When it comes to co-branded hotel cards, the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express is in a league of its own. Thanks to some remarkable changes to the program in early 2015, plus its partnership with a variety of popular airline programs, points earned through the program are more valuable and versatile than ever.
While the daily rewards you earn with the card aren’t exactly stellar, its intro bonus is worth a lot more than one would think at first glance. Meanwhile, valuable benefits such as no foreign transaction fees, free Boingo Wi-Fi at airports, and in-room premium Internet access sweeten the deal.
The Simple Dollar’s Key Takeaways
- Earn highly valuable rewards good for hotel stays and more. Use your card to earn 6 points for each dollar of eligible purchases at participating SPG® and Marriott Rewards® hotels and 2 points on all other eligible purchases. Higher earnings are also available for Gold and Platinum members. Terms Apply.
- This card offers the option to transfer your points to popular frequent flyer programs. If you don’t want to use your points for hotel stays, you can transfer them to a range of frequent flyer programs such as Aeroplan, British Airways, Etihad Airways, Hawaiian Airlines, and Singapore Airlines.
- Get free in-room premium internet and free Boingo Wi-Fi at airports. Just for having the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, you’ll receive premium in-room Wi-Fi for paid and reward stays and free Boingo Wi-Fi at participating airports.
Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express: Perfect for Anyone Who Travels
With the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, you’ll earn two points per dollar spent on all purchases. You’ll also enjoy no foreign transaction fees when you use your card for overseas purchases, which can save you as much as 3% when you travel internationally.
Depending on what kind of traveler you are, using your points for free hotel stays might be your best bet. As you’ll see in the chart below, free weekend nights at Category 1 properties start at just 2,000 points.
|Category 1||Category 2||Category 3||Category 4||Category 5||Category 6||Category 7|
|Weekdays||3,000||4,000||7,000||10,000||12,000 - 16,000||20,000 - 25,000||30,000 - 35,000|
|Weekends||2,000||3,000||7,000||10,000||12,000 - 16,000||20,000 - 25,000||30,000 - 35,000|
The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express lets you combine points with a spouse or partner at the same address. Obviously, pooling your points this way can lead to more free nights – and double the perks! That’s another great incentive to get two separate cards and pool points into one account.
The fact that this card waives the annual fee for the first year offers the perfect opportunity to try out the benefits without risk. As mentioned above, you can also transfer your bonus points to a slew of popular airlines if you choose to use them that way. While some transfers are offered at a 1:1 ratio, others aren’t quite that simple. The following chart shows how airline transfers work under the Starwood program:
|Frequent Flyer Program||Exchange Ratio (Starpoints:Miles)|
|Aeromexico Club Premier||1:1|
|Air China Companion||1:1|
|Air New Zealand & Air Points||65:1|
|Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan||1:1|
|ANA Mileage Club||1:1|
|American Airlines AAdvantage||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|
|Japan Airlines Mileage Bank||1:1|
|Miles and More||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|
Also remember, cardholders receive “bonus points” for transferring at least 20,000 bonus points to miles at a time. For example, 20,000 bonus points transferred to American Airlines becomes 25,000 airline miles automatically. Periodically, the Starwood program also offers “bonus promotions” that make your points worth even more.
Another Starwood promotion, Starwood’s Nights & Flights, offers an additional way to use your points. This option lets you redeem your points for a travel package that include both hotel stays and airline miles. It works like this:
- Redeem 60,000 starpoints for five nights at a Category 3 property and 50,000 airline miles.
- Redeem 70,000 starpoints for five nights at a Category 4 property and 50,000 airline miles.
By choosing this option, you can make your points go even further. But keep in mind, you are limited to Category 3 and Category 4 properties if you go this route. By choosing the Category 3 option, you’ll save 18,000 points – or you can save 20,000 points by opting for a Category 4 property.
Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express: Where It Falls Flat
The biggest downside that comes with using the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express is how hard points are to earn. With this card, you’ll earn 2 bonus points per dollar on all eligible purchases.
Another possible downside is that, unlike other flexible cards, the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express doesn’t let you redeem points for cash back. If you want a card that lets you redeem your points in several different ways, you might be wise to consider a flexible rewards card or cash back card instead.
Who This Card is Good For
- Anyone who flies with one of Starwood’s airline partners frequently
- Someone who loves Starwood properties and stays at them often
- Anyone who wants flexible points they can use in more than one way
Who Should Pass
- Someone who prefers to stay at a variety of hotel chains
- Those who never want to pay an annual fee
- Someone who wants the option to redeem points for cash back
How Does It Compare to Other Hotel Cards?
While the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express is considered a top hotel card, there are other co-branded hotel credit cards that give it a run for its money. For the sake of comparison, we took the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and the IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card and compared their benefits side-by-side. Here’s what we found:
|IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card (currently unavailable)||Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express|
|Annual Fee||$0 introductory annual fee the first year, then $49||$95, waived the first year|
|Free Night on Account Anniversary||Yes||No|
|Earning Points||Earn 5 points per $1 spent when you stay at IHG hotels. Earn 2 points per $1 spent on purchases at gas stations, grocery stores & restaurants. Earn 1 point for every $1 spent on all other purchases.||Earn 6 points for each dollar of eligible purchases at participating SPG® and Marriott Rewards® hotels and 2 points on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.|
|Redeeming Points||Enjoy a Free Night after each account anniversary year at over 5,200 hotels worldwide||Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card account anniversary. Award can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 points) at a participating hotel. Select hotels have resort fees. Terms Apply.|
|Foreign Transaction Fee||none||0%|
|1:1 Frequent Flyer Transfers||No||Yes|
As you can see, the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express comes with a higher annual fee. Meanwhile, it doesn’t offer a free annual night on your card anniversary, which is a huge boon for those who carry the IHG credit card.
However, the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express does offer 1:1 transfers to a slew of popular frequent flyer programs. If you fly frequently with any of their airline partners, this is a huge benefit you should not overlook. Room rates at Starwood properties also start at just 2,000 points per night, which is a considerably lower barrier to entry than any other hotel loyalty program on the market.
While both of these cards are good options, the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express is a better choice for anyone who flies frequently or plans to take advantage of low-tier properties frequently to stretch their points.
Best Strategy with the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express: Use It for Everything or Pair with an Airline Credit Card
While the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express makes it difficult to rack up points quickly, bonus points are still some of the most valuable points out there. If you want to grow your balance and take advantage of all the perks this program has to offer, you’ll need to use your card for all of your everyday purchases – including groceries, gas, utility bills, and all miscellaneous purchases.
If you’re interested in one of Starwood’s airline transfer partners in particular, you could also get a co-branded airline card and use both to rack up as many points as you can. Our post on top airline credit cards can help you figure out if that’s an option to consider. You can also consider using your card to earn the intro bonus and score additional perks such as free in-room Wi-Fi and no foreign transaction fees, then pairing it with a top rewards credit card that offers a higher earning rate on everyday spending.
The bottom line: The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express doesn’t have to be the only rewards card in your wallet. If you want more ways to earn points and miles, it’s smart to use this card in conjunction with another rewards card that offers a different set of benefits.
Want to Earn More Points? Consider This Card Instead
While the Starwood card offers benefits you can’t necessarily get elsewhere, earning points with the card is a difficult process. If you want flexible rewards that are easier to earn, consider the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card instead. With this card, you’ll earn 2X points on both travel and dining, plus have the option to rack up points by shopping through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.
- Related: Best Travel Credit Card for 2017
Like the Starwood Preferred Guest program, Chase Ultimate Rewards lets you transfer points to a number of popular frequent flyer programs. Meanwhile, you also have the option to redeem points for cash back or gift cards at a rate of one penny per point.
The Chase Ultimate Rewards program also lets you book travel through their travel portal at a 20% discount when you use points. In the end, this means Chase Ultimate Rewards points are slightly more versatile. Before you sign up, here are some additional details to consider:
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
If you love Starwood properties and want to rack up points in the Starwood Preferred Guest program quickly, you might want to give the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express a chance. With no annual fee the first year, plenty of perks including premium, in-room wifi and no foreign transaction fees, and a hefty intro bonus, this card offers more than meets the eye.
It might be wise to pair this card with another rewards card that offers more points for everyday spending. If you’re interested in exploring other possibilities, the chart below can help:
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