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What is the best replacement for your Starwood American Express 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.

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Comments

  1. Had a doubt and would really appreciate your views.
    If I hold both the amex platinum and marriot bonvoy amex, can I book a marriot hotel room using the amex platinum IHR portal to get the guaranteed 4pm checkout and hotel credit and possible upgrade but still pay for the rooms at the property with the marriot bonvoy to get the higher rewards rate of 6 bonvoy points for £1. From what I read about the amex IHR program, it seems the booking has to be paid with an amex card; it does not clearly say that it has to be paid with the amex platinum card through which we got IHR portal access in the first place.
    Also, will we earn bonvoy status nights for bookings through the IHR portal.
    Thanks.

    Cheers,
    Gans

    • *FHR portal, typo, sorry!

      • All FHR rates are pay at hotel. You will get points. You can use any Amex.

        • Thanks. I currently have the hsbc miles premier and am considering taking the amex platinum; guaranteed late checkout and room upgrades are valuable especially if it can be used by the rest of the family even when I am not part of the stay. So would this mean that if I have an amex platinum and used the FHR to book a hotel room for my son, he will still get the benefits of FHR as long as he pays with his amex bonvoy card (or any other amex card) even if I am not staying with him?

          • You’re not meant to do that but in reality it is usually OK. If you give your son a supplementary Platinum card on your account then it is 100% OK.

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