There is a lot of talk right now about the American Express SPG card as it is in the middle of the annual increased offer of 30,000 Starpoints. It is a fine card to get and one everyone should have at some point in their point collection because the Starpoints are extremely valuable – even beyond hotel stays.
However, since American Express has cut the ability of cardmembers to get the bonus on cards more than once (see this post for details about this policy), each customer can only get the bonus from the SPG card once per lifetime. There are two versions of the card – business and personal – so you can double up the bonus with one from each card but you can only get the bonus from each once. Before this policy, people would routinely cancel before the annual fee came due, wait a year, and sign up again for the bonus. Not an option now! Which brings us to…
Is The SPG Card Worth Keeping?
The American Express SPG card is the only mainstream hotel card that has an annual fee without offering some kind of free night/point annual incentive. Instead, it offers 2 stays and 5 nights as credit towards your elite status with SPG. With an annual fee of $65, is that enough to motivate you to keep the card? Let’s break down some of the numbers to help you decide if it is worth it.
If you are a regular Starwood customer, it is a pretty sure thing that you will find value in keeping the card(s) year after year. One of the main reasons is because of the already-mentioned stay and night credit towards status. To achieve Gold status, you must have 10 stays or 25 nights. With the personal and business SPG cards, you are at 4 stays and 10 nights before you ever step onto a Starwood property.
In addition to the elite night credits, the SPG card also gives bonus points when used at SPG hotels. The cards give 2 points per dollar on stays at SPG hotels. This is the only bonus that the card gives. All other spending is in the 1 point per dollar category, so it is a nice perk to earn an extra point per dollar. As points go, SPG points are more valuable to many travelers than any other point system given their flexibility, so if you are staying at a lot of SPG hotels, these cards are a no-brainer when it comes to keeping it.
Casual SPG Traveler
There are many people who fit into this category – travelers who mostly stay at SPG hotels with the bonus points earned from their sign-up. At the normal bonus amount of 25,000 Starpoints (30,000 when combined with the 5,000 points earned from spending to meet the requirement) and the limited-time offer of 30,000 bonus points, that can get you quite a few hotel stays! Yes, their most expensive hotels require all 30,000 Starpoints, but they have several categories and Cash&Point options that really give you a lot of hotels and options to choose from just with the sign-up bonus.
But what happens after you have used the bonus? All new Starpoints will accrue at the amount of 1 point per dollar spent. The minimum amount of points needed for a free night is 2,000 (for a category 1 on the weekend). That means you will need to spend $2,000 on the SPG card for that free night. If you want to redeem for a Cash & Points reservation at a mid-tier hotel (category 3), it will require 3,500 points and $55. That equates to $3,500 worth of spending and the $55 for that “free” night at a category 3.
Does this make sense for the casual SPG traveler? Most likely not. One of the reasons is that the easiest method of manufactured spending for the masses (used to be buying Vanilla reload cards at CVS to load onto the Bluebird cards) has disappeared. There are still ways to manufacture spend, but many people may find the extra steps/requirements too burdensome. So that leaves you with mostly real life spending. At the rate of 1 point per dollar for all purchases (except SPG purchases), it will take a lot of spending to get several nights stay per year at a SPG hotel.
Let’s imagine you have the Barclaycard Arrival Plus instead. This card offers some great point earning – specifically 2 miles per dollar on the Arrival Plus. If you were going to spend $21,000 on your SPG card to get the 21,000 Starpoints necessary to stay at a Category 4 for two nights or a Category 3 for three nights, let’s imagine we use a different card instead. Pull out the Arrival Plus for the same purchases and you will wind up with $420 available to be used on travel purchases.
With our 21,000 Starpoints, we choose to use them at the Westin in Cleveland. I picked random dates and found award availability at 7,000 points per night or $289 per night. For a three night stay, it would cost $1,000 (or $580 after deducting the miles using the Arrival card). If you use Starpoints, the 21,000 would cover all three nights. In this example, the Starwood card definitely wins out.
Let’s take another example – this time at the Four Points Sheraton in Niagara Falls – in February. Believe it or not, many of us Northerners have and do hit the falls in the winter! For this stay, the point requirement is 7,000 points per night so a two night stay would require 14,000 points. For the equivalent spend on the Arrival Plus card ($14,000), it would give us $280 towards travel refund. The cash cost for the random winter nights was a total of $180. By using the Arrival Plus card instead of the SPG card, you would actually be able to spend $5,000 less for this redemption. In this case, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus card wins out.
What does these limited examples show? There are redemptions that make perfect sense for keeping the SPG card and putting the spend on it. However, if you are only keeping it for one redemption per year, make sure you take into account the $65 annual fee as well as the amount you are spending on this card instead of another card (I will show below why I do not figure the other cards’ annual fees into the equation).
The SPG program has the best airline transfer option among hotels. With 32 airline partners that you can choose to transfer to and a healthy 5,000 mile bonus for every 20,000 points transferred, it really gives a lot of options! However, it all depends on what airlines you are using the program to transfer to. Here are some airlines that I would not keep the card for if you only plan on transferring to them (as well as the other flexible point program that transfers to the airline):
- Aeromexico (Amex Membership Rewards)
- Aeroplan/Air Canada (Amex Membership Rewards)
- ANA (Amex Membership Rewards)
- British Airways (Amex Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards)
- Cathay Pacific (Amex Membership Rewards)
- Delta Airlines (Amex Membership Rewards)
- Emirates (Amex Membership Rewards)
- Flying Blue (Amex Membership Rewards)
- Hawaiian Airlines (Amex Membership Rewards)
- Singapore Airlines (Amex Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards)
- United Airlines (Chase Ultimate Rewards)
- Virgin Atlantic Flying Club (Amex Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards)
That is 12 of many of the popular transfer partners from SPG. If you collect Starpoints to transfer to those airlines, be very sure that you are not missing the opportunity with a different card to earn more for those airlines. For example, say you are collecting Starpoints to transfer to Delta. For every 20,000 Starpoints transferred, you will earn 25,000 Delta Skymiles for a transfer rate of 1:1.25. Amex Membership Rewards has not had a bonus on transfers to Delta for quite a while so I will not even take that into account. What I will do is ask you to look at where you are spending those dollars collecting Starpoints. If it is at locations that are served by the Amex Premier Rewards Gold and the Everday cards with category bonuses (like supermarket spend, gas station, airline, etc) then you may be better off just focusing your spending on those cards instead of the SPG card.
One exception would be if you are collecting Starpoints to transfer to American Airlines or Alaska Airlines. The reason is that the bonus on transferring 20,000 Starpoints is better than if you were to use the AA or Alaska co-branded credit cards. If those are your transfer partners, then I would continue using the SPG card.
What About the Annual Fee?
I mentioned above that I was not talking about the annual fee for the other cards that I was comparing to the SPG card. The reason for that is that you can get a retention bonus or statement credit (to cover the fee) on almost all the cards you would use instead of the SPG card. When it comes to the SPG card, they rarely waive the annual fee. So, that is a fee of $65 that you can count on spending each year you hold the card with very little to get in return.
Is the SPG Card Worth Keeping?
To wrap it up, is the SPG card worth keeping? One could argue that the fee is “only” $65 per year. But if you cannot come up with earning and redeeming plans that allow you to take advantage of the Starpoints than this is just one more annual fee that really piles on to other fees you may already pay. Plus, it may be redundant in your point earning strategy. Take the few examples above and make your own real life examples to see if it is worth it to you.
Another thing to take into account is the fact that these cards do carry foreign transaction fees. These fees really eliminate any value you would get from the points themselves so consider this if you plan on traveling with the card.
Finally, here is one more reason to keep the card – referral bonuses. Over the last couple of years, American Express has offered current SPG cardholders the chance to refer friends and family for the bonus and pickup 5,000 Starpoints per approved application. With a conservative value, that works out to being right around $100 in value which more than pays for the annual fee. Plus, you can get up to 11 referrals in a calendar year! You can read more about that here.
What happens if I want the card after I cancel it?
The good news is that you can still apply and receive American Express cards even if you have had them before! The only change is that you will not receive the sign-up bonus. So, if you cancel now and decide in a year or two that you miss the card or your point earning strategy has shifted, you can definitely apply for the card again and keep on earning by spending.
If you do not have the card and would like to get the card while the 30,000 point bonus is running, you can e-mail me for a referral for either the business or personal card. If you decide to do that and you are approved, I will receive a 5,000 Starpoint referral bonus. If you already have the card, feel free to leave your e-mail in the comments below in case others would like to look for a referral as well.
Otherwise, if you would like to apply for the card direct, you can click this link (I do not receive a commission for this). It is the same offer as the referral offer but some people would rather click direct.