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BAD NEWS: Amex cuts the earning rate on the SPG card as it rebrands as the Marriott Bonvoy American Express

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A few days I wrote a long article on the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Card.

It seems that this was a partial waste of time (only partial, because we’ve cut and pasted much of it into this article!) because American Express has now announced the rebranding of the card, with ‘enhanced’ benefits.

This is what is happening on 26th February:

The name of the card will be changed to the Marriott Bonvoy American Express card

The earning rate will be slashed by 33%, from 3 Marriott Bonvoy points per £1 to 2 Marriott Bonvoy points per £1

The earning rate at Marriott Bonvoy hotels will remain 6 Marriott Bonvoy points per £1

Instead of giving all cardholders Silver Elite status, you will receive 15 elite night credits per year.  This will trigger Silver Elite status anyway, but also means that you are 15 nights closer to Gold Elite, Platinum Elite or Titanium Elite status.  This is a genuine improvement.

The annual fee remains at £75

Looking at the image on the letter, I think the card design is a copy of this US Bonvoy card:

Marriott Bonvoy American Express card

…… which is a shame, because this Bonvoy card – available only in the US – is much prettier in my view:

Marriott Bonvoy American Express card

Let’s take a look at the elite night credit in more detail.

These are the ‘nights’ requirements for different levels of Marriott Bonvoy status:

  • Basic Member: 0-9 nights
  • Silver Elite: 10-24 nights
  • Gold Elite: 25-49 nights
  • Platinum Elite: 50-74 nights
  • Titanium Elite: 75-99 nights

Because the Marriott Bonvoy American Express comes with 15 elite night credits, you will only need:

  • 10 additional nights for Gold Elite
  • 35 additional nights for Platinum Elite
  • 60 additional nights for Titanium Elite

Gold Elite is not worth much, so I won’t focus on that.  You can also receive Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status for free by getting The Platinum Card from American Express.

Platinum Elite is where it gets interesting.  You can see the list of Platinum Elite benefits on the Marriott website here, but to summarise the relevant ones:

You get Executive Lounge access when the hotel has a lounge

You get a 50% bonus on your base points on every stay

You get a room upgrade, including suites, if available 

You get a welcome amenity – which can include restaurant breakfast if the hotel has no lounge or you would prefer to use the restaurant (this article explains the Bonvoy breakfast benefit by brand)

You get a GUARANTEED 4pm check-out except at convention and resort hotels

However you look at it, Platinum Elite is a good package.

50 nights is a stretch unless you are travelling heavily each week.  35 nights, on the other hand, is manageable for a lot of people.

If you believe that you could comfortably do 35 Marriott Bonvoy nights per year then it is well worth paying £75 for the new Marriott Bonvoy American Express in order to secure Platinum Elite status.

Starwood American Express benefits

But if you’re not bothered about earning Platinum Elite status …..

For anyone who is NOT bothered about pushing for Platinum Elite status, the Marriott Bonvoy American Express is substantially less attractive than the SPG version.  The day to day earning rate is cut by 33%.

I tend to value a Marriott Bonvoy point at 0.5p.  2 points per £1 means that you are getting a 1% return on your spending.  This isn’t bad BUT you are paying £75 per year for the privilege.

In comparison, if you value an airline mile at 1p, you could get:

1% back via the FREE British Airways American Express (1 Avios per £1)

0.75% back via the FREE Virgin Atlantic Reward Mastercard (0.75 miles per £1)

1.25% back via the £79 Lufthansa Global Traveller Mastercard (1.25 miles per £1)

What other benefits does the Starwood Amex offer?

Let’s run through the other benefits of the Marriott Bonvoy American Express card.

You receive Silver Elite status in Marriott Bonvoy

Because you only need 10 elite nights to receive Silver Elite status, and you will receive 15 elite night credits each year for holding the card, everyone who gets it will be – at the least – Silver Elite in Marriott Bonvoy.

The benefits of Silver Elite are not huge, of course.  You can see the different Marriott tier levels here.

The key benefits of Silver Elite status 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.

Marriott Silver status with Starwood American Express Card SPG

You get a free night voucher you get when you spend £25,000 in a year.

The free night benefit is remaining as part of the card rebranding.

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.

Manchester Airport Marriott

It comes with a good sign-up bonus worth 10,000 Avios – if you qualify

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 Marriott Bonvoy Amex.  You can’t get it if you have any other Amex card, and virtually no-one would choose the Bonvoy 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 Marriott Bonvoy Amex as your first Amex card, as I wrote in this article.  But unless you read HFP, you probably wouldn’t.)

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 2 Marriott Bonvoy points per £1 spent which I value at 1p

As I wrote above, the earning rate is looking weak now and certainly not a reason to have the card.  The only exception would be if you were spending such large sums that the £75 fee became a rounding error.

The double points (6 per £1) offer for spending at the 30 Marriott brands now seems to be permanent.  This IS a decent deal when staying at UK hotels.

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 you may want to get the Marriott Bonvoy Amex.  Now that Emirates, Etihad, American and United no longer have UK credit cards, the Marriott Bonvoy 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.

The problem is that, at 2 Bonvoy points (0.66 airline miles) per £1 of spending, the £75 per year annual fee doesn’t make sense for a lot of people.

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 new ’15 elite nights’ credit means that you would also receive Gold Elite status after spending just 10 nights per year in Marriott hotels.

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.

Conclusion

For a small group of people – basically anyone who can easily do 35 Marriott nights per year but less than the 50 nights required to get Platinum Elite automatically – the ability to receive 15 elite night credits will make the Marriott Bonvoy American Express worth getting.

Unfortunately, I think far more people will now look at the £75 annual fee and the reduced ‘2 points per £1’ earning rate and decide to cancel.

My full review of the Starwood Amex credit card is here.  You can apply for the card here.  The new card is not available, but if you apply now for the SPG-branded version the new benefits will apply from 26th February.

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. I don’t think the product management team has through through the post-rebrand value proposition here….

    If you get the £0 /year fee “Amex Rewards” card, spend £10,000 on it in a year (which earns 1amex point per £1), then you use the 2:3 conversion to Marriott Bonvoy points, you would end up with 15,000 bonvoy points (1.5 bonvoy points per £1), for £0.

    If you have the new £75 /year UK “Marriott Bonvoy amex”, spend £10,000 in a year, (earning only 2 bonvoy points per £1), you will now receive 20,000 bonvoy points on the same spend, for £75.

    So, If you had the Amex Rewards card you could then just spend $62.50 (£48) on the “buy points” website to buy 5000 bonvoy points. Your total cost for 20,000 bonvoy points using the two cards would be:
    amex rewards card = £0 card fee + £10k card spend + £48 buying points = 20,000 points for £48.
    marriot bonvoy card = £75 card fee + £10k card spend + buying no points = 20,000 points for £75

    You don’t just “not receive” some benefit, you’re actually punished for your loyalty to marriott by earning points in their program, in a quite typical “representative example” which is a problem.

    Making it even worse value:
    -This is also the “full price” points value, not with any discount. It’s the most expensive way to earn points and it is still better than using the marriot bonvoy UK card at this spend level.

    – As amex points can be converted into bonvoy points AND other amex partners, they are more versatile

    This change probably looks good to their accountants in the same way that “higher taxes = more revenues” looks great in a excel chart, but it’s going to kill the incentive to use the card and damage loyalty to their brand.

    I suspect a large number of people who are still using the SPG card, (despite it not being rebranded for a year and receiving no advertising at all), are using it because it currently pays 3bonvoy points per £1.

  2. Philipp says:

    I received my letter from Amex today, and am now thinking of moving to the BA Premium Amex for GBP195 per year which I think is a much better option, having read Rob’s review and comparison of the free vs fee BA Amex. Will I still get the BA Amex sign up bonus after having held the SPG card? Many thanks,
    Philipp

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