Is the Amex SPG card all that? No, but it’s not total shit, either. [Updated]

A reader asked me why it is (if I may paraphrase) that all the bloggers are so jacked about the Amex Starwood Preferred Guest card, given its relatively low signup bonus, and slow accumulation, and he wonders whether they’re not just a bunch of link whores.

Well, these are the important questions of our times. Here’s what I think: A few years ago, SPG cards were hot stuff, and they earned a good rep, which carries on to this day.

In 2017, they’re still dece, but they’re not all that, either. They’re not worth getting for everyday spending, unless you want your spending to go towards SPG/Marriott/Ritz stays, or you want to be able to transfer points to a whole lot of different airlines. But SPG (and Chase Marriott Rewards Premier) cards are worth getting for their bonuses, even just to transfer to the airline of your choice, if you don’t have a problem with getting cards just for bonuses, and don’t mind the relatively high minimum spending requirements.

I think that the reason the SPG card has the rep that it has is because, fairly recently, there weren’t great transferable points cards for non-category spending (that is, spending that doesn’t get you bonuses in categories like dining or travel). There was no Chase Freedom Unlimited, and no Amex Blue Business Plus. The Amex Everyday Preferred was about it, and that’s only been around since 2014; many of the established Hobbyists and bloggers have been doing this for longer than that. For a while the SPG card offered the best bang for the buck for non-category spending. But today, if the bloom has gone off the rose on the SPG card, it’s only because there are sweeter-smelling roses.

But it’s still worth taking the bonus on these cards if you can do the minimum spend. Since SPG and Marriott have merged, you can transfer Marriott points to SPG at a 3:1 ratio, and vice versa, meaning the bonus for Marriott cards is equally worth getting. And you can get a ton of airline miles if you’re willing to open three or four cards. I’ll explain. Get a sandwich.

Pros – Airlines:

  • You can really get a ton of fucking miles, at your preferred airline, if you open 3-4 cards, in order to get enough SPG and/or Marriott points to order a Marriott hotel+air package. I go on and on about the details in this post, but right now you can exchange 270,000 Marriott points (90,000 Starpoints) for 172,000 United miles (or 135,000 miles on Delta/American/other, or 147,000 on United after November 30). That’s bananas! I’m totally doing this. It’s like being able to sign up for an airline card three or four times on top of however many you could normally.
  • You can get those 90K Starpoints by opening the SPG business card, which currently offers 35,000 Starpoints after spending $10,000 in six months, followed by the Marriott business card, which offers 80,000 Marriott points (26,667 Starpoints) after spending $3,000 in three months, followed by the Marriott personal card, which offers the same. If you’ve opened 5 or more personal cards in the last two years, you can’t get the personal Marriott, so instead get the SPG personal card, which offers 25,000 Starpoints after spending $3000 in three months. Of course, you also could get all four for moar pointz. The annual fee is waived for the first year on both SPG (but not Marriott) cards. (If you do get the SPG cards, please use my referral links here, so I can get some points too! Check me out, I’m a link whore.)
  • Even if you don’t want to open three cards, you can use one SPG or Marriott card signup bonus to get between 32,500 and 60,000 airline miles, depending on the signup bonus amount, minimum spend requirement, and possible top-up spending. I’ve got more on that here.
  • You can transfer SPG/Marriott points to a head-spinning 45 different airline mileage programs, as compared with Amex Membership Rewards (17 airlines), Citi ThankYou (14 airlines, though no major domestic), and Chase (only 7 airlines, but good ones).
  • You get a 5,000 point bonus when you transfer 20,000 SPG points to an airline, making each SPG point worth 1.25 airline miles on airlines with 1:1 transfer ratios…but only when you transfer exactly 20,000 points at a time. And since you usually only ever earn 1 point per dollar spent, this ain’t that exciting for everyday spending. But it’s better than hot grease in your eye.
  • If you insist on flying American or Alaska, SPG is your only transferable points option, and thanks to the 25% transfer bonus, you come out better than you would with a Citi or Barclay AA card. (I don’t know anything about Alaska’s mileage program or their cards.)
  • It’s possible to pay for any airline ticket with SPG points, at 1 point per ~1.3 cents. Not terribly rewarding, but better than not having the option at all.

Pros – Hotels:

  • Not surprisingly, SPG points are most valuable for staying at Starwood and Marriott properties, and I’ve used them for that many times. Between SPG and Marriott, there are a lot of properties. The different brands cater to different tastes. I stayed at the Klaus K in Helsinki, which is part of Design Hotels, which is a boutique-y SPG brand, and it was fucking fantastic. I miss that breakfast spread every day.
  • If you want your everyday spending to go towards SPG/Marriott/Ritz stays, the SPG card gets you 1 to 1.5 additional Starpoints per dollar spent compared to what you’d get with Chase Ultimate Rewards or Amex Membership Rewards earning cards. (n.b.: Never spend on a Marriott card once you have completed its minimum spending requirement, since each of the shitty Marriott points it earns are worth a third of a Starpoint.)
  • Some SPG stays are as low as 3,000 points per night — granted, not at top properties, but still, that’s potentially up to eleven free nights from the signup bonus.
  • The business version of the SPG card gives you Club Lounge access when you stay at a Sheraton.

Cons:

  • Starpoints early s-l-o-w-l-y — every expense other than staying at Starwood or Marriott properties earns 1 point per 1 dollar spent, and c’est tout. (Marriott points are even worse.) Unless you’re planning on using the points for SPG/Marriott/Ritz stays, or booking a Marriott Hotel+Air plan to convert to a pile o’ miles, or really value that 45-airline transfer flexibility, 1 for 1 just ain’t good enough when options like the Chase Freedom Unlimited, Amex Blue Business Plus, and Amex Everyday Preferred exist.
  • Many of the airlines do not have instant transfers, which is kind of sucky when you see that one lonely saver award you need to grab before someone else does.
  • If, rather than hotel stays, or the Marriott Hotel+Air option I mentioned, you plan on using Starpoints for airline transfers, the SPG and Marriott cards (especially the business SPG) have a higher than usual minimum spending requirement for the number of points you get. Even when you consider the 25% transfer bonus, it’s more than you’d have to spend on a Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards, United, American, or Delta card signup.
  • You won’t want to transfer the points to United as Starpoints. It has a shit 2:1 transfer ratio. Though transferring them first to Marriott is a way around this, the transfer increments are very limited. More on that here.
  • The card is fucking ugly. What can I say. It’s purple and ugly, like Barney the dinosaur.

So, get it if you want, or don’t. I wont judge you either way. But, if you wanna get it, I wouldn’t wait forever, since who knows if it will stick around once Marriott unifies Marriott Rewards and SPG into a single reward program. Also, I’d start with the SPG Business, because its 35,000 point offer is a current promotion that will go down to 25,000 when it’s done, and you can only get one bonus per card per lifetime. (And I assume you only have one lifetime, or that at least your credit history resets in future ones. I hope.)

4 thoughts on “Is the Amex SPG card all that? No, but it’s not total shit, either. [Updated]

  1. Jack

    Great post. Definitely helped me decide to skip the SPG cards and stick with my Chase CSR + Freedom and Amex Blue Business Plus for everyday spend (I also signed up for the CSP, Ink Cash, MP Explorer, Hyatt, and Amex Bus Plat for the bonuses, though those cards mostly stay unused now that I’ve met the spend, except for the Plat card for Centurion Lounge use + Hilton Gold status).

    I prefer United for domestic travel over other carriers, probably has something to do with them having great reward availability vs other carriers (I’m looking at you American, seriously) and some great nonstop flights cross country vs other carriers (I’m looking at you Southwest with your 1+ and 2+ connections everywhere, fuck your Companion Pass I’m never going to use it if it takes me 3 times as long to get somewhere vs another airline). I’m going to focus on Chase UR and Amex MR points for redemptions/transfers and ignore the SPG, Citibank, Discover, and BofA cards because they just aren’t worth the time or effort.

    Keep up the great posts. Glad you’re back.

    Reply
    1. Ivan X Post author

      Sounds like you’re my target reader, because I’m same same re United, and I don’t bother with any kind of cash-back or travel-back kind of card because it just ain’t worth the effort.

      I’ve picked up AA/Delta/JetBlue cards if good bonuses that cost me little or nothing come by, because you know, free travel, and the same applied to SPG (I actually substantially rewrote the above since you posted your comment, after concluding the cards are worth it for the bonus, if only because of the Marriott Hotel+Air means of converting to UA miles). But now I’m on a 5/24 diet, so I’ve definitely dialed it down, except for business cards.

      And yeah, I don’t even think about Southwest and its stupid Companion Pass, not only because I can’t get cross country nonstop with them, but also because I resent having to go to their web site separately from a general flight search site just to see what shit costs.

      Reply
  2. Jan beck

    Thanks for this post. Great info!
    Would you mind explaining the marriott hotel and air package bonus that yields 172,000 United miles? I thought the current transfer bonus is capped….

    Reply
  3. Ivan X Post author

    It is capped at 25K United, but that’s ok. Let me try to reconfabulate my math:
    90K SPG = 270K Marriott
    270K Marriott = 157K United until March 30, plus 7 free night certificate
    7 free night certificate = 45K Marriott if you call and ask to trade it in
    24K Marriott = 10K United
    16K Marriott = 5K United
    157K + 10K + 5K = 172K United

    Or, if you have or can spend to have an extra 3K Marriott, then you could get two 24K Marriott transfers, yielding 20K United miles, and end up with 177K United, before Nov 30.

    There’s more info about the transfers themselves in one of my later posts.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *