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Starwood American Express: Our Favorite Hotel Credit Card

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Starwood American Express Review

For above-average rewards, a slew of airline transfer partners and plenty of rewards redemption options, the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express is hard to beat. It’s easily one of the Nerds’ top hotel cards and a great pick for the luxury-hotel enthusiast.

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The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express: Basics and benefits

The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express earns up to 5 Starpoints per dollar spent at participating SPG hotels and 1 Starpoint on all other purchases. Check out this chart for the complete card details:

Example image of Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

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Pros

  • High rewards rate

Cons

  • Has annual fee
  • Needs excellent credit

Sign-up Bonus

Earn 25,000 bonus Starpoints after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.

Annual Fee

$0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $65.

Intro APR Promotions

None

APR

  • APR: 15.24% - 19.24% variable
  • Penalty APR: Up to 27.24%, Variable
  • Cash Advance APR: 25.24%, Variable

Card Details

  • Earn 25,000 bonus Starpoints after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.
  • Earn free nights at over 1,100 hotels and resorts in nearly 100 countries with no blackout dates.
  • Some hotels may have mandatory service and resort charges.
  • Earn up to 5 Starpoints on purchases at participating SPG hotels.
  • That's 2 Starpoints for which you may be eligible as a Card Member in addition to the 2 or 3 Starpoints for which you may be eligible as an SPG member.
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $65.
  • Terms and Limitations Apply.

Beyond the basics, the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express has several great features worth telling your friends about:

Points value well above the industry standard

When compared side-by-side with other hotel travel cards, the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express seems pretty mediocre. It earns points at a standard rate and its signup bonus appears to be low. However, while many hotel cards have a points value of one cent or less, the Nerds estimate Starpoints to be worth 2.4 cents each when redeemed for free nights, making the signup bonus worth $600.

The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express has several other rewards redemption options, most of which exceed the 1 cent per point industry standard. For more information, check out our review of the SPG Starpoints program.

A large selection of airline transfer partner programs

If you prefer airline rewards to free hotel stays, you can transfer your Starpoints to several frequent flier programs. The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express has more than 30 airline partners (assume a 1:1 rate unless specified otherwise):

  • Aeromexico Club Premier
  • Aeroplan/Air Canada
  • Air Berlin
  • Air China Companion
  • Air New Zealand & Air Points (65 points to 1 mile transfer rate)
  • Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
  • Alitalia MileMiglia
  • All Nippon Airways (ANA) Mileage Club
  • American Airlines AAdvantage
  • Asia Miles
  • Asiana Airlines
  • British Airways Executive Club
  • China Eastern Airlines
  • China Southern Airlines Sky Pearl Club
  • Delta Airlines SkyMiles
  • Emirates Skywards
  • Etihad Airways
  • Flying Blue
  • Gol Smiles (2 Starpoints to 1 mile transfer rate)
  • Hainan Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Japan Airline (JAL) Mileage Bank
  • Jet Airways
  • LAN Airlines LANPASS Kms (1 Starpoint to 1.5 miles transfer rate)
  • Miles and More
  • Qatar Airways
  • Saudi Arabian Airlines
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
  • Thai Airways International Royal Orchid Plus
  • United Mileage Plus (2 Starpoints to 1 mile transfer rate)
  • Velocity Frequent Flier
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

If you choose to transfer Starpoints to miles, you may want to wait until you’ve accumulated at least 20,000. For every 20,000 points you transfer to a frequent flier program, you’ll receive an additional 5,000 Starpoints.

Credit toward Elite status

The SPG Starpoints program has two Elite levels: Gold Preferred Guest and Platinum Preferred Guest. You can reach Gold status with 10 eligible stays or 25 eligible nights in a calendar year, and Platinum status with 25 eligible stays or 50 eligible nights in a calendar year. And with the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, you’ll receive credit for 2 stays and 5 nights each year, plus automatic Gold status if you spend at least $30,000  per year.

Gold Preferred Guests get a 50% points bonus over Preferred Guests, late checkout, upgrades, welcome gifts and free Wi-Fi. Platinum Preferred Guests will enjoy the benefits of Gold status, plus free health club, Club level and Executive level access, as well as guaranteed room availability when you book at least 72 hours before check-in and better upgrades.

The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express: Pitfalls and other possibilities

We’ve yet to find a card that’s perfect for everyone, and the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express is no exception. Keep these drawbacks in mind if you’re considering applying for this card:

Foreign transaction fees of 2.7%

Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card
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With plenty of cards on the market with no foreign transaction fees, there’s really no reason to pay them. The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express does have a slightly lower fee than the typical card — 2.7% instead of 3% — but if your travels take you overseas, you should check out the Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card, instead.

The Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card has no foreign transaction fees and an EMV chip. It’s also a Visa card, which is more widely accepted at overseas locales than American Express. It doesn’t have the high-value rewards of the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express — we value Marriott points at 0.9 cents each — but it’s a solid card for international travel.

The Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card gives cardholders 5 points per dollar spent at Marriott locations, 2 points on airline tickets purchased directly from airlines, at car rental agencies and at restaurants, and 1 point on everything else. It  has a competitive signup bonus: Earn 50,000 Points after spending $1,000 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. Plus, you’ll enjoy a free night in a Category 1-4 hotel upon account approval and an annual free night in a Category 1-5 hotel on your cardmember anniversary.

The card has a higher annual fee than the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express — $0 Intro Annual Fee for the first year, then $85 — but you’ll make up for the additional $20 if you make at least $741 in foreign purchases each year.

Limited hotel properties

Chase IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card Credit Card
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If the more than 1,200 SPG locations aren’t enough for your traveling needs, you may want to check out the IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card as an option. One of the largest hotel chains worldwide, IHG has over 4,700 locations, so you’ll likely find a hotel in whatever city you’re staying in.

The IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card  offers 5 points per dollar spent in IHG hotels, 2 points at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants, and 1 point on everything else. It has a large signup bonus: Earn 70,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months of account opening, though its points aren’t worth as much as Starpoints. However, it also offers one free night at an IHG property for each year of cardmembership.

Unlike the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, the IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card  comes with automatic Platinum Elite status. With this perk, you’ll get a 50% bonus on base points, free Wi-Fi, priority check-in, upgrades and guaranteed availability as long as you book at least 72 hours in advance.

The card’s annual fee is waived the first year and $49 every year thereafter, and there are no foreign transaction fees.

The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express: Is it right for you?

Domestic travelers who frequent luxury hotels will get a great value out of the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express. It offers an industry-crushing points value, plenty of redemption options — including the option to transfer Starpoints to a multitude of frequent flier programs — and automatic credit toward Elite status. If all that appeals to you, consider applying today and make sure you hit the spending requirement for the generous signup bonus.

Erin El Issa is a staff writer covering personal finance for NerdWallet. Follow her on Twitter @Erin_Lindsay17 and on Google+.


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  • Nothappy#2

    I had this card for about 3 years and the 25k was nice, but then what? You pay it right back in the form of yearly fee that gets you nothin.. They give you a few bucks to lure you in, then your turn. The benefits are just not worth it anymore. For example, in 2009 I was able to get into Sheraton hotels in tropical places for less than $100, but now those same places are more than double and cash+points not avail. One night in the same place use to be 4000 pts+$60/n, now only option is either $325/n or 16000 pts/n. This new terms/conditions make this card useless. I thought, I will never say that but apparently amex sucks! I have two amex cards and have been sucked $250/y for nothin. I would love to close them, but my credit report will tick down a bit. I am closing them anyways, but right after getting my new house. Hope this helped and if you find some cool card with reasonable/real benefits, don’t forget to share :-)

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