What is the best replacement for your Starwood Preferred Guest American Express (SPG Amex) credit card?

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As we covered last week, American Express has written to holders of the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card telling them that the benefits package is changing on 26th February.

The card is being rebranded as the Marriott Bonvoy American Express on that date.  Here is a summary of the changes:

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.  

The annual fee remains at £75

Here is the new design:

Marriott Bonvoy American Express card

Quite a few readers who have the card have said that they will not be keeping it when the changes come into effect.  I can understand why, because a 1% return – based on my valuation of Marriott Bonvoy points of 0.5p – is difficult to justify with a £75 annual fee.

(There are other readers, of course, who now want to get the card because of the addition of 15 elite nights.  Anyone who could easily achieve 35 Marriott Bonvoy nights per year, including reward stays, would be able to earn Platinum Elite status with the extra 15 elite nights from having the credit card.)

I thought I would have a look at the best alternatives if you have decided that you can’t justify keeping your SPG Amex.

Best American Airlines UK credit card replacement

What is your best alternative to the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card?

There are a number of ways of looking at this.  Let’s run through them.

Scenario 1:  You want a card which still lets you earn Marriott Bonvoy points at a decent rate

The good news is that there are other ways to earn Marriott Bonvoy points from a credit or charge card in the UK.  The earning rate is not too shabby either.

For modest spenders, my preferred choice would be the American Express Rewards Credit Card.

This card is FREE FOR LIFE so, once you’ve got it, you don’t need to worry about any ‘first year free’ deal expiring.  Importantly, the card earns 1 American Express Membership Rewards point per £1 spent.

This is the same earning rate as American Express Preferred Rewards Gold (£140 after the free first year) or American Express Platinum (£575 per year) so you can see how attractive it is.

1 Membership Rewards point gets you 1.5 Marriott Bonvoy points per £1.  This is lower than the 2 Marriott Bonvoy points per £1 on the SPG / Bonvoy Amex BUT you are not paying the £75 annual fee.   For anyone spending less than £30,000 on the SPG / Bonvoy Amex per year, the American Express Rewards Credit Card is likely to be a better deal.  (I calculate £30,000 as the break-even figure based on the Bonvoy Amex earning an extra 0.5 points, which I value at 0.25p, per £1 spent.)

Of course, I am placing no value on the extra benefits offered by the Marriott Bonvoy Amex:

6 points per £1 at Marriott hotels

Gold Elite status for spending £15,000 per year

A free night in a hotel costing up to 25,000 points for spending £25,000 per year

….. but I am also placing no value on the fact that Amex Membership Rewards points can also be converted into Hilton Honors and Radisson Rewards, giving you more flexibility for free nights.

There are two other options for earning Membership Rewards cards – either American Express Preferred Rewards Gold or American Express Platinum.

As I said above, these cards also give you 1 Membership Rewards point per £1 spent, and they convert at 2:3 into Marriott Bonvoy.

Preferred Rewards Gold is free for the first year.  You won’t qualify for the sign-up bonus if you have the SPG Amex, but you WILL receive two free airport lounge passes.  Arguably, one plan would be to get Gold for a year to get the airport lounge passes and then move on to the ‘free for life’ Amex Rewards Credit Card after 12 months.

The Platinum Card is a totally different proposition, as you’d expect for a £575 fee.

You WILL qualify for the 30,000 Membership Rewards points sign-up bonus (which converts into 45,000 Marriott Bonvoy points) even though you have the Starwood Amex.  You are only disqualified if you have held a Green, Gold, Platinum, Centurion or Amex Rewards card in the last 24 months.

The Platinum Card also comes with Gold Elite status in Marriott Bonvoy, along with status in Hilton Honors, Radisson Rewards, MeliaRewards, Shangri-La Golden Circle and Taj InnerCircle, the latter via a guaranteed Shangri-La match.

Our full review of American Express Platinum is here.  This article explains how I justify The Platinum Card fee.

Best American Airlines UK credit card replacement

Scenario 2:  You want a credit card to collect hotel loyalty points in general

If you are prepared to swap from Marriott Bonvoy points, there are other options open to you.

All of the American Express options above remain attractive because, as well as transferring to Bonvoy, Membership Rewards points also transfer to Hilton Honors (at 1:2, so 2 points per £1 spent) and Radisson Rewards (at 1:3, so 3 points per £1 spent).

Hilton Honors does not have a UK credit card at the moment.

The only direct Visa / Mastercard option is via the IHG Rewards Club Mastercard (1 IHG Rewards Club point per £1) or the £99 IHG Rewards Club Premium Mastercard at 2 points per £1.

There is a sign-up bonus on these cards.  The free IHG Mastercard comes with 10,000 IHG points.  The £99 Premium card comes with 20,000 IHG points.

I rate these cards highly.  The IHG Rewards Club Premium Card won ‘Best UK Travel Rewards Credit Card (Editor’s Choice)’ at the Head for Points Travel & Loyalty Awards 2019.  It is a good package:

you get a decent sign-up bonus of 20,000 IHG Rewards Club points

the points you earn from spending count for status

you get Platinum Elite status (benefits here) in IHG Rewards Club for as long as you hold the card

you get a voucher for a free night EVERY YEAR as long as you spend £10,000 on the card – which is easier to do, on a Mastercard, than it is with American Express

Our full review of the IHG Rewards Club Premium Mastercard is here.

It is also worth noting that the Virgin Atlantic credit cards, which I outline below, let you transfer your Virgin Flying Club miles into Hilton Honors (at 2:3) or IHG Rewards Club (at 1:1) points.  You lose a lot of value compared to using the miles for flights, however.

Best American Airlines UK credit card replacement

Scenario 3:  You simply want the most rewarding credit card per £1 spent

Without a doubt, the two Virgin Atlantic Mastercards are the most generous Visa or Mastercard products available – either the Virgin Reward Mastercard (free, 5000 miles bonus) or Virgin Reward+ Mastercard (£160, 25000 miles bonus until 28th February – see here).

You get 0.75 miles per £1 on the free card and 1.5 miles per £1 on the paid card.  This is FAR better than any hotel card, assuming you value a mile at 1p.  The only downside is that, with no short haul routes, you are unlikely to earn enough miles purely from the credit card to get a good redemption so the cards are best suited to regular Virgin flyers.

The British Airways American Express cards offer a similar return – 1 Avios per £1 on the free card and 1.5 Avios per £1 on the £195 Premium Plus card.  Most HFP readers understand the value of these cards, and I would stress that – because of the 2-4-1 voucher – the Premium Plus card is the most generous travel credit card in the UK.  A Mastercard or Visa would obviously be more flexible, but if you are swapping out of the Starwood Amex then this is presumably not a concern for you.

You WILL qualify for the 25,000 Avios sign-up bonus on the BA Premium Plus Amex despite having had the SPG Amex.  You are only disqualified if you have held either of the BA cards in the last 24 months.  However, you will NOT qualify for the 5,000 Avios bonus on the free BA Amex card.

I would also recommend that high spenders take a look at the Lufthansa Miles & More Global Traveller card (review here).

You earn 1.25 miles per £1 spent on their Mastercard, which is an excellent result given the £79 annual fee.  As with Virgin Atlantic, the real value in Miles & More comes from long-haul redemptions.  You need to see a way of getting to 50,000+ miles, either from card spend or a combination of spend and Star Alliance flying, before you can get a decent redemption.

The best non-Amex cards for an Avios / Asia Miles / Singapore Krisflyer / Etihad Guest collector are the HSBC Premier Mastercard or HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard.   The basic card earn 0.5 miles per £1 (no annual fee) whilst the £195 World Elite card earns 1 mile per £1.   You need to have the financial resources to open a HSBC Premier current account to qualify, however.

The Marriott Bonvoy Amex – love it or list it?

If you are high spender, or value the 15 elite night credits towards status, the Marriott Bonvoy American Express may continue to be your card of choice.

With the earning rate being cut by 33% on 26th February, however, you may find needs better met by one of the alternatives above.

Appendix: Learn more about the credit cards mentioned above

Here is the legally required interest rate information on the credit cards mentioned above, together with links to our detailed reviews:

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold – sign-up bonus of 10,000 Membership Rewards points when you spend £3,000 in three months – apply hereour American Express Gold review is here – representative APR 57.6% variable including fee (free in year 1) based on a notional £1200 credit limit, interest rate on purchases 22.9% variable

The Platinum Card from American Express – sign-up bonus of 30,000 Membership Rewards points when you spend £4,000 in three months – apply hereour American Express Platinum review is here – this is a charge card which must be repaid in full each month

British Airways American Express – sign-up bonus of 5,000 Avios when you spend £1,000 in three months – apply hereour BA Amex review is here – representative APR 22.9% variable

British Airways American Express Premium Plus – sign-up bonus of 25,000 Avios when you spend £3,000 in three months – apply hereour BA Amex Premium Plus review is here – representative APR 76.0% variable including fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit, interest rate on purchases 22.9% variable

American Express Rewards – sign-up bonus of 5,000 Membership Rewards points when you spend £2,000 in three months – apply hereour Amex Rewards review is here representative APR 22.9% variable

IHG Rewards Club Mastercard – sign-up bonus of 10,000 IHG Rewards Club points when you spend £200 – apply hereour IHG Rewards Club Mastercard review is hererepresentative APR 22.9% variable

IHG Rewards Club Premium Mastercard – sign-up bonus of 20,000 IHG Rewards Club points when you spend £200 – apply hereour IHG Rewards Club Mastercard review is hererepresentative APR 45.1% variable including fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit, interest rate on purchases 22.9% variable

Starwood Preferred Guest American Express – sign-up bonus of 30,000 Marriott Bonvoy points when you spend £1,000 in three months – apply hereour Starwood Amex review is here –  representative APR 39.7% variable including fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit, interest rate on purchases 22.9% variable

Virgin Atlantic Reward Mastercard – sign-up bonus of 5,000 Virgin Flying Club miles after your first purchase – apply hereour Virgin Atlantic Reward review is here – representative APR 22.9% variable

Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard – sign-up bonus of 15,000 Virgin Flying Club miles after your first purchase (increased to 25,000 miles until 28th February) – apply hereour Virgin Atlantic Reward+ review is here – representative APR 63.9% variable including fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit, interest rate on purchases 22.9% variable

Miles & More Global Traveller Diners Club and Mastercard – sign-up bonus of 5,000 Miles & More miles after your first purchase – apply here – our Miles & More Traveller review is herethis is a charge card and your balance must be cleared in full each month

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.

(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.)

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Comments

  1. “Scenario 3: You simply want the most rewarding credit card per £1 spent
    Without a doubt, the two Virgin Atlantic Mastercards are the most generous Visa or Mastercard products available”

    This is simply not true and you more or less refute it in your following statements regarding BAPP. Furthermore, you fail to factor in the return from amex offers, and the ability to earn bonus avios from referrals or adding a supp, or the ability to toggle between BA Blue/Black cards as circumstances dictate. Thus, BAPP is massively better than either Virgin card, even before you start to consider that the avios can be used from the regions and over a much larger network.

    • BJ – Rob says the most valuable *Visa or Mastercard*, yet the BAPP which you (rightly) extol, is an Amex…

      • Oops, sorry Rob, and thanks Chas. In my defense it was 05:15 and I hadn’t yet had my coffee; besides BAPP is a de facto Mastercard for the moment at least 🙂

  2. Carol Tester says:

    If I previously had a Starwood card (2 years ago at least) but now have an Amex Platinum and and a BA (black) Amex, will I still qualify for any start up deal and therefore the 15 nights? Thanks in advance!

    • You won’t get a sign up bonus due to having the other cards, but you should still get the 15 nights credit as I understand the new rules.

    • No sign up bonus but you DO get the 15 nights.

  3. Being NEW to the Amex game I have just started your recent article on how a couple who have not had any Amex cards can earn 185K starting from scratch. I applied for the Starwood card last week with a view to referring on receipt of the card and follow the strategy with the BAPP.
    Is this still the correct way to go?
    Cheers

    Alan

    • Shoestring says:

      definitely in your case, you got in while it’s only £1000 spend requirement to get the sign up bonus so it stacks up fine (and if you’re sharpish paying bills etc you’ll get 3 points/ £1)

      spend the £1000, bank the points, think hard about whether you want to retain SPG/ Marriott card with its annual fee (there ARE plus points) – or cancel for a pro rata fee refund – then move on to the next Amex card in the sequence

    • memesweeper says:

      If you are new to Amex consider holding the card for a few months *after* spending the £ 1,000, even if you’ve moved most of your spend onto something else (I think Gold is the next in the sequence). Keep an eye on the ‘offers’ section of your Amex account, depending on your spending habits you may find the card offers you > £75/year in benefits.

    • Yes, strategy still works. Even though the bonus is lower it will still make sense to bag it before moving on.

  4. “If you are high spender, or value the 15 elite night credits towards status, the Marriott Bonvoy American Express may continue to be your card of choice.”

    I’m a very high spender, like really high, and that’s why I’m leaving.

    If I would earn 10000 marriot points a month I wouldn’t care if I now only get 6666.
    But if I used to get 3.6m miles and now only get 2.4m, then the 1.2m miles are sure worth leaving.
    Even if it means being ‘stuck’ with more Avios.

    • Shoestring says:

      depends if you actually want Bonvoys, in which case you’re still better off diverting your spend to the Marriott card (more Bonvoys for the same spend than Amex in year 2 onwards)

      • It just doesn’t make sense.

        Use the extra Avios to book high end hotels.

        If marriot would give you better status or better hotel cat voucher etc then fine.

        But without any usable benefits, 1.2m Avios will get me the rooms I need with the marriot points.

        I guess there are plenty diff scenarios that would make it better for some people then others, this is obvs just my take on my situation,

        What’s for sure is, that however you look at it, it’s a MASSIVE devaluation.
        15 nights credit are value for just a few, but the 33% cut is HUGE.
        You can’t say, look, I’m cutting it by 33% bit here take a few night credits.

        Huge turning point.

        • TGLoyalty says:

          £1k per night * 5 nights is actually 1m Avios At 0.5p each so £666k spend on a BAPP.

        • TGLoyalty says:

          Either way Peter why worry about what you’ve lost. Worry about what you can still earn. All hotel cards are better than BAPp if you want to use points for hotel stays

        • Peter K says:

          @TGLoyalty almost true. I tend to use my airline miles for flights, but if you have lots to spare then you are not tied to only one hotel brand using airlines miles, unlike hotel points.

  5. Kingred says:

    I would say Revolut is not a good option as a replacement card… made two top ups on Sunday using different cards (IHG, Virgin) and the larger Virgin top up has gone through as a cash advance with associated charges, the other as a normal purchase. It sounds like something similar has happened to multiple people. I will be complaining today…

    • Shoestring says:

      complaining to Virgin because they nailed your cash advance? – good luck with that

      • Kingred says:

        No, to Revolut – they coded it as a cash advance which is a change from all other top ups previously made and what they say: https://www.revolut.com/help/getting-started/adding-money-to-revolut/with-card/what-cards-and-currencies-are-supported

        • Shoestring says:

          OK sorry to be slow on the uptake but I thought that was the case already for (say) Tesco, NatWest?

          • Neil Donoghue says:

            I caught up on this yesterday thanks to Grant but essentially Revolut advertise that all top-ups will not incur cash advances (I believe). I will be interested to hear stories about folks getting these charges refunded but it sounds like many have now been stung.

          • Over 3.5h later than my slow on the uptake faux pas to start the day, I guess it’s down to our age, I feel a little better now 🙂

        • Revolut CS are useless, first they fobbed me off then insisted it was a VM issue. Raise the issue to VM though and the games over.

        • The Urbanite says:

          To be fair, the credit card issuers have free will to treat the merchant codes as they wish.

          Some already charged fees for topping up Revolut under the old code, others didn’t.. Some cards didn’t offer any rewards for the loads.
          Some will charge fees for 4829 merchants, others won’t.

          People’s grief is really with Virgin for treating transactions to a “Money Transfer” merchant as a cash like transaction. I hear the argument that Revolut made a promise they haven’t kept. Either they didn’t research how 4829 is treated by all issuers or they want to put a stop to the MS activity which is expensive for them. My money is on the latter, especially as a few offering accounts have changed their code, though more commonly to 6051.

          Or for those into conspiracy, maybe guidance has been issued for these institutions offering these accounts to do this, like what was done with merchants offering cryptocurrency functions.

    • I’ve had the same problem.
      I’d never done a cash advance on that card so I was surprised a 4 figure “cash” transaction wasn’t flagged as fraudulent.

  6. I’d just cancelled my SPG anyway to avoid paying the next £75 fee; I think we’ll carry on with general spending on the OH’s till Feb 26th, then just use it for the Marriott stays we have booked for the next few months then cancel it when he hits gold (although I’m aware that’s not worth much). Next year we’re both eligible for a Platinum sign up bonus so will look to retain gold via that for 2021.

    • Anna,
      Out of interest what Amex are you using going forward then, whilst you wait out the 24months? Surely, using the spg is still a useful currency to continue earning?

  7. Kevin C says:

    OT but Bonvoy related. If you are in Dubai on 7th Feb, there’s an auction for suite tickets to the film awards on Bonvoy Moments currently at 1000 points. Ends today.

    Also Bonvoy related, thanks to all for the HFP party yesterday.

  8. Cancelled my card.
    Amex doesn’t seem to care at all, since I have another card with them, which most of you prob have, they won’t offer anything since you’re still staying as a customer and you’ll still be putting your spend through them.
    It’s marriot who would technically be the one offering anything for leaving customers, but they are not the one picking up the phones in Brighton…

  9. Does anyone rate my chances of AMEX doing anything for me here if I call and cancel? I put over £30k through my SPG card alone last year. As another comment says, they may not care as there’s still plenty of spend going through other cards too!

    • Shoestring says:

      somebody cancelling got offered +1 Bonvoy point on spend, taking them to 3+1 (old card)

      so wait until it’s 2/ £1 – ring up to cancel – angle to get offered the old 3/ £1 if you stay

  10. For someone who applies for the SPG card now; how long do you think Amex will keep earnings at the 3 points per £ rate?

    Any information regarding that?

    • TGLoyalty says:

      You would think a minimum of a month since they would have to give you a months notice of your terms changing. Could be longer of course.

    • Interesting question, because they would have to give you 30 days notice (or whatever) of variation. Be sure it won’t be long though.

  11. Great Party last night Rob. Excellent location and quite a large room. Won a raffle prize for Heathrow Rewards as well, thanks to Heathrow and Orbis 😎
    Maybe Elina from Marriott yesterday will read this article and pass along our feedback 😀
    It was great catching up with her and hearing her thoughts on the Marriott Experiences drive that they are intent on pushing through as well as the feedback we provided about Guaranteed benefits like Breakfast at Gold Level which will add a lot of value to staying more at Marriott.
    Very good catching up with a few folks yesterday.

    • Yes, I think we hit the sweet spot in terms of size, it was easy to move around which helped me a lot!

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