The travel rewards card that has been in my wallet the longest is the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express. It is quite famous in the travel junkie circles, but not very well known otherwise. Once you understand the combination of flexibility and value, you will better understand why this is my favorite hotel rewards card and also the only annual fee card that I’ve kept consistently over the last 7+ years.
- Earn 25,000 bonus Starpoints® after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees on international purchases.
- Receive free in-room, premium internet access. Booking requirements apply.
- Enjoy complimentary, unlimited Boingo Wi-Fi on up to four devices at more than 1,000,000 Boingo hotspots worldwide. Enrollment required.
- Earn free nights at over 1,200 hotels and resorts in nearly 100 countries with no blackout dates.
- Some hotels may have mandatory service and resort charges.
- $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
- When redeeming towards hotel stays, I regularly get 2-6 cents of value per point, more than often the value you’d get from airline miles. Get free stays in hotels that otherwise charge $300+ a night.
- Rather have miles? You can convert 20,000 points to 25,000 miles, which is 1.25 miles per dollar spent, 25% more miles than most other airline-specific cards.
- Easy transfers mean you can “top off” a frequent flier account to get to that coveted reward ticket level. Your miles aren’t worth anything until you actually use them!
- You can convert just a few miles to keep your other miles from expiring.
Either I’ve had one, or my wife has had one, or I’ve had the business card version of this card for the last 5+ years. Transferring points within between household members is quite easy and free.
Starwood Points transfer to Frequent Flier Miles
The first reason why this card is so useful is that Starwood points (or Starpoints) can be converted to miles to major domestic airlines and several international ones. This includes Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, and United. Most transfer at a 1:1 ratio (1 Starwood point = 1 frequent flier mile), unless otherwise noted. For example, the ratio is lower for United (2:1 means 2 Starpoints = 1 United mile.
Imagine that you’re only a thousand miles short of a free ticket, but you need to buy a ticket and would really like to make it free. Although there may be other options that involve spending money, you can simply “top off” your balance by transferring as little as 1,500 miles to the specific airline programs that you want. You can even convert a specific number of points. Just need 2,854 miles here and 1,567 somewhere else? No problem.
With most airlines, your miles expire after a period of inactivity. But since any activity counts (not only flying), I could quickly transfer 1,500 miles over in order to save 20,000 hard-earned miles from expiring.
- Aeromexico Club Premier
- Aeroplan/Air Canada
- Air Berlin
- Air China Companion
- Air New Zealand Air Points (65:1)
- Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
- Alitalia MileMiglia
- All Nippon Airways (ANA) Mileage Club
- American Airlines AAdvantage
- Asia Miles
- Asiana Airlines
- British Airways Executive Club
- China Eastern Airlines
- China Southern Airlines’ Sky Pearl Club
- Delta Airlines SkyMiles
- Emirates Skywards
- Etihad Airways
- Flying Blue
- Gol Smiles (2:1)
- Hainan Airlines
- Hawaiian Airlines
- Japan Airline (JAL) Mileage Bank
- Jet Airways
- LAN Airlines LANPASS Kms (1:1.5)
- Miles and More
- Qatar Airways
- Saudi Arabian Airlines Alfursan
- Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
- Thai Airways International Royal Orchid Plus
- United Mileage Plus (2:1)
- US Airways Dividend Miles
- Velocity Frequent Flier
- Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
For every 20,000 points you convert, you get an additional 5,000 point bonus. So 20,000 Starwood points = 25,000 miles on the airlines listed above. That’s 25% more miles per dollar than those airline-specific credit cards (although the waived baggage fees are appealing).
Great Hotel Rewards Card
Starwood is a growing collection of over 1,000 mid-scale to very-upscale hotels in nearly 100 countries, from the business-oriented Four Points and Sheratons to the upscale W and Westin hotels. This card has come in very handy for travel to international and bigger US cities.
Short-notice and emergency stays. All room taxes are included when you use points, and there are no blackout dates unlike other hotel programs. I’ve used them in a pinch, burning just 3,000 points for a last-minute $120 a night room at the Vancouver Airport Four Points (now Category 3).
Luxury international hotels. I’m usually happy with a Holiday Inn Express by the airport for a business trip, but when traveling for leisure it can be very convenient to stay downtown near the action and sights. In a city like Paris or Rome, this can mean big bucks. With this card, I’ve stayed at $300 a night hotels like the W New York, Westin Madrid, and Westin Venice. Being able to stay up late into the night in Venice instead of having to leave was amazing. If you redeem for 4 nights in a row in a Category 3 or higher hotel, the 5th night is free.
Cash and points option. Don’t miss “cash and points” opportunities. For example, I found a $400 room at the Westin Rome in Italy or W Hotel New York Times Square for 8,000 points + $150 a night. Run the numbers yourself using the booking engine at SPG.com and look for the “SPG Cash & Points” option. The value of 30,000 points can be easily greater than $500.
This last option is not the best value, but for the purposes of setting a last resort and baseline value, 9,500 Starpoints = $100 gift card at Amazon.com.