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The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express has been one of the top-rated credit cards in the travel space for over a decade now. Cardholders earn valuable Starpoints, 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 Starwood’s 30+ airline partners. No wonder TPG consistently ranks Starpoints with the highest value in his monthly valuations.

One other reason you might want to consider the card now? As Marriott and Starwood continue their merger proceedings, there’s no telling how much longer this card, or the Starwood Preferred Guest program itself, might be around. That’s why now is the time to maximize both your points and your credit card strategy when it comes to this loyalty program and this particular credit card.

(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)

Who Is This Card For?

Like many other hotel co-branded credit cards, the Starwood Preferred Guest Card Amex is geared specifically toward members of the Starwood Preferred Guest program who want to supplement their stay-based points earning with earning on everyday purchases. The card also comes with perks like bonus earning and discounts at SPG (and Marriott) properties.

However, the SPG 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.]

Note that there’s the Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express as well. This card offers nearly identical benefits to the personal SPG Amex — but also includes Sheraton Club access on eligible rates.

Bonus and Annual Fee

The card currently offers up to $200 in statement credits; earn a $100 statement credit after spending $1,000 in the first three months of cardmembership. Plus, an additional $100 statement credit after your first purchase at participating SPG or Marriott Rewards hotel within the first six months.

The card has periodically offered bonuses of up to 35,000 points, though we haven’t seen one of those offers on the personal card in a while. The card carries a $95 annual fee that is waived the first year.

Earning

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 Hyatt Credit Card and the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card.

Cardholders earn 2 points per dollar on eligible purchases at participating Starwood and Marriott hotels and 1 point per dollar on everything else. According to TPG’s valuations, that’s a 2.7% return on everyday spending, and 5.4% on Starwood/Marriott purchases.

Earn bonus points using your card at Starwood properties like the St. Regis Bora Bora.

That 2x rate is hard to beat, especially considering it’s on top of any points you earn as an SPG member with potential elite 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 EveryDay Preferred Card from American Express for supermarket and gas purchases.

Redeeming

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 Starwood Preferred Guest program fields hotels in seven categories. Award nights require between 2,000-35,000 points per night, or between 1,500 points + $30 and 15,000 points + $275 with the program’s Cash & Points rates, and there are some incredible deals to be had. SPG 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.

To give you a quick example, the W Punta de Mita is a Category 6 hotel, where award nights are 25,000 points each, but can cost well over $1,000 per night. By using points and booking a five-night stay in the example below, you would need to redeem just 100,000 points instead of 125,000 with that fifth-night-free benefit. Paid rates are $1,140 per night the same dates. That means you’d be getting 5.7 cents per point in value.

Starwood Preferred Guest is also a transfer partner of over 30 airlines including domestic ones like Alaska, American, Delta and Hawaiian; and international programs like those of ANA, British Airways, Emirates, Singapore Airlines and Virgin Atlantic. Not only are most transfers at a 1:1 ratio, but when you transfer 20,000 points at a time, you also get a 5,000-point (or 25%) bonus, yielding even more value. All this gives Starpoints even more flexibility when it comes to redeeming them for travel.

It is also possible to transfer points between the Starwood Preferred Guest and Marriott Rewards programs at a rate of 1 SPG point to 3 Marriott points, which in turn creates some incredible value propositions, both in terms of Marriott and Ritz-Carlton awards, as well as Marriott Hotel + Air packages.

As another quick example, the Ritz-Carlton Langkawi is a Tier 2 property requiring 40,000 Ritz-Carlton or Marriott Rewards points per award night.

Room rates in May are running around 2,450 Malaysian Ringgit, or about $632.

You would need to transfer 14,000 SPG points to Marriott in order to end up with 42,000 points for each night, getting you a value of over four cents per Starpoint. There are also myriad ways of maximizing Marriott’s Hotel + Air Packages by converting big bundles of Marriott points into both hotel stays and airline miles in one shot.

Perks

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 credits: Simply by having the card, you earn two stays and five nights worth of credit toward elite status each year. That’s 20% of the way toward Gold status and additional perks like points-earning bonuses, complimentary premium in-room Wi-Fi and late checkout.

Gold status through spending: Speaking of Gold status, you can earn it outright by spending $30,000 or more on purchases in a calendar year.

Premium internet: Cardholders who book a points-earning paid rate receive premium internet access when staying at participating SPG properties, which can save you fees that can range up to over $20 per day at some hotels.

No foreign transaction fees: Though this card used to charge you an extra fee for making purchases abroad, Amex began waiving foreign transaction fees on it back in 2015, making it an even better choice to use while traveling.

Complimentary Boingo Wi-Fi access: The Starwood Amex offers cardholders free, unlimited Wi-Fi when they enroll in the Boingo American Express Preferred Plan. That entitles them to access on up to four devices at over a million hotspots around the world.

Amex Offers: Cardholders 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, such as 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, and other benefits like extended warranty, but not price protection.

Stressed, tired or ill woman at the airport
The card comes with myriad travel protections for when things go wrong. Image courtesy of kieferpix via Getty Images

Travel protections: The Starwood Amex covers you while traveling if you use it to purchase a ticket on a common carrier like an airline or railway. Those protections including things like lost or delayed baggage protection, trip delay reimbursement and travel accident insurance of up to $100,000.

Rental car insurance: This card offers secondary rental insurance of up to $50,000 per rental agreement for incidents like damage or theft.

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: Cardholders 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.

Entertainment access: Starwood has its Moments packages, but cardholders get exclusive access to ticket presales and cardmember-only events in various cities, such as Broadway shows and sporting events.

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 Hyatt Credit Card from Chase, the Hilton Ascend Card and the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card. There are some major differences to note, though.

The SPG Amex does not offer outright elite status like the others do, though it does give cardholders a boost toward low-level status. Nor does it earn bonus points on purchases other than those made at Starwood (and Marriott) properties, such as airline tickets (Hyatt, Marriott) or dining (Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott). Its future is also uncertain while Starwood and Marriott continue to iron out the details of their merger.

However, the card does offer several valuable perks like internet access at hotels and through Boingo, a step up toward SPG elite status and plenty of protections that the average consumer can take advantage of. Its earning rate of 2x extra points per dollar at Starwood and Marriott hotels might not seem like much, but it amounts to a 100% bonus over regular earning, which is nothing to ignore.

That’s all in addition to benefits offered by the SPG program, such as points transfers to a few dozen airline partners, points conversions to Marriott and other benefits like Crossover Rewards with Delta and Your World Rewards with Emirates, all of which set it apart from other travel rewards cards and the programs of which they are a part.

Bottom Line

Though it might not appear to be as lucrative an earner as some of its competitors, the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express remains one of the strongest travel cards on the market thanks to the benefits of the SPG program itself. Those include some spectacular hotel award redemption values, the flexibility to transfer points to so many airlines and Amex’s own standout slate of benefits, both travel-related and otherwise. Considering the fact that both this card and Starwood Preferred Guest program itself might not be around longer, now might be a great time to apply while you can still maximize both.

Featured image courtesy of the St. Regis Maldives.

Starwood Points are the most valuable points currency out there.
Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

 

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More Things to Know
  • Earn a $100 statement credit after you make $1,000 in purchases on the Card within your first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Plus, earn an additional $100 statement credit after your first purchase on the Card at a participating SPG® or Marriott Rewards® hotel within your first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • From now through July 31, 2018: Earn 2 Starpoints® for every dollar of eligible purchases on the Card at participating SPG® and Marriott Rewards® hotels. Earn 1 Starpoint for all other eligible purchases.
  • On August 1, 2018, SPG will convert every one Starpoint in a loyalty member account to three points. In general, corresponding redemption changes will occur. Visit members.marriott.com for details.
  • Effective August 1, 2018: Earn 6 points for every dollar of eligible purchases on the Card at participating SPG and Marriott Rewards® hotels. Earn 2 points for all other eligible purchases.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on International purchases.
  • Earn free nights at over 1,500 hotels and resorts in over 100 countries with no blackout dates. Some hotels may have mandatory service and resort charges.
  • Enjoy complimentary, unlimited Boingo Wi-Fi on up to four devices at more than 1,000,000 Boingo hotspots worldwide. Enrollment required.
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
16.99%-20.99% Variable
Annual Fee
$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are 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.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.