Review: The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express

Starwood was recently in the news because it was bought out by Marriott to create the largest hotel chain in the world. Starwood’s loyalty program will eventually be merged Marriott’s, but for now, you get the best of all worlds, with reciprocal benefits between Starwood, Marriott, and Ritz-Carlton. And now, until April 5, Amex is offering this card with its highest ever initial spending bonus of 35,000 SPG points!

The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express

The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express. Image Credit: courtesy of American Express and Starwood.

Benefits:

  • 25,000 point bonus after spend of $3,000 in 3 months; extra 10,000 point bonus after additional spend of $2,000 within 6 months (expiring offer, April 5)
  • Earn 2x SPG points (per dollar spent) at all Starwood properties
  • Earn 1x points for all other purchases
  • Access to Amex Offers, a promotional benefit linked with companies and brands that saves you money or earns you additional SPG points
  • Credit for 5 nights and 2 stays per year toward SPG Elite status (20 nights away from SPG Gold status; 45 nights away from SPG Platinum status in a calendar year)
  • Free Premium Internet when staying at SPG participating hotels
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • American Express card benefits (including free enrollment to ShopRunner)
  • Referral bonus of 5,000 SPG points, up to 55,000 points, offer expires April 5

Damage:

  • $95 Annual Fee, waived in the first year
  • 15.74% to 19.74% APR variable, based upon your creditworthiness
  • American Express typically limits cardholders to one initial spending bonus per card per lifetime

Analysis:

I’m going to be honest and admit that I’ve always stayed away from this card because the 1x points spending for all purchases just didn’t seem like enough. You really have to delve into the flexibility of the SPG loyalty program to appreciate what this card can do. First of all, SPG has the most travel transfer partners with 35 different airlines (including American, Alaska, ANA, Delta, Hawaiian, JAL, Singapore, United (2:1), Virgin America). Second, if you transfer 20,000 points into airline miles, you get a bonus of 5,000 miles. Third, Starwood offers some reasonable redemption opportunities as well as a lot of flexibility within its own hotel properties.

Starwood Award Chart. Image Credit: courtesy of Starwood.

Fourth, you can transfer SPG points to Marriott/Ritz-Carlton at a 1:3 ratio, which gives you a lot of opportunities, there, as well. Fifth, similar to Hilton stays, if you book 5-nights, you get the fifth award night free. And, sixth, if you transfer to Marriott, you’d have the opportunity to exchange points for Marriott “nights and flights” at the same time (5- and 7-night packages; 5-night packages to be arranged with Marriott Customer Service only). Ultimately, you’re making a big trade-off for the flexibility with these points. I’m still skeptical, however, that it pays off. I mean, utilizing the chart above, you’d have to spend $2,000/month to earn 26,400 SPG points. But if you spent the same amount of money on the Amex EveryDay Preferred Card (review), you could earn 52,200 Membership Rewards points. Which can transfer to some of the same airlines, including Hawaiian and ANA. It’s not that these points don’t hold tremendous value. It’s just that you have to spend so much more to go anywhere. So I’m still on the fence.

There are some huge SPG enthusiasts out there. Anyone care to explain why the SPG card is a great choice for a travel hacker?

Questions, Comments or Criticisms?