This article is part of a refresh of our reward credit card reviews. Over the coming weeks and months, I’ll be revisiting, adding to and updating all of our in-depth credit card features. You can read the current series here.


“The most flexible travel rewards points” – OK I know I’m going to take some flak from all you Membership Rewards fans out there. But read on and I reckon it’s quite a compelling argument.

This my review of the UK Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card.

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The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card issued by American Express is one of the best ways for people in the UK to earn points in the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) loyalty scheme.

The SPG loyalty scheme covers properties in the Starwood portfolio which include St. Regis, W, Westin and Sheraton hotels.

Following the Marriott-Starwood merger, points can currently be freely and instantly exchanged between the SPG and Marriott Rewards loyalty programs. That means the points earned on this card can also be redeemed at Ritz-Carlton, Autograph Collection and Marriott hotels.


Welcome bonus

This card offers 30,000 Starwood Preferred Guest/Marriott Rewards points after spending £1,000 in your first 3 months of card membership.

As the UK Marriott credit card has been missing in action for a number of years now, this card is the best way of earning Marriott points via credit card spend in the UK.


What can I do with 30,000 SPG points?

  • Airline miles – Your 30,000 SPG points can be converted to 10,000 British Airways Avios points. That’s enough for a return trip to Bordeaux, Salzburg or Dublin.

Day-to-day earnings rate

The day-to-day earnings rate is 3 Marriott points per £1 spent.

This is a good return when you consider that in the UK this is the only way to earn miles in programs such as Air France’s Flying Blue or Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan via credit card spend.

Marriott points and the SPG/Marriott card have actually become even more valuable for UK readers since the demise of all of MBNA’s airline credit cards in November last year. The only way to earn Lufthansa Miles and More or American Airlines miles from your daily spending now is with this card.

You’ll also earn 2 Starpoints for every £1 of eligible purchases charged to your Card at participating SPG & Marriott Rewards® hotels, until 31st December 2018.


What’s the best strategy to maximise value?

Starwood allows free points transfers between people residing at the same address.

If you and your partner/parent/sibling both take out the SPG card, you would earn a total of 60,000 Marriott Rewards points.

This opens up a number of lucrative possibilities:

  • Transfers to airline miles – As well as having 30 different airline partners, when you transfer 60,000 Marriott points to most airlines, Marriott will sweeten the deal and give you a bonus 5,000 miles.

For example, transferring those 60,000 Marriott points to British Airways will net you 25,000 Avios.

That’s enough for return flights to Rome, Seville or Faro in business class.

  • SPG Moments – This lets you use your Marriott points to snap up tickets for a variety of sporting, musical and cultural events worldwide.
    In the UK for example, SPG has a hospitality suite at The O2 Arena in London. You could use your combined 60,000 Marriott points for 2 tickets to see the likes of Rod Stewart or Justin Bieber. These tickets include access to complimentary buffet catering in the suite.

I took a more detailed look at the SPG Moments scheme in this article


Why SPG points are better than Amex Membership Rewards points

This really deserves of an article of its own – and one will follow in due course.

But briefly, if we’re focussing on travel rewards i.e. airline miles/hotel points, for me Starpoints are the clear winner.

  • You can transfer SPG points to all of the 12 airline programs offered by Membership Rewards as well as 22(!) others. You even get a bonus 5,000 miles when you transfer Marriott points in batches of 60,000 – no competition.
  • Membership Rewards points do transfer to three different hotel loyalty programs: Hilton Honors, Radisson Rewards (formerly Club Carlson) as well as Marriott Rewards points.
  • But you lose value converting Membership Rewards to Marriott because of the 2:3 transfer ratio
  • You can actually indirectly convert your Starwood points to Hilton Honors (as well as IHG Rewards Club) via Virgin Atlantic as I explained here.

Any other perks

  • Marriott Gold Status – After spending £15,000 in a (card membership year) you’ll be upgraded to Marriott Gold status. This ordinarily requires 10 stays or 25 nights at SPG hotels. Some of the benefits of Gold status include 4 pm late checkout and an upgrade to an enhanced room at check-in (subject to availability).
  • Free night voucher – After spending £25,000 in a year you’ll receive a free weekend night certificate. Unfortunately, this can only be redeemed at Category 1-4 hotels in the Starwood portfolio. This isn’t entirely disastrous and can still be used at hotels such as The Westin Turtle Bay Resort & Spa, Mauritius or at the Sheraton Grand, Dubai.

E-Wow-Bedroom at the W Atlanta

Nevertheless, the inability to use it at Category 6/7 hotels which feature the majority of St. Regis and Luxury Collection properties means that this perk lacks an aspirational feel.

Gardenia-Villa-Private-Pool at the St. Regis Bali


Why the free night voucher concept doesn’t really work here

I’m not entirely comfortable with the relatively high spend threshold (£25,000) required to trigger the voucher. By comparison, the IHG Premium credit card offers a free night at any IHG property worldwide after ‘just’ £10,000 of spend. While I appreciate that the top-end Starwood properties are (usually) a fair bit nicer than the IHG ones, the gap is still a big one.

Additionally, as a MasterCard, the IHG Premium card will be accepted almost anywhere, whereas the same can’t be said for the SPG Amex.

I think this has alienated cardholders somewhat. I don’t know anyone who deliberately diverts spend to the card with the aim of triggering the voucher. The only people I’ve come across who hit the £25,000 are high spenders who are putting through particularly large amounts on the card anyway and the voucher is triggered almost ‘by accident’.

But if you’re going to set the spend requirement at £25,000, surely you’ve got to then open up the free night voucher for usage at even the very top-end Starwood hotels.

If they allowed the free night voucher to be used at any Starwood property and perhaps lowered the spending requirement to £15,000 or even £20,000, they’d make this card a genuine must-have for serious points collectors.


Annual fee

This card carries a £75 annual fee although that will be refunded pro-rata should you choose to cancel at any point during your card membership year.

Representative 36.2% APR variable. Based on annual fee of £75 and assumed credit limit of £1,200. Interest rate for purchases: 19.9% p.a. variable.


Am I eligible for the welcome bonus?

You are eligible for the sign-up bonus UNLESS have previously held this card in the last six months.

You WILL still receive the sign-up bonus on this card if you hold the BA Amex cards, Amex Green, Gold or Platinum charge cards or American Express Rewards credit cards, Platinum Cashback card, Nectar Card or any other Amex issued by Barclays, Lloyds, TSB or MBNA.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that Amex will allow you to hold two of their charge card products and 2 of their credit card products at any one time. Platinum and Green are the other charge cards available while credit cards include the two British Airways cards and the Nectar credit card.

The above isn’t a hard and fast rule. I’ve held the British Airways Premium Plus, Starwood and Nectar credit cards at the same time without issue. It is one to be aware of though, as some have reported being declined for cards after exceeding those limits in the past. 

There are NO minimum income requirements to be eligible for any cards issued by American Express. This restriction was removed a number of years ago.


Verdict

I consider SPG points to be my most valuable loyalty points currency simply becasue of their sheer versatility.

The ability to redeem them for free hotel nights or access some of the more obscure frequent flyer programs who have few other UK earning options is a prized one and I find myself diverting more and more of my daily spending onto the SPG card.

This 30,000 points sign-up bonus is also an excellent way to earn a sizeable chunk of Marriott points and kickstart your balance.

The application page for this card is here


Disclaimer: The information provided by Tricks of the Trade is intended solely as a helpful guide to relevant travel rewards card products and their various features and offers. You should always conduct your own research as recommendations provided within may not be suitable for your personal financial circumstances. 

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