marriott award chart will increase, but you still have time to earn and use your points at a max of 60k points per night.
Marriott Rewards points aren’t just for families who want to indulge at a St. Regis. There are lots of opportunities to stretch your points at Category 1 and 2 hotels, utilize Marriott’s 5th Award Night Free benefit and get up to many award nights with 100,000 Marriott points.
Marriott even allows you to book awards at legacy Marriott properties in advance — even if you don’t have all the points you need just yet. If you’ve got your eye on the perfect redemption, you can book immediately without having the necessary points, spend with the SPG Luxury Card and earn the points you need at least four days before check-in.
Bottom Line: Is the SPG Luxury Amex for Families?
Do all of those credits and benefits justify the $450 annual fee for families? If you value the $300 annual Marriott credit at around face value and will get a minimum of $150 in value from the annual 50,000 point night certificate, then you come out at least even on the annual fee. The Marriott Gold elite status, Global Entry credit, Boingo plan, access to Amex Offers and more are the cherries on top. However, when you factor in the 75,000 welcome bonus points worth $675 by TPG valuations, this card becomes one that I do think is worth trying for families who spend at least $300 each year at Marriott properties.
If the $450 annual fee just isn’t right for your family no matter what it includes, look at the SPG Amex card as it costs just $95 a year with a $0 introductory fee the first year. The welcome bonus on that card is currently 75,000 points with $3,000 spent in the first 3 months.
Undoubtedly, the SPG Luxury Card, or any card with a $450 annual fee, is not the right match for everyone, or even every traveler. That said, I refuse to give into the notion that family travelers somehow don’t deserve or want to stay at nice resorts, can’t manage traditional award programs and won’t make use of built-in annual credit card benefits. Some won’t do all that, but others can, will and should.
With the 75,000-point welcome bonus, valuable benefits like an automatic $300 annual Marriott property credit and the annual award night at 50k-point properties, the SPG Luxury Card is probably the way to go for frequent Marriott or SPG guests, regardless of whether or not they have a family. In fact, I’d argue that the perks become more valuable for families, given that more people can benefit from them.
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