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Why I Signed Up for the SPG AmEx After the Marriott Merger

May 30, 2018
Credit Cards, Rewards Credit Cards, Travel, Travel Credit Cards
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After months of eyeing the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, I finally took the plunge and signed up.

The Nerds have long lauded it as a top hotel card for its generous and highly flexible rewards program.

» MORE: Let NerdWallet help you plan your next trip

SPG points can be redeemed at over 30 hotel brands under the Starwood/Marriott/Ritz-Carlton umbrella and transferred at a 1:1 ratio to 30 airline partners. With so many redemption options, this is the stuff that points and miles enthusiasts dream of.

Here’s what made me pull the trigger.

Short-term increased earning power

Through July 31, 2018, the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express will earn two Starpoints for every dollar of eligible purchases on the card at participating SPG and Marriott Rewards hotels, and one Starpoint for all other eligible purchases. Then on Aug. 1, 2018, SPG will convert every one Starpoint in a loyalty member account to three points, and the card’s ongoing earn rate will be six Starpoints for every dollar of eligible purchases at participating SPG and Marriott Rewards hotels. Terms Apply.

This means that until Aug. 1, the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express will earn more at Marriott hotels than the Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card that I also have. (Note: These cards are no longer available through NerdWallet.)

The Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card earns five points for every $1 spent at a Marriott property, while the two SPG points per $1 spent accrued from now until Aug. 1 on the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express will then be worth six points at conversion time. Terms Apply.

It pays to do the math

Although the Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card touts an annual one-night-free certificate at a Category 1-5 hotel, you’re getting that perk in exchange for the card’s annual fee of $0 for the first year, then $85.

When I applied for this card, my rationale was that the free-night benefit was likely going to outweigh that fee, and also that there were enough hotels in the portfolio that I could likely use it for most of my family’s travel needs.

Plus, the card at the time was offering a 100,000-point sign-up bonus, which was big enough to squeeze out a few more free nights, putting our next family vacation within closer reach.

But now that the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express would also be offering a free-night certificate good for properties valued at or under 35,000 points (Terms Apply), this also hit a sweet spot for me.

The introductory annual fee of $0 for the first year, then $95 is again far less than the typical cost of a night in a hotel for my family of four. (This offer is no longer valid on our site).

The combined annual fees of the Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card and the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express will cost me just $180, in exchange for two nights at hundreds of properties around the world.

The key here is to maximize those nights to get far more value than what I paid.

What could I do with those two nights? Here are some possibilities:

  • Take a winter break weekend family trip to the Courtyard Orlando Lake Buena Vista in the Marriott Village near Walt Disney World, where the mid-December two-night price would be $538 out of pocket.
  • Ring in the new year sunning by the pool at the Courtyard San Juan Miramar in Puerto Rico, which is priced at $788 for a getaway from Dec. 31, 2018, to Jan. 2, 2019.
  • Spend a few early October days leaf-peeping in Maine, and bunk at the Fairfield Inn Portland Maine Mall, where the standard rate that time of year is $478 for two full nights and days of fall foliage fun.

Welcome offers

The last factor that made this card a no-brainer for me was the now-expired welcome offer: Earn 25,000 Starpoints® after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months. Terms Apply. (This offer is no longer available on our site).

Any time there’s a major change to a credit card’s rewards program — like the merger between Starwood and Marriott — you can pretty much count on a card to either be discontinued, devalue its offer to prospective cardholders or both. Typically the best offers are reserved for brand-new cards, and I was fairly certain that the value of the offer was going to change.

Shortly after I became a Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express cardholder, the welcome offer changed. The card now offers a $100 statement credit after you make $1,000 in purchases on the card within the first 3 months of card membership, plus an additional $100 statement credit after your first purchase on the card at a participating SPG or Marriott Rewards hotel within your first 6 months of card membership. Terms Apply.

NerdWallet values a Starpoint at about 2.3 cents on average, making my 25,000 point bonus worth about $575 — far more than a $200 statement credit.

Bottom line

If you’re considering applying for a new travel rewards card, it makes sense to have a goal in mind. The point of a travel card is to earn rewards for free or reduced-cost travel, but it’s important to consider your unique situation and what you’re hoping to get out of owning that particular card.

My incentive to apply for the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express was fueled by the announcement of the merger details between the two programs. After careful consideration, adding this card to my wallet made sense, as I plan to maximize the value of the annual free-night certificates.

The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and the Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card are no longer available on NerdWallet. Information related to the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and the Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of these cards. 

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