Editorial Review

Starwood Preferred Guest AmEx Review: Five-Star Perks

The card is packed with value, including a yearly free night that easily covers the annual fee. The Starwood-Marriott merger gives you a wide selection of hotels.

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We adhere to strict standards of editorial integrity. Some of the products we feature are from our partners. Here’s how we make money.

Our Take

4.3

NerdWallet rating

The Bottom Line: The excellent Marriott and Starwood credit cards are nearly identical. But this card's waived first-year annual fee might give it the edge.

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

on American Express's secure website, or call (866) 512-6673

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

Annual Fee 
$95

Waived first year

Regular APR
17.74% - 26.74% Variable APR
Intro APR
N/A

Annual Fee 
$95

Waived first year

Regular APR
17.74% - 26.74% Variable APR
Intro APR
N/A

Pros & Cons

Pros
  • High rewards rate
  • Flexible rewards redemption
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Bonus offer for new cardholders
Cons
  • Has annual fee
  • Requires good/excellent credit

recommended credit score

Alternate Pick: Maximum flexibility

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

Redeem rewards for any travel expense

Unlike cards that lock you into a particular airline or hotel brand, this popular card lets you redeem your rewards for any travel expense. You get 2 miles per dollar on all purchases (10 per dollar at Hotels.com); miles are worth 1 cent. The sign-up bonus is great, too. Annual fee: $0 for the first year, then $95.

Read our review

Full Review

The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express is more about function than flash — and for travelers who frequent hotels, that’s what makes it well worth its annual fee of $0 for the first year, then $95.

The card comes fully stocked with five-star benefits, including an annual free night award, automatic Silver Elite status and a rich welcome offer. Although those who prefer to redeem points for high-end hotel stays likely won’t snag as many good deals as they could have with the previous version of this card, the new perks on the current offer still make it a valuable option.

Key benefits of the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

  • Welcome offer: Earn 75,000 Bonus Points after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months. Terms Apply.
  • Annual fee: $0 for the first year, then $95.
  • Ongoing rewards: 
    • 6 points per dollar spent on eligible purchases at participating Starwood and Marriott hotels.
    • 2 points per dollar spent on all other eligible purchases.
  • Foreign transaction fees: None.
  • Other benefits:
    • Annual free night award.
    • Automatic Silver Elite status and accelerated path to Gold.

Points on this card are worth 1 cent apiece when redeemed for hotel stays, based on NerdWallet valuations. Now that the Starwood and Marriott loyalty programs have merged, the points on this card are generally less valuable when redeemed for higher-end hotels and more valuable when redeemed for more affordable hotels. Regardless of how you redeem, the free night award on this card still gives it a solid value, and its offerings are in line with other co-branded hotel cards.

Before Starwood Preferred Guest combined with Marriott Rewards on August 18, 2018, NerdWallet valued SPG points at 2.3 cents apiece. The previous version of the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express offered fewer points per dollar across the board and didn’t offer a free night award or automatic elite status.

Why you might want the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

THE POINTS ARE VERSATILE

There’s no shortage of redemption possibilities when cashing in points earned on the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express.

That’s thanks in part to Marriott International’s acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide in 2016, which gave members of both loyalty programs access to a gargantuan portfolio of properties, starting for at as little as 6,000 points a night. And if nothing in that collection strikes your fancy, you can always transfer your points to one of several airline partners at a 3:1 ratio (3 points for 1 airline mile) or take advantage of other redemption options.

THE CARD COMES WITH RICH REWARDS

The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express comes with a welcome bonus that dazzles: Earn 75,000 Bonus Points after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months. Terms Apply.  That’s worth $750 when redeemed for hotel stays, based on NerdWallet valuations — enough to squeeze several nights out of the hotel network’s most affordable rooms.

The ongoing rewards are also quite generous, particularly for spending on eligible purchases at participating Marriott and Starwood hotels. You’ll get points:

  • From the card: 6 points per dollar spent on these qualifying purchases.
  • From the loyalty program: 5 to 10 points per dollar spent at eligible properties, as well as a 10% bonus from your Silver Elite status (which comes with the card).

All told, that could add up to a gobsmacking effective rewards rate of 17% back on eligible hotel purchases.

THE FREE NIGHT BENEFIT IS INCREDIBLY VALUABLE

This card’s free night benefit, which is good for eligible stays that would otherwise cost up to 35,000 points, can handily make up for its annual fee of $0 for the first year, then $95.

Suppose you were to redeem that benefit for a room that would have otherwise cost you $200. By doing that alone, you’d already come out ahead of the annual fee in rewards by $105 after the first year — even before spending a penny on the card. This perk is awarded every year after your card account anniversary.

» MORE: SPG card vs. Marriott Rewards Premier Plus: How they compare

THE SILVER ELITE STATUS IS A NICE PLUS

This card comes with automatic Silver Elite status, which unlocks some useful benefits. Among them:

  • Priority late checkout.
  • 10% bonus on Marriott Rewards points.
  • Free Wi-Fi.
  • Compensation for a hotel stay if Marriott can’t honor your reservation.
  • Dedicated phone lines for reservations.

Big spenders can also qualify for Gold Elite status, which gets you even more perks, by spending over $30,000 in qualifying purchases in a calendar year. (On Jan. 1, 2019, that spending threshold will increase to $35,000.)

Why you might want to go with another card

YOU WANT BROADER ACCEPTANCE

Thanks to the combination of the SPG and Marriott programs, the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and the Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus Credit Card  are somewhat similar cards. But a few major factors set them apart:

  • Annual fee. The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express has an annual fee of $0 for the first year, then $95, while the Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus Credit Card has an annual fee of $95 (not waived the first year).
  • Welcome offers: The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express has the following welcome offer: Earn 75,000 Bonus Points after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months. Terms Apply. The Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus Credit Card has a different offer: Earn 2 Free Night Awards (each valued up to 35,000 points) after spending $3,000 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening with the new Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus Credit Card!
  • Acceptance. The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express is an AmEx card, while the Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus Credit Card is a Visa.

For many, that first point — the waived annual fee — is what makes the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express a more attractive choice. But because Visa is more broadly accepted than American Express, especially overseas, the Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus Credit Card might be more appealing for some.

YOU WANT MORE REDEMPTION FLEXIBILITY

You’d be hard-pressed to find a co-branded hotel credit card that offers more redemption options than the ones in the Marriott and SPG portfolios. But if you’re looking for another level of flexibility, consider a general travel credit card, like the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card.

The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card offers 2 miles per dollar spent on all purchases, which can be redeemed for a wide array of travel purchases, such as hotels and Airbnbs, for example. Through at least January 2020, it’s also offering outsized rewards on hotel bookings through Hotels.com. The annual fee is $0 for the first year, then $95, and it comes with a big sign-up bonus: Enjoy a one-time bonus of 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $500 in travel. The primary downside: This card doesn’t come with perks typical on a co-branded hotel card, such as a free night benefit or automatic elite status.

Check out our roundup of best credit card deals to further explore your card possibilities.

Is the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express right for you?

If there’s no doubt in your mind that you could put to work the rewards and benefits on the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express — especially the free night benefit — this card could be the right addition to your wallet. For Marriott loyalists, the card is an even sweeter deal.