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.
How Many Free Nights Can 25K Points Get You?
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 25K points.
If it’s luxury you want, then browse SPG’s Category 5 hotels. You can find some of these properties at the 12,000-point level, which can get you a pair of nights with your intro bonus. For example, the new Avalon Hotel in Beverly Hill.
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.
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.
You’ll also get double points for money you spend at Marriott hotels, a bonus that came about in 2016 when Marriott announced a merger with SPG.
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.
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: 15.99%–19.99% on purchases and balance transfers
- Penalty APR: 29.99%
- Late Fee: Up to $38
- 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 they’ll drop your APR back down to what it was before.
So, if you carry a $3,000 balance, your APR is 15.99% and you pay your card off in 12 months, you’ll pay around $265 in interest over the course of the year.
If you have that same balance at the penalty APR of 29.99%, you’ll pay around $505 in interest during the year it takes you to pay off the card.
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 some of the common praises:
- Excellent hotel network with which you can book multiple nights with your bonus points
- In some cases, consumers with sub-700 credit scores can get it
- Nice perks for SPG members at SPG hotels (tier upgrade)
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.
If luxury is what you want out of your 25,000 intro points, then a night at the following hotels can be had with your bonus:
- The Sheraton Kauai Resort
- The W Atlanta
- The Gwen (Chicago)
- W Las Vegas
- The Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa
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.
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.
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.
If you want pure value and the quality level of the hotel isn’t important to you, then you’ll love the Choice Privileges Visa. We estimate that you can get enough points in the first year for 11 free nights.
Read Next: The Best Hotel Rewards Credit Card of 2017