UPDATE: This promotion is over and the sign-up bonus is now back to 25,000 Starpoints after spending $5,000 in six months.
Links for cards:
As I mentioned earlier, Starwood has increased the sign-up bonus on the Starwood American Express credit cards through September 4, 2012, whereby they’re offering 10,000 Starpoints after the first purchase, and an additional 20,000 Starpoints after spending $5,000 within six months. The annual fee is also waived for the first year, and $65 per year thereafter.
The Starwood American Express has always been a leader in the points accruing credit card world. Over the past few years, though, there have been a lot of great new cards that give the Starwood American Express a run for its money. Going back a few years there weren’t many credit cards that offered bonus points for major spend categories, though nowadays it’s something we almost take for granted — quintuple points on office supply stores, cable, and phone bills on the
Chase Ink Bold and Chase Ink Plus cards, triple points for airfare and double points for groceries on the American Express Premier Rewards Gold card, double points for dining and travel on the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, etc.
So while the Starwood American Express card is no longer the “go to” card in all categories as it used to be, it’s still one of the best cards out there, and a vital part of a well balanced miles/points diet.
I’ve covered most of the benefits of the Starwood American Express card in this post, so instead I figured I’d provide a rundown of the top 10 reasons I love this card.
1. Two stays and five nights towards Starwood Preferred Guest status annually. Just for having the card you earn two stays and five nights towards elite status in the Starwood Preferred Guest program annually. If you have both the personal and the business cards, that’s four stays and 10 nights towards elite status annually. That’s an amazing benefit, given that it lowers the Platinum qualification tier to 21 stays or 40 nights. For me those 10 elite qualifying nights are the difference between reaching Starwood Platinum status based on stays and reaching Starwood Platinum status based on nights as well, which gets me 10 confirmed suite night upgrades annually per the new benefits that were rolled out in March.
2. Cash & Points. Starwood pioneered cash & points, and to this day no other program offers a cash & points option even nearly as generous. Their cash & points award chart looks as follows:
This is consistently among the most lucrative redemption opportunities in the hotel industry. It’s so great because the discount in the number of points required is huge while the cash co-pay is quite small. For example, a free night award for a category four hotel would cost 10,000 points, while it would only be 4,000 SPG points plus $60 through cash & points, meaning you’re basically saving Starpoints for only a cent each. Almost everyone values Starpoints at more than two cents each, so that’s a real bargain.
3. Fifth night free awards. While cash & points is a spectacular value it is capacity controlled, so another great option is Starwood’s free night awards, which aren’t capacity controlled — as long as a standard room is available you can redeem points for it. Best of all when you’re booking a free night award the fifth consecutive night is free. The free nights award chart looks as follows:
For example, the Le Meridien Chiang Rai is just 3,000-4,000 points per night, so for ~14,000 points you could spend five nights there.
4. Starwood now counts award stays towards elite status. As of October 1 of last year Starwood counts award stays towards elite status, which greatly enhances the value of using points for hotel stays for people like me that want to requalify for status. In the past I would almost always pay for stays at low/mid-tier hotels since I valued the stay credits greatly, though now I can actually take advantage of some of the great cash & points opportunities on the award chart and redeem points without having to worry about status requalification. This means that you could conceivably earn Starwood Platinum status exclusively on award stays, which is awesome for leisure travelers like me.
5. 25% transfer bonus for airlines. Starwood has dozens of airline partners to which points can be transferred at a 1:1 ratio. Best of all, for every 20,000 points you transfer you get a 5,000 point bonus, meaning you’re essentially earning 1.25 points per dollar spent.
6. Promotional airline transfer bonuses. While the 25% transfer bonus in and of itself is quite generous, Starwood seems to offer at least one major airline transfer bonus per year. For example, earlier this year they offered a 50% transfer bonus to US Airways Dividend Miles, while previously they offered a 35% transfer bonus to American AAdvantage. When you factor in that this is in addition to the 25% bonus, we’re talking about some spectacular values.
7. The ability to economically redeem points for Emirates first class. Starwood partners with Japan Airlines’ Mileage Bank program, which partners with Emirates. As of October 1 they’ll be adjusting their award chart so that a roundtrip flight on Emirates between New York and Dubai would cost only 85,000 miles in business class (70,000 Starpoints) or 135,000 miles in first class (110,000 Starpoints). There’s no other major points currency that will get you Emirates first class so inexpensively, and it’s something I plan on taking advantage of.
8. The ability to transfer points to Alaska Airlines. I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Alaska’s Mileage Plan program. They’re useless in many ways, but in other ways it’s one of the most valuable programs there is. Alaska doesn’t partner with Membership Rewards or Ultimate Rewards, though they do partner with SPG, and you can transfer points at a 1:1 ratio (plus the 25% transfer bonus in chunks of 20,000 points).
For example, travel on Cathay Pacific from the US to South Africa via Hong Kong in first class is only 140,000 miles roundtrip. That’s four ~15 hour flights in first class with the option of having a stopover in Hong Kong for just 140,000 miles, which takes just 115,000 Starwood points.. You won’t find a better value than that anywhere else.
9. The ability to (indirectly) transfer points to Hilton efficiently. While Starwood is fantastic for cash & points redemptions and free night awards at low to mid-tier properties, Hilton is better for high end properties. As luck would have it, there’s an indirect way to transfer Starpoints to Hilton HHonors points at a 1:2.5 ratio!
10. 3% cashback at Hyatt hotels for using the Starwood American Express Business card. The Starwood American Express Business card qualifies for OPEN savings, which includes 3% cash back on all spend at Hyatt hotels. So nowadays for Hyatt properties in the US I use my Starwood American Express, which earns me one Starpoint plus 3% cash back, which I value at well over a 5% return. It’s kind of ironic that you’re better off using the Starwood American Express at domestic Hyatt properties and the Hyatt Visa at international Starwood properties (due to foreign exchange fees), isn’t it?
If you have any questions about the card please let me know, and don’t forget to enter for your chance to win 50,000 Starpoints courtesy of the Starwood American Express.
Links for increased sign-up bonus cards:
Full disclosure: I earn a referral bonus for anyone that signs up through the above links. They’re all the best publicly available offers to the best of my knowledge, and of course I’m very appreciative of your support, regardless of whether or not you use my links.