Over the last few days, I have spent hours upon hours with miles and points enthusiasts living, eating, sleeping, and breathing miles and points. Basically, one of my own forms of Heaven. One of the awards given out at both the Freddie Awards on Thursday and at the Frequent Traveler University this weekend was related to the best rewards credit cards. The one at the Freddie Awards was voted upon by hundreds of thousands of travelers whereas the award of “Best Credit Card in the Galaxy” at the FTU were voted upon by the hundred plus people in that session. However, there was one very strong theme from both of those credit card competitions…….The Starwood Preferred Guest Amex may not be new, it may not be fancy, but it may still be the best.
Starwood Preferred Guest Amex Card actually came in second (by a close margin) at the Freddie Awards behind the Delta Amex, but it came in first at the Frequent Traveler University. Despite all the excitement and attention surrounding the “new kid on the block” in the Ultimate Rewards program with the Chase Ink Bold and the Sapphire Preferred card, the SPG card still easily beat that program in both of these competitions. I personally carry the SPG card, and plan to keep it for the long-run, but it still took me by surprise that it so easily beat its rivals at both competitions. So, since it is so popular among experienced frequent travelers, I wanted to give it a much deserved updated review for those of you who may not yet have it in your wallets.
The sign-up bonus of 25,000 points doesn’t seem overly exciting in the days where many sign-up bonuses have been in the 50,000 – 100,000 point range on other cards, but SPG points are so valuable, that the relatively conservative bonus is still very sought after for many travelers. The sign-up bonus awards 10,000 SPG points after the first purchase and an additional 15,000 points after spending $5,000 on the card within the first six months. There are occasional sign-up bonuses of 30,000 points, but I have never seen an SPG sign-up bonus higher than that. The annual fee of $65 is waived the first year.
SPG Gold status is awarded if a spending threshold of $30,000 is hit on the card annually. Gold status isn’t life changing, but it does provide a 50% bonus on points earned at SPG hotels, comes with late check-out, preferred rooms, occasional lounge access, and a choice of free internet, bonus points, or a beverage with each SPG stay. The SPG Amex also awards 5 nights and 2 stays toward SPG elite status each year. The Starwood Preferred Guest Business Amex also awards the same 5 nights and 2 stays toward elite status, so if you have both cards, you have a nice head start toward hitting the 25 stays annually that are required for SPG Platinum status. I am pushing for SPG Platinum status this year so I can get free breakfast, possible suite upgrades, and more. I hope to have the business version of the SPG card by the end of the year so that I can have two more stays to help me on my quest for Platinum.
The downside of the SPG card is that it doesn’t provide many opportunities to earn bonus points. It provides one SPG point per dollar spent on the card. No category bonuses, no reward portals, no threshold bonuses, and no annual point bonuses or dividends. It does provide two points per dollar when paying for spending at SPG hotels, but otherwise it is a flat rate of one point per dollar. I was actually chatting with a rep for the SPG Amex who works for American Express this week at the Randy Peterson Executive Summit and I told her that I love the card, but I very much wish I was incentivized to use it more frequently by having category bonuses or spending thresholds. She politely listened to my feedback, but we also both acknowledged that if the points were easier to obtain, they may end up devalued in the long run. Fair enough (but I still wish their was some type of bonus).
I consistently redeem SPG points for at least 3-4 cents per point. I do this primarily by redeeming using cash and points reservations. Cash and points reservations are almost always the best redemption option, when available. However, cash and points reservations are only one of the many attractive redemptions within the SPG program. The “Nights and Flights” program where you can redeem 60,000 SPG points for 50,000 airline miles and five nights in a Category 3 hotel or 70,000 SPG points for five free nights in a Category 4 and 50,000 airline miles garnered much attention at the FTU this weekend. The ability to transfer SPG points to airlines was another very popular redemption option within the SPG program. Being able to get the fifth night free when redeeming at a Category 3 – 7 hotel was also a popular use of SPG points. The transfer ratio for SPG points to airline miles is 1:1 on many airlines, however when you transfer 20,000 points, you get a 5,000 bonus and your 20,000 SPG points become 25,000 airline miles. The miles do not transfer instantly, so that is a downside compared to Ultimate Rewards or Membership Rewards, but again, that delay doesn’t seem to be a big enough drawback to diminish the popularity of this card.
SPG hotels are also often very nice, so that can’t hurt the popularity of the SPG card. In fact, the Westin brand is one of my personal favorites. It is nice and comfortable without being so fancy that I feel out of place with my family. The popularity of the SPG card is intrinsically tied with the popularity of the SPG program as a whole and the family of hotels. This weekend was a good reminder that while there may be newer and flashier cards and offers on the block, the old standby cards, such as the SPG Amex, are still forces to be reckoned with and cards to be kept in our wallets.
Are you surprised that the SPG Amex easily beat cards like the Sapphire Preferred? If you have the SPG card, what type of purchases and spending do you put on that card? How do you use the points that you earn with the SPG card?
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