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Updated July 17, 2017

Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card Review: $95 Worth It?

Editorial Note: This content is not provided by the card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of the issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer.
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Do you like to travel? Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express earns points that you can redeem for hotel stays and flights. Plus, there's a bonus offer! But the card has an annual fee. Read on to find out if the SPG card is still worth considering.

4/19/2018 Update: Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express is no longer available on CreditDonkey. This offer may have been discontinued or may no longer be available to new applicants.

Overall Score

4.5

Rewards

5.0

Fees

4.0

Benefits

4.0

Airline Transfer Partners

5.0
5-point scale (the higher, the better)

Pros and Cons

  • Earn bonus points after you make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months
  • Flexible transfer to airlines miles
  • $95 annual fee

Bottom Line

Excellent rewards card for travelers looking for free hotel stays or airfare

Starwood Credit Card Promotion

Who the AMEX SPG is Right For

  • Travelers who stay at Starwood hotels such as Sheraton, Westin, St Regis, W Hotels, Le Meridien, Element, Loft, or Four Points.

  • Travelers who fly American Airlines, Delta Airlines or any SPG 1:1 airline transfer partners. Why? Because unlike most airline credit cards that only offer 1 mile per dollar spent, you can effectively earn 25% more with this card — by taking advantage of the 5,000 bonus Starpoints whenever you transfer 20,000 points to an airline transfer partner in a single transaction. We'll explain below.

Why SPG Credit Card is Worth It

Want a hotel credit card? Here are reasons to consider the SPG AMEX credit card (and 3 reasons to skip the card):

  1. You want the bonus:
    Spend $3,000 within the first 3 months of opening your account and you’ll get 25,000 Starpoints.

    The bonus is enough to cover a 2-night stay in a category 4 hotel (like the Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina, Westin Chicago North Shore, and Walt Disney World Dolphin) or several nights at a lower category hotel, which can be booked for as few as 2,000 Starpoints a night.

    Points Value: Using the Walt Disney World Dolphin example, booking a room for 2 nights for the weekend of August 18, 2017, would cost me $580 ($290/night) or 20,000 Starpoints. In this case, I would be redeeming my Starpoints for almost 3 cents each - much higher than the typical 1 point:1 cent offered by other programs.

    Take a long vacation. 25,000 Starpoints is enough to book 8 free hotel nights at a Category 1 hotel like the Aloft San Jose Hotel in Costa Rica or Le Meridien Pyramids Hotel & Spa in Egypt. Category 1 hotels costs 2,000 - 3,000 Starpoints per night.

    More American Express Promotions for July 2018:

    ForCard
    Airline PurchasesPremier Rewards Gold
    Premium TravelThe Platinum Card
    Delta AirlinesGold Delta SkyMiles

  2. You get a bonus for transferring Starpoints to airline partners:
    Starwood lets you transfer your Starpoints at full value to the frequent flier programs of more than two dozen partner airlines.

    How Much Are Starwood Points Worth: If you transfer 20,000 Starpoints in a single transaction, Starwood gives you a bonus of 5,000 Starpoints.

    That’s the equivalent of earning 1.25 miles on your purchases if you transfer your Starpoints into miles. This is where Starpoints really show their value because most airline cards usually give just 1 mile per dollar spent. Additionally, unlike most airline credit cards, you won’t be forced to use just one airline.

    Tip: You only get the 5,000 points bonus if you transfer 20,000 points, so to take full advantage of this bonus, ONLY transfer amounts in 20,000 increments. In other words, if you transfer 19,999 points, you'll receive no bonus. And if you transfer 35,000 points, you'll only receive 5,000 bonus points and nothing from that extra 15,000 points.

    Many airline transfer partners are on a 1:1 basis such as:

    • American Airlines,
    • Delta Airlines,
    • Alaska Airlines,
    • Hawaiian Airlines,
    • British Airways,
    • Air Canada,
    • Aeromexico,
    • Emirates,
    • Virgin Atlantic,
    • Qatar Airways,
    • Korean Air,
    • Asiana Airlines,
    • Jet Airways,
    • Air China,
    • Air Berlin,
    • Japan Airlines,
    • Hainan Airlines,
    • Thai Airways,
    • China Southern Airlines,
    • Korean Airlines,
    • Miles and More,
    • All Nippon Airways,
    • and China Eastern Airlines.

  3. You want to earn Starpoints:
    Now that you know the power of SPG points, you’ll want to keep earning more. Unfortunately, they’re not easy to get. Without the Starwood credit card, your options are limited to joining the SPG loyalty program, which will get you 2 Starpoints for each dollar you spend at a Starwood property, or 3 if you have elite status. With the credit card, you’ll earn an additional 2 Starpoints for each Starwood-eligible purchase, which combined is up to 5 Starpoints per dollar. Other purchases made with the Starwood card will get you 1 Starpoint per dollar.

  4. You want to get to elite status faster:
    Elite status means perks that improve your hotel experience, like late checkout (when available) and room upgrades (subject to availability).

    Starwood has two levels of elite status: Gold and Platinum. Without the Starwood card, you’d have to achieve status with 10 stays or 25 nights for Gold and 25 stays or 50 nights for Platinum. But the Starwood credit card has a fast pass to status: spending $30,000 in a year gets you automatic Gold. If that sounds like more than you plan to spend, know that the Starwood card also gives you an annual credit for 5 nights and 2 stays toward SPG elite status. You’ll instantly be 20% closer toward your goal.

  5. You want to take your card abroad:
    The Starwood credit card doesn’t have a foreign transaction fee, meaning you can use it to earn Starpoints worldwide. While this is a welcome improvement, it took AMEX way too long to drop this fee.

  6. You want Wi-Fi:
    It’s always nice to be connected, and the Starwood credit card can make it happen with complimentary access to 1 million Boingo hotspots worldwide (on up to 4 devices per month).

    As a cardmember, you also get free in-room premium internet when you book an eligible reservation directly with SPG at participating SPG properties.

  7. You want to be protected while traveling:
    You’ll automatically get car rental insurance and travel insurance when you use this card for your eligible travel expenses, and it'll help shield against unforeseen mishaps. The American Express Global Hotline will assist you if you’ve lost your passport or need to find an English-speaking doctor.

  8. You like to extend your hotel stays:
    Thanks to Starwood’s Fifth Night Free promotion, you’ll get to stay an extra night if you redeem Starpoints for 4 nights at a category 3-7 hotel. That’s another whole day you’ll be able to enjoy, at no extra cost (excluding gratuities, resort fees, and incidental fees like room service).

  9. You can now transfer Starpoints to Marriott for even more options:
    Since the Marriott and Starwood merger in late 2016, you can now also transfer Starpoints to Marriott and Ritz Carlton Rewards program. The transfer rate is 1 Starpoint = 3 Marriott/Ritz Carlton Rewards points. Normally, we don't think Marriott's reward rate is too good. However, with the excellent 1:3 transfer rate with SPG points, you could find great value on Marriott properties.

    For example, a night at a Marriott Category 5 hotel cost 25,000 points. At a 1:3 ratio, you would just need 8,334 SPG points. For the July 2017 weekend in the Courtyard Westbury Long Island in New York, a room cost $256 for the night. If using points transferred from SPG, you'd be redeeming at a value of over 3 cents a point.

  10. You love weekends in Las Vegas:
    Up until recently, Starwood's Las Vegas presence left much to be desired. But with the recent acquisition of the SLS (now W Las Vegas) and the Marriott merger, you have more options for using SPG points for a weekend in Sin City. Here are two of our favorites:

    In December 2016, Starwood officially opened the luxurious W Las Vegas (Category 5, 12,000 SPG points). It's about 2 miles to the center of the Strip, but it has a casino, nightclub, 3 pools, and 10 restaurants/bars. You can also transfer SPG points to Marriott Rewards and stay at the Cosmopolitan (Category 9, 15,000 SPG points converted to 45,000 Marriott Rewards points) for amazing value, as a room can go as high as $400+ a night.

But Wait. 3 Reasons to Consider Another Card

  • You like bonus categories on spending:
    The Starwood card doesn’t offer the earning variety that other travel rewards cards do on purchases. Other travel rewards cards may offer bonus categories where you can earn more points for your purchases. For example, with the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you’ll earn 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases worldwide. The Citi ThankYou Premier card gets you 3X points on travel and on gas.

    Keep in mind, not all points are created equal and in many cases, 1 Starpoint may be worth more than the 2X points on a competing card, depending on how you value your points. You’ll need to develop a points strategy based on the purchases you’ll most likely make.

  • You want more flexibility with your hotels:
    Despite the number of locations, Starwood properties aren’t always an option. If you stay at one hotel chain more than another, then you’d be better off getting that chain’s co-branded credit card. If you’re hopping from hotel chain to hotel chain, then consider a rewards card like the Capital One Venture, which lets you redeem rewards for travel expenses (including stays at any hotel) in the form of a statement credit.

  • You fly United Airlines or Southwest:
    The Starwood credit card won’t do much to boost your United MileagePlus account because Starpoints only transfer at a 2:1 ratio for United miles. Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program isn’t even on the list. If you fly United Airlines or Southwest, you may want to consider the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which transfers at a 1:1 ratio to United and Southwest.

Our Thoughts about the Starwood Credit Card

© CreditDonkey

The Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) credit card is like the duck-billed platypus of travel rewards cards. Much like that unusual, egg-laying mammal, the Starwood card exists between worlds. Although technically a co-branded credit card for Starwood hotels, it also wants to be an airline card and an everyday rewards card. Most of time, a confused identity results in a disappointing product (see: the duck-billed platypus). Fortunately, in Starwood’s case, the confusion pays off, making this hybrid rewards card, in our opinion, one of the most flexible and valuable around.

The value of the card comes in the form of Starwood points (or Starpoints / SPG points). Starpoints are the global currency of Starwood’s more than 1,300 hotels and resorts in over 100 countries, including popular brands such as Sheraton, Westin, W Hotels, St Regis, Le Meridien, element, and aloft.

And once you start using them, you’ll quickly see why we think Starpoints are worth more than the “miles” or “points” offered by many other loyalty programs.

How to Use Points

© CreditDonkey

How you choose to redeem your Starpoints is where the flexibility comes in to play. You can obviously decide to cash them in to get free nights at Starwood properties (how many points you have to use for a stay depends on which of 7 categories the hotel falls under; a category 1 property requires fewer points than a category 7 hotel, like the St. Regis Princeville Resort in Hawaii during peak season).

Here's how many Starpoints it'll cost per night for a standard room:

  • Category 1: 2,000 - 3,000 Starpoints
  • Category 2: 3,000 - 4,000 Starpoints
  • Category 3: 7,000 Starpoints
  • Category 4: 10,000 Starpoints
  • Category 5: 12,000 - 16,000 Starpoints
  • Category 6: 20,000 - 25,000 Starpoints
  • Category 7: 30,000 - 35,000 Starpoints

However, if you’d rather have a free flight, Starpoints can also be transferred to more than 30 partner airlines. There is no penalty or charge for this transfer and points are usually converted on a full 1:1 basis. Plus, each time you transfer 20,000 Starpoints to most eligible frequent flier programs, you receive an extra 5,000 point bonus. With this point bonus, you collect reward miles faster on the Starwood card than on many other airline miles credit cards.

Who is the Starwood American Express Card good for?

Royal Hawaiian Hotel
Royal Hawaiian Hotel © Brian (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

All of this is promising, but because the travel rewards market is becoming increasingly crowded, the Starwood credit card might not be your best option. It depends on how you’ll use it and how likely you’ll be able to get value out of it. To get good value out of this card, it helps if:

  • You’re a frequent traveler:
    You don’t have to spend half your time in a hotel or on a plane, but in our opinion, you need to be traveling at least a few times a year to get any value.

    If you never leave your house, please don’t pursue a travel rewards card — instead, consider a cashback credit card that gives you control over your redemption options (cash is cash).

  • You’re a fan of Starwood hotels and resorts:
    Starwood has 11 brands located across the world, including Westin, Sheraton, and Aloft. More than likely, you’re already a Starwood fan and just didn’t know it.

    With the credit card, you can take advantage of perks like free, premium in-room Internet (booking requirements apply). Plus, beyond the welcome bonus (25,000 Starpoints after you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months of opening your account), one of the best ways to earn Starpoints is by using your card at Starwood properties.

  • You can justify the annual fee with rewards:
    The card can offer a lot of value but only if you get back more than the $95 annual fee (which is waived for the first year). Having the fee waived the first year helps, but that extra cost will come calling soon. You’ll need to maximize your Starpoint earnings and make sure you’re paying the balance off each month.

How It Compares

© CreditDonkey

The Starwood American Express isn’t the only travel rewards card fighting for a space in your wallet. Let’s take a look at the competition to see how well it compares.

If you want more opportunities to earn/redeem rewards: Chase Sapphire Preferred
For a similar annual fee ($0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95), you can get the Chase Sapphire Preferred. With the Sapphire Preferred, you can earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

While the Starwood bonus may be worth more (depending on how you value them), you’re usually limited to Starwood properties or airline partners to enjoy it. With the Sapphire Preferred, you can use your bonus toward any hotel or flight reservation made through Ultimate Rewards.

The Sapphire Preferred also has more earning potential than the Starwood card. You earn 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases worldwide. While travel scholars can endlessly debate whether Ultimate Rewards points are more valuable than Starpoints, there’s no question which ones are easier to get.

If you like staying at Marriott properties, you may like the AMEX SPG more. While Marriott is one of Chase's hotel partners, the transfer rate is 1 Ultimate Rewards point for 1 Marriott Rewards point (1:1). In comparison, with Starwood, the transfer rate is 1 Starwood point for 3 Marriott Rewards points (1:3).

If you want travel benefits: American Express Platinum
The Starwood card makes it easier to get elite status, but wouldn’t it be nice if there were a card that just gave it to you? That’s precisely what the American Express Platinum does, although the convenience does come at cost.

With the Platinum, you’ll get Starwood Preferred Guest Gold Status and the perks that go along with it (such as 4 p.m. late checkouts and enhanced rooms, when available).

The Platinum’s $550 annual fee is expensive but the cost comes down a bit when you consider the $200 annual airline fee credit and access to select airport lounges. There’s also a bonus of 60,000 Membership Reward points if you spend $5,000 in the first 3 months.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Which hotels are part of Starwood properties?
    The Starwood portfolio includes 11 brands: St. Regis, The Luxury Collection, W Hotels, Le Méridien, Westin, Sheraton, Aloft, Element Hotels, Four Points by Sheraton, Tribute Portfolio and Design Hotels.

  • Does the SPG credit card have an intro APR period?
    Unfortunately no. The AMEX SPG card has no promotional APR for purchases or balance transfers. If you're thinking of applying for this card, it's best that you are able to pay off your balance in full each month.

  • What is the minimum and maximum number of points I can transfer?
    For transferring points to airline partners, if you're a Preferred Guest, the minimum transfer requirement is 2,500 points. For Gold status, the minimum is 1,500 points. And Platinum status has no minimum (except for where it's not a 1:1 transfer). However, note that you can only get the 5,000 bonus points if you make a transfer of 20,000 points at one time. Every increment of 20,000 points will automatically get 5,000 bonus points.

    The maximum amount you can transfer to one airline partner is 79,999 points. You can transfer to the same travel partner ONCE in a 24 hour period.

  • How do I transfer my SPG points to Marriott?
    You have to be a member of both SPG and Marriott Rewards (both are free to join). Then you must link your SPG and Marriott accounts. You can do this by logging into one of your accounts, and you'll see options to link to the other account. Once you have linked your accounts, you can start transferring points between them. Points transfer at the rate of 1 Starpoint = 3 Marriott points. You can transfer points in increments of 1,000.

  • Do I get Elite status with this card, and what are the perks?
    No, the AMEX SPG does not give you automatic Elite status. But it does help fast-track your way to Elite state. You can spend $30,000 a year on your card and get automatic Gold status. The card also gives you an annual credit of 5 nights and 2 stays towards elite status.

    There are two levels of Elite status: 1) Gold Status, which is usually achieved with 10 stays or 25 nights a year. And 2) Platinum status, which is achieved with 25 stays or 50 nights a year. So the annual credit gets you 50% of the way to Gold, and 20% of the way to Platinum. Perks include: 1 additional point per dollar spent at Starwood properties, welcome gift, 4 pm late checkout (subject to availability), and room upgrades (subject to availability). Platinum status gets additional perks like continental breakfast and free health club access.

  • How do I get the Boingo access?
    The AMEX SPG card gives you complimentary unlimited Boingo access worldwide. To register, go to amex.boingo.com. You'll then enter your AMEX SPG card number. Once it's been verified, you will be taken to create a Boingo account. And that's it! You can connect up to 4 devices at the same time. Authorized users are also eligible for the complimentary Boingo.

Bottom Line: Is Starwood AMEX Card Worth It?

Los Cabos Westin Hotel
Los Cabos Westin Hotel © Ken Bosma (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

While there’s a lot of competition, few travel rewards cards offer more flexibility and value, in our opinion, than the Starwood Preferred Guest credit card. As long as you find enjoyment in Starwood properties and can take full advantage of the airline partners, then it really is the travel rewards card to beat.

Remember, as with all credit card offers, terms and limitations apply.

4/19/2018 Update: Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express is no longer available on CreditDonkey. This offer may have been discontinued or may no longer be available to new applicants.

Ross Frasier is a research analyst at CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison and financial education website. Write to Ross Frasier at ross@creditdonkey.com. Our data-driven analysis has been recognized by major news outlets across the country and has helped consumers make savvy financial and lifestyle decisions. (read more)

Editorial Note: This content is not provided by American Express. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by American Express. This site may be compensated through the Advertiser's affiliate programs.

Disclaimer: This content was first published on August 12, 2015. This content may have been updated on July 17, 2017. Information including APR, terms and benefits may vary, be out of date, or not applicable to you. Information is provided without warranty. Please check American Express website for updated information.

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. This site may be compensated through the Advertiser's affiliate programs.

Disclaimer: The information for the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card and Citi ThankYou® Premier Card has been collected independently by CreditDonkey. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

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Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed on this page are those of the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.

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