Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

What is the best replacement for your Starwood Preferred Guest American Express credit card?

Links on Head for Points may pay us an affiliate commission. A list of partners is here.

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.)

Comments (116)

  • Michael_s says:

    How about the scenario where Marriott points are converted to other airlines? Specifically ANA or Turkish?

    • Rob says:

      Same argument, because of the Amex Membership Rewards conversion option. You either pay £75 for SPG and earn 2 Marriott (0.66 ANA, Turkish) per £1 or you pay £0 for ARCC or one year of Gold and earn 1.5 Marriott (0.5 ANA, Turkish etc).

      • Lev441 says:

        or 0.83 on SPG if you transfer exactly 60k bonvoys..

      • Michael_s says:

        well since I’m waiting for another 9 months to restart my platinum and bapp 24 months clock, the next best card I can use in the interim to earn Miles is really HSBC World Elite, unless there’s another one I’m not aware of? It comes with a fee but I’m keeping it anyway given loungekey and travel insurance

  • Nick M says:

    Sorry – just catching up… in cases where Virgin charge a fee for using Revolut, does it show in the app immediately or just once the statement has been produced?

    • ali says:

      Presumably you’d be able to tell from the merchant code assigned to the transaction when logged in to the full website – not sure if any sign appears on the app whilst pending but others may be able to confirm

      • Grant says:

        When logged in on the full website, pending transactions will show the MCC if you click the drop down next to the line entry – MCC of 4829 = 5% cash advance fee on Virgin, 6012 is fine. Once the transaction is processed and no longer pending the MCC is removed but the full wording of the MCC is included. By that time though, you’ll now whether or not you’ve been hit with a fee.

        • Nick M says:

          Thanks both – haven’t used Virgin for a week or so, so hoping all is ok… would just rather the heads up rather than thinking it’s ok and getting a shock when the statement is produced

        • Brighton Belle says:

          Had a year of Revolut and pushed £600 a week through to Virgin as purchases. Last week my account was reviewed. This week Revolut has recoded them to cash advances which is I suppose intended to stop it all. Shame I found Revolut useful for travel and Euro payments but this ship has sailed for me so they are history.

          • Grant says:

            Perhaps the ship has sailed but the agent I was connected to yesterday seemed to be acknowledging that there was a problem and that top-ups should not be treated as cash advances. She also confirmed they were trying to fix it so that the problem doesn’t occur again.

            All taken with the appropriate pinch of salt obviously…

    • Nick_C says:

      I topped up Revolut from Virgin on Sunday 19/1. I have two transactions on my Virgin account.

      One transaction has cleared as “Wire Transfer Money Orders” and has incurred a 5% cash advance fee which hit my account late on Monday 20/1

      The second transaction has MCC code 4829 with type “purchase” and is pending.

      I expect the second transaction will drop off after a week and I won’t be charged twice.

      Everyone is saying this is a problem with Revolut and Virgin, but if Revolut are now coding the transactions as wire transfers, then won’t this be a problem with any CC top up? I’m going to stop using Revolut until we have some more info, and may revert to Halifax for overseas transactions.

      Wonder if Rob could do an article on this. Although he may not know any more than the rest of us, it would be useful to keep all the comments on this issue in one place. I tried looking at the Revolut Community, but couldn’t see anything recent on there.

      • Grant says:

        Similar situation with me and similar dates. Two transactions for one top-up – one still pending. Sadly for me, the pending transcation is coded 6012 whereas the completed one is 4829 – Wire Transfer

      • jc says:

        Correct, it’s a Revolut problem, not specific to Virgin. Any CC that treats “wire transfer” 4829 as a cash advance will be impacted.

        Revolut have not done this on purpose. Their intermediaries have recoded them against their will. But whether they’re able to persuade them to code back to 6012 remains to be seen.

  • Pat says:

    Been thinking of getting the SPG card and finding the rebranding more attractive. Don’t know why people looking for an alternative.

    • Boris says:

      Glad the rebranding pleases you Pat

    • Alex M says:

      Because we are all adults here and look at the real value of the card, not at its color. 😉

      • Pat says:

        £75 for 15 elite nights. Thats the value.

        • Russ says:

          Optimistic I think. Leaves another 35 nights to pay for to secure an elite status worth having.

          • Freddy says:

            Alot of effort for a ‘free’ breakfast

          • Pat says:

            Its not just ‘free breakfast’ you will also get early check in and out, bonus points from Marriott and potential room upgrade.

        • Stu_N says:

          Quite – it’s now very attractive for regular Marriott stayers with 15 elite nights and retention of 6 points per pound spent. It puts Marriott Platinum in range for me and will encourage me to move stays to Marriott.

          I can see how it’s less attractive for people earning points from cards and only staying on redemptions, but that’s the world we live in now post-interchange cap.

    • Peter K says:

      Maybe they are looking at an alternative because the new version doesn’t work for their set of circumstance. It seems to work with yours, which is great for you, but that doesn’t mean it will work for everyone.

  • Nick_C says:

    I’ve never been a fan of hotel loyalty schemes. It is almost always cheaper to book hotels through a travel agent. (My last direct Hilton booking was in 2012). The ability to earn Avios through Hotels.com makes that the best choice for me. Just received over 8000 Avios for 19 nights / 4 stays at a variety of hotels in the last two months, and almost two free nights.

    • Harry T says:

      I’ve earned almost 100k IHG points this month with three holiday inn nights and a four night stay at an IC. That’s worth more than 8000 Avios, I reckon. You just have to make the best of promotions.

      • Nick_C says:

        The Avios are the cherry on the top. I’m a leisure traveller spending my own money. I get best value by looking at all the providers, and not worrying about being tied into one or two international chains. Three of my last four stays were with independent hotels or local chains.

        I looked at using the Hilton when I was in Tokyo last month, as I am currently Gold. It was £70 a night more than the nearby local hotel that I chose. I don’t value a room upgrade and a couple of breakfasts at £70.

        But obviously hotel loyalty schemes work for some people.

    • Freddy says:

      I’ve done quite well out of the hotels.com reward night aswell, 10% rebate on stays across all brands

    • BJ says:

      Horses for courses. Despite things having become much more challenging in the last two years it remains possible to squeeze great value from both. For example RFS and longhaul at holiday times, sweet spots like Alaska MP on CX, 5 nights for 4 in decent hotels/locations with low points costs, hotels in major cities where cash rates massively exceed cost in points. For such reasons I consider a diversified portfolio comprising at least two hotel and two airline schemes is desirable, anchored by a flexible currency such as MR or Bonvoy points.

  • Tom says:

    OT: DoubleTree Bristol vs Marriott Royal Bristol?

    Anyone stayed at either one/both of these hotels? Which one do you recommend?
    I am going to visit Bristol for a weekend. From what I’ve seen so far, DoubleTree’s rooms look nicer but Marriott Royal has a better location

    • memesweeper says:

      Stayed in both. Neither are great nor terrible. If it was a dead-heat on price I’d take the Marriott.

    • Obi says:

      Do you have status?

      The Marriott royal bristol has been going through renovations so you are likely to get a refreshed room with status. You are right about location. Other advantage is a swimming pool.

      Agree both are not great but ok.

    • Tom says:

      Thank you guys!
      Only Gold, decided to book a ‘premium’ Royal Superior room (located in the Royal wing) in the Marriott Royal one.

  • Daniel says:

    I am a holder of the Creation Marriott Mastercard which gives me 10 elite nights credit. If I take out the Amex card will that give me an additional 15 nights credit = 25 elite nights per year in total ?

    Thanks in advance

    • Lev441 says:

      No – Max 15 nights according to marriott rules..

      • Bentoni says:

        I think someone from here asked if these elite nights count towards the lifetime status. I was wondering if you know the answer to this?

        Thanks

  • Gans says:

    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

    • Gans says:

      *FHR portal, typo, sorry!

      • Rob says:

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

        • Gans says:

          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?

          • Rob says:

            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.