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Credit & Charge Card Reviews (18): Starwood Preferred Guest / SPG American Express

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 link:  Starwood Preferred Guest American Express application form

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.

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.

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.

Because Starwood points now convert into Marriott Rewards points at 1:3, the bonus is worth 30,000 Marriott Rewards points (33,000 if referred).

Starwood Preferred Guest points convert 1:1 into 30 different airline schemes.  Aegean and LifeMiles were the latest partners to be added in 2016.

SPG Amex Starwood American Express credit card review

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 bonusBecause 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?

My default comparison card is the AA FuelSave Credit Card.  This card is free in the first year and offers 0.5% cashback on all spending, 2%-4% cashback on fuel purchases and – in year one – free AA breakdown cover.  The representative APR is 22.4% variable.

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 Preferred Rewards Gold charge card offers 20,000 Membership Rewards points for signing up and is free for the first year.  These convert to 10,000 Starwood points.

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.

Conclusion

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.

(Want to earn more miles and points from credit cards?  Click here to visit our dedicated airline and hotel travel credit cards page or use the ‘Credit Cards Update’ link in the menu bar at the top of the page.)

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.

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Comments

  1. Rob, thanks for the review. Are you expecting this card to be withdrawn by the end of next year?

    • Marriott has a Visa deal so it may get closed to new applicants.

      • Although it should be added the current Marriott credit card in the UK issued by Creation is actually a Mastercard! (And I presume there is plenty of diversity in other markets too).

        If interchange fee cap remains as it is, and if Amex is the place to get around this, I can’t see the combined group giving up its prized relationship with Amex in the UK. (they only have SPG for hotels and BA for airlines). That would be cutting off your nose territory.

        I’m sure they are pragmatic and will go with the best partner in each region.

        That said, if the Amex licences get pulled from Lloyds, MBNA, Barclays, etc, – as they are not protected from the interchange cap, I could see a card issuer offering a good deal for a non-Amex to try to bag what would be an increasingly desirable partner – the enlarged Mariott world. (although hotels are far less desirable a product than airlines).

  2. TGLoyalty says:

    I know I asked yesterday. Any chance of a points bonus offer on this don’t want to apply then see a 20k offer the next week :)

    • There was a 20k sign up bonus in December last year but this was targeted and not a general offer. The last time the bonus was 20k for all applicants was over 2 years ago IIRC.

  3. Oh! Matron! says:

    Rob, I’d have thought that the insurance was worthy of ‘other benefits’…

  4. If I have the card now and cancel it shortly, do I need to wait min. 6 month to reapply?

  5. Creation aren’t accepting any applications for the Marriott Mastercard at the moment…

    (Also, where you talk about the Amex Gold bonus, with 20,000 MR points, doesn’t it convert to 6,666 SPG points, not 10,000?)