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Updated August 15, 2018

Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card Review: 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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Like to travel? Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express earns points that you can redeem for hotel stays and flights. But there are drawbacks. Read on to find out if the card is worth considering.

2/13/2019 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

The SPG card has a $95 annual fee ($0 intro annual fee for the first year) . So why would some travelers still want the card? We'll explain the pros and cons below.

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. You get 6x points on eligible purchases at Starwood and Marriott Reward hotels, and 2x points on other purchases.

    Because of the Starwood and Marriott merger, your points can be redeemed at Starwood, Marriott, and Ritz Carlton hotels.

  • Travelers who fly American Airlines, Delta Airlines or any airline transfer partners. Why? Because you can effectively earn more with this card — by taking advantage of the 15,000 bonus points whenever you transfer 60,000 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 75,000 points.

    To take advantage of this bonus points promotion, visit American Express' secure website to apply now.

  2. You get a bonus for transferring points to airline partners:
    Transfer your points to frequent flier programs of more than two dozen partner airlines.

    How Much Are Points Worth: If you transfer 60,000 points in a single transaction, SPG gives you a bonus of 15,000 points.

    This is where points really show their value because unlike most airline credit cards, you won't be forced to earn points for just one airline. Instead, you can transfer the points you earn on the SPG credit card to more than 40 partner airlines.

    Most airlines have the transfer ratio of 3 points = 1 mile. So 60,000 points plus the 15,000 bonus points will equal a total of 25,000 miles.

    Tip: You only get the 15,000 points bonus if you transfer 60,000 points, so to take full advantage of this bonus, ONLY transfer amounts in 60,000 increments. In other words, if you transfer 59,999 points, you'll receive no bonus. And if you transfer 65,000 points, you'll only receive 15,000 bonus points and nothing from that extra 5,000 points.

    Transfer partners include:

    • American Airlines,
    • Delta Airlines,
    • Southwest 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.

    United and JetBlue are also transfer partners. But the transfer ratio is not 3:1.

  3. You get a free night every year:
    You get a Free Night Award every year after your account anniversary. You can redeem this for a one-night stay at participating SPG and Marriott hotels for a redemption level up to 35,000 points. The room rate and taxes are included, but some hotels may have resort fees.

  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).

    You get automatic Silver Status benefits at SPG and Marriott Rewards hotels. This includes perks like member discount rate, priority late checkout, and dedicated elite reservation line.

    You earn SPG gold status if you spend $30,000 or more on eligible purchases in a calendar year on the card. This includes perks like 2 pm checkout and room upgrades (both subject to availability), as well as welcome gift of points.

    Note: Effective January 1, 2019, to earn Gold Elite status, you need to spend $35,000 or more on eligible purchases in a calendar year.

  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 points when you travel worldwide.

  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 in-room premium internet when you book an eligible reservation at participating SPG and Marriott Rewards hotels.

  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 points 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 use points at Marriott:
    Since the Marriott and Starwood merger in late 2016, you can now redeem points for hotel stays in the Marriott Rewards and Ritz Carlton Rewards program.

But Wait. Here are Reasons to Consider Another Card

  • You want more earning power:
    The Starwood card doesn't offer the best earning power on everyday purchases. You only get 2x points per dollar spent. We value points to be worth anything from 0.5 - 0.9 cent per point. So that means the redemption rate is less than 2% cash back equivalent (1% at worst).

    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. Citi Premier gets you 3x points on travel and on gas.

  • You want more flexibility with your hotels:
    Despite the number of locations, SPG and Marriott 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.

  • It takes a lot of points to transfer to airlines:
    The flexibility to transfer to airline partners is great, but you'll need to spend a lot to earn airline miles. It's the most worthwhile if you can get the bonus miles. If you only spend on everyday purchases, you'll need to spend $30,000 on the card to reach 60,000 points (in order to get the 15,000 points bonus). At the usual ratio of 3 points = 1 mile, you'll get a total of 25,000 miles. There are other travel reward cards that will allow you to rack up airline miles faster with less spending.

    Also note that not all airlines transfer at 3:1 ratio. United and JetBlue both have lesser transfer ratios. If you fly United Airlines, you may want to consider the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which transfers at a 1:1 ratio to United.

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 points. Points are the global currency of Starwood hotels and resorts, including popular brands such as Sheraton, Westin, W Hotels, St Regis, Le Meridien, element, and aloft. Plus, the Starwood and Marriott merger means that you have more choices. You have the option of using your points to stay at Starwood, Marriott, and Ritz Carlton properties.

The earn rate on this card isn't the best. You get 2x points on everyday purchases. This sounds great, however, each point isn't worth that much. We value each point to be worth between 0.5 - 0.9 cents. So if you only spend on everyday purchases, the equivalent reward rate won't go over 2% cashback.

BUT you do get a free night award every card anniversary (no spend threshold required). You can use this for one night at a participating hotel (redemption level at or under 35,000 points). This benefit makes up for the low earning power. This can help justify the annual fee. So it's still a rewarding card even if you're not a heavy credit card spender.

How to Use Points

© CreditDonkey

How you choose to redeem your points 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 categories the hotel falls under; a category 1 property requires fewer points than a higher category hotel).

However, if you'd rather have a free flight, points can also be transferred to more than 30 partner airlines. There is no charge for this transfer. Plus, each time you transfer 60,000 points to most eligible frequent flier programs, you receive an extra 15,000 point bonus.

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 premium in-room Internet (booking requirements apply). Plus, beyond the welcome bonus (75,000 points after you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months of opening your account), one of the best ways to earn points is by using your card at SPG and Marriott 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 ($0 introductory annual fee for the first year) . Having the $0 intro annual fee for the first year helps, but that extra cost will come calling soon. You'll need to maximize your point 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
While the Starwood bonus may be worth more (depending on how you value them), you're usually limited to SPG and Marriott 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.

Chase 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 hotel points, there's no question which ones are easier to get.

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 (See Rates & Fees) 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.

  • Do I get Elite status with this card, and what are the perks?
    You get automatic Silver Status with the AMEX SPG, which gives you perks like priority late checkout.

    If you can spend $30,000 a year on your card ($35,000 a year after January 1, 2019), you get automatic Gold status. Perks include: welcome gift points, 2 pm late checkout (subject to availability), and room upgrades (subject to availability).

  • 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.

2/13/2019 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 reviews website. Write to Ross Frasier at ross@creditdonkey.com

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.

Disclaimer: This content was first published on August 12, 2015. This content may have been updated on August 15, 2018. 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.

For rates and fees of the American Express Platinum card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Gold Delta SkyMiles card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the American Express Gold card, please click here.

Disclaimer: The information for the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, and Citi 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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