Credit Card Review: Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Cards from American Express

One of the first cards I applied for when I started collecting miles and points seriously was the Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express (let’s agree to call it the SPG AMEX from here on out, OK?). At the time, I read several websites saying how valuable Starpoints were and one of the only ways to earn them was by getting and using this card.

Here are some of the benefits of the card and why, despite the lack of bonus categories and benefits, I’ve kept it, year after year. Hint: Starpoints are still really valuable!

Sign Up Bonus

The SPG AMEX card is currently offering 25,000 Starpoints if you spend $3,000 in purchases in the first 3 months after opening your account. The annual fee for this card is $95 but is waived for the first year. This is the typical bonus offered for this card. Since American Express only allows you to get a signup bonus for any card once per LIFETIME, it’s highly recommended to wait for a great offer before applying. However, I’ll explain later on why that approach may not be a good idea for this card.

You can sign up for the Starwood AMEX by using my referral link. I would greatly appreciate it because I receive a bonus for everyone who gets the card. Thanks!

Earning Starpoints

The SPG AMEX card earns Starpoints, which is the currency of the Starwood Preferred Guest program. When spending on the card, you earn points as follows:

  • Earn 2 Starpoints for every dollar of eligible purchases at participating Starwood and Marriott Hotels
  • Earn 1 Starpoint for all other eligible purchases

Now, I’ll admit that is not a very exciting list of bonus categories. Even at Starwood and Marriott hotels you only earn 2X points but you can earn 3x points on all hotel spending by using either the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Citi Prestige cards.

Card Benefits

Let’s look at what benefits you get with Starwood for having the card:

  • Free in-room premium internet (when booking directly though Starwood)
  • Credit for 5 nights and 2 stays towards achieving SPG elite status
  • Unlimited Wi-Fi access at Boingo hotspots worldwide
  • Earn Starwood Gold Status after spending $30,000 or more in eligible purchases in a calendar year.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees

Ways to Use Starpoints

Starpoints are considered by many, including myself, to be one of the most valuable currencies in the miles and points universe. Besides being able to use points to stay at Starwood properties, you are able to transfer Starpoints to Marriott Rewards for more choice in hotels, as well as transfer them to many different Airline Frequent Flyer programs (possibly with a bonus, depending on how many point you transfer). Not counting the additional options of SPG Moments (which I explain later in this post) and booking any airfare with SPG Flights.

Hotel Stays

Starpoints can be used for award stays at any of the Starwood Hotels. Since Starwood’s merger with Marriott, you can also transfer Starpoints into the Marriott Rewards program at a 1:3 ratio (showing how valuable Starpoints actually are in comparison). Those points can then be used to book rewards in any of the Marriott family of hotels. Between the two brands, they cover over 30 chains worldwide where you can spend your points:

  1. The Ritz-Carlton
  2. St. Regis
  3. JW Marriott
  4. Ritz-Carlton Reserve
  5. The Luxury Collection
  6. BULGARI
  7. W Hotels
  8. EDITION
  9. Marriott Hotels
  10. Sheraton
  11. Marriott Vacation Club
  12. Delta Hotels
  13. Le Meriden
  14. Westin
  15. Autograph Collection
  16. Design Hotels
  17. Renaissance Hotels
  18. Tribute Portfolio
  19. Gaylord Hotels
  20. Courtyard Hotels
  21. Four Points
  22. SpringHill Suites
  23. Protea Hotels
  24. Fairfield Inn & Suites
  25. AC Hotels
  26. Aloft Hotels
  27. Moxy Hotels
  28. Marriott Executive Apartments
  29. Residence Inn
  30. TownPlace Suites
  31. element

Flights

You can transfer Starpoints to the frequent flyer programs of over 30 different airlines. You also get a bonus of 5,000 extra miles when you transfer 20,000 Starpoints. That means that if you transfer only in 20,000 Starpoint increments, each dollar you’ve spent earned 1.25 air miles. This is a better return on everyday spending than you will get with the co-branded card from many airlines and a reason the SPG AMEX is so great for spending in non-bonus categories. Just don’t transfer to the airlines with anything other than 1:1 ratios (Hi there, United!) because then it’s no longer a good deal (Except LAN where the 1:1.5 ratio is because their program is based in Kilometers, so that’s OK)

Frequent Flyer Program Exchange Ratio (Starpoints:Miles)
Aeromexico Club Premier 1:1
Aeroplan/Air Canada 1:1
Air Berlin 1:1
Air China Companion 1:1
Air New Zealand & Air Points 65:1
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan 1:1
Alitalia MileMiglia 1:1
ANA Mileage Club 1:1
American Airlines AAdvantage 1:1
Asia Miles 1:1
Asiana Airlines 1:1
British Airways Executive Club 1:1
China Eastern Airlines 1:1
China Southern Airlines Sky Pearl Club 1:1
Delta Air Lines Skymiles 1:1
Emirates Skywards 1:1
Etihad Airways 1:1
Flying Blue 1:1
Gol Smiles 2:1
Hainan Airlines 1:1
Hawaiian Airlines 1:1
Japan Airlines Mileage Bank 1:1
Jet Airways 1:1
Korean Air 1:1
LAN Airlines 1:1.5
Miles and More 1:1
Qatar Airways 1:1
Saudi Arabian Airlines 1:1
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer 1:1
Thai Airways International Royal Orchid Plus 1:1
United Mileage Plus 2:1
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club 1:1
Virgin Australia 1:1

You can also book flights with the SPG Flights program and use your Starpoints to book any available flight. This a decent redemption for less expensive flights, as it would only take 20,000 points to book a flight up to $280. However, if you’re looking for business class overseas tickets, the cost is often several thousands of dollars and the Starpoints required escalate quickly. In these cases, it’s not a great way to get value for your points compared to transferring them and booking through an airlines frequent flyer program (if space is available). Here’s how many Starpoints it takes depending on the cost of a ticket.

Ticket Price* Starpoints
up to $150 10,000
$150-$215 15,000
$215-$280 20,000
$280-$345 25,000
$345-$410 30,000
$410-$475 35,000
$475-$540 40,000
$540-$605 45,000
$605-$670 50,000
$670-$735 55,000
$735-$800 60,000
$800-$865 65,000
$865-$930 70,000
$930-$995 75,000
$995-$1060 80,000
Higher prices (examples)
$2,880-$3,140 235,000
$4,960-$5,220 395,000
$9,900-$10,160 775,000

Other uses for Starpoints

Starwood also offers other interesting ways for you to spend your Starpoints. One of those is the SPG Moments program. Some of the events they offer a set price are:

  • Access SPG Luxury Suite for the Billy Joel, Bruno Mars, Paul McCartney, Depeche Mode or Eric Clapton concerts at Madison Square Garden
  • Watch a Cubs game at Wrigley Field from the SPG Luxury Suite

Besides the fixed price tickets, they also have auctions for more “once in a lifetime” events.

  • Enjoy an exclusive dinner at The French Laundry with Chef Thomas Keller
  • Play with a tennis pro at Arthur Ashe Stadium and SPG Luxury Suite tickets to the US Open.
  • Throw out a first pitch at Wrigley Field (Sold for 186,000 Starpoints)

For one of the most expensive uses of Starpoints, here’s an article by Dan, of the website Dan’s Deals, who won an auction to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Game 7 of the World Series at Wrigley Field for 1,060,500 Starpoints.

Final Thoughts

I keep this card because I still find Starpoints to be really useful due to their value and flexibility. Unfortunately, the merger of Starwood and Marriott puts the long term viability of this card in doubt. Marriott already has a card issued by Chase and who knows what will happen to the SPG AMEX when the programs are further integrated. Right now, you can earn more points on Marriott stays using the SPG AMEX card  (2 SPG points = 6 Marriott points) than you can with the Marriott Chase card (5 Marriott points). Since AMEX just finished with a bonus offer on this card in February, it seems unlikely they will increase the offer again soon. If it was me and I didn’t already have the card, now would be as good of a time as any to get it.

As far as how to use your points, I hoarded the Starpoints I earned with this card for years. I always felt there would be some exotic destination I would want to travel to and I would transfer Starpoints to the airline for the fancy seats on the flights. With limited vacation time, I’ve realized I have enough points and it was time to start spending my Starpoints. Luckily, I’ve found that using Starpoints for hotel stays can also be a great value. I wish we could stay somewhere for 5 nights so I could take advantage of the fifth night free on reward stays.

One of the most common uses of this perk is to stay for five nights at the Swan or Dolphin hotels at Walt Disney World with Starpoints for the price of four nights. With rooms going for 10,000 points a night, you could stay 5 nights on Disney World property for only 40,000 points. That’s a fantastic deal and a pity we have no use for it as we live 15 minutes away AND own a membership with  Disney Vacation Club.

Swolfin

When using my Starpoints, my minimum redemption value at hotels is 2 cents per point. Since I only use the card for expenses I would not otherwise earn a bonus on with another card (like a down payment for a Jeep), redeeming them for anything less means I would have done better using a 2% cash back card. I’ve had no problems finding redemptions worth that much or more and I look forward to spending the rest of my hard earned Starpoints.

Are you a member of Starwood Preferred Guest and if so do you have the SPG AMEX card? What’s the most important benefit of the card for you?

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