The Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card has become the ugly sister of the American Express portfolio.
For a start, there are not that many people who have the foggiest idea why a card earning Marriott Bonvoy points is called the Starwood Preferred Guest card!
Secondly, due to the new tough restrictions on sign-up bonuses that American Express launched last year, virtually no-one now qualifies for the sign-up bonus on the Starwood Amex. You can’t get it if you have any other Amex card, and virtually no-one would choose the SPG card as their first Amex. Without a sign-up bonus, the £75 annual fee – which is NOT waived in Year 1 – looks tough.
(You SHOULD get the Starwood Amex as your first Amex card, as I wrote in this article. But unless you read HFP, you probably wouldn’t.)
Thirdly, the American Express website page for the card is confusing and misleading:
it fails to mention a key card benefit – that you receive Marriott Bonvoy Silver Elite status just for getting the card
it fails to mention a key restriction to the free night you get for spending £25,000 – that it is restricted to hotels costing 25,000 points per less, and that those hotels are generally rubbish
Before we go on, 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.
There is some good news, however
The Starwood American Express had a generous earning rate when you stayed at any of the 30 Marriott brands. You received 6 Marriott Bonvoy points per £1.
This offer was meant to end on 31st December 2019. However, all references to an end date have now been removed from the American Express website even though they were there last week.
I think we can assume that 6 Bonvoy points per £1 when spending at Marriott is now permanent.
What other benefits does the Starwood Amex offer?
Let’s run through the other benefits of the Starwood American Express card.
You receive Silver Elite status in Marriott Bonvoy
American Express doesn’t tell you this. However, it is promoted on this page of the Marriott website.
The benefits of Silver Elite are not huge, of course. You can see the different Marriott / Starwood tier levels here.
The key benefits of Silver Elite status, which usually requires 10 nights in a calendar year, are:
- 10% bonus on base points earned
- ‘Priority’ for late check-out requests
…. and that’s it, at least in terms of stuff you will find genuinely useful. It isn’t a lot but it should stop you getting the room overlooking the bins.
Here’s one important point: you get Silver Elite status and not 10 elite status nights which automatically gets you Silver Elite status. There is a big difference in this, because the latter puts you 10 nights closer to Gold, Platinum or Titanium Elite. The former does not. The SPG Amex would have been a lot more attractive to regular Marriott guests if you were given 10 elite status night credits which is what happens in the US.
You get a free night voucher you get when you spend £25,000 in a year.
This sounds great, given some of the luxury properties in the Marriott portfolio. However – whilst the Amex website doesn’t tell you this – it can only be used at hotels which costs up to 25,000 points per night.
This isn’t much. For comparison, the top Bonvoy redemptions now cost 100,000 points per night.
It is also not possible to book a better hotel and pay the additional points on top.
In the UK, 25,000 points gets you the Bexleyheath Marriott, Courtyard Aberdeen Airport, MOXY Heathrow Airport, Durham Marriott, Portsmouth Marriott etc. There is nothing in Central London – the MOXY at Excel is the nearest qualifying option, and even that goes up to 30,000 points on a ‘peak’ night.
Spending £25,000 on an Amex card is NOT easy – and your only reward is a free night at a relatively low-rent hotel. It makes no sense.
It comes with a good sign-up bonus worth 10,000 Avios
On the off-chance that you haven’t had any other personal American Express cards in the last 24 months, you qualify for the sign-up bonus of 30,000 Bonvoy points. 30,000 points is good for around £150 of free hotel nights or will convert into 10,000 miles with over 40 airlines, including Avios and Virgin Flying Club.
One positive quirk of Marriott Bonvoy is that you can transfer points between members for free, up to 100,000 points per year. This means that you could persuade a family member who would qualify for the bonus to take one out and then transfer the points to you.
There is a low spend target to trigger the bonus
You only need to spend £1,000 within 90 days to receive 30,000 Bonvoy points as a sign-up bonus. This is handy if you struggle to hit the £3,000+ required for Amex Gold, Platinum or BA Premium Plus.
You earn 3 Marriott Bonvoy points per £1 spent which I value at 1.5p
A 1.5% return on your spending isn’t bad at all. For a high spender – who would earn so many points that the £75 annual fee is immaterial to the maths – this card is a serious contender.
For someone spending £50,000 per year on the card, for example, you’d receive enough Bonvoy points for (on my 1.5% return valuation) £750 of free hotel nights. The annual fee of £75 is just a rounding error in this case.
As I mentioned above, the double points (6 per £1) offer for spending at the 30 Marriott brands now seems to be permanent.
Note that the card has a 3% FX fee so, irrespective of double points. it isn’t a good one to use abroad until your employer is repaying you.
It is a good way of earning airline miles if your airline no longer has a credit card
This is the real reason that many people get the Starwood Amex. Now that Emirates, Etihad, 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 30+ 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.
You get Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status for spending £15,000 in a card year
This isn’t worth much, to be honest, because Bonvoy Gold Elite has few benefits. More importantly, you can get Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status for free simply by taking out an American Express Platinum charge card, no spending required.
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 spend a lot of money in Marriott hotels in the UK (or someone else is reimbursing the 3% FX fee abroad) or want to collect airline miles in a scheme that does not have a dedicated UK credit card, the Starwood Amex card may work for you. Just don’t focus too much on spending £25,000 on the card to trigger the free night voucher.
How to earn Marriott Bonvoy points from UK credit cards (January 2021)
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.)