Starwood American Express

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The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card® from American Express hasn’t got a lot of press time on this site. Certainly, it’s had less than it deserves.

The reason?

I’ve been focusing so much on cards with the best sign up bonuses that I haven’t given enough attention to cards that really shine when it comes to everyday spending.

7 Fantastic Benefits of the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card® from American Express

Points can be Extremely Valuable When Used for Hotels.

I’m going to start with this one because I’ve been enjoying the fruit of the Starpoints value over the last few weeks.

Next month our family is going to be in Kuala Lumpur (KL). A contact in KL emailed and told us that where we were staying was really nice, but all the hotels there are expensive. Remember, I said a contact because, if he were a friend, he’d know we wouldn’t be paying full price for a hotel.

We’re staying at the Sheraton Imperial Hotel. The best rate we can find online is $155 per night.

However, we’ll be using Starwood points. Our rate?

1,600 points plus $30 ($35 tax inclusive) per night. That means each point is worth 7.5 cents. That’s like getting a 7.5% cash back on each dollar you spend.

Is that an exception to the rule?

Here’s how some of the other hotel prices (where we’ll be staying this year) break down:

  • Sheraton Buenos Aires Hotel and Convention Center: $169 on the web. We pay 2,800 +$45 per night. Each point is worth 4.42 cents.
  • Westin in DFW. $129 on the web. We pay 1,600 + $30 per night. Each point is worth 6.2 cents.
  • Aloft in Miami. $109 on the web. We pay 1,600 + $30 per night. Each point is worth 4.93 cents.

For the listed hotel stays, the worst rate of return is 4.42 cents and the best is 7.5 cents.

Breaking down the math:

By using 1,600 points, we’re saving $120.

Starwood award stays count towards elite status.

This is a new benefit as of March 2012, but one that I like. Using cash and points is probably one of the cheapest ways to get status in any hotel program.

When you get the Starwood American Express, you also get a head start with 2 stays toward gold status. If you manage to spend $30,000 per year, you’ll also get gold status.

Gold doesn’t offer much, but it does give you a late checkout, better room, and free internet.

Points transfer to many airlines, including American Airlines.

You can get a full list of participating airlines here, but the main US airlines included are:

  • Alaska
  • American
  • Delta
  • Hawiian
  • US Air
  • United (but at a 1:2 ratio – booo)

Personally, I’ve been finding a lot of great flight award redemption options with American Airlines. Most of the travel we’ve booked with American in 2012 is getting above 5 cents per mile return. I like the fact that the Starwood credit card opens up another opportunity to earn American Airlines miles.

When you transfer points to airlines in groups of 20,000 miles, you get a 5,000 mile bonus.

Following up on the point above, when you do transfer miles to your favorite airline, you can earn 5,000 bonus miles when you transfer 20,000 miles.

Thus, 20,000 Starpoints turns into 25,000 miles in your favorite airline.

That’s like earning 1.25 points per dollar spent on every day spending.

That’s a better rate of return on most of the airline branded credit cards that only give you one mile per dollar spent.

Unlike American Express Rewards, Starwood does not run transfer bonuses nor do the miles transfer instantaneously. Thus, if you were wanting to earn Delta miles, as an example, then the American Express Rewards program might be better because of their frequent transfer bonuses to Delta.

Points transfer to Amtrak.

Earlier this year, I discovered that Amtrak does have some solid redemption options for money saving travel.

Here’s one quick example:

Amtrak has a Northeastern redemption rate. You can travel to several Northeastern states for 3,000 Amtrak points per passenger. Let’s say my family wanted to go from Buffalo to New York City. Our family could do that for 15,000 Amtrak points (and thus 15,000 Starpoints). Plane tickets would cost about $90 one way. Our 5 seats would have a $450.00 value. That’s a 3 cent per point value.

It’s an American Express card.

This could be an advantage in some cases and a disadvantage in others.

However, I’ve found that American Express is often offering some good promotions throughout the year, so it’s nice to have an American Express brand card to take advantage of those promotions.

Up To 25,000 Starpoints Sign Up Bonus

With the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card® from American Express you get 10,000 Starpoints after your first purchase. If you spend $5,000 in the first six months, you’ll get an extra 15,000 Starpoints.

• Starpoints® bonus: earn up to 25,000 bonus points: 10,000 after your first purchase and another 15,000 after you spend $5,000 within the first 6 months of Cardmembership

• That’s enough for a weekend getaway to a Category 4 Hotel like the Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa, or six free nights at a Category 2 Hotel

• Earn up to 5 Starpoints® for each dollar of eligible purchases at participating SPG hotels and resorts – that’s 2 Starpoints for using the Card in addition to the Starpoints you earn as an SPG member. Earn 1 Starpoint for all other purchases.

•Free Hotel Nights: redeem Starpoints at over 1,100 hotels in nearly 100 countries worldwide — with no blackout dates

•Free Flights: redeem Starpoints on over 350 airlines with SPG Flights — with no blackout dates

• Get 5,000 bonus Starpoints after you transfer 20,000 Starpoints to a frequent flyer program with more than 30 airlines

•No limits on the number of Starpoints you can earn

•$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $65

•Terms and Restrictions apply.

Key Negative Feature - The foreign currency fee of 2.7% is not waived. I would not use this card overseas. Any one of the 0% foreign currency exchange fee cards would be better.

The card does come with a $65 annual fee that is waived for the first year.

My Final Thoughts:

I’ve been trying to determine my everyday spending approach. I think the Chase Sapphire Preferred Preferred will be my go to card overseas (0% foreign currency), for travel (2x points), and restaurants (2x points). For the rest, I plan to use the Starwood card.

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