Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Review

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The travel rewards card that has been in my wallet the longest is the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express. It is quite famous in the travel junkie circles, but not very well known otherwise. Once you understand the combination of flexibility and value, you will better understand why this is my favorite hotel rewards card and also the only annual fee card that I’ve kept consistently over the last 7+ years.


  • Earn 25,000 bonus Starpoints® after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on international purchases.
  • Receive free in-room, premium internet access. Booking requirements apply.
  • Enjoy complimentary, unlimited Boingo Wi-Fi on up to four devices at more than 1,000,000 Boingo hotspots worldwide. Enrollment required.
  • Earn free nights at over 1,200 hotels and resorts in nearly 100 countries with no blackout dates.
  • Some hotels may have mandatory service and resort charges.
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.

My review:

  • When redeeming towards hotel stays, I regularly get 2-6 cents of value per point, more than often the value you’d get from airline miles. Get free stays in hotels that otherwise charge $300+ a night.
  • Rather have miles? You can convert 20,000 points to 25,000 miles, which is 1.25 miles per dollar spent, 25% more miles than most other airline-specific cards.
  • Easy transfers mean you can “top off” a frequent flier account 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.

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.

Starwood Points transfer 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. This includes Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, and United. Most transfer at a 1:1 ratio (1 Starwood point = 1 frequent flier mile), unless otherwise noted. For example, the ratio is lower for United (2:1 means 2 Starpoints = 1 United mile.

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.

  • Aeromexico Club Premier
  • Aeroplan/Air Canada
  • Air Berlin
  • Air China Companion
  • Air New Zealand Air Points (65:1)
  • Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
  • Alitalia MileMiglia
  • All Nippon Airways (ANA) Mileage Club
  • American Airlines AAdvantage
  • Asia Miles
  • Asiana Airlines
  • British Airways Executive Club
  • China Eastern Airlines
  • China Southern Airlines’ Sky Pearl Club
  • Delta Airlines SkyMiles
  • Emirates Skywards
  • Etihad Airways
  • Flying Blue
  • Gol Smiles (2:1)
  • Hainan Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Japan Airline (JAL) Mileage Bank
  • Jet Airways
  • LAN Airlines LANPASS Kms (1:1.5)
  • Miles and More
  • Qatar Airways
  • Saudi Arabian Airlines Alfursan
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
  • Thai Airways International Royal Orchid Plus
  • United Mileage Plus (2:1)
  • US Airways Dividend Miles
  • Velocity Frequent Flier
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

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 (now Category 3).

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. 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 and look for the “SPG Cash & Points” option. The value of 30,000 points can be easily greater than $500.

This last option is not the best value, but for the purposes of setting a last resort and baseline value, 9,500 Starpoints = $100 gift card at

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  1. This seems like an interesting offer. I like the 1.25% back. I am a big fan of the Alaska Airlines card. It offers a $50 companion fare every year which ends up being hundreds of dollars in savings. They are currently offering 20,000 miles if you sign up for the card by 1/31/07. Alaska’s frequent flyer flights start at 20,000, so you essentially get a free flight for signing up. The annual fee is $75 but well worth it for the companion fare alone.

  2. When you open a Business Card (such as the Amex SPG Business Card), do you make your first purchase, which kicks in the 10K SPG points, relate to your sole proprietorship (e.g. an eBay purchase)? Or does it really not matter?

  3. If you are a sole proprietorship, there is no legal distinction between you the person and you the business. Therefore, you can make any kind (biz or not) of purchase on the card. I used to mix them all the time, before I got serious about separating business and personal transactions for accounting purposes.

  4. The AMEX Starwood Business card terms and conditions clearly state “I … REPRESENT THAT THE CARDS (sic) WILL BE USED FOR COMMERCIAL OR BUSINESS PURPOSES”. Thus using the card for personal purchases is a violation of the cardmember agreement.

    Further, all business expenses/income from a sole proprietorship must be reported to the IRS (Schedule C), if I’m not mistaken. If you do not submit a Schedule C with your taxes, it would be easy for AMEX to say that your charges were not in fact “for commercial or business purposes” in the case of a dispute. If you argue that the expenses were for your business, then you might be in trouble with the IRS.

  5. You’re right, I shouldn’t be so loose with my comments. Obviously, the card is designed to be used for business purposes. But the line between business and personal is very blurry for sole proprietorships. Just because something is not able to be claimed on an IRS return doesn’t been it’s not a business-related expense. Keeping personal and business expenses completely separate for sole proprietorships is really difficult, and I’m sure very few people are completely successful and I doubt the credit card companies expect us to be so.

    But back to the main point – AmEx is not going to question what you made your first purchase for. I’ve got plenty of bonuses to prove it. I usually just buy some gas or pay part of my cell phone bill as soon as I get the card.

    I’ve never let a credit card company see my tax returns, and I don’t plan to 🙂

  6. These cards say that since these are business cards, they are not eligible for certain consumer protections? Does anyone know which protections we lose? I saw this disclaimer either with AmEx (Open) site or Citi business card site. I was not able to pin-point what we lose when we switch to biz cards.

  7. When I looked at the offer, it says 1 point for every dollar.. did they change this?

  8. There some consumer protections that the law doesn’t force business cards to provide, like being able to dispute a purchase with XX amount of days. I’m pretty most companies still allow disputes, it’s just not mandated by law and specific are different. Given the choice though, you should make big purchases with a personal card just in case. I still use my business card all the time though, since I do have a business that’s not a sole proprietorship.

    You do get 1 starpoint per $1 spent. If you transfer 20,000 points, they give you a 5,000 bonus. (Transfer 40k, get 10k, and so on.) If you transfer less, there is no bonus. Hope that clears it up.

  9. Darn you, Jonathan.

    I am trying to be good and not open any more accounts for a couple years. Why must you always post such tempting credit card information?

  10. I’ve been using this card for years, and it is one of the best deals around. I would add info about Starwood’s Nights & Flights program, which means that you can pay for virtually an entire 5-night vacation with points. I’m saving up for a trip to Fiji — only 10,000 to go!

  11. When you open a personal and business card, is there one annual fee ($75), or two ($150)?

  12. My mistake….my previous question should be $30 for one and $60 for two.

  13. Yes, both are free for the 1st year, and $30 each afterwards. If you have a business this can be written off as a business expense, but if you really don’t need two then I’d just get the bonus and cancel the extra card.

  14. I have one comment about: “no blackout dates unlike other hotel programs. If there is an empty room, you can get it no matter what the regular price is.”

    This only qualifies for the “standard room” or some wiggle word to that effect. Meaning..if they don’t have a “standard room” available, you won’t get a room. The property decides what a standard room is. It is generally not a problem but book early to avoid this problem.

  15. Not all room taxes are covered when you stay! Always check the fine print 🙂

  16. Suppose I apply for both personal and the business card, how can I combine the points to be used appropriately? For example, I am looking at staying at a hotel that costs 7K points per night and I would like to do it for 3 nights. Assuming I get 1K points by using the card, how can I combine the 2 cards? Anyone know the answer to this?


  17. Please can you help me out, how can i get the $100 Amazon gift card.

    ” 9,500 points can also get you a $100 gift ”


  18. Just log into your account at the Starwood Preferred Guest website at and go to Quick Links, then Redeem Starpoints, then Redeem With Partners (Amazon), and there you go.

    “$100 gift certificate – 9500 STARPOINTS”

  19. Satish – Just give them the same Starwood Account number, and they will all end up at the same account. It’s like frequent flier miles.

  20. Two questions:

    1) Can I cancel this as soon as I get the $100 gift card with my first purchase? I don’t want to pay an annual fee. Do I have to wait until I’ve had it for a minimum amount of time before I can cancel it? What if I have it for 12 months, then wait a few days to cancel? Will I be charged an annual fee for the second year since I had it more than 12 months?

    2) I can’t figure out what the big deal is about getting 15,000 starwood points by spending $15,000. Every dollar you spend you get at least one point, right? At least that how it is with every other card I’ve had or looked at. So if I spend $14,999, shouldn’t I get 14,999 points, and if I spend $15,001, shouldn’t I get 15,001 points? What’s so special about the $15,000 mark, and the six months thing?

  21. Brent –

    1) Yes, you can cancel it anytime during the 1st year and not be charged an annual fee. They charge it only after a year.

    2) It’s a bonus 15,000 points. So spend $15,000 and get 15,000 points from spending + 15,000 points from bonus + 10,000 sign-up bonus = 40,000 points! Enough for 50,000 miles, or two free plane tickets.

  22. Thanks Jonathan, for the clarification. Now that I read it again I don’t know how I missed that. Now I need to figure out if I can get 15 grand on it in 6 months. They don’t allow you to pay your mortgage with a credit card, do they?

  23. Does anyone have experience transferring points to Northwest? How long did it take for the miles to show up? The website says it “may take 2-4 weeks” to process the request, I want to get a free ticket, but if it takes 4 weeks the frequent flyer seat may be gone.

  24. Thanks for the info. Just signed up for this card. I’ll have no problem getting the extra 15,000 because i have to tuition for grad school.

  25. I just applied for (and was approved) this new Starwood AMEX card.
    I understand if I spend $15K in 6 mos, I get a bonus 15K points, so I
    stand to earn a total of 40K pts, which I can convert to 50K miles. So by my calculation, I earn approx 3.3 mi/$$ spent. This is pretty darn good.

    However, once I fullfill that 6-mos spending bonus, then I only earn 1.25 mi/$$ (assuming I convert 20K pts at a time). I typically look at FF miles as worth approx 1-2 cent (eg 25K miles = a $250 to $500 air ticket value). Thus, once I’ve hit that 6-mos spending reward, the Starwood rewards would be worth less than my current Costco/AMEX Cash Rewards card which currently pays 2 cents per $$ on hotels/air fare, and 3 cents/$$ on dining.

    So it seems the way to get the maximum out of the card is to charge like crazy the first 6 mos so I can earn that spending bonus. After that, this Starwood card seems no better than any other Reward card.

    At least that’s how I see it.
    Anyone have more info or a different view?


  26. But you get 1.25 miles/$ on all purchases, not just travel and restaurant purchase. So you can still put travel and dining on the Costco if you want, but put the rest on Starwood.

    But for sure, try to get the $15,000 for first 6 months.

    10,000 initial bonus + 15,000 spending bonus + 15,000 standard 1pt/$ award = 40,000 Starpoints = 50,000 miles = 2 free roundtrip tickets (maybe worth $1,000 to you!)

  27. I applied for both the regular starwood card & business one, got the 20,000 points on each sign up, and used it for Sheraton hotel stays (they didn’t charge me any hotel taxes either)

    For a $130 room, it’s like getting it for $30-$60 a nite paying with just points (rooms are 3,000-10,000 points a nite) great deal! Sure beats using points for Amazon. I’ve gone on totally free vacations with this card deal, also using Amtrak gift certificates from AMEX’S Membership Rewards program on other cards (i don’t fly anymore so the miles points are not of interest)

  28. Riddle me this…I am very busy and cannot stand paying bills. If I have all of my bills, including mortgage, directly drawn from my AMEX, then pay AMEX 1 big check at the end of the month, will I earn the 1:1 ratio? If that’s the case, that would be several thousand points per month. Does anyone have experience with this?

  29. Jonathan,

    You mentioned “I see that just started offering an additional 15,000 Bonus Starpoints when you spend $15,000 in 6 months.”
    Could you please let me know the link for detailed information about this offer?
    Thanks so much for all the valuable information about this card.

  30. Naresh – The information is on the new card application page. Look on the left-hand side.

    “Earn 10,000 Starpoints® with your first purchase – enough for up to 3 free nights at a Category 1 or 2 hotel. Plus – earn an additional 15,000 Starpoints when you spend $15,000 in 6 months.”

  31. Credit Rewards says

    Nice post. I love to travel and I love Starwood Amex Express card. Last time, I used my points and got a ticket for free and have a wonderful time – a vacation for free! I highly recommend this card specially for traveling entrepreneurs.

  32. Lance –

    No. I tried to do this earlier and failed. You earn points only for purchases of goods or services. You can’t earn points for paying your mortgage, student loans, etc. with it.

  33. Lance & Kate:
    There are some bills you can pay using your *wood cc, and earn StarPoints. I have my local phone bill and cable bill automatically charged to the card. Also my newspaper subscription. All these earn me points every month.

  34. Am I readng this correctly? To qualify, you must spend $15000 in the first 6 months? How?

    Also, is there a card where you can charge mortgage and pay it off each month? (to get the points/miles/etc.?)

  35. Has the interest rate on this card remained pretty stable? 13.99%

  36. “Earn one Starpoint for every dollar of eligible spending”

    Is this a change from when this info was first posted? Does the card’s flexibility still make it a good deal? I am a little ticked at the Delta AmEx card for raising the annual fee so darn much without prior notification.

  37. when the reviewer indicated that you can get 1.25 miles per every dollar spent, think he may have meant if you transfer over 20k Starwood points (in one transfer) they kick in an additional 5k.

  38. Thank you for your post. I found a “Escape by Discover Card” and it offers double miles per dollar in any category but it has $60 annual fee. It seems good deal. What do you think?

  39. As of 1/9/10, the offer appears to have been revised for the worse. When I click on the Apply Now link, it tells me that the offer is no longer available, and finding the card on the website again yields the fact that the 15,000 bonus miles for $15,000 in purchases during the first 6 months portion has been removed. It’s now just fee-free for the first year and 10,000 bonus points after your first purchase.

    I should have applied last month!

  40. @Stephen – Are you sure? It still says this for me:

    “Earn 10,000 Starpoints® with your first purchase1 – enough for up to 3 free nights at a Category 1 or 2 hotel.2

    Plus – earn an additional 15,000 Starpoints when you spend $15,000 in 6 months,3 enough for up to 3 free nights at a Category 1 or 2 hotel.”

    Maybe trying clearing your browser cookies?

  41. Let this be a lesson for all of you:
    **Always use the link that Jonathan gives you.**
    If you don’t, sometimes they don’t give you as good of an offer!

    I went back again, used the link (instead of logging in to the AMEX website first) and the offer shows up just as Jonathan said.

  42. Can anyone confirm that this is still valid?

    “…with the Starwood card, for every 20,000 points you convert, you get an additional 5,000 point bonus.”

    I can’t find any mention of this through the apply now link.

  43. This is a great rewards card as far as “bang for your buck”. The only problem is that it is an American Express Card. I had to cancel my last American Express card due to so many businesses refusing to accept them because of their fees. Great card if you can get everyone to accept it. Good luck!

  44. I need to buy some American Airlines FF miles. I need 200k, can be from separate accounts. Will pay today. Get $$$ for your miles, Sarah (480)339-9059

  45. There is a promotion going on right now until 7/6/2010 where if you apply and get approved you get 30,000 points for spending $1,000 in the first 3 months. Google Starwood Hotels and go to the Starwood Preferred Guest home page.

  46. Kate,
    I called AMEX about the mortgage. They said you will earn Starpoints on the charges used to pay your mortgage. The question is: does your lender allow it?

  47. mr. MMB, i just found out there is a Amtrak Guest Rewards World MasterCard by Chase. they are offering 12,000 bonus points with first purchase. if i join the Amtrak Guest Rewards program, and get the card, can i convert airline miles and/or credit card bonus points over to Amtrak Guest Rewards points? thanks for your time!

  48. I think you have a small typo:

    “Until 8/3, they are giving out up to 30,000 bonus Starpoints…”

    It should be “Until 9/3”

    Btw, does this SPG card give you any benefits such as free upgrades?


  49. We have a SPG card we use almost exclusively. Thinking of ditching it as we recently tried to use the points in our home town with over 10 SPG properties and we couldn’t get a room anywhere. Find it impossible to believe all ten hotels were sold out in this city. When we have used points, consistently the hotels, even at 15k-20k points a night are really, really shabby. We spent a weekend in SF at one of their top tier places and it had “character.” That’s the positive I can give that dump. Heck a 3k point a night Sheraton was nicer. Ditto our stay in New Orleans.

    Lately for work we’ve been using Embassy Suites often and I gotta say bang for the buck, the Embassy Suites with hilton honors obliterates anything SPG offers.

  50. Looks like the offer is not valid. The links provided go to the promotion page with 30K offer, but after clicking “Apply now” it states the offer is no longer valid.

    Has anyone been able to apply

  51. I got offer not valid too. Even tried the incognito method. Bummer.

  52. I got the offer to work in incognito mode, but got an “our systems are down” error otherwise. I think it’s temporary, I’d suggest trying again using the no-cookies private browsing methods.

  53. Be careful. I signed up for the SPG card when the promotion was 10k points and another 15k after spending $5k in six months, and now they are denying me the additional 15k points because they do not see the offer in their system. I am going to fight it more and see if I cannot get them to give me the points, but they acted as though they had no idea about what I was talking about.

    It will be interesting to see how it pans out once I threaten to cancel the card. I have never had any issues with Amex, but I guess every good thing comes to an end sooner or later.

  54. What is this card’s usual bonus? 20k?

  55. jackcrawfish says

    FYI, I just applied to get in before the 9/4/2012 expiration date on this 10000 1st purchase + 20000 after $5k within 6 months spend.

    After receiving a message of 14 days to process, I then logged into my account and clicked on a banner link at In the caveat emptor disclosures it stated the following:

    “If your application is approved after 09/04/2012, you will not be eligible for the bonus point offer”


  56. jackcrawfish says

    As a way of following up, when applying on the end date of the promotion (9/4/2012) and approved 4 days later (9/7/2012), they still honored the 20000 bonus point offer despite saying “If your application is approved after 09/04/2012, you will not be eligible for the bonus point offer”

  57. This has been our main card for years. I’m travelling now for work so this thing should really go up in points. Only wish it also had no Foreign Transaction Fees.

  58. jackcrawfish says

    application link needs updating… I was going to go for another round….

  59. @brkf – Agreed, many other travel-oriented cards offer no transaction fees, although I usually don’t use my AmEx overseas anyway and stick to Visa/MC.

    @jackcrawfish – Sorry about that, I updated it with a working link. As to your older comments, I would agree that AmEx is usually pretty good about bonuses (within reason) if you contact them via online secure message or call in.

  60. Jonathan,…is there any starwood debit card/prepaid card or any other debit card, can use to get the one year extra free warranty on purchases?

  61. @MM – Starwood debit/prepaid card…. not that I know of. Is there a particular reason why you don’t want a credit card?

    Usually credit cards offer the best free extended warranties, with AmEx being the best one in my experience:

  62. I was wondering after I use the card for the first time how long does it take the 10,000 points to show up in my account?

  63. Two key issues for me re this Starwood card, which I continually read touted as the best card. #1, I currently hold two AMEX cards (COSTCO and Blue), so I understand that alone disqualifies me from this sing-up bonus deal.

    #2, the fact is, I just don’t trust these corporations to keep a good deal going. Read your card member agreements carefully. There’s nothing preventing either AMEX or Starwood from changing the rules at anytime, or “moving the goal posts”, as the saying goes. They could decide tomorrow to nix all these point values and/or transfer benefits. Most people will take months if not years to build up points for a worthwhile trip or hotel stay.

    That’s why for me, cash is king. I will stick to putting all my spending on the various cash back cards, and reap the benefits immediately via statement credits. For anyone interested, the U.S Bank cash back card seems to be the best, allowing you to choose your 5% cash back categories every month.

  64. long time reader, first time posting. Just signed up the SPG Amex and Chase Bold Ink using your referral link. Thanks man. I’ve saved a lot of money reading your blog. Keep it up.

  65. This card charges foreign transaction fees which add up significantly if you travel outside of the USA. Even worse, if you stay at a Starwood hotel overseas they often charge in local currency and won’t let you charge in dollars which means you pay the transaction fees 1-3% and that offsets any points benefits of this card.

  66. Jonathan are you observe any loopholes or workarounds for people who want to take it manage of the bonus offer but who have already had a personal card for themselves And spouses and a biz card for themselves?

  67. I currently have this SPG card under my name and my wife is an authorized user. Can my wife applies to this card under her name and still get the 35,000 points bonus?

  68. I really enjoy your blog! I was just wondering ‘what you have in your wallet?’. You may have covered it somewhere else in a previous blogpost but I have an SPG card as well and was wondering what else you find helpful to round out other purchases. Thanks!

    • There are a lot of cards in my wallet 😉 Some come and go, others stay for a while. This one has stayed for a while and it is still in my wallet, but worked best for me when I did a lot of business and leisure travel. Current ones that have an annual fee which I have to reconsider every year but are currently in my wallet are Chase Sapphire Preferred, Citi Prestige. Just got the BofA Travel Rewards. Stalwarts with no annual fee include the Fidelity and Citi Double Chase 2%, Chase Freedom 5% rotating, Discover It Chase Freedom 5% rotating. If you look at the credit card category, I will usually say if I have the card in the post:

  69. I’ve got to imagine this is a no brainer right now since Starwood is going to be acquired by Marriott. So in theory – you’ll get the bonus points (which you are only eligible for once) – and they can either be used or convert quickly. Either way you win! Is that the right way to think about this in its final week?

    • If I had never gotten this bonus before, I would probably go for it now, yes. This card may not exist shortly if the Marriott merger happens, or the Chinese group may buy Starwood and keep it around, or really who knows. Either way, people speculate that the reason the bonus is so high right now is that they want to boost their numbers to make them look good for the impending sale. Such practices are pretty common in the industry.

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