Why the Starwood Amex credit card is a mess – and why you should get it!

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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:

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.  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?

Yes.

Here’s why.

You can get the Starwood Amex irrespective of what other American Express cards you hold

Even if you already have a Gold / Platinum charge card and a British Airways American Express card, you can still get the sign-up bonus on the Starwood Preferred Guest credit card.

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.

My full review of the Starwood Amex credit card is here.  You can apply for the card 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. Phillip says:

    This has been my everyday spend card predominantly for the value I get from having the flexibility to transfer to so many airline programmes each having its own sweet pot! I love Alaska for JAL and Cathay redemptions (half the number of miles you would need with both Cathay and BA) from Europe to Hong Kong. Japan Mileage Bank for Emirates redemptions, Aadvantage for Oneworld, multi stop awards especially going from the UK to the Pacific region… and so much more!

  2. Wally1976 says:

    Slightly OT – is anyone having luck getting Amex to credit £5 for shops on the Shop Small map who refuse to accept Amex? I tried on the live chat with a couple of local retailers last night and they wouldn’t do it. Completely undermines the promo for me.

    • Same result for me. They refused a manual credit on the grounds that I should have checked Amex was accepted beforehand.

    • Used 3 cards in a restaurant on Saturday that was in the promotion. Got one email confirming the small shop….so let’s see if the credits appear.

      • I did 30 transactions in St Andrews today and only got 11 confirmation emails. I did 11 transactions in one shop and got 7 emails. All 11 cards have definitely been registered. All but one shop is on the list – hope I don’t have to chase up all these transactions.

      • Mine has been a bit flakey this year as well, although may well still end up crediting in the end. Contactless never get an email and usually are fine.

    • Andrew (@andrewseftel) says:

      I expect they’ll roll over if you go down the complaints process. Not worth £550 to FOS for the sake of a few fivers.

      • Waribai says:

        The problem is with live chat. They seem to be under instructions not to offer any payouts. The call centre is still as good as gold.

        • the real harry1 says:

          depends – I got bricked on the phone but got success on Chat today (same purchase)

          key points: putlet on the SS map/ could see ‘Amex accepted here’ stickers

          don’t take no for an answer

        • If you get no for an answer, raise a formal complaint and threaten the ombudsman! They shouldn’t be using an online map for the promotion if it’s not accurate.

  3. O/T does anyone know when Virgin Money will release the new VA credit cards?

    • New Card says:

      I think Rob mentioned the New Year as the time when any announcement would be made

      • Late January was the late date I heard. I have a deal with Virgin for the exclusive on the launch 🙂

        • Hopefully it will include something for those of us already holding the MBNA issued cards!

  4. James knox says:

    Used mine and the wife’s SPG points to see Jamiroquai at the o2 from the Starwood box last night – best use of the points in the UK – concert was brilliant, doubtless the free flowing wine and beer helped!

    • Waribai says:

      I was there. As much as I like the box, for Jamiroquai, the floor was the place to be!!!

  5. Just to be crystal clear, every time I stay at an SPG property booked directly through the SPG website are my Marriott points renewed for an additional 24 months when I pay the bill at the desk? Is that right?

    And vice versa, does staying at a Marriott property extend your SPG points? Thanks

  6. Would I get sign up bonus if I currently have BA Amex?

    • yes

    • From the article
      “Even if you already have a Gold / Platinum charge card and a British Airways American Express card, you can still get the sign-up bonus on the Starwood Preferred Guest credit card.”

  7. OT: I currently hold a personal Platinum Amex charge card. As a small business owner am I able to get a mew membership rewards account (with sign bonus) for a Amex Platinum Business charge card? Or does the 6 month rule apply?

    • Rule applies. A business cannot have an MR account so it would be in your name and you already have one.

  8. I have 1 million SPG, 1.2 million avios & 1.5 million membership rewards, but didn’t have the xmas party ticket. Would love to share my thoughts of how to use them with u guys though.

  9. Any tips on our situation rob/genghis. We’re not in the same league as some on here but we both have Amex gold and both supplementary on each. Wife just about to hit the 10k bonus then cancel then churn. Same for me when it comes round. We put about £1600 a month on the card. We both have the basic BA Amex aswell.

    I don’t really know if I’ll get loads out of the platinum due to the cost and we don’t travel as much (kids!). I’m thinking where to channel my spend or am I best sticking to our churning pattern. One thought I had for a free night was the Hilton card plus this card. Or even the BAPP to hit a 241 voucher. I’m looking at mainly flights or hotels as rewards to help keep the cost down on holidays.

    Any tips on where i should Channel my spend or just stick as I am. Which I’m perfectly happy with just wondered if can make more out of spending

    • Graham Walsh says:

      Maybe upgrade to Amex Plat for the bonus and then churn? As you say look at the Hilton card or maybe IHG Black. Or stick with Amex to collect MR as a general currency.

    • Steve-B says:

      @Nick G, it really depends on your comfort levels re churning and personal strategy. Remember that you don’t need to hold on to your Platinum long term – get the upgrade bonus and cancel. Many folks report the fee not posting on PRGC upgrades until the anniversary date (including me!). There’s lots of advise on here re not having the basic BA Amex – the BAPP’s £195 fee pays for its self given the additional earning rate, bonus and 2 year expiry. If you plan to go for a 2-4-1 consider accumulating enough points and 2 vouchers – 1 voucher with a family of 4 doesn’t work well. Finally don’t spread your points strategy too thinly if you can only generate modest numbers of points. 184k on Gold/Plat churn /yr per couple is very doable if you’re prepared to put the work into diarising the applications/cancellations.

      • Thanks. But am I right in thinking that if we both currently hold the free BA Amex we can’t get the sign up bonus on the BAPP until we close either card then leave it 6 months to reapply?

      • Genghis says:

        @Nick G. Steve B gave some good advice. Work out what you want to achieve first and then work out how you’re going to get there. I.e. it’s pointless saving Hilton points if you can’t stay in hotels due to your family size etc. £1,600 spend a month is still decent = £38,400 over two years.

        Remember prorata refunds on each of the directly issued Amex cards, e.g. to hit a Plat sign up spend requirement of £2k would cost you 2/1.6 x1/12 x 450 = £47 for the 35k MR points.

        In a two year period, you could do 2 x BAPP cards and 3 x Plat His and Hers cycles and 3 SPG his and hers (spend 2 x 10k + 2k x 2 x 3 + 1k x 2 x 3 = £38k of spend (well within your spend rate).

        I’m sure you can run the numbers yourself on how much this would actually cost you in £££ terms and how many points you’d get (note if you start from say a Plat card at first you can now refer to other cards for 18k MRs but this needs to be balanced against a potential increased cost of holding the cards for a longer period of time. You need to run the numbers for your circumstances.

    • To piggyback on this, once your gold card hits the 10k bonus, does it come immediately or at year end? (Can one straight away do the Platinum upgrade?)

  10. Hi guys,

    Can I apply for an Amex gold card get the 20k points, close it and reapply after 6 months to get the bonus? Newbie here. Thanks

    • Genghis says:

      Yes

    • If you get someone to refer you (Ask your friends/relatives) then you will get 22,000 points and they will get 9,000. If you don’t have any friends/relatives with the card then Rob will happily refer you

      • I alternate every 7/8 months with my wife so both get the referral bonus If you’re married or have a partner you’re onto a winner.

  11. how long wait until I can sign up again for the bonus points?

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