Review of the Starwood Preferred Guest Cards from American Express

Brendan Harkness

Brendan Harkness | Reviews

Oct 11, 2017

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American Express offers these two very popular and rewarding travel credit cards for staying at Starwood Hotels: the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card and the Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card.

The first is for typical consumers, while the second is designed for small business owners. They both offer up to 5 points per dollar at participating Starwood locations, along with a variety of benefits like hotel upgrades and discounts. These cards are designed for frequent travelers who often stay at Starwood properties, and if you spend more than $1,000 per year with them you’ll probably be able to offset the annual fee every year.

Do you love Starwood hotels and resorts? If you find yourself there often, you should consider carrying one of these cards along. Keep reading to learn more and find out if one of them is right for you.

The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
Apply Now

The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

For People with
Excellent Credit

  • Annual Fee: $95 (waived the first year)
  • Interest Rate: 16.24% – 20.24% Variable
Quick Card Facts
  • Earn 25,000 bonus Starpoints after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on international purchases.
  • Receive free in-room, premium internet access. Booking requirements apply.
  • Enjoy complimentary, unlimited Boingo Wi-Fi on up to four devices at more than 1,000,000 Boingo hotspots worldwide. Enrollment required.
  • Earn free nights at over 1,200 hotels and resorts in nearly 100 countries with no blackout dates.
  • Some hotels may have mandatory service and resort charges.
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • Terms and limitations apply.
Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express
Apply Now

Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express

For People with
Excellent Credit

  • Annual Fee: $95 (waived the first year)
  • Interest Rate: 16.24%, 18.24% or 20.24% Variable
Quick Card Facts
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 25,000 bonus Starpoints® after you use your Card to make $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on international purchases.
  • Receive free in-room, premium internet access. Booking requirements apply.
  • Enjoy complimentary, unlimited Boingo Wi-Fi at more than 1,000,000 Boingo hotspots worldwide. Enrollment required.
  • Earn free nights at over 1,200 hotels and resorts in nearly 100 countries with no blackout dates.
  • Some hotels and resorts have mandatory service charges.
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • Terms and limitations apply.

Our Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

We gave both the regular and business versions of the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) credit cards 5 out of 5 Stars because when it comes to staying at Starwood properties, these cards probably provide the best deal you’ll be able to find. The annual fee is very reasonable for the features they provide, which include everything you’ll get in a regular SPG membership and more.

As long as you use the card enough and make use of the extra benefits, it should pay for itself with the value you get from point redemptions. Starwood has over 1,500 properties around the world, so it should be possible to find one to stay at for most trips.

You can get at least 4 Starpoints per dollar at SPG properties, and you’ll be rewarded for spending more — always a great feature. That will wind up being a whole lot of points, and you’ll find that you can redeem them at a very high value and in a multitude of different ways. We’ve calculated that you can easily earn the equivalent of 6% cash back with these cards, and in other situations you can get as much as 13% back or more.

But the ability to earn Starpoints at a fast rate isn’t the only valuable feature of these cards. They also come with a wide variety of benefits, all designed to make your hotel stays cheaper and more comfortable. These include free in-room internet, a fast track to higher membership levels, and access to exclusive, one-of-a-kind experiences like a trip to the Galapagos Islands with a nature documentary crew.

There is truly a lot to do with these cards, earning and redeeming points while making use of the many perks. The annual fee of $95 is quite low for rewarding cards like these, making it easy to offset by earning points every year. If you travel often and stay at Starwood locations when you do, one of these cards would probably be a valuable addition to your travel spending plans.

Insider Advice: Using These Cards as Part of Your Credit Card Strategy

  • These cards are designed for people who frequently stay at the Starwood portfolio of hotels and resorts. If that sounds like you, one of these cards could probably save you quite a bit of cash and make your stays more comfortable. If you don’t stay at these hotels or you only travel rarely, check out some general-use travel credit cards.
  • You’ll earn up to 5 points per dollar at SPG properties with these cards. You’ll get 4 points per dollar if you’re at the basic Preferred Guest level, or 5 points per dollar if you’re at the higher Gold Preferred Guest level. If you want a card to use for regular purchases, you’d be better off with a reward credit card.
  • You probably won’t need both of these cards, unless you do a lot of traveling for business and a lot of personal traveling as well. Typically, business credit cards are used to separate personal from business spending. Simply put, get the personal card if you need it for personal reasons, and get the business version if you need it for business purposes.
  • Both versions of this card have an annual fee of $95, waived the first year. You’ll want to earn enough rewards and make enough use of the benefits to offset this cost, making the card profitable (and therefore worthwhile) to use. If you won’t use the card enough each year to offset that fee, it will cost you money instead of helping you save it.
  • We calculated that you’ll only need to spend a minimum of approximately $750 per year at SPG properties to offset the annual fee, as long as you’re willing to redeem your Starpoints for free nights at category 1 hotels. If you want to stay at higher-category hotels, you’ll need to spend as much as $2,500 but in that case you may be able to offset the annual fee for more than 2 years.
  • If you’re thinking about getting one of these cards, be sure to plan out your spending so you can get the signup bonus. In the first three months, you’ll need to spend $3,000 with the regular card or $6,000 with the business card to earn the same reward: 25,000 bonus points. Make sure you hit this threshold to get this great bonus.
  • These cards come with a ton of extra perks and benefits, from discounted night stays to airline mile transfers to the SPG Moments® program. Many of these offers come and go, or are on a rotating basis. You’ll need to carefully read through your benefit terms and go through the SPG website to get an idea of your options. When planning for any trip, be sure to check the site to see if you can take advantage of any deals when booking or when you arrive. They have a handy search tool to help you find special offers in your area, for your particular interests.
  • We found that your Starpoints will go farther at lower-category hotels. Not only will you be able to get free night stays for fewer points, those points will also be worth more at lower-category hotels. If you want to maximize your savings and reward redemptions with this card, you’ll be able to save a lot of money but you won’t be living in the lap of luxury.
  • If you have a vacation coming up, getting one of these cards could be a good way to cut costs while having a better time too. Stay at a hotel or resort in the Starwood portfolio, and you’ll be able to get closer to your signup bonus spending threshold all while earning points at a high rate.
  • Although these cards will allow you to carry a balance from month to month at the cost of interest, we do not recommend this. Instead, we recommend that you always avoid interest altogether by paying your balance in full each billing period.

The Rewards

We’ve calculated that the average Starpoint can be worth more than 3 cents each, and that with these cards you’ll be able to earn up to the equivalent of 13% cash back, or more! That’s probably the best reward point offer we’ve ever seen on a credit card, travel or otherwise, though you’ll only get this incredible rate when making purchases at eligible SPG hotels and resorts.

Earning

The rewards for both versions of the card, regular and business, are nearly the same.

  • Either 4 or 5 Starpoints® per dollar on eligible purchases at participating SPG hotels and resorts
    • 2 Starpoints for the SPG credit card
    • 2 or 3 Starpoints for being an SPG member, depending on your status (explained below)
  • 1 Starpoint per dollar on all other purchases
  • 25,000 bonus Starpoints for spending $3,000 in the first 3 months ($6,000 for the business version)
  • 5,000 bonus Starpoints for transferring 20,000 Starpoints to a participating frequent flyer program

As you can see, you’ll have the potential to earn a lot of points as long as you’re making eligible purchases from SPG hotels and resorts. These cards are only designed to be used at SPG properties, because that one point per dollar you’ll earn elsewhere is worth very little. We recommend you use a reward credit card for those other purchases.

You can get those 25,000 bonus Starpoints by spending $3,000 in the first three months ($6,000 with the business version), which you should definitely aim to do. This won’t be too hard if you’re planning a vacation and will use the card to pay for all or most of the expenses. In this case it might be worth your while to make purchases where you’ll only earn one point, but only to reach that spending threshold and earn the bonus points.

Take note that these cards provide either 4 or 5 Starpoints per dollar at SPG hotels and resorts. You’ll get 2 points per dollar for using the card, and then either 2 or 3 more points depending on your SPG member status: regular members (at the “Preferred Guest” level) will earn 2 more points, while higher-tier members (at the “Gold Preferred Guest” level) will earn 3 more points.

So regular Preferred Guests will earn 4 points per dollar at SPG properties, while Gold Preferred Guests will earn 5 points per dollar. Most people will be earning at the 4X rate, but that’s still pretty good. We’ll explain how to become a Gold Preferred Guest below (hint: you’ll need to spend a lot of money).

How to Offset the Annual Fee

This card has a $95 annual fee so you’ll want to earn enough Starpoints to offset that cost. The fee is waived for the first year, so you have a bit of leeway, but after that you’ll be paying for it every year. Use that first year to learn how to use the card properly, and how to redeem your Starpoints for the most valuable options possible.

Since different hotel categories offer rooms at different prices, the value of your points will vary depending on how and where you use them. In general, you’ll get the most value for your points at lower category hotels, but this isn’t always true.

If you don’t mind staying at an inexpensive category 1 hotel, you can offset the annual fee by spending as little as $750 per year at SPG properties, and then redeeming your points for a free night’s stay. A free night at a category 4 hotel will require as much as $2,500 in spending, but this could offset the annual fee for 1 to 3 years, depending on the particular hotel you stay at.

You could also consider your 25,000 signup bonus points as a way to offset the annual fee. If you redeem those points for free night stays at inexpensive category 1 hotels, that could offset the annual fee for over 8 years! If you stay at more expensive category 4 hotels, those points could potentially offset the annual fee for over 5 years.

Let’s go through a real-life example to demonstrate how to earn enough points to make this card worthwhile. You’ll get either 4 or 5 Starpoints per dollar when you use this card at participating SPG properties, as explained below, but for this example we’ll assume you’ll be earning 4 points per dollar because that’s the situation most people will be in.

So, how many Starpoints do you need to earn each year to offset the annual fee?

To answer this question, we need to know how much your points will be worth. This can be hard to figure out because you’ll find a variety of different deals available from different hotels, all offering rooms of varying quality for the same number of points.

Let’s look at a typical point redemption you might want to make: trading in your points for a free night’s stay at a hotel.

The higher the category of the hotel, the more points this will cost; let’s look at a free night’s stay a category 1 hotel, the lowest level, and then a category 4 hotel, which is about in the middle. Not the best, but not the worst either.

If you compare the two examples below, you’ll find that your Starpoints go farther at the cheaper hotel, which you would expect. The more expensive the hotel, the more points you’ll need to stay there. Keep this in mind if you’re trying to get the highest possible value from every point.

Offsetting the Annual Fee at a Category 1 Hotel — $750 to offset 1 year

SPG states that a free night’s stay at a category 1 hotel will cost just 3,000 Starpoints, including tax and charges. In this example, we will look at the Sheraton Ambassador Hotel in Monterrey, Mexico, a category 1 hotel.

We found that a standard room during the week will cost $95 at this hotel, which is the exact same as the annual fee on these cards. Since you can get this room for 3,000 Starpoints, that means those points would be worth 3.17 cents each, which is pretty good.

To earn those 3,000 Starpoints in the most efficient way, you should spend $750 at SPG properties, earning 4 points per dollar for a total of 3,000 points. So you spend $750 to earn a free night’s stay valued at $95, which means you get a cash back equivalent of 12.67%.

That’s a very high cash back equivalent, and it means you don’t have to spend very much at all to offset the annual fee. But that’s just for a category 1 hotel, where your points will go the furthest in terms of free nights. If you want to stay somewhere nicer, like the category 4 hotel in our next example, you’ll need to spend more money and redeem more points. As you can see, you’ll end up getting a lower cash back equivalent at the higher-category property.

Offsetting the Annual Fee at a Category 4 Hotel — $2,500 to offset 2.5 years

According to SPG, a free night’s stay at a category 4 hotel on a weekday will require 10,000 Starpoints, including tax and charges. For our example let’s say you want to stay in a standard room at the Sheraton JFK Airport Hotel in New York City, which will cost around $244 per night minimum. You can get this room for 10,000 Starpoints, so in this case those points would be worth 2.44 cents each.

Now, how much do you need to spend to earn 10,000 Starpoints? Since you’ll be earning at a rate of four points per dollar, you’ll need to spend $2,500 at SPG hotels and resorts to earn those 10,000 points. That means you spent $2,500 for a free night’s stay that was valued at $244, for a cash back equivalent of 9.76%. That’s pretty good.

The savings on this one redemption, earning you a room valued at $244, is enough to offset the $95 annual fee for about two and a half years! All that for only spending $2,500 to earn those points. That comes out to about $973 per year, compared to $750 in the example above, but in this case you’ll be covering the fee for quite a while, which will give you more time to use the card and earn points.

But remember that the value you get from your points here will depend on how expensive the room is. If this room had only cost $150, you’d only be offsetting the annual fee for about a year and a half and you’d only be getting a cash back equivalent of 6%. So pay close attention to the quality of the room or service you get compared to how many points you’re spending.

Be sure to explore the many options you’ll have for redeeming Starpoints, because some will be much more valuable than others. Some will even provide a better value than the examples above. We describe more of these redemption methods below.

Redeeming

Starwood points are famously flexible and easy to redeem, with no blackout dates when redeeming for flights. You can check out your options on their website, including how many Starpoints you need for a particular trip and/or hotel stay. Take note that you’ll need to show account activity once per year or your Starpoints will expire.

There are a variety of point redemption methods to choose from, and the value you get from your points will vary quite a bit depending on the method you choose. It will also vary depending on the particular hotels and even the rooms that you choose. Your redemption options with this card might seem overwhelming, but you can break them down into these main categories:

  • Hotel Services: Free nights, 5th night free, upgrades, and complimentary services at over 1,500 hotels and resorts
  • SPG Flights: Redeem for flights at over 150 airlines, with no blackout dates
  • Point Transfers: Transfer to over 30 frequent flyer programs, usually at a 1:1 rate
  • SPG Moments: Provides VIP access to sports, culinary, music, and cultural events
  • Travel Services: Including Amtrak and car rentals
  • Credit with Merchants: Gift cards, Amazon.com credit, or Broadway shows
  • Charity: Through SPG’s partnership with Clean the World and other organizations

Hotel Services

You’ll be able to redeem your Starpoints at eligible hotels and resorts in several different ways:

  • Free nights: Redeem Starpoints for free nights from as few as 3,000 points for a category 1 hotel
  • Cash & Points: Combine your Starpoints with cash if you don’t have enough for a room
  • Your 5th night free: Cash in Starpoints for 4 nights, and get the 5th night free
  • Room/suite upgrades: The number of Starpoints required will depend on the particular room and hotel
  • Nights & Flights: Use points to pay for flight + hotel packages

Over 1,500 hotels and resorts are included, covering the 11 hotel brands within the SPG portfolio:

St. Regis The Luxury Collection W Hotels Le Méridien Westin Aloft
Sheraton Four Points by Sheraton Element Hotels Tribute Portfolio Design Hotels

Your points will have different values depending on where you redeem them. The higher the category of the hotel, the more points it will cost to stay there, as you’d expect.

Here are your redemption options for bookings and services at hotels and resorts within the SPG portfolio, along with the number of points you’ll need for each option. At some locations, at some times of the year, more Starpoints will be required. So check ahead of time to be sure that you’ll be able to get the deal you expect.

Hotel Category 1 Free Night 5th Night Free Cash & Points Room/Suite Upgrade Nights & Flights
1  3,000 N/A 1,500 + $30 1,000 – 3,000 N/A
2 4,000 N/A 2,000 + $35 1,000 – 4,000 N/A
3 7,000 28,000 3,500 + $55 1,000 – 7,000 N/A
4 10,000 40,000 5,000 + $75 1,000 – 10,000 N/A
5 12,000 – 16,000 48,000 – 64,000 6,000 + $110 1,500 – 16,000 N/A
6 20,000 – 25,000 80,000 – 100,000 10,000 + $180 1,500 – 25,000 60,000
7  30,000 – 35,000 120,000 – 140,000 15,000 + $275 1,500 – 35,000 70,000

Let’s go through an example to illustrate the value you’ll get from a typical “5th night free” redemption, which is a great way to spend your points if you’re planning a long stay.

For this example we will use the Aloft Denver Downtown hotel, which is a category 4. As you can see, you’ll need 40,000 Starpoints for a category 4 hotel, which will provide you with a 5-night stay. If you earn points at the normal 4-per-dollar rate, you’ll need to spend $10,000 to earn those points.

We found that a typical 5-night stay at this hotel will cost $262 per night, for a total of $1,310. That means your 40,000 Starpoints would be worth 3.28 cents each.

With this particular deal, you spend $10,000 to earn a room for 5 nights, valued at $1,310. That means you’re getting the cash back equivalent of 13.1%!

This amount of cash back is almost unheard of when it comes to credit card redemptions, and it clearly shows how valuable this card can be when you redeem your points in certain ways. Your results will differ somewhat when you make your own plans, but you’ll probably be able to find even more valuable deals.

Although you may rarely spend 5 nights in a row at a hotel, we definitely recommend that you try to redeem your points using this “5th night free” option whenever possible.

SPG Flights

You can redeem your Starpoints directly with over 150 airlines with no blackout dates, without needing to make a point transfer (although you may get a better value if you transfer points; see the relevant section below).

Just search for flights through the SPG Flights portal, and you’ll have an option to redeem your Starpoints for the ticket price. The table below contains a selection of ticket prices, along with the required number of points for each price range. These are only some of the options, meant to give an idea of the points required.

We also provide the point value and cash back equivalents for those ticket prices. We made those calculations assuming the Starpoints were earned at the 4-per-dollar rate — if you earn points at a higher rate, you’ll be getting a better point value and cash back equivalent, and if you earn them at a lower rate you’ll end up with a lower cash back equivalent.

As you can see, the best value will usually come from cashing in just 10,000 Starpoints for cheaper tickets as close to $150 as you can get, where you’ll get a cash back equivalent of up to 6%.

Ticket Price Starpoints Required Point Value (in cents) Cash Back Equivalent
Up to $150 10,000 Up to 1.5 Up to 6%
$150 – $215 15,000 1.0 – 1.43 4.00% – 5.73%
$280 – $345 25,000 1.12 – 1.38 4.48% – 5.52%
$475 – $540 40,000 1.19 – 1.35 4.75% – 5.40%
$670 – $735 55,000 1.22 – 1.33 4.87% – 5.35%
$865 – $930 70,000 1.23 – 1.33 4.94% – 5.32%
$2,880 – $3,140 235,000 (estimated) 1.23 – 1.33 4.90% – 5.34%
$9,990 – $10,160 775,000 (estimated) 1.29 – 1.31 5.16% – 5.24%

Point Transfers

You’ll have the option to convert your Starpoints to miles in a wide variety of frequent flyer programs. Most of the programs convert at a 1:1 rate, though not all; you can browse through all of the eligible frequent flyer programs and their transfer rates. Gold status members must transfer a minimum of 1,500 Starpoints at a time, while Preferred status members must transfer a minimum of 2,500 Starpoints at a time.

Starwood will add a bonus of 5,000 Starpoints to every 20,000 points you transfer. So, for example, if you convert 20,000 Starpoints to a frequent flyer program you’ll actually get credit for converting 25,000 points.

Unfortunately, it’s practically impossible to provide a standard or average cash value for your Starpoints when you transfer them. This is because there are dozens of eligible programs you can transfer to, and each frequent flyer program will end up offering a different value for them. On top of that, each individual program will offer a variety of different services for the same amount of points. This means you have an uncountable number of options when it comes to point transfers.

So, let’s go through a typical example of a point transfer you might want to make. Keep in mind that although this is a real-world example, you’ll likely find different offers and point values if you use different airlines or flight times.

Transfer to Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

Let’s say you want to book a flight with Alaska Airlines miles, and you want to pay for it by transferring your Starpoints into miles. To figure out the value of your Starpoints for a transfer like this and how many you’ll need to earn, we can compare a flight paid for with miles to the same flight paid for with cash.

For this example, let’s say you’re planning to fly from the San Francisco International Airport in California to the George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Texas. On a typical Wednesday, a flight in the main cabin would cost $391. So, how many Starpoints would you need for this flight?

According to Alaska Airlines, this same flight would cost 20,000 miles plus $6 extra (because miles can only be used in certain increments). Since you’ll get a 1:1 point transfer from Starpoints to Alaska Airlines miles, this means you’ll need to earn 20,000 Starpoints for this particular flight.

The most cost-effective way to earn those points is to do all your spending with the card at eligible SPG hotels and resorts, where you’ll earn 4 points per dollar at the normal hotel status level. You’ll need to spend $5,000 with your SPG card to earn those 20,000 Starpoints, which you can then transfer to Alaska Airlines miles at the 1:1 rate. SPG will add an extra 5,000 points to any transfer of 20,000 points or more, so you’ll actually end up with 25,000 miles here — quite a nice bonus.

So, in this particular example, you spend a total of $5,006 to earn the 20,000 miles to pay for a flight that typically costs $391. That’s the cash back equivalent of 7.8%, and it means that each of your miles (or Starpoints) is here worth about 1.96 cents.

But remember that you also got 5,000 bonus miles from this transfer, which will be ready and waiting for you the next time you fly. So the value you got from this transfer is actually higher than we calculated, but it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact amount because those miles could be used in a different way for the next flight.

SPG Moments

The SPG Moments program is potentially one of the most valuable ways to redeem your Starpoints, along with free night stays. If you’re the kind of person who loves traveling the world and attending exclusive, one-of-a-kind events, this benefit is for you. Some of the experiences available are truly quite incredible, and it’s a bit of a surprise to find them on a card with such a low annual fee.

There are two types of “moments,” as they are called: fixed-price events and auction events. Fixed price events are available for a set number of Starpoints, and are first-come-first-served. Auction events, on the other hand, will require a bid of how many Starpoints you’re willing to trade for them. When the auction ends, the highest bidder wins that moment. Occasionally, SPG will host private auctions where only a select group of members will be invited to bid on the moments.

The deals in SPG Moments have an expiration date, and new experiences are added to the site frequently. You’ll be able to choose from several categories of moments:

  • Culinary Moments: Cooking lessons and dining with world-class chefs, VIP food festivals, etc.
  • Entertainment Moments: Backstage access to concerts, private shows, premium tickets, etc.
  • Lifestyle Moments: Attend plays and meet the cast members, take master classes in art and culture, attend red-carpet premiers, etc.
  • Sports Moments: Meet the players, attend tournaments, take a skills clinic with the pros, etc.

We’ll give a specific example from each category to illustrate what you can get with SPG Moments. If you want to explore these offers in more depth you can take a look at the Past SPG Moments.

Culinary Moment

Foodies will love the ability to meet and dine with some of the world’s top chefs, like the chance for an exclusive dinner with award-winning chef Barbara Lynch at her Menton restaurant in Boston, Massachusetts. This offer was currently available when this review was written, with a starting bid of 30,500 Starpoints.

This Moment includes a tour through the Menton restaurant, a cooking demo by Chef Lynch, a cocktail reception, and a five-course meal for two. Like most offers, you’re able to bring a friend to experience it with you.

Entertainment Moment

Ever want to be on TV? For just 33,000 Starpoints, one lucky member was able to appear on TV with Ma Tianyu, actor and musical artist, in the Chinese show Escape from Marriage. This member got a role as an extra in an episode of the show, along with a photo op with the star and a one-night stay at The Royal Begonia, a luxury hotel in the city of Sanya, China.

Lifestyle Moment

This one took quite a few Starpoints to obtain — 564,570 to be exact — but we’re sure you’ll agree that this is probably worth a 10-day adventure to the Galapagos Islands, where the winner and a friend could accompany the expert Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic team as they explore the islands and surrounding waters on the ship National Geographic Endeavor II.

The winners won’t just be sitting back watching the team work; they’ll actually be learning from these top photographers and naturalists, taking photos and using cutting-edge equipment to help the team study the Galapagos.

Sports Moment

For just 20,000 Starpoints, one lucky member got VIP seats to a showdown between the New York Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets at Madison Square Garden, in the exclusive SPG Luxury Suite.

That member and a friend were able to enjoy the show from a pair of reserved seats just a few feet away from the court, and were treated to complimentary food and drinks throughout the game.

Travel Services

In addition to the travel-related point redemption options above, you’ll also be able to cash in your points for ground travel. You can redeem Starpoints for:

  • Avis Rent a Car
  • Sixt Rent a Car
  • Amtrak Guest Rewards® Points
Rent a Car Services

For both Avis and Sixt, you’ll be able to redeem 3,500 Starpoints for a gift certificate worth $50. So, is this a good value?

In this case your points would be worth about 1.2 cents. If you earned them at the normal rate of 4 per dollar, that means you would need to spend $875 to earn the 3,500 points.

This means you’ll only be getting a cash back equivalent value of 5.7%. This isn’t too bad, but since you can get a higher cash back equivalent through other redemption methods, like a point transfer, we recommend that you generally steer clear of this option.

Take note that SPG members may get some special services at Avis and Sixt.

When renting from Avis, be sure to mention that you’re an SPG member and give them this Discount Number: K817200. You may qualify for a discount on your rental.

When renting from Sixt, mention that you’re an SPG member and you may be eligible for discounts, along with 250 bonus Starpoints when you purchase a rental.

Amtrak Guest Rewards Program

You can transfer your Starpoints to Amtrak Guest Rewards points at a 1:1 rate. To figure out how valuable a transfer like this might be let’s take a look at a typical train ride, going from Sacramento to San Diego. Keep in mind that different trips will cost different amounts of points, and there are a variety of factors that affect this. This example uses real-world data, but your experience may be somewhat different.

At the time of writing we found an unreserved coach seat on a Capitol Corridor level train, for a trip that would last about 3 hours. This seat would require 3,140 Amtrak points, and it has a monetary value of $91.

So, how much would you need to spend with your SPG card to earn this seat, and how much would your points be worth? If you earn Starpoints at the 4-per-dollar rate, you’ll need to spend $785 to earn those points. Then you can transfer those Starpoints to Amtrak at a 1:1 rate and wind up with 3,140 Amtrak points, which you can use to pay for the seat.

In this particular case our points are worth 2.9 cents each, and the cash back equivalent of this transfer is 11.6%!

This is a great value, providing a cash back equivalent that’s much higher than the redemption on most credit cards. Although your experience will vary somewhat from what we showed here, if you ride Amtrak frequently you should definitely consider transferring your points to train miles, where you’ll clearly be getting a great value.

Credit with Merchants

You’ll be able to trade in your Starpoints for gift cards or credit with a wide variety of merchants. The number of points needed will vary depending on the merchant, and you may find a different value for your points in each case.

The available merchants include:

Amazon.com iTunes Banana Republic Bliss Brookstone Gap
Nordstrom PCMA Pottery Barn Starbucks Williams-Sonoma

Charity

You can donate your Starpoints to charity if you so choose. You’ll have three donation options:

  • The American Red Cross
  • The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
  • Clean the World

Most people would not recommend this redemption option because you’ll typically only get a value of 1.25 cents per point. Since it’s so low compared to the other options, it’s generally a better strategy to redeem your points in a more valuable way and then take the money you save and donate that to the charity of your choice.

The Benefits

The benefits for these cards are very similar, though the business version has a few more than the consumer card. The business card has an extra Perk and Travel benefit, along with several business-oriented features from Amex OPEN® which are designed to help you run your business more effectively.

Regular SPG members without the credit card get some good benefits, but these cards provide even more — like the free WiFi, which isn’t available to SPG members without the card.

The following benefits are available on both the regular and business version of the card, unless otherwise indicated.

Automatic SPG Preferred Status

Includes some complimentary services and discounts of up to 30% at Starwood hotels and resorts, which includes 11 brands and over 1,500 locations worldwide.

Fast Track to SPG Gold and Platinum Status

As an SPG cardholder, you’ll be able to reach the higher tiers of SPG Gold and SPG Platinum more easily than the average SPG member, along with the enhanced benefits that come with those levels. There are actually two ways you’ll be able to do this.

Normally, SPG Gold status would require 10 stays or 25 night stays in a given year, and SPG Platinum status would require 25 stays or 50 night stays. But SPG cardholders will get credit for 2 stays and 5 nights every year, so it will only take 8 stays or 20 nights to reach Gold status, and 23 stays or 45 nights to reach Platinum.

As a cardholder, you’ll have another way to reach Gold status that regular members won’t. If you spend $30,000 on eligible purchases with the card in a given year, you’ll receive SPG Gold status automatically.

If you reach a higher service tier by either of these methods, you’ll be enrolled in that tier for the next 12 months. Take note that this benefit won’t activate the very moment you reach the required number of stays or spend the $30,000; it will take 12 – 16 weeks for the enrollment to become effective.

The Gold Preferred Guest status level has a variety of great benefits, including an extra point per dollar when making purchases with SPG. So you’ll be earning 5 points per dollar, and that means all the cash back and point value calculations we’ve made in this review end up being even more profitable for the cardholder.

There are also many quality-of-life benefits, like an upgraded room at check-in: you’ll be able to upgrade to a corner room, a higher floor, or a better view, when available. You’ll be able to check out as late as 4 p.m., with some restrictions. You’ll also get a welcome gift every time you arrive at your hotel, which is your choice of bonus Starpoints or a beverage.

Platinum Preferred Guests, at the highest status level, will get all the benefits of Gold and more. Your welcome gift choices will be bonus Starpoints, a continental breakfast, or a “local amenity.” The room upgrade at check-in will be to the best available room, including Standard Suites. Platinum members also get complimentary access to health clubs and certain lounges, like Sheraton. There are quite a few other benefits, including the chance to earn even more points per dollar, free nights, and the ability to gift Gold status to other people.

Fast Track to Lifetime SPG Gold and Platinum Status Levels

If you reach a certain number of nights and spend enough time at the Gold or Platinum status level, you’ll be eligibe to receive that status for life.

To achieve Gold Preferred Guest status for life, you’ll need to spend a total of 5 years at Gold status and also reach a total of 250 eligible night stays. To achieve Platinum Preferred Guest status for life, you’ll need to spend 10 years at Platinum status and also reach a total of 500 eligible night stays.

5,000 Bonus Starpoints when Transferring to Frequent Traveler Programs

Whenever you transfer 20,000 Starpoints or more at a time to an eligible frequent flyer partner, you’ll get a bonus of 5,000 Starpoints added to the transfer. Participating airlines are subject to change, so check your transfer details to confirm the bonus before transferring.

Register for Cross-Over Rewards

You’ll be able to register your card with a number of other merchants and frequent traveler programs, which will let you earn points at a rate of 1 per dollar with those merchants when you use your SPG card.

These merchants and programs include Delta Skymiles®, Emirates Skywards®, and China Eastern Explorer Rewards™.

Free In-room Premium Internet

Some booking requirements and restrictions will apply. This benefit is only available for one room per stay, regardless of how many rooms are reserved.

To receive this benefit, you must provide your SPG member account number at the time of reservation and/or check-in. You must also book your room through SPG or one of their hotel brand sites.

Preferred-level members will receive standard internet access, while Gold and Platinum members receive premium internet access. Platinum members will also receive internet access no matter what booking channel they use, even if it wasn’t through SPG.

Unlimited Boingo Wifi

Get complimentary WiFi at more than 1,000,000 Boingo hotspots worldwide, for up to 4 devices. Registration with Boingo is required before use.

Access to Sheraton Club® Lounges (business version only)

Holders of the business version of the SPG card will get access to Sheraton Club lounges where available. Access is provided for the duration of the stay, and is limited to the cardholder and one guest staying in the same room.

Amex OPEN Business Benefits (business version only)

American Express provides a variety of benefits specific for business owners through their OPEN program. These include account alerts to monitor certain activity, the Spend Manager to help keep track of transactions and receipts, and certain services from the OPEN Savings® program. You’ll also get access to the OPEN Forum®, a place to discuss ideas with other business owners, and the ability to assign an account manager to handle day-to-day operations with the card.

Free Employee Cards (business version only)

You can set up additional employee cards at no cost, letting you earn more points more often. Spending limits can be set on those cards. You will be responsible for all charges accrued by employee cards.

Other Benefits and Perks

There are even more benefits to be had with the regular and business versions of these cards. These include shopping protections to help protect your purchases, and travel protections to help protect yourself and your belongings. Those other benefits are shared by both cards for the most part, though the business version has a baggage insurance plan that you won’t find on the regular card.

You can browse the full range of benefits offered by the regular SPG Card, or the benefits offered by the SPG Business Card.

The Costs & Fees

Card Annual Fee Regular APR Regular Balance Transfer APR Cash Advance APR Foreign Transaction Fee
Starwood Preferred Guest $95 (waived the first year) 16.24% – 20.24% Variable 16.24% – 20.24% Variable 26.24% Variable None
Starwood Preferred Guest Business $95 (waived the first year) 16.24%, 18.24% or 20.24% Variable Not Available 26.24% Variable None
Card Penalty APR Late Fee Returned Payment Fee
Starwood Preferred Guest 29.99% Variable Up to $38 Up to $38
 Starwood Preferred Guest Business 29.99% Variable Up to $38 $38

As you can see, the terms and fees for these cards are just about the same. Their annual fees are waived for the first year, and you’ll get a reasonable interest rate. The main difference between these cards when it comes to the rates and fees is that the consumer version offers the ability to transfer a balance, while the business card does not. However, these cards aren’t designed for balance transfers anyway, so this is pretty inconsequential (you won’t earn any points on balance transfers).

One of the important features here is the fact that you won’t be charged for foreign transactions. This is a great asset to have on travel cards like these, because it means you can book a hotel anywhere in the world and you won’t have to worry about extra conversion fees for any purchases you make there if you pay with the SPG card. That means you can use your card both for your travel reservations and for any expenses once you arrive, which is quite convenient.

Overall, the terms and fees for these cards seem to favor the cardholder, especially the low annual fee. Considering how easy it is to earn points and all the benefits you get, the $95 annual fee definitely looks like it’s on the low side — especially when you consider it’s waived the first year.

The Bottom Line

If you love staying at Starwood properties and do so pretty often, the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card and the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card could save you quite a bit of money, and make your stays much more enjoyable. If you’re already an SPG member but you don’t have one of these cards, you should definitely consider what you’re missing.

You’ll earn 4 or 5 points for every dollar you spend with Starwood, and the higher your SPG status the more you’ll earn. A variety of cost-saving benefits come with these cards as well, like free WiFi, credit towards higher status and better benefits, and access to the Sheraton Club lounge (that last one for business cards only).

For small business owners, the business card would be the obvious choice of these two. You’ll get all the same rewards and benefits, plus some extras, like the OPEN business features designed specifically for your needs. And even if you don’t care much about those features or aren’t sure if you’ll use them, you won’t be paying anything extra so you can ignore them if you want.

Whether you use the consumer or business card, you’ll be able to get a great value despite the annual fee. As long as you visit enough SPG properties every year, the card should pay for itself in the reward points and benefits you get, as explained above. And if you avoid interest charges by paying off your balance in full every month, that one annual fee is all you’ll need to worry about.

How To Apply for the Starwood Preferred Guest Cards

Want to learn more or apply for these cards? You’ll be applying to American Express, who will usually check your Experian credit report. Be sure to look and see if you’re prequalified before you apply — you might be able to get a better offer.

The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
Apply Now

The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

For People with
Excellent Credit

  • Annual Fee: $95 (waived the first year)
  • Interest Rate: 16.24% – 20.24% Variable
Quick Card Facts
  • Earn 25,000 bonus Starpoints after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on international purchases.
  • Receive free in-room, premium internet access. Booking requirements apply.
  • Enjoy complimentary, unlimited Boingo Wi-Fi on up to four devices at more than 1,000,000 Boingo hotspots worldwide. Enrollment required.
  • Earn free nights at over 1,200 hotels and resorts in nearly 100 countries with no blackout dates.
  • Some hotels may have mandatory service and resort charges.
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • Terms and limitations apply.
Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express
Apply Now

Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express

For People with
Excellent Credit

  • Annual Fee: $95 (waived the first year)
  • Interest Rate: 16.24%, 18.24% or 20.24% Variable
Quick Card Facts
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 25,000 bonus Starpoints® after you use your Card to make $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on international purchases.
  • Receive free in-room, premium internet access. Booking requirements apply.
  • Enjoy complimentary, unlimited Boingo Wi-Fi at more than 1,000,000 Boingo hotspots worldwide. Enrollment required.
  • Earn free nights at over 1,200 hotels and resorts in nearly 100 countries with no blackout dates.
  • Some hotels and resorts have mandatory service charges.
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • Terms and limitations apply.

Alternatives to the Starwood Preferred Guest Cards

IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card

The main factor for comparison between the IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card and the SPG cards is that the IHG card is designed for spending at IHG properties (Intercontinental Hotels Group), while the SPG card is for SPG properties. If you definitely favor one hotel chain over the other, that should be the deciding factor for you. IHG brands include Crowne Plaza®, Hotel Indigo®, Holiday Inn®, Staybridge Suites®, Candlewood Suites®, EVEN™ Hotels, and HUALUXE™.

Other than that, the IHG card has a lower annual fee — $49, waived the first year — but since the annual fee of the SPG cards is also quite low at $95, waived the first year, this isn’t much of a difference.

The IHG card has the better signup bonus, offering 60,000 points for just $1,000 in spending in the first 3 months. You’ll be able to earn more points right at the start, getting 5 points per dollar at IHG properties. You’ll also get 2 points per dollar at gas stations, grocery stores, and restaurants, making it a bit more flexible than the SPG which offers 1 point everywhere except SPG properties.

It seems that IHG requires more points for free night stays, starting at 10,000. This means it will usually be easier to earn free nights with the SPG cards, as long as you stay at lower-category hotels.

Both of these cards offer complimentary services and perks when staying at hotels, including membership in elite status levels. The IHG card comes with IHG Rewards Club Platinum Elite Status, which includes benefits like a 10% point bonus when redeeming and a free night’s stay every year. Those are pretty great perks, but the SPG cards have a host of great additional benefits as well, probably more than you can get with the IHG card.

The Hyatt Credit Card

The Hyatt Credit Card is designed for frequent patrons of Hyatt hotels and resorts, where cardholders will earn 3 points per dollar. This means that the proper use of this card is much more limited than the SPG, which offers up to 5 points per dollar at all SPG properties and includes many different hotel brands. There are only around 700 hotels worldwide in the Hyatt portfolio, compared to over 1,500 SPG properties.

As mentioned, the Hyatt card provides fewer points per dollar, but you’ll also find that free night stays cost more points with Hyatt than with SPG. Free nights with Hyatt start at 5,000 points at category 1 hotels, compared to just 3,000 for SPG. That means the SPG cards provide more points per dollar and those points will also go farther when you redeem them.

There are some nice benefits with the Hyatt card, like a free night’s stay every year and automatic membership in the Hyatt Rewards program at the basic level. It has a quite low annual fee of just $75.

Overall, while the SPG card offers superior rewards and benefits, the right card for you will depend on the hotels you typically stay at. If Hyatt are the hotels for you, then it’s clear that you should be using the Hyatt card. Otherwise, you’re likely to find what you need in a hotel credit card from SPG.

Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card

The Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card is actually a strong contender to the SPG cards. Not only does it provide 5 points per dollar at Marriott properties, it also provides 5 points per dollar at SPG properties. That means it covers everything the SPG cards do, plus more. All that for an annual fee of just $85 per year. There’s also a business version of the card, the Marriott Rewards Premier Business Credit Card, coming at $99 per year.

There are a ton of perks with the Marriott cards, including 80,000 bonus points for spending $3,000 in the first 3 months, quite a bit more than the SPG cards. You’ll get access to a different elite membership program, based on Marriott Rewards rather than SPG, but the benefits will be similar. It’s unclear which one is objectively better, but the Marriott card seems to provide more credits toward a higher status, making it a bit easier to reach. You’ll also get a free night’s stay every year with the Marriott cards, a very nice feature that the SPG cards don’t have.

Free night stays will cost more with the Marriott cards, starting at 7,500 points at category 1 hotels and 20,000 points at category 4 hotels, for example. Compare that to the SPG program, where category 1 hotels cost 3,000 points and category 4 hotels cost 10,000 points. You’ll have to balance that against the fact that the Marriott cards provide 5 points per dollar to start, compared to 4 points per dollar with the SPG card. Both cards provide a wide variety of ways to redeem your points, including for hotel bookings, transfers to airline miles, and gift cards.

These cards are pretty similar, and the choice between them could be tough. When choosing between the Marriott and SPG cards, there are a few main points to consider:

  • Do you tend to stay at both Marriott and SPG properties, or just SPG? If both, then you’ll probably want the Marriott card.
  • Do you really love either the Marriott Rewards program or the SPG Rewards program? If so, you should probably go with the card that will provide the benefits you already like.
  • You can actually transfer SPG points to Marriott Rewards points, so if use an SPG card you’ll be able to gain value in the Marriott Rewards program as well.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

Unlike the SPG cards and the other alternatives mentioned above, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card (Review) is a general-use travel card, meaning it’s not associated with any hotel chain in particular. It provides 2 points per dollar on travel and restaurant purchases, meaning you’ll have more ways to earn points but you’ll earn them at a lower rate than the SPG cards. The annual fee for the Sapphire Preferred is the exact same as the SPG cards, $95 and waived the first year.

The Sapphire Preferred is a popular and rewarding card, offering the equivalent of up to 2.5% cash back when you redeem your points through Chase Ultimate Rewards. That’s pretty good for reward cards and general travel cards, but it doesn’t even come close to what you can get with the SPG cards. The SPG cards can easily provide over 13% cash back if you’re willing to redeem your points at lower-category hotels, and you can still get close to 10% cash back at hotels up to category 4.

The Sapphire Preferred does allow you to transfer points to frequent flyer programs where you can get a higher value for them, but the transfer values you get with the SPG cards are even better.

Overall, the main difference between these cards is that the Sapphire Preferred is great for general travel expenses at many different merchants, while the SPG cards are amazing for staying at SPG properties in particular.

Where do you typically stay when you travel? If you book rooms at a wide variety of hotels outside the SPG chain and want a card to use for all travel expenses, the Sapphire Preferred will be a better choice. But if you know that you’ll be spending a lot of money with SPG and staying at their properties often, then the SPG cards will serve you well.

Not the right cards for you? To check out our picks for the best travel credit cards, see the Best Travel Credit Cards.

Was this review helpful to you? Go ahead and share it with a friend! And if you use one of these cards, leave your own review of the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card, or leave a review of the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Cardwe’d love to hear from you!

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