My favorite travel rewards card for many years has been the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express. The reason is the combination of flexibility and value. This is the only annual fee card that I’ve kept consistently over the last 5+ years. Why?
- When redeeming towards hotel stays, you can get 2-6 cents of value per point, more than often the value you’d get from airline miles/
- Rather have miles? You can convert 20,000 points to 25,000 miles, which is 1.25 miles per dollar spent, 25% more than most other airline-specific cards.
- You can “top off” a variety of frequent flier accounts to get to that coveted reward ticket level. Your miles aren’t worth anything until you actually use them!
- You can convert just a few miles to keep your other miles from expiring.
Current Sign-up Bonus For New Accounts
American Express has been bumping up the sign-up incentive for the Starwood card once a year recently, so now is a good time to apply if you don’t already have the card. They are giving out up to 25,000 bonus Starpoints – 10,000 bonus Starpoints with your first purchase and another 15,000 points when you spend $5,000 within 6 months. The required spending in the past has been as high as $15,000, and the total bonus has been as low as 10,000 Starpoints. The annual fee is waived during the first year, then $65 a year after that.
(Note: If you don’t see the 25k offer, try clearing your cookies or using the Private Browsing / Incognito Mode of your web browser. Try right-clicking on the link to find this option.)
Either I’ve had one, or my wife has had one, or I’ve had the business card version of this card for the last 5+ years. Transferring points within between household members is quite easy and free. The Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express also has a similar offer good for another 25,000 bonus points – 10,000 after your first purchase and an additional 15,000 when you spend $5,000 within the first 6 months – enough for up to 6 free nights at a Category 1 or 2 hotel. Annual fee waived for the first year.
Starwood Points Convert Easily to Frequent Flier Miles
The first reason why this card is so useful is that Starwood points (or Starpoints) can be converted to miles to major domestic airlines and several international ones, including Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, United, and US Airways (full airline partner list). That means 1 Starwood point = 1 frequent flier mile. The ratio is lower (2:1) for United.
Imagine that you’re only a thousand miles short of a free ticket, but you need to buy a ticket and would really like to make it free. Although there may be other options that involve spending money, you can simply “top off” your balance by transferring as little as 1,500 miles to the specific airline programs that you want. You can even convert a specific number of points. Just need 2,854 miles here and 1,567 somewhere else? No problem.
With most airlines, your miles expire after a period of inactivity. But since any activity counts (not only flying), I could quickly transfer 1,500 miles over in order to save 20,000 hard-earned miles from expiring.
For every 20,000 points you convert, you get an additional 5,000 point bonus. So 20,000 Starwood points = 25,000 miles on the airlines listed above. That’s 25% more miles per dollar than those airline-specific credit cards (although the waived baggage fees are appealing).
Great Hotel Rewards Card
Starwood is a growing collection of over 1,000 mid-scale to very-upscale hotels in nearly 100 countries, from the business-oriented Four Points and Sheratons to the upscale W and Westin hotels. This card has come in very handy for travel to international and bigger US cities.
Short-notice and emergency stays. All room taxes are included when you use points, and there are no blackout dates unlike other hotel programs. I’ve used them in a pinch, burning just 3,000 points for a last-minute $120 a night room at the Vancouver Airport Four Points (Category 2).
Luxury international hotels. I’m usually happy with a Holiday Inn Express by the airport for a business trip, but when traveling for leisure it can be very convenient to stay downtown near the action and sights. In a city like Paris or Rome, this can mean big bucks. With this card, I’ve stayed at $300 a night hotels like the W New York, Westin Madrid, and Westin Venice. Being able to stay up late into the night in Venice instead of having to leave was amazing. If you redeem for 4 nights in a row in a Category 3 or higher hotel, the 5th night is free.
Cash and points option. If you want the best value for your points, don’t miss “cash and points” opportunities. For example, I found a $400 room at the Westin Rome in Italy or W Hotel New York Times Square for 8,000 points + $150 a night. Run the numbers yourself using the booking engine at SPG.com and look for the “SPG Cash & Points” option. The value of 30,000 points can be easily greater than $500.
Finally, as a baseline 9,500 Starpoints = $100 gift card at Amazon.com.
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