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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)

  • Genghis says:

    @Tom. How’s your Harvey Nic’s gift card purchases going?

  • Alan says:

    Considering referring my wife for an AMEX credit card from my Gold Card (she has only recently cancelled hers, so can’t churn that one yet). My wife is a “Housewife” and so doesn’t have an income – all of my income is shared. Has anyone successfully managed to get an AMEX credit card for someone without an actual income?

    Thanks

    • Genghis says:

      I think @Liz should be able to help with this one.

    • Steve says:

      I have referred my wife who like yours is a homemaker with no salary for a Amex Gold, BA Amex and SPG Amex all successfully with no declines, although they don’t approve at the time of application the cards duly arrive a few days later.

      On the credit cards she gets fairly low credit limits of between £1500 and £3000.

      • Alan says:

        Thank Genghis and Steve

        I know she has no problem with the Gold Card but, as that is a charge card, I wasn’t sure how they handle credit card applications.

        Hopefully Liz will be along soon with more info!!

        • Liz says:

          I don’t have any work or pension earnings in my name and usually get a £1500 limit from Amex. I recently applied for the SPG Card during the time many were getting declined so I decided to apply stating I had a very small income as I have some savings in my own name which I churn around various bank accounts. A tip, I think, JamesB offered me a long time ago but had never used. I got accepted with a £2000 limit. Had a very successful day in St Andrews today putting 30 transactions through Small Shop! Just triggered my SPG bonus today!

      • Liz says:

        I have had SPG 3 times now, BAPP 3 times and Gold and Platinum cards all ok with no income, only joint income.

        • Alan says:

          Thanks Liz. I’ll see how we get on with the wife’s application. There is some income she could put down, mainly interest from savings, but it isn’t a lot. I guess we’ll give it a go and see.

    • Talay says:

      It is a bit like game theory really. They only really know what you (and other systems) tell them about you.

      They don’t know if you have a £100k plus income or whether you are on £10k a year but they do have data which predicts an income and a historic gathering of spending, where that can be tracked, such as historic credit card spending.

      Also, if they got multiple data points which all said “homeowner”, £100k salary then the forward analysis would expect a future answer to fit the pattern. It takes time to “move” the pattern i.e. you can’t suddenly say you earn £1m and expect them to believe it but my other half has a reasonable six figure income without actually having any real income at all, save what they have already been told she earns.

      Of course, people can have non earned income from overseas, investments and 3 card brag.

      Understand the system, watch the changes in patterns as the data points change and I reckon I could still get a monkey a £100k credit card limit across multiple cards inside a couple of years.

      • the real harry1 says:

        closed down our old BMI Amex/ Visa credit cards yesterday (now just Visa) – hadn’t ever used them since the switch

        happy to take a temporary blip to credit score & ‘release’ the credit for other uses

      • Jumble Tales says:

        Re: the income verification for credit applications, in the small print of my recent re-mortgage application it was worded that the bank had a right to “cross check records with the HMRC to verify income details.” I was surprised they could access those record and I’m not sure they would do that in every case.

    • Jonty says:

      Yes, though initially with a very low credit limit

      • Alan says:

        As long as its high enough to get the introductory bonus, I don’t mind. We can still use our other cards for higher spending.

        • Liz says:

          Alan – even with a low credit limit you can pay off part of it mid month to free up more spend so having a low credit limit doesn’t limit you too much – except maybe for a large purchase.

  • RussellH says:

    I look at the SPG Amex this way: Over a period of three months the card fee is £25, which I would normally consider quite steep (for a year I would consider keeping the card, but not at £75).

    For that, at this time of year when I need to top up my Charities Aid Foundation a/c (yes, I know that it does not have to be this time of year, but this is when I do it, partly as I get my tax free Winter Fuel payment), the £1000 in three months is quite doable, and means I get (after a referral from Rob) 12000 SPG points for £25. Buying these would cost $420 at full rate, or $273 at the current 35% off, which makes going for the SPG points this way a very easy decision.

    The real downside of SPG is the almost total lack of places for me to use the points in the UK – Edinburgh has many better value options, and I do not book hotels in London. Liverpool is the only one of interest.

    We did spend 5 nights in California this past summer on SPG points, but that hotel went up from 10 000 a night to 16 000 within weeks of my booking!

    • Alan says:

      Have I misunderstood what you are saying her? Surely the card fee is £25 for 4 months not 3?

      It works out at £6.25 per month.

      • RussellH says:

        Err.. yes.
        😉

        Mental arithmetic was never my strong point! So “only” £18.75 for three months, which is better value!. My last batch of SPG points will move from Amex on Wednesday, hopefully they will arrive at SPG promptly this month and I can cancel my card before the end of the week.

  • 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!

  • 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.

    • Matt K says:

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

    • Tom says:

      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.

      • Liz says:

        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.

      • JP says:

        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

        • Nick says:

          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.

  • Vivian says:

    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

      • Rob says:

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

        • Alan says:

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

  • 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!!!

  • Cate says:

    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