This review was updated in September 2016 and all the information is correct as of that date
This is my review of the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) American Express credit card issued in the UK.
It is part of my series of articles looking at the major UK loyalty credit cards and discussing whether or not they are worth applying for. These articles will be linked to the relevant sections of the ‘Credit Cards Update‘ page. My other UK airline and hotel credit card reviews can be found here.
If you want to check your credit record before applying for a new card, click here to get your free Equifax credit report and score. Your first 30 days are free then it’s £14.95 per month. You can cancel at anytime.
As with all rewards cards, this is not a suitable product for you if you do not clear your balance in full every month. You should focus on a credit card with a low interest rate such as the AA Low Rate Card. This has a very attractive representative APR of 6.4% variable on purchases and balance transfers.
Key facts: £75 annual fee
The representative APR is 36.2% variable, including the annual fee, based on a notional £1,200 credit limit. The interest rate on purchases is 19.9% variable.
About the card
The Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card is issued directly by American Express. Starwood Preferred Guest is the loyalty scheme for Sheraton, Westin, W, aloft, Luxury Collection and other brands.
It is a credit card, like the British Airways Amex and not a charge card like the American Express Preferred Rewards Gold and Platinum cards. There are no restrictions on receiving the sign-up bonus on this card whatever other American Express cards you hold.
In general Amex restricts you to two credit cards and two charge cards, but I do know people who have managed to get 3 Amex-issued credit cards at the same time.
What is the sign-up bonus?
10,000 Starwood Preferred Guest points, when you spend £1,000 within 3 months. This is worth 10,000 Avios or other airline miles if converted. The points are also good for a free night (or more than one night) in many Starwood hotels.
A higher bonus of 11,000 SPG points is available if you are referred by an existing cardholder. Please e-mail me at raffles [at] headforpoints.co.uk if you would like a referral.
Starwood Preferred Guest points convert 1:1 into 30 different airline schemes. Aegean and LifeMiles were the latest partner to be added in 2016.
Any other benefits?
Yes, but I do not value them highly.
Spend £15,000 per year on the card and you will receive Gold status in Starwood Preferred Guest. The benefits of this are modest, though, and you can get SPG Gold for free simply by taking out an American Express Platinum card.
Spend £25,000 per year and you receive a voucher for a free weekend night. However, this can only be used at Category 1-4 properties, which basically knocks out any expensive and / or aspirational hotels in the portfolio. Given the huge amount of spending required to trigger the free night, this restriction makes little sense.
(If the free night was valid anywhere, I might be prepared to go for it. A free night a year at the Gritti Palace in Venice is not a bad way to spend your time and is not a bad return on £25,000 of spend. You won’t find anything too luxurious in the Category 1-4 lists however.)
Who can apply for the card?
American Express no longer has a minimum income requirement for any of its cards.
You will receive the bonus even if you already have a British Airways Amex, Amex Gold, Amex Platinum or any other American Express card.
The only people who will not receive the bonus are those who have already cancelled an SPG Amex in the last six months.
What is the annual fee?
There is a £75 annual fee. You receive a pro-rata refund if you cancel.
What do I earn per £1 spent on the card?
The earnings rate on the card is 1 SPG point per £1. There is no bonus for using the card in Starwood hotels.
What is a Starwood Preferred Guest point worth?
Starwood points are harder to value than other hotel points, for 2 reasons:
At the top end, the points needed for a free room are ludicrous. Category 7 properties are 30-35,000 points per night, which is very high given how hard SPG points are to earn.
At the same time, the airline conversion rate is exceedingly generous – 1 mile per point, with a 5,000 bonus when you convert 20,000. A hotel room costing 35,000 points is clearly a poor deal when you could get 40,000 airline miles for those points instead!
I managed to book £370 of free hotel rooms when I first got a 20,000 point bonus. Because of the conversion to airline miles, SPG points are always worth at least 1p because you can justify that valuation for most airline schemes.
If you live in London, you should know that Starwood has a private suite at the O2 Arena and makes seats with full hospitality available for points redemption for many concerts.
How does this compare to a cashback credit card?
The best cashback card on the market which offers a) a MasterCard or Visa, b) no annual fee and c) unlimited cashback is the ASDA card, which pays 0.5% in ASDA vouchers.
For an average spender, the Starwood card therefore offers decent value. If you manage to redeem for free hotel nights at 1.5p to 2p per SPG point of value, it offers a very good deal.
One positive part of the Starwood programme is ‘cash and points’ rewards, which I outlined here. This means that even if you only earn a few thousand points in the programme, all from the credit card, you can still get a good redemption with them.
Other points to note
It is worth remembering that Starwood offer transfers to 30 different airlines. For many of these airlines, this credit card is the only way for a UK resident to collect in that programme via card spend.
Marriott has recently taken over Starwood and will be merged into Marriott Rewards in 2018. You can already convert Starwood points into Marriott Rewards at the generous rate of 1:3 so the sign-up bonus on this card is effectively worth 30,000 Marriott Rewards points.
How else can you earn SPG points from a credit card?
There are two interesting options, one of which is initially free:
The American Express Platinum charge card offers 30,000 Membership Rewards points for signing up. These convert to 15,000 Starwood points. It has a £450 fee, refunded pro-rata if you cancel.
The standard sign-up bonus is, on the face of it, middling – you get 10,000 points, which also converts to 10,000 airline miles, but the annual fee reduces its value. If you are seeking airline miles with an airline which does not otherwise have a UK card partner, though, you may be more inclined to apply.
Remember that you will receive a higher bonus of 11,000 SPG points if you are referred by an existing cardholder. Please e-mail me at raffles [at] headforpoints.co.uk if you would like a referral.
The on-going earning rate is decent. If you are committed to transferring to a specific airline then you may be better off with a dedicated airline card. However, if you transfer to airlines in batches of 20,000 then you are getting 1.25 miles per £1, and the SPG card also gives you flexibility to transfer to many different airlines or to redeem for hotel rooms.
For many airlines, eg Air Canada Aeroplan, the SPG Amex is the only way to earn miles via a credit card at a respectable rate.
The application form for the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card can be found here.
Disclaimer: Head for Points is a journalistic website. Nothing here should be construed as financial advice, and it is your own responsibility to ensure that any product is right for your circumstances. Recommendations are based primarily on the ability to earn miles and points and do not consider interest rates, service levels or any impact on your credit history. By recommending credit cards on this site, I am – technically – acting as a credit broker. Robert Burgess, trading as Head for Points, is regulated and authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority to act as a credit broker.