Credit Cards

American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card Review

Consumers who do a lot of traveling should take a look at the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express. It caters to those who travel a lot, but most often spend more of their time in hotel rooms than in airplanes.

This is a card that provides one of the most versatile and lucrative rewards programs on the market right now. You earn points on the money you spend each billing cycle, and those points can be redeemed for hotel stays and future airline flights.

It is also a great card for those consumers who take a lot of Uber rides, because the ridesharing company has entered into a partnership with American Express. They do that in order to give cardholders an extra incentive every time they ride.

Speaking of incentives, the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card holds its own against many other rewards programs out there. That is because it offers new clients a sign up bonus. With it, you can earn a lot of points in one fell swoop. It provides you spend a certain amount of money on the card within the first three months of ownership. This time period that has become the industry standard for these kinds of offers.

There is a whole lot to like about this American Express. However, it does come with a few drawbacks that might give some consumers pause as to whether or not this is the right card for them.

For starters, this card comes with an annual fee. Therefore, you are going to have to spend money for the privilege of keeping the card in your purse or wallet each year. The annual fee here may seem high to some folks. Yet, it is not the highest you will find with many of these types of cards. Still, you need to consider if paying the fee is really worth it to you.

We are going to go over all of the pros and cons of the American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Card. Then, you can decide for yourself if it is one of the best travel credit cards available at the moment.

Annual Percentage Rate

Every credit card should be considered on a variety of factors. These start with how much it is going to cost you to own and use the card. There is an annual percentage rate (APR).

It is the amount of interest you will be expected to pay when you carry a balance on the card from month to month. This can be avoided if you elect to pay your bill off in full at the due date. Conversely, if you do not, you are going to be charged interest.

For the American Express Starwood Preferred Guest credit card, the APR is a variable rate of 15.99% to 19.99%. The rate you will be assessed is dependent upon several things. They include the current market rate at the time and with the creditworthiness of the cardholder. That rate is applied to purchases and balance transfers.

Most consumers only consider that rate. Yet, there are others every prospective cardholder must also identify. That is because that is not the only APR on this card. You will be assessed an APR on cash advances as well. That is significantly higher than the rate for purchases and balance transfers. For this American Express that APR is 25.99%

Finally, there is a penalty APR with this card. That is the rate American Express can apply to all purchases and transactions in if you make one or more late payments. You are also penalized if a payment is returned by the bank. Let us say that one or both of these occur. In that case, your APR can rise up to 29.99%

That may be incredibly high. However, it is also the industry standard for late or missed payments. Perhaps the penalty APR becomes active on your account. Thus, it will remain there for a period of no less than six months.

After that time, your account will be reviewed and if you have not missed any payments. They will also investigate any returned payments during that six-month period. The penalty APR can be removed. Then, your rate will be reduced to the normal APR.


Every card is going to have some kind of fees. These are applied to the various routine transactions that you may conduct with the card. The American Express Starwood Preferred is no different in that regard.

However, there are some notable distinctions when you compare it to other options on the market. The card comes with an annual fee of $95. This is not uncommon with high-end airline miles credit cards. Consumers need to consider if paying this amount each year is offset by the number of rewards they can earn over that same period. American Express offers an incentive to new customers. With it, the annual fee is waived for the first year.

There are other fees as well, also common with many cards. These are fees applied to balance transfers and cash advances. In the case of both, American Express charges customers a fee of $5 or 3% of the amount of the balance transfer or cash advance.

They go with whichever is greater in each instance. Another common fee is that which is applied to any foreign transactions that are made with the card. American Express does not charge that fee on the Starwood Preferred Guest credit card.

That certainly makes it one of the more attractive credit cards for traveling abroad. Finally, American Express charges a late payment fee and a returned payment fee in the event one or both occur. The fee for that is $38.

Sign Up Bonus

There are so many rewards credit cards available to consumers. Thus, the issuers and banks offer extra incentives to attract your business. These can include 0% introductory APR’s (NOTE: the Starwood Preferred Guest card does not offer). They also may offer sign up bonuses that give you a lump sum of rewards in a brief period of time.

American Express is offering new account holders something special. It is the opportunity to earn 25,000 Starpoints after spending $3,000. This spend must be within the first three months of opening an account. Starpoints are the form of reward that cardholders who have the American Express Starwood Preferred Guest can earn. They can be redeemed through the card’s reward program.

Let me you an idea of how much those are worth to you when you try to redeem your Starpoint. The upfront sum of 25,000 is sufficient enough to book two nights at a category 4 hotel. This includes the Sheraton San Diego Hotel, the Westin Chicago North Shore, or even the Walt Disney World Dolphin in Orlando, Florida.

Should you wish to stay at a property in a lower category, it costs only 2,000 Starpoints per night. The lower the category you select, the fewer Starpoints needed. That can give you more flexibility when planning a long trip. Additional factors such as time of year you wish to book can also affect the price you pay for any room.

The Starpoints Rewards Program

Starpoints work in the same manner as any credit card rewards program. You earn points based on the amount you spend. Once you accrue enough, you may redeem or transfer them. They can be used for things such as booking hotel rooms or airline flights on a number of carriers.

Earning Starpoints

You can earn one Starpoint for every dollar you spend on this American Express card. However, let us say that you make a qualifying purchase at a Starwood or Marriott property. Then, you can earn two points for every dollar.

Conversely, you can maximize your spend by earning up to five points for every dollar. You can do this if you are a member of the Starwood Preferred Guest loyalty program. The way it breaks down is simple.

With it, you get two points for each dollar spent on an eligible purchase at a Starwood or Marriott property. Additionally, you will get two to three points on each dollar as an SPG loyalty member.

As you may have guessed by now, there is a way to really rack up Starpoints. That is if you frequent the Starwood or Marriott network of hotel and resort properties. Travelers who are already a member of the SPG loyalty program will benefit the most from owning this card. Maybe you are not a member of that loyalty program or do not spend a lot of time in those branded properties. In that case, this card may not be the best choice for you.

There is a list of properties where you can earn the most points through your spend. These are The Sheraton, Westin, St Regis, W Hotels, Le Meridien, Element, Loft, or Four Points hotels.

Let us say that you stay at one or more of these properties on a routine basis. In that case, you should consider applying for this American Express card. Do this, if you want to earn the most rewards on your spend.

Making purchases is just one way to get your rewards. Applying your Starpoints toward booking hotels is just one way to redeem them. We will get to that in just a minute. However, you can earn even more rewards.

They are awarded when you apply your Starpoints to an airline transfer partner for the purposes of booking an airline ticket. The fact is that you can only really earn up to five times the Starpoints on purchases made at Starwood and Marriott brand properties. Thusly, those rewards are redeemable toward more than just hotel rooms.

In order to get the full benefit of the additional 5,000 Starpoints bonus you need to be careful. You are only permitted to make transfers in 20,000 increments. Anything less will not get you the extra 5,000. Then, you are just wasting the potential of your earnings. That means not cashing in 19,999 or 20,001. That is due to the fact that you will not get any credit for the lesser or extra amounts.

Let us say that you are awarded that bonus of 5,000 Starpoints on every 20,000 transfer. In that case, the worth of your earnings breaks down to 1.25 miles on every purchase. That is just a little bit better than earning the standard one mile per dollar that most other cards offer.

There is something that is even better. Your typical airline miles card may limit your options when you try to book a flight. Yet, this is not the case with this American Express credit card.

The Starwood Preferred Guest program has amassed an impressive list of partner carriers. They allow you to transfer your Starpoints into their frequent flyer miles programs. In each case, the transfer works on a 1:1 ratio. That means one Starpoint is equal to one airline mile on that carrier.

There are many carriers that have partnered with Starwood. They include Aeromexico, Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, British Airways, Delta Airlines, Emirates Air, Hawaiian Airlines, Japan Airlines, Korean Air, Qatar Airways, and Virgin Atlantic. Additionally, there are many others.

Redeeming Your Starpoints

You are free to transfer your Starpoints into airline miles on a variety of eligible carriers. Plus, consumers who would rather put their rewards toward free nights at any one of the 1,200 locations in 100 countries worldwide can do so. However, knowing how much you need to spend in order to stay at a certain property is imperative. That is the only way to get the most value for your rewards.

The way it works is actually quite easy. The number of Starpoints necessary to book a particular room is predicated upon which of the seven categories your desired property is located. As the categories get progressively higher, the more Starpoints are needed in order to book that room.

Remember, you are also dealing with the time of year. Maybe you are looking to stay in a certain property during the peak season. In that case, that room may be in a higher category than it normally would be at another time of the year.

Do not worry about blackout dates either. They are not an issue when it comes to booking a room. You just have to make sure there is a vacancy at the property you want for the days you wish to stay.

Let us say that you are trying to book a room at any given time. Thus, you are going to want to exercise some modicum of flexibility. That is because that can help you find a great room while getting the most bang for your buck.

Here is the breakdown for the number of Starpoints that are required to book a standard room. The amount shown is the cost to stay in that room per night.

  • Category 1: 2,000 – 3,000 Starpoints
  • Category 2: 3,000 – 4,000 Starpoints
  • Category 3: 7,000 Starpoints
  • Category 4: 10,000 Starpoints
  • Category 5: 12,000 – 16,000 Starpoints
  • Category 6: 20,000 – 25,000 Starpoints
  • Category 7: 30,000 – 35,000 Starpoints

There is, even more, flexibility with this program. That is because your points are now applicable to more properties. That is due to the merger between Starwood and Marriott. It took place in 2016.

Therefore, you have more options than just the aforementioned properties above. Your Starpoints are also valid for rooms at Marriott and Ritz Carlton properties. All that is required is transferring your Starpoints into the rewards points of those hotel chains.

It gets better! Your transfer rate to take advantage of vacancies in those hotels is one Starpoint for three Marriott or Ritz Carlton rewards points. The 1:3 ratio means you can get a much better value when staying at those properties as opposed to a Starwood brand property.

Maybe there is a hotel you want to visit but it is in category 5. If so, it could cost you much less if you are transferring your points from the Starwood program to Marriot or Ritz Carlton.

Starwood’s has acquired the SLS Hotel in Las Vegas. Additionally, they have rebranded the W Las Vegas. This has given Starwood a higher profile in the city. This is something it sorely lacked up until 2016. Now that you can transfer your points you could save big.

For example, the W Las Vegas is a category five property. This would cost you 12,000 Starpoints. It is only a couple of miles from the Strip. However, it has all of the same amenities as anything you would find there.

However, if you transfer your Starpoints into Marriott Rewards points you could get a room at the Cosmopolitan. That is a category 9 and would cost you only 15,000 Starpoints. Those are then converted into the 45,000 necessary for that highest category.

Perks and Advantages

Sure, the American Express Starwood Preferred Guest offers a strong rewards program and a low APR. Yet, there are many other reasons to consider this card. They include the many perks and advantages that come with membership. These range from protecting your purchases to protection if you get lost or stranded in a strange city.

Here just a few that you automatically receive when you become a cardholder.

Extended Warranty

The manufacturer’s warranty on a purchase typically ends after about a year. Let us say that you make that purchase with the American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card. In that case, the warranty can be extended for an additional year. However, the item must have an original warranty that lasts five years or less.

Return Protection

Perhaps you purchase something and wish to return it, but the original retailer’s policy forbids a return. In that case, you could get a refund on that item through the card’s return protection safeguard.

Refunds are limited to $300 for each item with a maximum of $1,000 offered in combined refunds for the calendar year. The purchase must be made with your American Express within the United States and its territories.

Travel Accident Insurance

Maybe you or any member of your family are killed or dismembered during travel on plane, train, bus, or ship. In that case, you or they are covered as long as the entire fare for travel on the carrier was paid for with your American Express.

Rental Car Insurance

When you rent a car you are asked if you would like to purchase the collision damage waiver. Let us say that you are paying for that rental with the American Express Starwood Preferred Guest card. By using the card, you can decline it with confidence.

However, that is only if you reserve and pay for the rental car in full with the card. There are some restrictions as to the type of vehicles that are covered. There are also certain countries that are not eligible for this coverage. These include Australia, Israel, Italy, and Jamaica, among others.

Roadside Assistance

No one likes having their car break down. However, the good news is that as an American Express member you are never alone should that happen. Simply call the number on the card.

Then, someone will come out to help change a flat or jump your battery. They will even tow the vehicle if need be. It is another reason why the American Express Starwood Preferred Guest card is one of the best credit cards for travel.

Our Final Thoughts

If you plan on using credit cards when you travel, it is a great idea to use the American Express Starwood Preferred Guest card. It is going to reward you handsomely for your spend. Plus, it offers a wide variety of redemption options.

Maybe life or work (or both) have you traveling with any kind of frequency. You also may spend as much time in airports and hotels as you do at home. Thus, this card could be a valuable addition to your wallet or purse.

Perhaps, you are a loyal Starwood customer who spends a majority of your time at their network of hotels. Thus, you can get up to five times the rewards as you might with other cards.

Though, that is only if you are Starwood Preferred Guest member. Your maximum rewards are gleaned through making purchases at their properties. Therefore, this card is best suited for members of the SPG program.

As for earning those rewards, you are going to be paying an annual fee to keep the card. Therefore you want to justify paying $95 a year. Thus, be sure that you will be able to earn enough Starpoints on your travel purchases. It helps that the fee is waived for the initial year of membership. However, once that extra cost kicks in you could be paying more for the card than it is worth in terms of rewards.


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