Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express Review: Is it the Best Travel Credit Card?

SPG AmexThe Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express has consistently earned top reviews from consumers and critics alike. But why is it one of my own favorite cards? Let me count the reasons:

1. Extremely flexible redemption options: hotels or flights
The most obvious use for your points is to redeem them for hotel stays at one of Starwood’s more than 1,000 properties worldwide. Starwood properties include St. Regis, Westin, Sheraton, Four Points, W, aloft, Le Meredien and element hotels and resorts. What’s more is that award rooms can be booked with no blackout dates. This means that as long as a hotel has a standard room available for your dates, it is available for award booking. In addition, when redeeming your points for at least five nights within the same stay, you’ll also receive the fifth night free at category 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 hotels.

Another attractive option for your points is to convert them to airline miles. Starpoints can be converted into miles in more than 30 different airline frequent flyer programs, most of the time at a 1:1 exchange ratio of Starpoints to miles. As a bonus, for every 20,000 Starpoints transferred within the same transaction, Starwood automatically adds another 5,000 Starpoints. Assuming a 1:1 mile-to-Starpoint exchange ratio, this means that the typical domestic airline award ticket that costs 25,000 miles would cost just 20,000 Starpoints. Alternatively, for more flexibility, you can redeem your points directly for flights on more than 350 different airlines, though this option may deliver less value.

2. A variety of other cool redemption options
In addition to hotels and flights, Starpoints have a variety of other uses, though depending upon your circumstances, they may or may not offer the same value to you. Some of these options include using your points to redeem for discounted Broadway shows, converting them to gift certificates, transferring them to the Amtrak Guest Rewards program, or giving them to charity.

One cool redemption option that merits special highlighting is the SPG Moments program. This program allows you to use your Starpoints to bid on unique experiences and events. Typical events include tickets to concerts or sporting events and might include meet-and-greets with celebrities. While most events are auctions, there are usually some events that have a limited number of tickets that can be bought at a fixed price. In the past, for example, I’ve been able to win premium tickets to concerts such as U2, Rihanna and Coldplay. I was able to get one pair of tickets worth well over $500 for just 5,000 Starpoints, meaning I was getting a value of over 10 cents per Starpoint!

3. Earn Status Faster
You’ll automatically receive 2 stays / 5 nights credit towards elite status with your Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express cardmembership. If you happen to have both the Personal and Business versions of the SPG Amex, they’ll both earn this credit, for a total of 4 stays / 10 nights credit per year towards elite status.

The SPG Amex will also enable you to automatically earn SPG Gold status when your eligible spending reaches at least $30,000 in a calendar year. Even if you don’t spend $30,000 in a year, you’ll still automatically receive Preferred Guest Plus status which entitles you to guaranteed 4pm late check out and an upgrade to a preferred room, subject to availability.

4. Get more Starpoints for stays
As you would expect, the SPG Amex is also great if you’re a frequent Starwood guest. You receive up to 5 Starpoints for every eligible dollar spent at Starwood hotels and resorts — 2 Starpoints per dollar you spend on the card, plus the Starpoints you get as an SPG member.

5. Get your 3rd night free at participating Sheraton hotels
The latest benefit to be added to the card is pretty much self-explanatory.

6. No foreign transaction fees
Effective August 11, 2015, the SPG Amex no longer charges foreign transaction fees–fees which are tacked onto purchases made in another currency. This is good news, since it’s become standard among the more premium travel credit cards.

7. The usual Amex benefits
American Express has consistently delivered the highest overall customer satisfaction among credit card issuers, according to JD Power and Associates. It gave American Express its highest ratings in overall satisfaction, credit card terms, rewards and benefits. Some of the key benefits include having access to travel benefits such as car rental insurance and shopping benefits such as extended warranty protection and purchase protection.

What are the cons?
While overall it’s a plus that the card is an Amex, it’s also a negative given that Amex is not universally accepted. So, you’ll need to carry a backup Visa or MasterCard.

The annual fee of $95, while waived the first year, is another minus. In general, if you’re a smaller spender, credit cards with annual fees are not a good deal. If, for instance, you spend less than $1,000 a month on your credit card, it will be hard to get enough value out of the Starpoints that you do earn to offset the annual fee. Compared to similar travel reward cards, however, the $95 annual fee is actually very reasonable.

On the whole, however, the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express is arguably one of the best credit cards on the market. It’s one of the few cards in my wallet and certainly worthy of a close look for anyone in the market for a travel credit card.

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