Credit Card Review: The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express
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The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express has been one of the best travel credit cards for over a decade now. Card holders earn Marriott points, which can be put toward award stays at some of the world’s nicest hotels. But they also have the option to transfer those points to the mileage programs of Marriott’s 44 airline partners.
Why sign up for the card now? With the launch of Marriott Bonvoy on Feb. 13, the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card will close applications on Feb. 12 and convert current card holders to the rebranded Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card. The Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card won’t be open to new applications, so after Feb. 12 your only Marriott-branded credit card options from Amex will be the $450 Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant and the Marriott Bonvoy Business. So, this is your final chance to sign up for a Marriott-branded mid-tier personal card from Amex.
Official application link: Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
Who Is This Card For?
Like many other cobranded hotel credit cards, the Starwood Preferred Guest Card Amex is geared specifically toward members of the integrated Marriott program — also known as the soon-to-be Marriott Bonvoy program — who want to supplement their stay-based points earning with earning on everyday purchases.
However, the integrated Marriott program’s transfer partnerships with so many major airline frequent flyer programs mean the card’s potential is that much more interesting to travelers looking to integrate their flight and hotel strategies. It also makes this card a great choice for consumers who want to stockpile points from everyday spending into a transferable program that will let them convert their spending into free flights or hotel stays.
If you’re looking for a business card, there’s also the Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express. This card offers nearly identical benefits to the personal SPG Amex, but will remain open for new sign-ups even after it’s rebranded as the Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex.
Bonus and Annual Fee
The card currently offers 75,000 bonus Marriott points after you use your new card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months. TPG’s latest valuations peg the value of these bonus points at $675. The card has a $95 annual fee, but this fee is waived the first year (See Rates & Fees).
For better or worse, this card’s earning structure is simpler than some other hotel cards out there like the Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card, The World of Hyatt Credit Card and the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card.
Cardholders earn 6 points per dollar on eligible purchases at participating Starwood and Marriott hotels and 2 points per dollar on everything else. According to TPG’s valuations, that’s a 1.8% return on everyday spending and a 5.4% return on Starwood/Marriott purchases.
That 6x rate is hard to beat, especially considering it’s on top of any points you earn as an Marriott Rewards member and elite earning bonuses. However, the everyday spending rate is a bit low and you might be better off searching for a card that earns bonus points on the categories in which you make the most purchases, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve for travel and dining, or the The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express for supermarket and gas purchases.
Now we get to the heart of the matter: What good do all those points do you? This is where the card’s value truly lies.
In terms of hotel redemptions, the new Marriott Rewards program currently fields hotels in seven categories, although an eighth category will be added this March. And, peak and off-peak rates will be coming soon. Standard award nights currently require between 7,500-60,000 points per night, or between 3,500 points + $55 and 30,000 points + $250 with the program’s Cash + Points rates. Marriott Rewards members can stretch their points even further with the program’s fifth-night-free benefit on award stays, effectively earning themselves a 20% discount on five-night stays. There’s also a limited PointSavers list of properties currently offering discounted award nights.
To give you a quick example, the JW Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay Resort & Spa is a Category 5 hotel. At this property, award nights are 35,000 points each but cash rates can often run well over $400 per night. By using points and booking a five-night stay in the example below, you would need to redeem just 140,000 points instead of 175,000 by using the fifth-night-free benefit. Paid rates start at $408 per night on the same dates, which means you’d be getting 1.46 cents per point in value. This is a decent value when compared to TPG’s valuation of Marriott points at 0.9 cents each.
The new Marriott Rewards program is also a transfer partner of 44 airlines including domestic ones like Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue and United; and international programs like Air New Zealand, Avianca, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Qantas, Qatar and Singapore. Most transfers at a 3:1 ratio. Plus, when you transfer 60,000 points at a time, you also get a 5,000-mile bonus, yielding even more value. All this gives Marriott points even more flexibility when it comes to redeeming them for travel.
Beyond award redemptions, transfer partnerships and its welcome bonus, the Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express offers numerous other benefits that deserve some consideration.
Elite status: Simply by having the card, you’ll receive 15 Elite Night credits each year on or before Mar. 1. This will automatically earn you Silver Elite status, but can also help you toward reaching a higher status level. Silver Elite status doesn’t have many benefits, but you’ll get 10% bonus points on stays and priority late checkout.
Gold status through spending: You can earn Gold Elite status by spending $35,000 or more on purchases in a calendar year. You’ll get Gold Elite status for the remainder of the year in which you earned it as well as the next year.
Free Night: After each card account anniversary, you’ll get a Free Night Award that can be used for one night at a participating Category 1-5 hotel.
Premium internet: Card holders who book a qualifying rate receive premium in-room internet access when staying at participating SPG and Marriott Rewards properties. This can save you fees that can range up to over $20 per day at some hotels.
No foreign transaction fees (See Rates & Fees): Though this card used to charge you an extra fee for making purchases abroad, Amex began waiving foreign transaction fees back in 2015, making it an even better choice to use while traveling.
Complimentary Boingo Wi-Fi access: Card holders get free, unlimited Wi-Fi when they enroll in the Boingo American Express Preferred Plan. This plan entitles them to access on up to four devices at over a million land-based hotspots around the world.
Amex Offers: Card holders are eligible for Amex Offers, which are targeted discounts or bonus earning on purchases at dozens of different merchants ranging from hotels and airlines to restaurants and clothing stores. To sign up for individual offers, you just need to log into your Amex account, see what is available at any given time and register your card for a specific offer before making a purchase at the corresponding merchant.
Purchase protections: This card offers many standard Amex shopping protections including return protection of up to $300 per item up to a maximum of $1,000 per account per year, purchase protection of up to $1,000 per occurrence and up to $50,000 per account per year extended warranty. But, this card doesn’t offer price protection.
Travel protections: The Starwood Amex provides travel accident insurance and baggage protection when you when you are traveling on a common carrier and purchase the entire fare using your card. Although these protections are useful, they don’t include many of the protections, like trip delay protection and delayed baggage protection, that are often included with travel rewards cards.
Rental car insurance: This card offers secondary rental insurance of up to $50,000 per rental agreement for incidents like damage or theft. If you want primary car rental loss and damage insurance, you can add American Express’ Premium Car Rental Protection plan to rentals made with this card.
Global Assist: Amex offers a hotline for coordination and assistance services that you can call upon in times of need when traveling, though you still have to pay for any arrangements they make for you.
Premium Roadside Assistance: Card holders receive help making emergency roadside assistance arrangements if their car suddenly becomes inoperable. While any services that occur, like towing or changing a flat, are not covered, at least cardholders have a hotline they can call in a pinch to help arrange assistance.
Which Cards Compete With the SPG Amex?
The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card is out there on the playing field with cards that have similar annual fees such as the Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card, The World of Hyatt Credit Card, and the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card. There are some major differences to note, though.
All of these hotel cobranded credit cards offer status, but the SPG Amex and Marriott Premier Plus do so in a more flexible manner by providing elite night credits instead of a particular status level. This allows you to use these elite nights toward a higher Marriott status if you stay at Marriott properties frequently.
When it comes to earning, the SPG Amex doesn’t have any strong earning categories except for purchases made at Starwood and Marriott properties. Other cards offer bonus points on airline tickets (Hyatt), dining (Hilton, Hyatt, IHG), groceries (Hilton, IHG) or gas (Hilton, IHG). So, you probably won’t want to make this your everyday card unless you are attempting to stockpile Marriott points for a particular redemption.
However, the card does offer several valuable perks like a free night after each card account anniversary, internet access at Marriott and SPG hotels and plenty of protections that the average consumer can take advantage of. Plus, there are ample redemption options for your points ranging from hotel stays to transfers to airline partners.
Though it might not appear to be as lucrative an earner as some of its competitors, the Starwood Preferred Guest Amex remains one of the strongest travel cards on the market thanks to the benefits of the new Marriott Program. Those include some spectacular hotel award redemption values, the flexibility to transfer points to 44 different airlines and Amex’s own standout slate of benefits.
However, the launch of Marriott Bonvoy on Feb. 13 means this card will be rebranded as the Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card on Feb. 12. And, the new Bonvoy card will not be open for new applications. So, now is the time to apply for the SPG Amex if you’ve been waiting. Just make sure to read up on how Chase and Amex are limiting bonuses before doing so.
Official application link: Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
For rates and fees of the SPG Amex Card, please click here.
Featured image courtesy of the St. Regis Maldives.