For years the credit card of the savvy traveler has been the Starwood American Express. I’ve had it since I was 18, and I think it can only be described as the most reliable and consistent travel rewards credit card. Yes, new credit cards have come and gone, though the Starwood American Express is one of the few cards that accrues points that really haven’t been devalued in a long time.
The beauty of the Starwood American Express is that it accrues one of the most flexible points currencies out there, Starwood Preferred Guest points. Not only are they great for hotel redemptions, but they can also efficiently be converted to miles in over a dozen airline programs.
Presently both the personal and business credit cards come with a 25,000 point sign-up bonus. Both cards offer 10,000 points after the first purchase, and an additional 15,000 points after spending $5,000 within six months.
How to Earn Points
The card accrues one point per dollar spent on all purchases, with the exception of spend at Starwood hotels, which accrues two points per dollar. On one hand it’s frustrating that they don’t have category bonuses like some other cards (the Chase Sapphire Preferred card offers double points on dining and travel), though most would argue that Starwood points are the most valuable points currency out there.
How to Redeem Points
Transfer to Airline Miles with a 25% Bonus
Starwood points can be transferred at a 1:1 ratio to about two dozen airline partners, giving them one of the most comprehensive airline partnerships of any program. There’s no other points currency with as much flexibility as Starwood. But here’s the best part — when you transfer points in increments of 20,000, you get a 5,000 point bonus, meaning you’re actually earning 1.25 miles per dollar spent on the credit card.
Cash & Points
One of the most lucrative ways to redeem Starwood points is by making a cash and points hotel redemption. Instead of paying completely with points, you can get a great deal by mixing cash and points for a stay. The values are phenomenal, and I’ve used this many times to stay at $250+ per night hotels in Asia and Europe for between 2,800 points plus $45, and 4,800 points plus $90.
Fifth Night Free Awards
While cash and points redemptions are capacity controlled, standard room redemptions are not. Starwood’s award chart is pretty good for room redemptions, especially for category 1-5 hotels. Furthermore, when you stay for four nights on points at category 3-7 Starwood hotels, the fifth night is free.
For more tips on redeeming Starwood points, see this TravelSort post.
Other Cool Features
Earn Five Elite Qualifying Nights and Two Elite Stay Credits Annually
To earn elite status faster you get five nights and two stay credits towards elite status annually. Given that I would otherwise be mattress running in order to maintain my Starwood Platinum status, that more than pays for the annual fee.
The Annual Fee is Waived for the First Year
And it’s only $65 per year after that, which is among the lowest in the industry.
Starwood Preferred Plus Status
As long as you have the Starwood American Express you get Preferred Plus status, which gets you 4PM late check-out and room upgrades upon availability. It’s basically Gold status minus the 50% points bonus.
Starwood Gold Status When You Spend $30,000 Annually
While Starwood Gold status isn’t the best mid-tier elite status, it has gotten quite a bit more valuable after Starwood’s recent program overhaul.
The Starwood American Express remains one of the “must have” credit cards for points junkies. If I could only have one credit card I’d probably go with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card given the lack of foreign transaction fees, double points on dining and travel, and 7% annual points dividend. But the Starwood American Express is one of my top two cards, given the further diversification it affords me. Between the Starwood American Express and Chase Sapphire Preferred card I can transfer points to virtually any major hotel chain or airline at a favorable ratio, and that’s flexibility that can’t be beat.
Full disclosure: I receive a referral bonus for anyone that signs up through the above links. As always I will only provide a referral link if it offers the best available sign-up bonus.