The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express (a Money Crashers partner) is a hotel rewards credit card with a $95 annual fee and a rewards program that revolves around the Starwood hotel family, which includes such brands as Sheraton, Westin, and W. Every purchase you make earns Starpoints, Starwood’s loyalty program currency. Starpoints can be redeemed for free nights and room upgrades at about 1,200 Starwood properties worldwide, or converted to frequent flyer miles from more than 30 airline groups.
The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card directly competes with other hotel and travel rewards credit cards, including the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card, Marriott Rewards Premier Card, IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card, U.S. Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards Visa Signature Card, United MileagePlus Explorer Card, Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card, and many others. If you own your own business, consider applying for this card’s very similar business credit card alternative: Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express.
- Sign-up Bonus: When you spend at least $3,000 by the end of your first 3 months of card membership, you get 25,000 bonus Starpoints. That can be worth up to $625 when redeemed for hotel nights, though precise point values vary based on when and where you redeem.
- Starpoint Rewards: The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card earns 4 Starpoints for every $1 spent at Starwood hotels, with no caps or restrictions. Once you qualify for Starwood Elite Gold status, which requires 10 separate hotel stays or 25 hotel nights, you earn an additional Starpoint (for 5 total) for every $1 spent at Starwood hotels. All other purchases earn an unlimited 1 Starpoint per $1 spent.
- Starpoint Redemptions: You can redeem accumulated Starpoints for free hotel nights and room upgrades. Free night redemption minimums start at 2,000 points for budget Category 1 hotels and rise to 35,000 points for high-end Category 7 hotels, though exact point requirements vary based on season and demand. Room upgrade minimums start at 1,000 points for Category 1 and rise to 2,750 points for Category 7. You can also use SPG’s Cash & Points feature to put cash and points toward the same free room. 1,500 points and $30 get you a free Category 1 night, while 15,000 and $275 are required for a free Category 7 night. Redemption values vary based on the cash price of the room or upgrade, as well as factors like season and demand, but can range as high as $0.025 (and even higher in rare cases).
- Regular APR: The purchase and balance transfer APR is 15.49% to 19.49%, depending on your creditworthiness and prevailing rates. The cash advance APR is 25.49%, and the penalty APR is 29.49%.
- Frequent Flyer Transfers: If you don’t want to redeem them at Starwood properties, you can convert your accumulated Starpoints to airline frequent flyer miles. More than 30 frequent flyer programs – including Delta SkyMiles and American Airlines AAdvantage – have agreements with Starwood. In most cases, transfers are one-to-one: 1 Starpoint for 1 mile. In rare cases, 2 or more Starpoints may be required to earn a single mile. When you transfer at least 20,000 points to a participating frequent flyer program, you get a 5,000 point bonus (25%).
- Starwood Elite Status Credit: At the beginning of each year, you get credit for 5 nights and 2 stays toward Starwood Elite Gold status. Gold status entitles you to flexible checkout times, complimentary room upgrades, accelerated Starpoint earnings on all Starwood stays, and more.
- Free WiFi: The Starwood Preferred Guest card entitles you to free premium in-room WiFi at all Starwood properties. You also get complimentary, unlimited access to more than 1 million Boingo WiFi hotspots worldwide, including at airports and train stations.
- Additional Travel Benefits: The Starwood Preferred Guest card has a number of other useful travel benefits not limited to Starwood properties. These include complimentary loss and damage insurance on rental cars paid for with the card, 24/7 roadside assistance, 24/7 global assistance for travelers more than 100 miles from home, and accidental death and dismemberment insurance for traveling cardholders.
- General Benefits: This card’s non-travel benefits include 12-month extended warranties on all items purchased with original warranties of 5 years or less, purchase protection for items stolen or damaged within 90 days of purchase, and return protection (up to $300 per item) for returns rejected by the original merchant within 90 days of purchase.
- Important Fees: The $95 annual fee is waived in the first year, and there are never any foreign transaction fees. Late and returned payments cost $37, while balance transfers and cash advances both cost the greater of $5 or 3%.
- Credit Required: This card requires excellent credit.
- Points Can Be Valuable at Redemption. Starpoints are worth up to $0.025 at redemption, and sometimes even more, depending on when and where you redeem. By contrast, Marriott Rewards Premier and IHG Rewards Club Select both have average point redemption values closer to the $0.01 mark, and sometimes lower.
- Very Good Sign-up Bonus. The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card’s sign-up bonus is worth up to $625 at redemption. That’s substantially more than IHG Rewards Club Select (roughly $300) and U.S. Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards Visa Signature ($400).
- Generous Frequent Flyer Transfer Deal. As a Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card holder, you’re entitled to 1:1 Starpoint-to-frequent-flyer-point transfers with some of the world’s most popular airlines, including Delta and American. Plus, you get a 5,000 Starpoint bonus whenever you transfer at least 20,000 Starpoints to frequent flyer miles. Most other hotel rewards cards have complicated point transfer systems, if they exist at all. Many require more than 1 hotel point to earn a single frequent flyer point, and many don’t offer point transfer bonuses.
- No Foreign Transaction Fee. This card doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. That’s good news for international travelers who prefer the Starwood brand. The Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature and Expedia+ cards both have 3% annual fees.
- Nice Fringe Benefits. This card has a nice lineup of fringe benefits, including free WiFi in every Starwood hotel room and at every Boingo hotspot worldwide. More bare-bones travel rewards cards, such as Barclaycard Arrival, don’t have these sweet perks.
- Has an Annual Fee. After the first year, the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card comes with a $95 annual fee. If you don’t stay at Starwood properties often enough to offset this recurring levy, this card probably isn’t for you. The Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature is a great hotel card with no annual fee, while Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard is a nice fee-free general travel rewards option.
- Mediocre Elite Status Benefit. The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card earns 2 stays and 5 nights toward Gold status. While that’s better than cards with no elite status benefits at all, it’s worse than many direct competitors. For instance, IHG Rewards Club Select ($49 annual fee) automatically qualifies you for Platinum Elite status, IHG’s second-highest loyalty tier.
- Limited Number of Participating Properties. You can only earn and redeem Starpoints at about 1,200 Starwood properties worldwide. That sounds like a lot, but it’s a far cry from comparable Marriott and IHG rewards programs – each of which have more than 4,000 properties to choose from. If you want more redemption options, choose the Marriott Rewards Premier or IHG Rewards Club Select cards.
The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express offers generous point values, a nice sign-up bonus, 1:1 points transfer to many frequent flyer programs, and some other attractive perks. As hotel rewards credit cards go, it’s pretty good.
At the same time, it can’t singlehandedly create Starwood properties in your preferred destinations. If you routinely visit cities or vacation destinations without Westin, Sheraton, W, or other Starwood-branded properties, a different hotel rewards card may be in order. However, if your travel patterns shift into Starwood’s orbit at some point in the future, this popular card will be waiting for you there.