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:


Cash & points award chart

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:


Free night award chart

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.



Le Meridien Chiang Rai’s low free night points cost

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.


Some of Starwood’s mileage transfer partners

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.


US Airways 50% transfer bonus from earlier in the year

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.


Burj Khalifa Dubai

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.


Alaska Airlines award chart for Cathay Pacific


Cathay Pacific first class

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? :D


OPEN Savings on Hyatt stays

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.

  1. August 7th, 2012 at 10:21 am

    Melissa said,

    The page that #9 links to doesn’t seem to be the content for that (indirectly transferring points to Hilton). Can you tell me how to do that?

  2. August 7th, 2012 at 10:23 am

    lucky said,

    @ Melissa — My apologies, the link has been corrected.

  3. August 7th, 2012 at 10:28 am

    Ripper3785 said,

    Isn’t CX now doing HKG-JNB on a two class aircraft most(maybe all) of the year? Takes a little bit of the fun out of that aspirational award goal.

  4. August 7th, 2012 at 10:29 am

    lucky said,

    @ Ripper3785 — For most of the year they still seem to have a three cabin plane, though you’re correct that seasonally it’s a two cabin plane.

  5. August 7th, 2012 at 10:31 am

    Zz said,

    Who doesn’t have this card by now??
    30k is as high as it gets with this cards, but compared to what we have experienced in the CC’d space it doesn’t get me escited. It’s easier to reach respectable levels with Hilton. A nice 5000 starwood point in referral for you for ever application.

  6. August 7th, 2012 at 10:32 am

    lucky said,

    @ Zz — You’d be surprised by how many people are new to the game and don’t have the card. Also keep in mind that it’s at least somewhat churnable, so many are applying even if they’ve previously had the card.

  7. August 7th, 2012 at 11:36 am

    oneeyejack said,

    Do you know if they will also be increasing the referrals to the same offer? Meaning if I refer a friend, they will also get the 30K signup bonus. It’s still at 25K through the referrals.

  8. August 7th, 2012 at 11:43 am

    lucky said,

    @ oneeyejack — Yep, they should still get the 30K offer (which I’m actually seeing on the site now on the referral page).

  9. August 7th, 2012 at 11:51 am

    oneeyejack said,

    I went through the SPG site and it still says 25K when going through there…strange! Thanks!

  10. August 7th, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    Senor Churno said,

    Can you get this bonus if you’ve already gotten 30k previously?

    If yes, how does it work?

    Is it since last approval?
    since last closing the card?
    since last getting the bonus?
    can you have more than one of these like CITI?

    Otherwise, who the heck hasn’t gotten in on the 30k Starwood Amex yet?

  11. August 7th, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    lucky said,

    @ Senor Churno — Anecdotal evidence suggests that you can sign up for the card at least once every 24 months (from the date of the previous application). Some report being able to get the card more often than that.

  12. August 7th, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    AMRivlin said,

    FX fees exist? As 90% of my travel is intl, that is a non starter for me.

  13. August 7th, 2012 at 4:23 pm

    lucky said,

    @ AMRivlin — Yes, unfortunately. AmEx is way behind the competition when it comes to forex fees…

  14. August 7th, 2012 at 7:03 pm

    Stephan said,

    Given that 140K applies to the Middle East and India as well, the long way to Mumbai, Dubai or Bahrain would work as well, correct (though maybe not as lucrative)?

  15. August 7th, 2012 at 7:08 pm

    lucky said,

    @ Stephan — That’s correct, though just keep in mind that many of those routes are only two cabin out of Hong Kong.

  16. August 7th, 2012 at 7:50 pm

    vroomvroom said,

    Hey Lucky – I was wondering where you got the info on the two stays/five nights credit toward elite status for signing up with the business card? I don’t see that as part of the benefits. It does list it in the personal card terms.

  17. August 7th, 2012 at 8:44 pm

    Troy said,

    @ vroom, its a legit benefit. I have both cards and get 4 stays and 10 nights total. Just got my biz card 2 months ago and saw the additional stay credit post.

  18. August 7th, 2012 at 9:24 pm

    m said,

    Another ‘paid post’ lame…

    It’s one thing to read trip reviews where you’ve been comped the flight or hotel, but the constant Starwood brown nosing is tiresome.

  19. August 7th, 2012 at 10:30 pm

    Andy said,

    i got this card in may 2011 and cancelled this card in april 2012. do you think i can apply again now to be still eligible for the 30,000 pts bonus?

  20. August 8th, 2012 at 7:09 am

    lucky said,

    @ vroomvroom — Oddly can’t find it online, but it definitely is a benefit.

    @ Andy — That’s probably cutting it a bit tight. You might be better off waiting until next year.

  21. August 8th, 2012 at 11:24 am

    A lawyer said,

    After flying the latest CX Business class offering, I think the hard product is nearly as good as a first class product.

  22. August 8th, 2012 at 1:53 pm

    ‘Round the Blogosphere | Field Of Burch said,

    [...] Express offer for 30,000 points is that it has been beat to death on the blogosphere.  It’s a good offer if you are “Lucky” to get in on it, but the 35,000 point Starwood American Express offer is a more “Rapid” way to [...]

  23. August 8th, 2012 at 11:40 pm

    UAPhil said,

    For what it’s worth – I got the card with a 4,000 mile bonus. I sent a secured message from the Amex site asking them to “upgrade” me to the 30,000 mile bonus; they refused. Guess I’ll have to cancel my card and re-apply….

  24. August 9th, 2012 at 6:41 am

    lucky said,

    @ UAPhil — A 4,000 point bonus? Yow, how far back does that go?

  25. August 9th, 2012 at 8:08 am

    sil said,

    Really would like the SPG BIZ card but I already have the following Experian Inquiry: All PERSONAL cards within last year-
    Chase 7/14/12
    B of A 7/12/12
    Amex Hilton – 6/15/12
    Chase 5/13/12
    Chase 11/13/11

    Should I wait or do you think I have a good chance of approval? Credit score of 779 on Experian Or would AMEX check Tranunion if i freeze Experian?

  26. August 9th, 2012 at 8:11 am

    lucky said,

    @ sil — That’s very few AmEx cards, so I’d say you have a great shot. I have more inquiries than that in the past year and got approved for the card instantly.

  27. August 9th, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    Carl T said,

    Hey @lucky, looks like the Amex links are down?

  28. August 9th, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    lucky said,

    @ Carl T — Hmm, thanks for the heads up, though they work for me. What error message are you getting and what browser are you using? Could you try a different browser? Sorry about that!

  29. August 9th, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    Paula said,

    I got the SPG amex personal card with a 30,000 bonus (10k on 1st purchase and 20k upon spending 5k in 6mths and 1st yr membership fee waived) atleast that’s what I remember from last week.

    That’s the only new card I have (other than my good old 30 yr old visa card).

    So newbie stupid question is: If you get those 30k pts, do you still also earn additionally 2 stays/5 nights to actually stay for free or is it just on paper so you can qualify for gold or platinum status?

    What is the meaning of 2 stays/5 nights?

    Thank you for your help in understanding this.

  30. August 9th, 2012 at 2:48 pm

    lucky said,

    @ Paula — Unfortunately they’re not nights you can redeem, but rather just nights towards elite status qualification.

  31. August 10th, 2012 at 1:59 pm

    vroomvroom said,

    Thanks Troy and lucky! I just got my biz card today (thanks for the link lucky) and I can confirm that the extra two stays/five nights credit is already on my account! I’m so pleased at how fast Amex and SPG worked to get me up and running! :)

  32. August 12th, 2012 at 5:14 pm

    Con said,

    Hello Lucky – Thank you for your post. I would like to sign up for the Business Card again through your link. I signed up in July 2010 and canceled in Aug 2011. Do you think I can sign up again and get the bonus? Thanks.

  33. August 12th, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    lucky said,

    @ Con — Since it has been 12 months since you canceled and 24 months since you applied I’d say you should be eligible for the bonus again (though AmEx can be a bit inconsistent).

  34. August 13th, 2012 at 12:44 am

    Con said,

    Thanks Lucky. I’ll wait until the beginning of Sept to apply. Thanks!

  35. August 15th, 2012 at 8:44 pm

    discrep said,

    Does Amex let you sign up for both the personal and business versions of the card at the same time?

  36. August 15th, 2012 at 8:45 pm

    lucky said,

    @ discrep — Yes, absolutely.

  37. September 9th, 2012 at 6:38 pm

    Carla said,

    I have a question we are going to San Francisco and Renting Can Am Motorcycle things 3 wheel motorcycles. We have Motorcycle Insurance already but you not required to have a motorcycle license with this. I have a United Club Matercard, both Chase Ink’s and American Express Gold. Can I skip the Insurance and does my Motorcycle Insurance cover it and if I rent with one of those cards does it cover the deductible or whatever. What card do I use. Help from anyone?

  38. October 2nd, 2012 at 8:06 pm

    Kevin said,

    Lucky
    Quick question, If I am already a Starwood Gold via Amex Platinum, will spending $30K get me Platinum status?

    Thanks

  39. October 2nd, 2012 at 8:10 pm

    lucky said,

    @ Kevin — Unfortunately not, there’s no way to earn Platinum through spend on the SPG American Express.

  40. November 22nd, 2012 at 9:26 pm

    Mits said,

    Question.

    I write a lot of checks. So in this case I can’t use the SPG credit card. What is the best way to handle this?

    1) Create a check from my wells fargo accnt
    2) Withdraw the cash from the SPG card to get points up to $2000 a month. Not sure how much I can withdraw a day, maybe $200-300.
    3) Pay back the SPG card

    Is there an easier way??

    Thanks!

    Mits

  41. November 23rd, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    lucky said,

    @ Mits — That would count as a cash advance and you’d accrue interest charges and fees, so you really don’t want to do that. Your best bet would be to get a Bluebird (bluebird.com) and found it with Vanilla Reload cards that you can buy with CVS. You’ll be charged $3.95 for every $500, but it’s an indirect way to pay bills with a credit card.

  42. November 25th, 2012 at 7:03 am

    Mits said,

    Interesting!

    So you are saying I can link my SPG card to this service?

    I will check it out!

    Do you think it is worth it???

    Thanks for the tip on interest charges and it would be a hassle to keep withdrawing cash.

    Great site!! I learned a lot.

    Mits

  43. November 25th, 2012 at 10:50 am

    lucky said,

    @ Mits — Thanks! Yes, I think it’s worth it. You’d basically be paying 0.8 cents per Starpoint to earn miles for paying your bills, which seems like a good value to me.

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