Starwood American Express: Our Favorite Hotel Credit Card
The Starwood American Express looks just like any other hotel card. But don’t be fooled – it’s way better. When the nerds crunched the numbers, we found something unexpected: the seemingly mundane nominal rewards rate belies a high value. The Starwood AmEx hits with the heavyweights in the travel card arena, and the Starwood rewards program is far more than what it seems. And right now, the Starwood card is offering a full Earn up to 25,000 bonus points: 10,000 after your first purchase and another 15,000 after you spend $5,000 within the first 6 months of Card membership. signup bonus worth $575 – enough to make anyone sit up and take notice.
Starwood packs a punch with accelerated rewards
At first glance, the Starwood rewards program is less than exciting. You earn up to 5 Starpoints per dollar spent at Starwood Preferred Guest hotels and 1 Starpoint everywhere else. Big deal. But when you stop a second to examine the actual value of a Starpoint, you’ll find a program worthy of consideration.
As a general rule of thumb, hotel and airline rewards are usually worth a penny apiece at best. You’ll find slight deviations here and there, but a point (or mile) tends to maintain a $0.01 value. Starpoints, however, are valued at an average of 2.3 cents each when redeemed at hotels. Depending on how they’re redeemed, Starpoints can be worth up to a whopping 5 cents.
The signup bonus is two-fold. The has a signup bonus of 25,000 Starwood Points when you spend $5,000 .
With a rate of 2.3%, the Starwood American Express bests even the Capital One Venture in travel rewards. Keep in mind, though, you’ll only receive the full 2.3-cent value if you redeem for hotel stays. If you have friends in every major city who can offer free sofa sleep, something like the Venture—which can pay a high rate for airfare—might be more advantageous.
Fringe benefits take center stage
With the Starwood AmEx, you have the opportunity to achieve elite status—a title that grants access to a concierge service, complimentary Internet access, free admission to hotel gyms and lounges, welcome gifts and guaranteed room availability. After 50 nights, you receive 10 “Suite Night Awards,” which allow you to upgrade to a standard suite or premium room. Elite status also bumps your base rewards rate up to a whopping 3 points per dollar spent. But to get there, you have to accumulate 25 separate stays or a total of 50 nights in a calendar year. Luckily, the Starwood does a lot to help you get there:
- Bonus hotel stays count toward elite status
- Automatic gold status when you spend 30k a year
- You receive 5 night and 2 stays worth of elite credit annually
If you reach 75 nights in a year, your rewards rate jumps to 4 points per dollar spent. Maintaining elite status for 5 years grants lifelong gold status, and maintaining platinum for 10 results in lifelong platinum status. The Starwood AmEx charges a $65 annual fee, but it’s waived the first year and your rewards will more than make up for it. The foreign transaction fee is 2.7%, which is a little better than the standard 3%, but still not ideal for international travel. If you’re planning on going abroad often, check out our list of credit cards with no foreign transaction fee to save a bundle on that silly charge.
If you don’t use your Starpoints for hotel stays (the option with the best value), you can still get a great redemption rate.
- The “nights and flights” option is the best deal beyond regular hotel stays. You can trade 60,000 Starpoints for 50,000 airline miles and 5 nights at a category 3 resort or 70,000 Starpoints for 50,000 airline miles and 5 nights at a category 4 resort. Nights and flights redemption makes points worth around 2-2.1 cents apiece. (For more info, check out our hotel rewards infographic)
- Your next best option is transferring to airline mile programs. You can also trade 20,000 Starpoints for 25,000 airline miles from US Airways, Virgin Atlantic, American, Delta and others, meaning your Starpoints are worth 1.25 cents each when swapped for airfare (which in turn means that you’ll get a better value on Delta miles if you use the Starwood card than if you use the Delta card). You can trade Starpoints for miles at other airlines as well – check out the full list here.
- Starpoints can also be redeemed for gift cards, but this yields a 0.89-1.05% rewards rate, which is pretty mediocre.
Keep in mind that even if you don’t stay at the SPG hotels often, you can still get a great value: if you redeem for airline miles, you’re getting a better rewards rate than most of the branded airline credit cards will give you. Of course, your best redemption rates come from staying at the Starwood hotels (Meridien, Westin, Four Points, Sheraton, etc). It won’t do you much good if you don’t fly anywhere and tend to stay in budget hotels. But for travelers who like a little comfort, you can’t do better than Starwood.
Airline mile program transfers
|Program||Starpoints||Program Miles||Conversion Ratio|
|Air China Companion||1||1||1.25|
|Air New Zealand Air Points||65||1||0.019|
|Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan||1||1||1.25|
|All Nippon Airways (ANA) Mileage Club||1||1||1.25|
|American Airlines AAdvantage||1||1||1.25|
|British Airways Executive Club||1||1||1.25|
|China Eastern Airlines||1||1||1.25|
|China Southern Airlines’ Sky Pearl Club||1||1||1.25|
|Delta Air Lines SkyMiles||1||1||1.25|
|Japan Airlines (JAL) Mileage Bank||1||1||1.25|
|Miles and More||1||1||1.25|
|Saudi Arabian Airlines Alfursan||1||1||1.25|
|Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer||1||1||1.25|
|US Airways Dividend Miles||1||1||1.25|
|United Mileage Plus||2||1||0.625|
|Virgin Atlantic Flying Club||1||1||1.25|