Why The SPG Amex Won the FTU “Best Credit Card in the Galaxy” Award

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Over the last few days, I have spent hours upon hours with miles and points enthusiasts living, eating, sleeping, and breathing miles and points.  Basically, one of my own forms of Heaven.  One of the awards given out at both the Freddie Awards on Thursday and at the Frequent Traveler University this weekend was related to the best rewards credit cards.  The one at the Freddie Awards was voted upon by hundreds of thousands of travelers whereas the award of “Best Credit Card in the Galaxy” at the FTU were voted upon by the hundred plus people in that session.  However, there was one very strong theme from both of those credit card competitions…….The Starwood Preferred Guest Amex may not be new, it may not be fancy, but it may still be the best.

Starwood Preferred Guest Amex Card actually came in second (by a close margin) at the Freddie Awards behind the Delta Amex, but it came in first at the Frequent Traveler University.  Despite all the excitement and attention surrounding the “new kid on the block” in the Ultimate Rewards program with the Chase Ink Bold and the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, the SPG card still easily beat that program in both of these competitions.  I personally carry the SPG card, and plan to keep it for the long-run, but it still took me by surprise that it so easily beat its rivals at both competitions.  So, since it is so popular among experienced frequent travelers, I wanted to give it a much deserved updated review for those of you who may not yet have it in your wallets.

The sign-up bonus of 25,000 points doesn’t seem overly exciting in the days where many sign-up bonuses have been in the 50,000 – 100,000 point range on other cards, but SPG points are so valuable, that the relatively conservative bonus is still very sought after for many travelers.  The sign-up bonus awards 10,000 SPG points after the first purchase and an additional 15,000 points after spending $5,000 on the card within the first six months.  There are occasional sign-up bonuses of 30,000 points, but I have never seen an SPG sign-up bonus higher than that.  The annual fee of $65 is waived the first year.

SPG Gold status is awarded if a spending threshold of $30,000 is hit on the card annually.  Gold status isn’t life changing, but it does provide a 50% bonus on points earned at SPG hotels, comes with late check-out, preferred rooms, occasional lounge access, and a choice of free internet, bonus points, or a beverage with each SPG stay.  The SPG Amex also awards 5 nights and 2 stays toward SPG elite status each year.  The Starwood Preferred Guest Business Amex also awards the same 5 nights and 2 stays toward elite status, so if you have both cards, you have a nice head start toward hitting the 25 stays annually that are required for SPG Platinum status.  I am pushing for SPG Platinum status this year so I can get free breakfast, possible suite upgrades, and more.  I hope to have the business version of the SPG card by the end of the year so that I can have two more stays to help me on my quest for Platinum.

The downside of the SPG card is that it doesn’t provide many opportunities to earn bonus points.  It provides one SPG point per dollar spent on the card.  No category bonuses, no reward portals, no threshold bonuses, and no annual point bonuses or dividends.  It does provide two points per dollar when paying for spending at SPG hotels, but otherwise it is a flat rate of one point per dollar.  I was actually chatting with a rep for the SPG Amex who works for American Express this week at the Randy Peterson Executive Summit and I told her that I love the card, but I very much wish I was incentivized to use it more frequently by having category bonuses or spending thresholds.  She politely listened to my feedback, but we also both acknowledged that if the points were easier to obtain, they may end up devalued in the long run.  Fair enough (but I still wish their was some type of bonus).

I consistently redeem SPG points for at least 3-4 cents per point.  I do this primarily by redeeming using cash and points reservations.  Cash and points reservations are almost always the best redemption option, when available.  However, cash and points reservations are only one of the many attractive redemptions within the SPG program.  The “Nights and Flights” program where you can redeem 60,000 SPG points for 50,000 airline miles and five nights in a Category 3 hotel or 70,000 SPG points for five free nights in a Category 4 and 50,000 airline miles garnered much attention at the FTU this weekend.  The ability to transfer SPG points to airlines was another very popular redemption option within the SPG program.  Being able to get the fifth night free when redeeming at a Category 3 – 7 hotel was also a popular use of SPG points.  The transfer ratio for SPG points to airline miles is 1:1 on many airlines, however when you transfer 20,000 points, you get a 5,000 bonus and your 20,000 SPG points become 25,000 airline miles.  The miles do not transfer instantly, so that is a downside compared to Ultimate Rewards or Membership Rewards, but again, that delay doesn’t seem to be a big enough drawback to diminish the popularity of this card.

SPG hotels are also often very nice, so that can’t hurt the popularity of the SPG card.  In fact, the Westin brand is one of my personal favorites.  It is nice and comfortable without being so fancy that I feel out of place with my family.  The popularity of the SPG card is intrinsically tied with the popularity of the SPG program as a whole and the family of hotels.  This weekend was a good reminder that while there may be newer and flashier cards and offers on the block, the old standby cards, such as the SPG Amex, are still forces to be reckoned with and cards to be kept in our wallets.

Are you surprised that the SPG Amex easily beat cards like the Sapphire Preferred?  If you have the SPG card, what type of purchases and spending do you put on that card?  How do you use the points that you earn with the SPG card?

 

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  1. I’m a fan of the UR cards and the HHonors amex. I see the benefits of the SPG but as a low spender/stayer, my needs require the bonus categories and rewards malls. My previous best on spend was $20k in one year and that included some reimbursed work expenses. With the freedom/sapphire combo and hhonors amex bonus categories I’m earning near 5 UR or 6 hhonors points on all my spend.

  2. Your questions are my questions! I have the Chase Sapphire Preferred and was thinking of getting another card from AmEx, either Gold or SPG, but I don’t know which one to pick. Like you said, SPG cardholders earn one point on everything purchase except SPG Hotels (of course!). However, with AmEx Gold you can earn bonus points on grocery and airfares and etc.

    The reason I want a card from AmEx is I want to transfer rewards points to airline miles (ex: All Nippon). SPG provides transfer bonus when transferring 20,000 miles, but it doesn’t earn rewards points as fast as the Gold. So sad.

  3. I would add that the SPG Amex gives you a 5,000 pt referral bonus. For us ‘regulars’ who don’t have blogs or referral links, this is one of the few solid cards that does give a referral bonus.

    Referral is a nice option to help balance it out against programs such as UR where you’ve got bonus categories, UR Mall, etc to help rack up extra points.

    Freedom, Sapphire and SPG are the triple threat in my wallet right now, as a United/Starwood kinda guy.

  4. Yes I am surprised. The CSP is hands down the best rewards card out there with ability to transfer 1:1 to United (most valuable airline currency out there), bigger sign up bonus, 2X in travel and dining, and no FTF’s. Unless you have something against United, or are looking for something other than miles, no other card comes close.

  5. To be honest, I’m surprised SPG card won the award. While I do think it’s a “good” card, I think you can get more out of the Ultimate Rewards cards. The bonus categories for Ink Bold(office supplies providing 5x) and the Chase Freedom quarterly categories,and of course Chase Sapphire Preferred shopping mall and its bonus categories just get you more points quicker. I think UR beats out the Amex MR program as well from a bonus standpoint. I’d love it though if Amex fought back and offered some incentives to power up their MR program as it was in the past.

  6. Thanks for the thoughts. I received an offer for 20k after $500 in three months, no annual…always check your snail mail ;0) for me the lower spend is ideal but here is my big dilemma-last churn was 2/27 and Amex Hilton was one of 2 cards…approved instantly….this current offer says expires 5/10…wwmpd….what would mommy points do.

  7. I don’t participate in Hyatt or United. These are both strengths of the chase program. I do participate in SPG. No brainier for my earning and redemption patterns. SPG all the way.

  8. While I use and love this card, it does have a huge drawback: the foreign transaction fees.

    That means, it stays at home when I travel overseas, even to an SPG hotel.

  9. I agree with the others. After reading your post I still do not see the total appeal of the SPG card. Yes I do have it but its not my primary card. My cable/cell bill is close to 400 each month and with spg that would be 4800 star points. With the ink bold its 24000 points. Even if you value the points differently its still a huge difference. Also if the card gave you gold automatically then I can see it being up there but 20k seems silly. My Amex platinum gives me the gold status with SPG. Yes the transfer bonus is nice to get 5k extra for 20k but the 50% bonus on Membership Rewards really goes a lot further.

    I would say its up there as a card to use but not my top card. Adding some bonus categories or extras to the card could move it into the top spot.

  10. I have the SPG Amex.

    I agree that UR points are less valuable than SPG, but as many have mentioned, the bonus categories make spending on UR cards more valuable. IMO any bonus that nets you 3pts/$ or more will be more valuable than SPG card spend away from SPG hotels.

    I currently have a stay booked using cash and points that is redeeming SPG points for 5.5cents each, a very respectable redemption rate. However, even if you value UR at 1.9cents you can easily see how obtaining 3+ points per dollar will be more beneficial. Considering you can net 5 UR on credit point purchases and 9 UR(or more) on many online orders using the UR Mall, Chase gets quite a lot of my spend.

  11. I don’t buy it. I won’t argue that SPG points aren’t valuable. They are great, and I wish I had more of them. I just don’t think that the card is a great way to earn them. I got the SPG AMEX with the 30k signup, and when I met the $4500 spend, I had 34,500pts. I got the Chase Sapphire with the 50k signup, and when I met the $5000 spend, I had 62,000pts not including the 7% anual bonus.

    I can see the benefit if you have frequent stays at SPG properties, of if you are a blogger and can get 5k signup bonus repeatedly (this isn’t meant as a slight), but without category spend, I am not incented to put spend on the card.

  12. I am a huge fan of the SPG cash and points stay option. I use it for between ten and twelve stays a year (15-20 nights). I have been SPG Gold via credit card spend of $30,000+ on my Amex card for twelve years, and I am cancelling the card today. Why, because like numerous other folks have noted, Chase has the better earning options, and since I now have Gold via the Amex Platinum card, I cannot justify the extra $65, when I am also paying $450 for the Platinum card. Also,I too cannot justify using the Starwood card, even at Starwood hotels, when I travel outside the US, which I typically do for 5-6 weeks a year, especially when so many cards now don’t charge the foreign transaction fee. It has been a great run with the Starwood Amex, but it is time to move on.

  13. Sapphire Preferred all day. The Sapphire and SPG never should have met in the ‘first’ round as they are easily in the top 3 best credit cards out right now. Some sort of seeding was necessary. If the CSP made it to the next round, I have to believe it would have won top honors.

  14. I guess the tournament should be seeded better in the future. Ha ha. That said, I can’t determine whether the CSP is really better for just us who are crazy about it online, or if others just don’t yet understand its full potential. I would love to do this again in LA at the end of the year and see what happens after that product has been out longer – especially if we can spend some more time explaining the real benefits of the CSP “Trifecta” or the Ink Bold 5x benefits.

  15. The “bonus” for SPG credit cards is that you get to pool your points from this with points from hotel stays and promos. It’s a benefit and a method to retain loyalty to SPG folks.

    Since you can’t do that with UR or MR (while UR can xfer to Hyatt, my point is you can’t pool UR and Hyatt to send to UA), that’s where SPG wins. SPG still fails in lack of instant transfer which is the biggest detractor for me – and it will become more glaring if/when ThankYou points become 1:1 transferable to AA instantly.

  16. Lets not forget that the final tally was less than 5 between CSP and SPG. It was really close. I agree with infamousdx that they shouldn’t have been in the first round, maybe in the final round would have been a better match up. To some degree, Dariaus made some good points that i think swayed enough people. The flights and nights really sealed it for me and I am a CSP loyalist. I did love how he then had to push the Ink right aftewards using Deals We Like’s exact same points. great theater. Great job MPx2.

  17. Thanks, Mommypoints, for the reminder of why/how/when SPG points could be useful. I, too, find cash+points to be the most valuable. For our upcoming trip to Machu Picchu, the 5-star resort in Sacred Valley goes for $4-500/night, but we were able to book it for 4,000 pts + $60. Even using the $400 as the basis for valuation, each SPG point is worth 8.5 cents.

    The “Nights & Flights” option for category 3 or 4 hotels is really just “stay for 5 nights at the price of 3,” but you are forced to transfer 40k SPG points to 50k airline miles.

    Another data point for consideration is when you transfer Amex MR points to SPG, the transfer ratio is 3:1. That gives us the basis for valuing SPG points at roughly 3x regular point/mile. So, if you are getting more than 3x on your other bonus category spending, as Joe pointed out in his comment, then it is better to put the spend on alternative cards.

    All this being said, I still think buying $500 Visa gift cards on the Ink card gives us the best value right now (except when the transaction is greater than $500 and cannot be split into several smaller ones).

  18. @Mommypoints

    I hope you got some contact info from the SPG Amex rep, cause you need to forward these comments to her for a reality check.

    While noone disputes SPG individual points are worth more, with multiple points per dollar its a clear consensus that Chase is prefered for spend.
    EX: 1)Chase for Airline miles — 25K airline miles = $10k(entirely at SPG prop)- $20k spend on Amex Vs. $5k-$8.3k spend on Chase’s easily obtainable 5-3 ppd.
    2) Chase for hotels — $6k-$12k SPG Spend for cat 7 stay vs Chase $4.4k-$7.3k Spend for top tier Hyatt prop
    3) Tied for Cash + points on hotel – Spg has best value at this option, however Chase is competitive with 3 to 11(!) points per dollar. No Clear Winner.

    If SPG amex wants to actually compete for spend, (which is ofcourse their ultimate goal) they need to step up their game.

  19. @Joe, I agree with you on many points. I use the UR program way more myself, but I’m not sure the SPG rep will need a reality check when her card just won big (esp at the Freddies). As I told her, I am all for some incentives to use that card more though.

  20. Folks, don’t underestimate the value of this card for hotel stays. Even when C+P is unavailable, and you’re not getting 5 award nights for the price of 4, you can often get 2.5-3 cents/point or more redeeming for regular hotel award nights (example – 10,000 points for Cat 4 award night vs. room rate of $250-$300/night or more). And, unlike the airline programs, SPG offers “last standard room” availability – so for me SPG offers by far the best value per point. For that reason it remains my preferred card for most “everyday” spend.

  21. I used to love the SPG from AMEX. Untill they decided to reduce my credit line and hurt my credit in the process. A week prior to going on vacation I received an e-mail informing me that my credit line would go from $30,000 to $6,100. Unless I paid off my $5,800 balance immediatetly. This news put me in a bad position with only one week to my vacation plans. Reservations had already been made with months of anticipation, airline tickets were bought. My son was attending a summer program at a prestigious University and we simply had no possibility of earning points or using our credit which was immpeccable. We were never late on payments.
    I do not think we will ever get over the stress that this arbritrary decision had on a military family hoping to enjoy a well deserved vacation.

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