Small Changes to the Starwood American Express Card

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.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. @Evan, I’m waiting anxiously for the Hyatt card but we don’t know anything about it yet, the longer we have the wait the less confident I am in feeling that it’ll turn out to be any sort of ‘killer app’.

  2. Raising the annual fee by almost 50% with token enhancements brings this card in line with others – it is no longer as special. The exception being those who are heavily into the miles earning game and have multiple accounts. A heavy hit to the mass appeal of this card, IMHO.

  3. Gary, SPG Gold also gets you 4pm checkout at all properties except the resorts. I think that’s a nontrivial benefit for many travelers, especially when one has a late afternoon or evening flight & wants to shower, change clothes, or just go for a mid-afternoon swim before heading to the airport. (I’ve used it to good advantage twice this month, but maybe I’m atypical.)

  4. D’oh! I keep forgetting about Preferred Plus, largely because the SPG website completely ignores its existence. Thanks for the reminder.

  5. Boo to the annual fee increase. Amex got everyone excited about the 30K promo with $1000 spend and now they sock it to us with a $20 annual fee increase.

  6. The increase is catching up to Membership Rewards annual fee.What did Amex really do to justify this increase?
    Nothing in return from what i can see.Even Priorty Club visa made improvemnets this year!In fact the promtional offers which at one time came once or twice a year from SPG Amex are now virtually non existent.Other competing cards are giving better bang for the buck unless all one wants is miles in the select airline programs that havent been devalued in the SPG partnership.Hello United!
    Amex doesn’t have the overhead of running Membership Rewards for this partnership so I see it for what it is a pure money grab with fee increase. Starwood Prerferred Guest handles all the calls for earning and redeeming points/fulfillment.At the end of the day I will be losing one of my Amex SPG cards and order the new Chase Hyatt card….
    members are probably subsidizing the increased aquisition costs of the new 30k SPG Amex sign up bonuses
    Theres a cost attached to that strategy some lost card holders
    Anyone spending less than 4000 dollars should also bail out of this card.You barley break even in the annual fee IMO

  7. While I admit the SPG50 award is useless, as I’ve tried to use it for years with no avail, I don’t see how they can claim the loss of this benefit is replaced. The 2 benefits replacing the award are already in place. So basically they’ve added nothing. All I see here is a fee increase with no added benefits. Both Hilton & Priority have stepped up their benefits with their respective cards & status levels. No free breakfast, or guaranteed club access SPG…Really??

  8. I won’t be renewing my wife’s SPG Amex card, and will probably junk my own business one. No point in paying three hefty fees (got their signup boni so that’s done). One $65 fee for this useful card is OK, but AMEX will lose out on some incremental spending, which will now go onto other cards if SPG isn’t handy. I ate the fee on two cards in the past, but now they’ve given me the reason to close accounts.

  9. For someone without SPG status, what is the spending amount needed to get gold status? Also, is there a benefit to having the card but no status? I remember hearing something about 4pm check-out without status when you have the card?

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