If you have never considered getting the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express credit card, there are some good reasons why you should.
Before I explain why, here is some background.
Hotel credit cards in the UK are currently on a bit of a roll. I think there are four reasons for this:
the withdrawal of MBNA from airline credit cards has dramatically reduced the options if you want a card offering travel rewards
the credit card issuers have done a good job of packaging hotel status benefits alongside the ability to earn points
recent rises in hotel room rates make hotel points more valuable ……
……. whilst continual falls in airline ticket prices, in all classes, reduce the value of airline miles
Against all this, the main downside with hotel credit cards is that – because the hotel schemes do a poor job of recruiting outside partners such as Tesco Clubcard – it is hard to earn enough for a free night from credit card spend alone.
What cards are available?
There are three UK Visa / MasterCard-based hotel credit cards, each of which offers a decent reason for getting them as my reviews explain:
- IHG Rewards Club Premium Mastercard (£99, review)
- IHG Rewards Club MasterCard (free, review)
- Hilton Honors Platinum Visa (free, review)
And then you have the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card.
(I am legally obliged to tell you that this card has a representative APR 39.7% variable, including the annual fee, based on a notional £1200 credit limit.)
Given the fees charged by American Express to retailers prior to the EU cap on interchange fees, and the £75 annual fee, Amex could have funded a stellar benefits package for this product. It could have kicked the IHG and Hilton cards into the dust. Instead they messed it up.
Long-term HFP readers will know that I consider the Starwood Amex card to be a wasted opportunity. (However, I still think you should consider getting it for the reasons I list below!)
At one point, American Express even asked me to submit a strategy paper to them on ways of improving the product, which they promptly ignored. It’s a shame, because they could have made it into a strong No 2 in UK loyalty credit cards behind the British Airways American Express Premium Plus.
This was the original SPG Amex benefits package pre 2017:
10,000 Starwood Preferred Guest points (= 10,000 airline miles) as a sign-up bonus
1 point per £1 spent – worth around 1.5p if used for Starwood hotel stays, or 1p if converted to airline miles
No bonus points for spending at Starwood hotels
You received Starwood Gold status for spending £15,000 – but this has no real benefits now that everyone who books direct gets the only real Gold perk of free wi-fi
You received a free weekend night in a Category 1-4 hotel for spending £25,000 per year
Where did this benefits package go wrong?
It is the latter benefit that really confuses me. Unless you can charge business expenses to a personal credit card, I think that you would need to be earning £150,000 per year in order to make £25,000 of discretionary spending on an American Express card. This substantially limits the market for the Starwood card, assuming cardholders intend to trigger the free night.
No other UK credit card requires such a high spend target to trigger a reward.
There are few decent SPG properties in Europe in Categories 1-4 which would accept the voucher. The ONLY UK hotels in Category 1-4 are the Sheraton Skyline, Sheraton Heathrow and aloft at the Excel conference centre and in Liverpool. These are not, to put it mildly, top weekend break destinations! Even then, it is only one free night. At a weekend. It is unlikely the cash cost of such a room would be more than £75 – a poor return on £25,000 of card spend.
And yet, the card became more interesting in 2017
Marriott bought Starwood last year. One of their first moves was to make Marriott Rewards points and Starwood Preferred Guest points interchangeable. 3 Marriott Rewards points are now worth 1 Starwood Preferred Guest point.
This changed the dynamics of the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card overnight:
it now offers a way to earn Marriott Rewards points via a credit card, which has not been possible since the Marriott Rewards card was withdrawn two years ago. The sign-up bonus of 10,000 Starwood Preferred Guest points can be instantly converted into 30,000 Marriott Rewards points.
it makes Marriott Rewards points more valuable, because the impressive Marriott Travel Package awards which I wrote about here are tough (over 200,000 Marriott points) to unlock. SPG card spend now makes it easier to reach those levels.
it makes Starwood points more valuable because the relatively small SPG portfolio is now bolsted by the global Marriott footprint for redemption
Amex also introduced a new benefit to the card:
you receive double points for spending at Starwood or Marriott hotels (2 SPG points per £1, equal to 6 Marriott Rewards points, so about 3p of value per £1)
Should you consider getting the SPG Amex card?
You can get the Starwood Amex irrespective of what other American Express cards you hold
It comes with a good sign-up bonus worth 10,000 Avios
The sign-up bonus is 10,000 Starwood Preferred Guest points. This increases to 11,000 points if you use a refer-a-friend link – email me at rob at headforpoints.co.uk if you want a link. 10,000 SPG points convert into 10,000 miles with 29 airlines, including Avios and Virgin Flying Club. Used for hotel rooms, you should get £150 of value from 10,000 SPG points.
There is a low spend target to trigger the bonus
You only need to spend £1,000 within 90 days to receive the 10,000 Starwood points as a sign-up bonus. This should not be tricky for most Head for Points readers, given that the BA Premium and Gold / Platinum cards have far higher thresholds.
It is a good way of earning airline miles if your airline no longer has a credit card
Now that Emirates, Etihad, Lufthansa, United and – temporarily – Virgin Atlantic no longer have UK credit cards, the Starwood Preferred Guest Amex is the best way to earn miles in these programmes. There are also 20+ other airlines who never had a UK credit card, such as Air Canada and Qatar Airways, where this credit card is the best way to earn miles in the UK from day to day spend.
The £75 annual fee is refundable pro-rata if you cancel
You can cancel the card at any point and receive a pro-rata refund of the annual fee.
If you collect Marriott Rewards points, it is a great way to build up your balance
And if you don’t want to build a large SPG balance, you can use your points for airline miles.
How to earn Marriott Bonvoy points from UK credit cards (December 2020)
There are various ways of earning Marriott Bonvoy points from UK credit cards. Many cards also have generous sign-up bonuses!
You can also earn Marriott Bonvoy points by converting American Express Membership Rewards points at the rate of 2:3.
Do you know that holders of The Platinum Card from American Express receive FREE Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status for as long as they hold the card? It also comes with Hilton Honors Gold, Radisson Rewards Gold, Shangri-La Golden Circle Jade and MeliaRewards Gold status. We reviewed American Express Platinum in detail here and you can apply here.
You can also earn American Express Membership Rewards points with American Express Gold (20,000 bonus points), the American Express Rewards Credit Card (5,000 bonus points) and – for small business owners – American Express Business Gold (20,000 bonus points) and Business Platinum (40,000 bonus points).
(Want to earn more hotel points? Click here to see our complete list of promotions from the major hotel chains or use the ‘Hotel Promos’ link in the menu bar at the top of the page.)