2018 SPG Credit Card Review – WalletHub Editors
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The Verdict: The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express (American Express is a WalletHub partner) is the perfect travel companion for fans of hotel brands such as Westin, Sheraton, St. Regis and the seven other members of Starwood’s luxury lodging portfolio. The most striking feature of this card is the fact that its rewards currency, dubbed “Starpoints,” is worth nearly three times as much as Marriott’s and nearly five times as much as Hilton’s. So while the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card’s 25,000-point initial bonus might not seem all that impressive, it’s actually worth an average of almost $650 in SPG reservations, according to WalletHub’s analysis of the Starwood Preferred Guest loyalty program.
All things considered, the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card could yield the average person more than $2,000 in value over the first two years — according to our calculations — even considering the $95 annual fee that kicks in during year two. However, that assumes use of the card for all purchases, not just for hotel reservations. The card can still be valuable when used more selectively, but infrequent travelers must be careful, as Starpoints expire after 12 months of account inactivity.
- 25K Bonus Starpoints: If you spend $3,000 during the first three months that you have this card, you will receive 25,000 Starpoints (in addition to at least 3,000 points, thanks to the card’s regular rewards structure). That 25,000-point bounty is worth roughly $640 in SPG reservations, depending on your destination and dates of choice, which equates to about 7 free nights based on SPG’s $172.88 average daily room rate as of July 2015, the most recent data available. You may be able to nab up to 12.5 nights, though, as the SPG website advertises reward-night specials for as few as 2,000 points.
2 Points Per $1 Spent At Starwood: You’ll earn 2 points per $1 spent on Starwood reservations and in-hotel purchases charged to the card. That last part is especially important to note, as many hotel rewards programs limit their maximum earning rates to room reservations only. The heightened value of Starpoints relative to other hotel points also means that you’ll be earning the equivalent of 5.12% cash back, provided that you redeem points for Starwood reward nights rather than SPG’s other, less valuable redemption options. When you factor in the 2 additional points per $1 spent at Starwood that you’ll earn after enrolling in SPG, that boosts your effective rewards rate to 10.24% back on Starwood spending.
Unfortunately, reservations at a Starwood-family hotel that are booked through a third-party travel comparison site, such as Kayak.com or Expedia.com, do not qualify for this heightened earning rate (see The Lowlights section for more details).
- 1 Point Per $1 Spent Everywhere Else: This is the SPG Card’s base earning rate, and while it’s roughly equal to what’s offered by the average credit card, we know that SPG points are worth far more than the 1 cent or less that most credit card points yield. Assuming you’re capable of and comfortable with redeeming only for SPG nights, you’re looking at earning 2.56% back on every non-Starwood charge you make to this card.
- No First-Year Fee: Depending on how you look at things, this first-year fee waiver could be considered a $95 value or just a sneaky way to get you on the hook in the out years. But one really can’t complain about not having to pay for the pleasure of earning such a valuable initial bonus, at the very least.
- $95 Annual Fee Starting Year Two: Ninety-five dollars isn’t egregious for a hotel rewards credit card, especially when you factor in the first-year fee waiver, but it’s certainly not cheap, either. If nothing else, it should give you pause about keeping the card open past your first account anniversary – which is when the first $95 charge will be assessed.
Zero 0% Intro Rates: It’s become popular for even rewards credit cards to offer no-interest introductory periods for new purchases, balance transfers or both. The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card offers neither. As a result, it should be used strictly as a rewards-earning vehicle, which means you should always pay your bill in full when using it.
If you’re looking for a card to reduce the cost of existing debt or save money on an upcoming big-ticket purchase, check out our editor’s picks for the Best Balance Transfer Credit Cards and the Best Credit Card Rates.
- High Regular Interest Rates: If you decide to submit an application and are approved, you will be assigned a variable APR that could be anywhere from 16.49% - 20.49% (V), depending on your credit standing. The low end of that range is below the 13.89% average for people with good credit (the credit level needed for approval), but the high end is actually pretty close to the 22.28% average for people with fair credit. This should underscore the importance of not carrying a balance on the SPG Card.
Booking Restrictions: We, as consumers, are growing accustomed to booking travel through third-party aggregators such as Kayak.com, and, though progress may seem slow, mobile wallets are on a collision course to ubiquity as well. That’s why it’s so annoying that SPG and Amex bury the following details in the card’s terms and conditions:
“Purchases made through a third-party payment account or on an online marketplace (with multiple retailers) will not earn additional points. A purchase may not earn additional points if the merchant submits the purchase using a mobile or wireless card reader or if you use a mobile or digital wallet.”
In other words, you’ll earn only 1 point (instead of 2 points) per $1 spent on Starwood reservations if you don’t book directly through Starwood. And even if you do, you still won’t get full freight if you complete the purchase with Apple Pay, Android Pay, Samsung Pay or any of the other emerging mobile wallet offerings – all of which have partnerships with Amex.
Other Things To Consider
- No Foreign Transaction Fee: This increasingly common feature will prove quite helpful if you do business with internationally based merchants or if you plan to visit one of the nearly 700 Starwood-brand hotels that are located outside of the U.S. The market-average foreign transaction fee is currently 1.61% of any purchase processed in a currency other than U.S. dollars.
- Spend $30K, Get 12 Months Of Gold Status: Starwood Preferred Guest members can already obtain SPG Gold Preferred status without a credit card by paying for 10 nights in a calendar year. Considering Starwood’s roughly $173 average room rate, that would put the minimum cost of qualification at just over $1,700. The ability to qualify once you surpass $30,000 in annual spending on the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card doesn’t seem all that helpful as a result. Sure, this policy could make Gold status attainable for high spenders who don’t stay at hotels all that often, but it’s not a lucrative enough incentive to warrant application for such infrequent travelers.
- Annual Credit Toward Elite Status Beginning Year Two: If you’re interested in long-term SPG loyalty, you’ll be happy to know that cardholders receive an annual credit equal to one-fifth of what’s needed to qualify for Gold Preferred status each year.
- Boingo American Express Preferred Plan: You’ll have the option to enroll in this Amex program, which provides complimentary access to Boingo Wi-Fi hotspots. This includes Boingo hotspots in hotels and airports around the world, but not the GoGo Wi-Fi that is available on many airplanes. Considering that Boingo’s global plan costs $39 a month, this account feature represents an annual value of up to $468.
Compared To The Competition
Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express
IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card
Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®
|Annual Fee||None 1st yr, $95 after||None 1st yr, $95 after||None 1st yr, $49 after||None 1st yr, $89 after|
|Rewards Bonus||25,000 points||25,000 points||60,000 points||40,000 miles|
|Rewards Rate||1 - 2 points / $1||1 - 2 points / $1||1 - 5 points / $1||2 miles / $1|
|Purchase Intro APR||Not Offered||Not Offered||Not Offered||Not Offered|
|Transfer Intro APR||Not Offered||Not Offered||Not Offered||0% for 12 months|
Transfer Fee: 3% (min $5)
|Regular APR||16.49% - 20.49% (V)||16.49% - 20.49% (V)||17.24% - 24.24% (V)||17.24% - 24.24% (V)|
|Editors’ Rating||4.0 / 5||4.2 / 5||4.1 / 5||5.0 / 5|
|Details, Rates & Fees||Learn More|
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