I had been hearing rumblings of new benefits coming for the Starwood American Express card for awhile. I had heard a number of really creative ideas, and had been hoping for something game changing.
American Express had gotten pretty creative with their co-branded Hilton Surpass card, offering top-tier Diamond status based on credit card spend. I knew $40,000 spend wouldn’t actually get Starwood’s Platinum status, which is actually useful (much more so than Hilton Diamond).
But with the pending introduction of a Hyatt co-branded card (about which I get very few answers, and all Chase execs seem to clam up, there seem to have been some problems in paradise even before the card rolls out), I rather thought that Starwood and American Express might come out guns blazing.
Instead, (hat tip TM Travel World) they are raising the annual fee from $45 to $65, eliminating the annual 50% off rack rate certificate that few used (though which is sometimes useful on suites in particular and at some properties saved $20 or $30 a night occasionally), and introducing two new benefits:
- 5 nights towards elite status annually. So 20 nights to Gold and 45 to Platinum (rather than 25 and 50, respectively). Achieving Gold is roughly meaningless, the incremental benefit over ‘preferred plus’ is really just a 50% points bonus on in-hotel spend. The card still offers Gold after $30,000 in spend in any case, so it’s a benefit only to lower spend customers not working on Platinum status via nights. But this will be a big deal for those travelers who regularly barely make Platinum on nights. There’s no help here for folks who make Platinum with 25 stays.
- Third night free on paid Sheraton properties, but only some Sheratons will participate and I’d guess it’ll mirror the ones that participate in similar promotions Starwood runs offering discounted stays without using the card.
I’m not concerned about losing the “SPG50” disocunt certificates, they aren’t a huge loss. The third night free at participating Sheratons isn’t much of a gain, either.
The $20 increase in annual fee isn’t huge, Starwood points are worth enough to me as a result of my spend that I’ll eat the increase. Anyone whose decision is driven by the difference in fee probably shouldn’t have been using the card in the first place. And it’s still less expensive or at least no more expensive than most serious competitor cards on the market.
And the five nights towards status will be helpful to some, but I would have loved to have seen the opportunity for more elite credit based on spend volume or the ability to earn stay credits tather than nights.
Bottom-line, some will feel slightly positive and others slightly negative, these reactions should mostly balance out. Much ado about nothing.