About Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express

It’s never a bad thing to find a credit card with rewards you’ll actually use.

The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express is one of those cards; you can use it to rack up points you can cash in for free nights at Starwood hotels.

Using the free nights you get is the easy part, but deciding whether or not this card is something you’ll use in the long term isn’t so simple. You should know about the card’s long-term benefits (not just the flashy short-term ones), its fees and penalties as well as what other people say about it.

Once you get a sense of all these different aspects of the card, it’s much easier to say “yes” or “no.” An informed consumer is a wise consumer, we think.

So, what we want to do is cover each one of those topics we mentioned. We’ll take you step by step through the most important aspects of the Starwood Preferred Guest Card, and then we’ll conclude with our overall thoughts on the card.

The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card ’s Short-Term Offers

At the time of research, new cardmembers get 2 free nights at a Category 1–5 hotel in the SPG network. The only requirement? Spend $3,000 in the first three months, which is an easy goal for average American households who can charge at least $1,200 a month on their card for various expenses.

However, just one month ago this offer was 25,000 points. In our opinion, the old offer was better.

25K Points vs. 2 Nights

Starwood has 67 Category 1 (2K–3K points) and Category 2 (3K–4K points) hotels in the United States; all but three of those are Category 2. So, it’s conceivable that you could book 6 nights in a Category 2 hotel with your intro 25K points under the old plan.

Under this new offer of two nights, you get the most value if you use those nights on Category 5 hotels, which range in price from 12,000 to 16,000 points and include numerous Westin Hotel properties.

Using the nights on Category 1 or 2 hotels just wouldn’t make sense, because you’d be redeeming the nights for 2,000-4,000 point hotels.

The new intro offer is now on par with Hyatt’s Visa card (2 free nights) and Wyndham’s card (2 free nights). The two nights are a nice perk, but we wouldn’t say it’s among the best.

No Annual Fee

In addition to the pair of free nights, new cardmembers won’t have to pay the card’s $95 annual fee the first year. Once you reach your first anniversary, the annual fee will be charged to your account.

The Long-Term Benefits of Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card

Once you get beyond the first year of card ownership, the short-term benefits of the Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express disappear, and you’re left with several long-term benefits.

Point Bonuses on Purchases

Hotel rewards cards give you points every time you make a purchase with your card. Most of those purchases will get you one point for every dollar you spend. However, there’s usually a bonus or two for other things you pay for with your card.

The SPG Amex gives you up to five points on every purchase you make at SPG properties: 2 points for the purchase, an additional 2 points if you’re an SPG loyalty member and an additional 1 point if you have SPG Elite status.

In past research we’ve done on annual income and spending habits of the average American household, we’ve concluded that you can expect to spend about $25,000 a year on your card. That’s good enough for two nights at a Category 5 hotel, two nights at a Category 4 property and three nights at Category 3.

Pro Tip: You get a 1,000-point discount for every Category 1 or 2 weekend night you book through the SPG site.

Free High-Speed WiFi

When you become a cardmember, Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card gives you complimentary access to high-speed internet at their hotel properties, as well as free access to more than 1 million Boingo hotspots around the world.

Frequent Flyer Programs

One of the big long-term perks of the SPG AmEx card is that any points you rack up on your card can be transferred to more than 30 airline frequent flyer programs. Also, when you transfer 20,000 points for a flight, you’ll get a 5,000-point bonus.

See Also: The Best Airline Rewards Card of 2016

Free Nights

The final long-term perk of this card is that when you book three nights at an SPG hotel through the SPG website, you’ll get a fourth night free.

Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card Fees and Penalties

Every credit card has its set of fees and “fines” you’ll pay if you make a late payment or you don’t pay off your balance in full on time. Here’s what you can expect from the SPG AmEx:

  • APR: 15.49%–19.49% on purchases and balance transfers
  • Penalty APR: 29.49%
  • Late Fee: Up to $37
  • Balance Transfer Fee: $5 or 3%, whichever is greater
  • Foreign Transaction Fee: None

Our main concern here is the penalty APR because it can have a big impact on how much interest you pay. The penalty APR kicks in when you make a late payment and will, according to American Express, apply to your account for six months. At that point, they’ll review your account and determine whether or not they’ll drop your APR back down to what it was before.

Related: How to Actually Understand Credit Card’s Fine Print

So, if you carry a $3,000 balance and your APR is 15.49%, you’ll pay around $39 in interest each month. If you have that same balance at the penalty APR of 29.49%, you’ll pay around $73 a month in interest. After six months, that’s about $426.

Our advice: Pay your balance in full every month, and you won’t have to worry about APR.

Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card Reviews

We took a quick look at a few popular personal finance sites to get a sense of what people are saying about their experiences with the Starwood Preferred Guest card from AmEx. Here are the ratings we found, along with some of the common praises/critiques:

  • NerdWallet (16 reviews): 4 stars, with customers saying they love the bonus nights, that SPG is a “solid hotel network” and that the card has good perks for Starwood loyalists.
  • Credit Karma (37 reviews): 4 stars, with reviewers praising the rewards and expressing excitement they got the card even though their credit scores were under 700 (expect a credit limit of $1,000 if you have sub-700 scores).

In general, the reviews on this card are pretty. The experts’ opinions are even better:

  • NerdWallet’s Erin El Issa: 4.4 out of 5. “For above-average rewards, a slew of airline transfer partners and plenty of rewards redemption options, the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express is hard to beat,” Erin wrote.
  • Value Penguin: 98 out of 100. “The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express rates as one of our top hotel credit cards and also one of the best rewards card offers,” they wrote.
  • Credit Donkey’s Ross Frasier: 4.5 out of 5. “To get good value out of this card it helps if you’re a frequent traveler … you’re a fan of Starwood hotels and resorts … (and you) can justify the annual fee with rewards,” Ross wrote.

The opinions on this card are pretty uniform: most people love it.

Our Conclusions About the Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express

As we said at the beginning of this article, a hotel rewards card is a great tool if you’re going to use it. And if you love Starwood hotels, the AmEx SPG card is an obvious choice for you.

While the intro offer isn’t as good as it used to be, it still affords you two free nights at Category 5 hotels, which includes some great properties:

In addition to the options you have for two nights at a great resort, remember that you’ll get at least about 25,000 points a year that you can put towards hotel nights or more than 30 airlines’ frequent flyer programs.

Another thing we haven’t mentioned is that, if you spend $30,000 on the card in one year, you’ll get SPG Gold status for the following 12 months, which entitles you to late checkout, complimentary room upgrades (when available) and more.

See Also: The Best Travel Card of 2016: Why Miles Aren’t Just Miles

The penalties and fees on the card are pretty standard, but it’s important to keep an eye out on the penalty APR. Our advice is to avoid late fees/penalties by setting up automatic payments through which you pay your entire balance. As we pointed out earlier, just one missed payment will activate your penalty APR, and that could cost nearly double in interest payments.

Based on our research, we believe this card is a great fit for someone who travels frequently and likes the Starwood network of hotels.

If you aren’t a hotel loyalist and are just looking for as many introductory free nights as possible, you can certainly sign up for this card, but we think you may be happier with the Marriott Rewards Premier Card from Chase. Marriott has more than four times the Category 1 and 2 hotels in the U.S. that Starwood has.

Related: The Marriott-Starwood Merger: Pros and Cons for Loyalty Members

If Marriott or Starwood hotels don’t excite you, consider the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which lets you transfer your points 1:1 to the Hyatt Gold Passport, IHG Rewards, and Ritz-Carlton Rewards programs.

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