American Express has announced two changes to the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express credit card in the run up to the merger of SPG and Marriott Rewards next month.
One change is a statement of the obvious – the earning rate will move from 1 SPG point per £1 to 3 ‘new scheme’ points per £1. This is in line with the 1:3 exchange rate being used by all other ex-Starwood partners.
The second change impacts the free night voucher that comes with the card. Before I get to the details, I just want to run over the card again because this is the least-understood member of the Amex’ ‘miles and points’ portfolio.
I am obliged to remind you that the representative APR on this card is 39.7% variable, including the annual fee, based on a notional £1,200 credit limit. The interest rate on purchases is 22.9% variable.
Why I consider the Starwood Amex card to be a wasted opportunity
The SPG American Express card could have become a strong No 2 in UK loyalty credit cards behind the British Airways American Express Premium Plus. Unfortunately, the benefits package just failed to hit the right note.
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
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
Last year a new benefit was added:
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) until 31st December 2018
Where did this benefits package go wrong?
It is the free night benefit that really confused 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. And no other spend-related reward is so useless.
There were 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 £100 – a poor return on £25,000 of card spend.
What is changing with the free night voucher?
As I noted above, at present there are a grand total of FOUR UK hotels where you can use the free night voucher! You can of course use it globally, at any Starwood hotel which costs up to 10,000 points per night (so 30,000 ‘new scheme’ points equivalent).
From August, the free night voucher will be valid at any Marriott or Starwood hotel costing up to 25,000 points per night.
This is nominally a downgrade, since at present it is valid at any hotel costing up to (the equivalent of) 30,000 ‘new scheme’ points. I don’t want to dwell on the downgrade element too much, however, since many lower-standard hotels are getting cheaper under the new scheme. Three of the four UK hotels currently bookable with the voucher will remain bookable – only the Sheraton Skyline at Heathrow falls away.
However, there are 45 upsides
Whilst the free night voucher will only be valid at hotels costing up to 25,000 points per night (compared with 30,000 points now), there is a LOT more opportunity to use it because the Marriott portfolio is also available to you.
Just looking at the UK, these hotels will now be bookable on the SPG Amex free weekend night voucher:
- Aberdeen Marriott
- AC Hotel Birmingham
- AC Hotel Manchester Salford Quays
- Aloft Liverpool (reviewed here)
- Aloft London Excel
- Bexleyheath Marriott
- Beardsall Priory Marriott
- Bristol Marriott City Centre
- Cheshunt Marriott
- Courtyard Aberdeen Airport
- Courtyard Glasgow Airport
- Courtyard London Gatwick
- Durham Marriott
- Forest of Arden Marriott
- Glasgow Marriott
- Hanbury Manor Marriott
- Heathrow / Windsor Marriott
- Hollins Hall Marriott
- Huntingdon Marriott
- Leeds Marriott
- Leicester Marriott
- Lingfield Park Marriott
- Liverpool Marriott City Centre
- London Marriott Twickenham
- Manchester Airport Marriott (photo below, reviewed here)
- Meon Valley Marriott
- MOXY Aberdeen Airport
- MOXY Glasgow
- MOXY London Excel (reviewed here)
- MOXY London Stratford
- MOXY Heathrow Airport
- Newcastle Gateshead Marriot Metro Centre
- Newcastle Marriott Gosforth Park
- Northampton Marriott
- Peterborough Marriott
- Portsmouth Marriott
- Preston Marriott
- Renaissance London Heathrow
- Residence Inn Aberdeen
- Sheraton Heathrow
- Sprowston Manor Marriott
- St Pierre Marriott
- Sunderland Marriott
- Swansea Marriott
- Tudor Park Marriott
- University Arms, Cambridge
- Waltham Abbey Marriott
- Worsley Park Marriott
This is obviously a substantial improvement – we have gone from 4 UK hotels where you could use your free night voucher to 48.
However, the point of my original argument still stands. Spending £25,000 on an Amex card is NOT easy – and your only reward is a free weekend night at a relatively low-rent hotel …..
Should you consider getting the SPG Amex card?
The free night benefit may be rubbish (it IS rubbish, let’s be honest, and remains so even with another few thousand ‘cheap and cheerful’ potential places to use it) but here’s why the card makes sense for many readers:
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. In the merged SPG / Marriott scheme, it will be worth 30,000 points. Used for hotel rooms, you should get £150 of value from that.
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 (30,000 ‘new scheme’ 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, American and United 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
Just don’t focus too much on spending £25,000 on the card to trigger the free night voucher, because there are far better places to put your long-term spending …..
(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.