Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

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.

Comments (110)

  • Lochlann says:

    I’d add that it’s a good way of getting a slug of SPG points for their Moments auctions and the Gold Marriott status that’s now included gets free breakfast

  • Ian says:

    For me this is far and away the best rewards card in the UK for ongoing spend. I average 3p value per Starwood point by converting to Marriott.

    I agree it would be nice if they improved the free night voucher to any category hotel but can’t have everything!

  • DaveP says:

    Been a regular churner of the SPG card for several years. I remember the heady days of 20,000 SPG points plus 5k bonus on conversion. Current 10k still worth having especially with pro rata refund of fee on cancellation.

  • TripRep says:

    Might sound odd from someone that’s twice redeemed 3/4 million Hilton Honors points for the Conrad Maldives, but I think I’d struggle to amass the points needed for a Marriot Travel Package.

    Other than heavy spend on this card, any top tips on how to achieve starting from Zero Points & Zero status.?

    • Genghis says:

      SPG Amex his n hers = 29k SPG
      Amex Plat his n hers = 46k SPG (and get your Marriott Gold via SPG status)
      6 months later SPG his n hers = 29k SPG
      Total = 104 SPG = 312 Marriott. Easy.

      • Genghis says:

        You should be able to do this prior to the potential death of the SPG card late next year.

      • Polly says:

        G,
        Re this Marriot package, we have never done hotel points, so new one for us too…is it 200,000 Marriot points pp or per room package? Cos we are currently working towards the same idea as TR. Tnx P

        • Genghis says:

          Per room.

        • Rob says:

          Per room – 200k gets you 7 nights in a low category Marriott plus the miles.

          However, it is a better deal miles-wise to take a package with more miles. You are roughly getting 1 mile per extra Marriott point if you do that.

      • Stuart says:

        How do you refer the SPG card from gold / platbiun as it doesn’t come up in my list

      • Scott says:

        Can you can pool his’n’her earnings into a single SPG/marriot account? My impression was this wasn’t possible, so the points required for a travel package would have to be earned by a single individual.

    • Talay says:

      This is my current “go to” card for regular spending. I am also lucky (unlucky ?) enough to own a business where many suppliers take Amex or have been persuaded to take Amex (and where they would not reduce margins further).

      I can put around £150k through this card which generates 450k Marriott points and I’ve just picked up a 35% bonus on the Avios element of the travel package meaning that instead of 120k Avios I got 162k Avios. This came with 7 days in a Marriott Category 1-5 hotel and cost 270k Marriott points.

      Critically here, you can upgrade your travel package hotel group later. No need to buy the expensive one. I didn’t know this for ages and help back doing this as some hotels I wanted were in different higher categories.

      So you convert 90k SPG to 270k Marriott and swap that for 162k Avios and 7 nights in a Category 5 hotel.

      If I used the Category 5 hotel voucher as is, it is worth around £150 per day to me, perhaps slightly less so I’d value the 7 days at near £1000. If you were to value Avios at 1p then 162k Avios would be worth £1620, making around £2600 of value from your original 270k Marriott / 90k SPG.

      Rob’s average valuation of SPG points would be 1.5p so the original 90k would be worth £1350 meaning that via this route, you’d roughly double that value.

      However, if like me you don’t have millions of Avios, then the Avios element is potentially more worthwhile when combined with an Amex 241. It is less valuable if you have oodles of Avios.

      I hate BA’s business class product and won’t fly it having gotten used to the ME3 but whilst the wife and daughter will use it, on my LHR-BKK route I think it is margin versus paying for the ME3 (and getting a better service). So we’re using Avios for things we wouldn’t usually pay for, such as first class, which are aspirational and where the 241 has extra value.

      A convoluted argument I appreciate but just my current thoughts. Some links below:

      Marriott Travel Package: https://headforpoints.com/2016/09/25/marriott-travel-packages/

      Avios 35% bonus: https://headforpoints.com/2017/09/23/avios-35-bonus-on-hotel-transfers/

  • Sandgrounder says:

    Liverpool is a great weekend break destination!

    • Genghis says:

      The Aloft is still on my list of weekend breaks. Looks great.

    • Rob says:

      I don’t deny it – I sent Anika there last year to review the aloft, which is fine. Not necessarily a good reward for £25k of card spend though …..

      • chris says:

        A friend of my parts were looking for a room in Liverpool short notice, i suggest the aloft i’ve stayed there myself, its great (although a pool would be nice)

        at the moment you can by 6K SPG point on line for $130, you’ll be lucky to pay under £250 for a weekend stay most weekends.

    • Anna says:

      It’s an attractive city these days; I’ve just booked tickets for the Terracotta Warriors exhibition which starts in February.

      • Talay says:

        Last time I looked Liverpool was still in Liverpool.

        Attractive is surely in the eye of the beholder.

        I see enough scousers on TV showing their behaviour on various benefits programs or after Aintree.

        Yosser Hughes anyone ?

        • Anna says:

          I’m sure they’d love you to book a short break there.

        • RussellH says:

          Like any big city, Liverpool does have its less attractive areas; it also has much that is well worth seeing.

          As to the way some people behave, do please remember that that the makers of these programmes were seeking to “entertain”, rather in the way that some Victorians visited mental hospitals for fun. They are not documentaries, trying to present a reasoned point of view. The producers will have trawled the streets looking for people whose behaviours “entertains” others.

          The vast majority of those on benefits have either earned them through paying NICs, or are in dire need of assistance. And there are many more who need assistance that do not receive them. Not least because staff administering benefits now have targets to turn down 80% of applications (source: recent article in Private Eye quoting documents received following a Freedom of Information request).

        • Mr Dee says:

          agree

  • mark2 says:

    You can also use SPG points to book almost any flights at spgflights.com.
    Each of us has their own objectives, but I now consider Marriott points to be a much better deal for SPG points, maybe because I have got more than enough Avios). On a tiny sample I have found them to b much better than the equivalent Hilton offering. Remember that with SPG Gold (maybe from Amex Plat) you do not get breakfast but matching to Marriott Gold you do.

    • mark2 says:

      Another major Marriott benefit is that you can book redemptions without having the points. I have booked ten nights in a cat 8 hotel in Boston next Oct for 320,000 points (cash price $4500) and get the points later. Also the points do not go up in high season as here for the ‘Fall’ and Jun 17 in Vancouver the week before the 150 celebrations.

  • Andrew C says:

    I don’t think it’s fair to say SPG Gold has no real benefits – 4pm guaranteed late check out (except at conference and resort properties) I value highly, though I’ve been Platinum for many years now. Also match to Marriott Gold and get both 4pm guaranteed late checkout (same exceptions) and lounge access/breakfast at several brands including Marriott and JW Marriott.

    • Rob says:

      Yes, that’s true, I didn’t really factor in the value of the Marriott Gold match. That said, it is a bit pointless now because by the time you’d spent your £15k it would be very close to the launch of the new scheme anyway.

  • Tom says:

    I think I was one fo the ones who got unlucky with the system when applying for this card recently. I’ve a 999 credit score, £100k salary, little other borrowing but was declined. I think after I hit my AMEX Plat spend bonus I might give this another go as I will have used up the charge card / BAPP benefits.

    • Graeme says:

      Appeal it. You’ll hear nothing then they’ll just send the card I expect – they did with me.

      And then rejected my complaint!