Credit Cards Reviews

Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Card

I have written about this card a little bit before, but I thought I would go into some more detail now to give you a sense of how valuable this card is.

Here are some of the details about what you get with the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card:

  • 10,000 SPG points after first purchase
  • 15,000 SPG points after spending $5,000 in 6 months
  • 5 nights/2 stays credit towards elite status
  • $65 annual fee waived the first year

This card is actually one of the favorites of travel experts across the country. You may look at what the card has to offer and ask why – really, 25,000 points does not seem that big when you compare that to 50,000 Ultimate Reward points with the Chase INK Bold card or 55,000 miles with the United card. Also, this card only offers 1 point per dollar spent (except at SPG properties where it nets you 2 points per dollar spent). So, why is this card so loved?

The secret to that comes in how valuable each of those SPG points actually is. Most travelers that use this card can leverage those points for between 3 and 6 cents per point, where the United card miles will get some of the same people 2-3 cents per miles. In addition to their value, their options for use are very vast. Consider the following:

  • SPG points (or Starpoints) can be used to redeem for flights (which allows the traveler to accrue mileage as well)
  • Starpoints can be used to bid on unique experiences and events
  • Starpoints can be used for gift cards and products at a good rate (better than the Delta Marketplace anyway). One of those examples is $150 Amazon gift card for 14,000 points.  Not the best use for your points, but still not a bad option.
  • Can be transferred to any of 29 airlines, most at a 1:1 ratio – plus, for every 20,000 miles you transfer, you receive a 5,000 mile bonus
  • Can be converted to Amtrak Guest Rewards
  • Can be used for in-hotel products – massages, dinners, and more depending on the hotel
  • Can be transferred between members (providing that the members share the same address for 30 days first)

The room redemption options are where the program really begins to shine. Here are the different options available:

  • Free Award Nights
  • Fifth Night Free (at category 3 – 7 hotels)
  • Cash and Points (one of the most lucrative methods of points redemption – it is fixed rate of points and cash for each category of hotel)
  • Upgrade Room and Suites
  • 1,000 Starpoints for a 50% off rack rate for a stay up to 5 nights (good for last minute reservations)
  • Nights and Flights (another great option – you can redeem 60,000 Starpoints for 50,000 airline miles and five free nights at a category 3 hotel or resorts)
  • Nights and Flights II (you can redeem 70,000 Starpoints for 50,000 airline miles and five free nights at a category 4 hotel or resort)

So, you can see there are a host of options for how you can use your Starpoints. With your SPG Amex credit card, you would receive the 25,000 bonus points (plus the 5,000 points due to the spending threshold) – and you can have a personal and business card! This gives you a total of 60,000 Starpoints! Imagine if you and someone else in your family did this – it could give you a combined total of 120,000 Starpoints (remember, members of the same household can transfer points). With that many points, there are a host of options for your travel planning. For example, if you wanted to transfer all of them to your favorite airline (let’s say Delta), you would wind up with 150,000 Skymiles. Or you could use them for free nights, cash and points, Nights and Flights, etc. If you used them for Nights and Flights, you two could take a trip with your miles anywhere in the US or Canada (depending on the program you transferred them to) and get 5 nights in a category 3 hotel (a pretty good value) – TWICE!

Let’s break down some of the hotel redemption offers a little more to give you more of a sense of how this card and program could work for you.

Free Nights

Category Award Levels

Like any hotel awards program, you can use your hotel points for free nights. Something great about SPG is that if there is a standard room available, you can use points for it. Very helpful in contrast to some programs that have different inventory for award nights. There are many great deals available in SPG family while there are some deals that are not as great (comparing price with points).

Here is a way to determine what may be a good deal (your mileage may vary – chiefly based on whether you can afford to pay for the room out of pocket). I would value the SPG points at no fewer than 2 cents per point (in most circumstances). That being said, if a Category 7 is costing $500 and a Cat 7 costs 30,000 points, personally, I would have to use points for that stay even though it is less than my 2 cpp valuation.

Category Award Levels

The $500 would be too much for me to spend on a room for one night. So, there may be some circumstances where you do something similar. So, here is an example: St. Regis in Aspen, Colorado costs $329 for the advance purchase rate or costs 30,000 points for a free night. To me, that is not a good value. Since that hotel costs a lot more in season, I would either search for a better value someplace else or just go back during peak season to get the best value for my stay (remember, unless you are planning on staying in the room for 24 hours, some of the value placed on a property may be the season in which you would be traveling – what hotel amenities or options are available during the right seaons, etc).


St. Regis, Aspen, Colorado


Cash and Points

Another redemption method is the Cash and Points. This allows you to use a mixture of points and fixed cash levels that change based on the category of hotel. There can be some real values with this option, but you need to do your research on some of the hotels that you may choose. For example, a category 4 hotel that I was looking at was going for $89 per night. To use cash and points, it would cost me 4,800 points and $60 cash. That is not a good way to use this redemption method – I am basically valuing those points at .6 cents per point (when you can typically redeem Starpoints at values greater than 3 cents per point). So, just do your homework before you choose your redemption method. SPG makes it easy in that they give you the breakdown of the outright cash cost, free night redemption rate, and cash and points rate, so you can make the calculations at a glance.

Cash and Points Redemption Chart

If you plan wisely, this is definitely one of the best ways to get the most value out of your Starpoints. For example, for select dates, the Westin San Diego (a Category 4) costs $409 a night. Since it is a category 4, that requires 4,000 Starpoints and $60 per night. That brings the actual value of your Starpoints to 8.75 cents per point! A fabulous redemption option. So, there is a lot of value to be had with this option.

Westin San Diego – A Great Candidate for Cash and Points


We will look at some of the other great benefits of this program in future posts. Just know this – you need to get some Starpoints! Below are two of the SPG credit cards (I do get a commission if you use these links and are approved). If you have a small business, you can take advantage of the business card as well. If you do not, read this post about the advantages if you set one up (here)!


Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by American Express. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of American Express, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by American Express. This site may be compensated through American Express Affiliate Program.

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About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.