If you’re shopping for a Marriott-branded hotel card and the perks that come with it, you have a number of good choices. Two of the most practical ones, especially for travelers who want to avoid a three-figure annual fee, are similar in their offerings:
- Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus Credit Card
- Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
But these cards have differences because they operate on different card networks.
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In short, choose the SPG card if you value a waived annual fee in the first year and prefer American Express perks. Otherwise, go with the Marriott-branded card, which will be more widely accepted as a Visa card and includes benefits from Visa and Chase.
Why two similar cards?
Marriott bought Starwood in 2016, but even before the merger, Chase was the issuer for Marriott co-branded cards, while American Express issued Starwood’s.
That division continues, with each issuer offering midrange consumer cards that at first glance might seem identical.
What’s the same?
Earning rates: Earn 6 points per $1 spent at participating Marriott Rewards and SPG hotels and 2 points for every $1 spent on all other purchases.
Points currency: Both cards earn points in Marriott’s rewards currency.
Free night: Both cards offer a free night award valued up to 35,000 points every year after the account anniversary. This is a key benefit because it alone can make up for the annual fee.
Elite status: Guaranteed Silver elite status each account anniversary year.
Premium internet access: Free in-room, premium internet access while staying at participating Marriott and SPG hotels.
Foreign transaction fees: Neither card charges fees for transactions abroad.
Annual fee: The cards have the same ongoing annual fee, but a primary difference is the first-year annual fee waiver of the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express: $0 for the first year, then $95. Terms apply. For the Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus Credit Card, it’s simply $95. This is the easiest difference for assigning a dollar value — one year’s waived fee.
New cardholder bonus: This is another area where the cards’ offerings diverge:
- Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus Credit Card: Earn 75,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
- Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express: Earn 75,000 Bonus Points after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months. Terms Apply.
Acceptance: American Express is widely accepted, but the Marriott card on the Visa network will have even wider acceptance, especially abroad.
Deeper perks: Some card perks come from the network the card uses, Visa or American Express, not from the card issuer. Examples of differences:
- Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus Credit Card: Visa concierge, higher baggage insurance limit of $3,000 per passenger.
- Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express: Land-based Boingo Wi-Fi, ShopRunner two-day shipping.
Issuer: You might have your own reasons for preferring one issuer over the other — maybe most of your other cards are issued by either Chase or American Express and you prefer to view all cards in the same account, for example.
What are some other choices?
Refer to NerdWallet’s roundup of best hotel credit cards for other choices. Among the favorites are general travel cards that aren’t affiliated with Marriott specifically but can help pay for hotel stays at Marriott properties. Examples are:Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is a robust travel card with an annual fee of $0 for the first year, then $95. It earns 2 points per $1 spent on dining and travel and 1 point per dollar on everything else. It can be ideal for transferring points to a hotel loyalty program, including Marriott. Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card is a great choice for easy earning with an annual fee of $0 for the first year, then $95. The card earns 2 miles per $1 spent on all purchases and 10 miles per dollar at Hotels.com. Redeem miles for credit against most travel expenses at 1 cent per mile.
Which branded card should I get?
With several similar features, the decision on a midlevel hotel-branded card will come down to the sign-up bonus you prefer, the issuer that works best for you, the minor perks offered, and whether you value the first year fee-free of the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, or the wider worldwide acceptance of the Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus Credit Card.