Starwood American Express: New Benefits Coming August 11

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Starwood is adding new benefits and increasing the annual fee on their co-brand American Express cards staring August 11th.


    Westin Siray Bay Resort, Phuket

New benefits

There are four new benefits. Three of the benefits apply to both the personal and business cards, and one benefit – in my view, the best one – is specific to the business card.

  1. No Foreign Transaction Fees

    This has been a long time coming. Premium travel credit cards shouldn’t have foreign transaction fees. Customers travel abroad, put the card away, and don’t take it back out when they return home. It’s in the bank’s interest not to charge these for customers who are regular international travels, and the portfolio of hotel and airline co-brand credit card customers overall meets this criteria.

    I’ll finally be able to use my Starwood American Express cards at Starwood hotels, even outside the U.S.

  2. Complimentary, Unlimited Boingo Wi-Fi

    This is a benefit that American Express added to their Platinum cards a year ago.

    It’s free unlimited unlimited access to Boingo’s wireless hot spots around the world, something they’d charge at least $60 per month for. Although I find I don’t use it often because I travel with my own internet (phone, mifi) and generally go places where it’s free (hotel, airport lounge, coffee shop) anyway.

  3. Complimentary Premium In-Room Internet Access

    Starwood no longer charges SPG members for internet access, and as a result they give ‘premium’ (faster) internet to Gold and Platinum members. This upgraded internet will also be extended to their co-brand American Express card holders.

  4. Access to Sheraton Club Lounges for Starwood Preferred Guest® Business card holders.

    I get this anyway as a Starwood Platinum, but for cardholders without Platinum status — and especially with the investment that Starwood is putting into the Sheraton brand — this could be the real sleeper gem benefit.

    The benefit isn’t included with the personal card. So this, along with the OPEN savings program (that I use to save 5% on my domestic full service Hyatt stays which I pay for using my Starwood business Amex), is another reason why the business card is actually better than the personal card – though I have both.

Increased Annual Fee

Effective August 11, the cards annual fees will go from $65 to $95 (it remains $0 the first year). So cardmembers will see a higher fee on their first renewal date that comes after mid-August.

The last refresh of the card came in summer 2010 (when they added 5 nights and 2 stays towards elite status just for having the card, and increased the annual fee from $45 to $65; the fee went from $30 to $45 in summer 2007).

The card has always been too cheap compared to the competition. When airline cards and cards with transferrable points have long been $75 to $85 and are now generally $95 a year, the Starwood cards were a relative bargain.

Raising the fee makes sense given the competition. It helps fund American Express re-upping the relationship and also the new benefits. And it’s basically noise — any card that’s on a $30 margin as to whether or not it’s worth keeping isn’t a card I’d have anyway.

The personal card has been in my wallet since 2001, I signed up with no bonus at all. The standard bonus had been 4000 points, but there were also 6000 point offers. In 2006 they brought out the small business version of the card and they bumped the signup bonus offer to 10,000 points. It’s amazing how times change.

Existing Features: Strong Points-Earning

I consider Starwood points the single most valuable currency there is.

When transferring points into 20,000 miles you get 5000 bonus miles. They’re flexible with more airline mileage transfer options than anyone else and with ways to stretch points on hotel stays with cash and points awards.

For instance, I love the Japan Airlines distance-based award chart for redeeming miles on oneworld airlines and on Emirates. But if I want JAL miles the only realistic way for me to get them is to… transfer Starwood points.

I live the Starwood Amex precisely because of this flexibility. I’d rather earn points with this card than with an airline card — because I’m earning faster (thanks to the built-in transfer bonus) and I can put the points wherever I want. The only downside is that unlike with many Chase and American Express Membership Rewards transfer partners, the transfers from Starwood to airline miles aren’t instantaneous (and vary by partner).

Existing Features: Elite Status

Each of the Starwood American Express cards (personal and business) come with 2 stays and 5 nights towards status qualification. If you have both cards, as I do, you get 4 stays and 10 nights. That way I only need 40 nights during the year to make my Platinum status on nights.

Of course, spending $30,000 in a year on the card gets you Starwood Gold status. I don’t think that’s a worthwhile goal. (Just having an American Express Platinum card entitles you to Gold status.)

That’s because Starwood also provides customers of its marketing partners like co-brand American Express cardholders and AAA members with ‘Preferred Plus’ status which provides the best benefit of Starwood Gold — 4pm late checkout. Here’s how the benefit is described on the AAA joining page:

Gold has additional benefits, of course, of 50% more points for spending with Starwood’s hotels, and with their ‘Crossover Rewards’ Delta partnership, their ‘Your World Rewards’ Emirates partnership, and their Uber partnership.

I wouldn’t put $30,000 worth of spend on the card to get Gold, but Gold status is a bonus if you do put $30,000 of spend in a year on the card anyway.

Overall Assessment

Way back in May 2002 when I first started this blog I wrote,

the credit card I recommend most often for earning miles is the Starwood American Express, because points transfer 1:1 into most airline programs and you get a 5k mile bonus for transferring 20k points — equivalent to earning 1.25 miles per dollar on all purchases.

I don’t think it’s the number one points-earning card overall anymore, that honor belongs to the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card which has a bigger signup bonus, offers stronger spend bonuses (double points on travel and dining), and earns valuable points in its own right (though not as valuable as Starwood’s).

But it’s held a place in my wallet these past almost 14 years. It’s fueled my honeymoon stay in French Polynesia, travels throughout Southeast Asia and Australia, and stays in Europe. And it’s helped me put points into the airline mileage programs I’ve needed for international premium cabin award tickets as well.

I still wish the card had some sort of spending category bonus, or threshold bonus, to keep it top of wallet. Although Gretchen Kloke, Starwood’s Vice President of Global Loyalty Marketing, tells me “while not an ongoing benefit of the card, we do hope to do more of these promotionally.”

With waived foreign transaction fees, I’ll use the cards more. And I’ll recommend the business card for anyone that stays occasionally with Sheraton and isn’t a Starwood Platinum because the club access benefit is really cool.

They’ll keep me – with both cards – even with the higher fee, even though outside of the change to foreign transaction fees the changes don’t benefit me personally.


    W Seoul Walkerhill

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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Comments

  1. This has been my workhorse credit card since I was 18 (past 10 years). I’m very glad to see them removing the foreign transaction fees. However, I don’t get anything from this card to justify a $95 annual fee (besides earning awesome SPG Points). As an SPG Platinum and my oldest credit card account, I’ll finally be walking away from American Express. If they gave me a free night annually, plus no foreign transaction fees I’d keep the card, otherwise I am shifting to Hyatt. Shame on Amex (again).

  2. The annual fee is competitive though — it’s what the airline co-brand cards charge, and Starwood points are better. It’s what Chase Sapphire Preferred charges, too. I don’t think it pays for valuable new benefits as much as for re-upping the SPG co-brand, which presumably got more expensive for Amex.

  3. I easily make up the annual amex fees in amex offers every year. Small business saturday alone gets me at least $180 back on the cards I have (plus serve and authorized users). If this is what keeps the program intact I’ll pay, especially now I can use it overseas where I spend he big bucks on starwood

  4. > “The card has always been too cheap compared to the competition.”

    I disagree. The card has not been too cheap. A lot of $95 cards offer bonus categories that SPG still will not offer making them more valuable. I don’t care about 0% forex fee when AMEX is not even widely accepted abroad. I’ve had SPG AMEX for about 10 years and may finally drop it. As luck would have it, my annual fee comes just after the rate hike.

  5. If you apply for the card before August 11th, does that mean that the first year of card membership will only be $65 but with these added benefits?

  6. I’m not a big spender so the $95 fee hits me harder. I like the card at $65 (esp with Small Business Sat). Lack of bonus categories has always been frustrating with this card. I like Starwood properties but their lack of properties in Europe is frustrating. Gold/Platinum. I get Platinum with the Hyatt card so that’s nice.

  7. I may downgrade my personal Spg and keep my biz card. Does Amex allow one to downgrade without a credit pull’

  8. Big and Exciting news. Starwood Preferred Guest Business card looks extremely attractive. How difficult is it to get this business version? I was denied by Chase for a business card because my “Business” expenses sounded too low. Do people lie about “Business” expenses to get approved? Thanks very much.

  9. I’ve never lied about business expenses and certainly don’t suggest lying on a credit application! Everyone’s experience differs but one of the first things a business should do as they start up, even before there’s revenue or expenses, is work to keep expenses separate from personal spending. A good way to do that is a small business credit card. Plenty of people get approved on the basis of their own credit without yet having expenses (although they’ll likely have projected spending levels).

  10. I wonder how you utilize the free Boingo access…if you pay a day-rate for Boingo (say, at an airport), is there an automatic no-charge if you’ve paid with your Starwood card? Or, do you have to register your Boingo login information in advance with Starwood? Or some other method?

    I’m interested because I’ll be traveling to several European destinations in September, and would like for Boingo to be an option.

  11. I don’t think, for the $95 annual fee that you say is “competitive”, that the benefits are comparable to the sapphire preferred, citi hilton reserve, or other $95 cards. To keep the card, the value of the right to earn Starpoints based on your spend has to be better than 2 c/p at no annual fee. Looks like the new break-even point is about $4K in spend, not taking into account perceived value of benefits.

  12. Actually, my math above isn’t correct. Because you have to value the opportunity cost of earning 2 c/p at no annual fee before you broke even on the SPG annual fee alone. So its actually more like ~$20-25K of spending on SPG card to make the value better than a no-fee 2% back card. At that spend level, I doubt I’m keeping the card.

    I’m using 2.4 c/p for starwood points, and the new $95 annual fee divided by the .004 valuation difference between starwood points and the standard 2 c/p.

  13. are these changes big enough for Amex to consider it a “new product” and to therefore award the sign up bonus to previous cardholders?

  14. @Miles, They give you a Boingo sign-up and use just use Boingo. I have had it for a long time from my AMEX Platinum but never used it because it drained my phone’s battery too much.

  15. Explain a little further about the conversion ratio, please. Say I want to say at a Starwood in Paris, France. Starwood’s rate per night per their web site is $500 per night.
    (a) How do I do this?
    (b) Am I better off converting to Starwood OR paying the Starwood rate on my AX Platinum and have the dollar amount subtracted from my mileage account?
    (c) How many AX miles needed to pay for a $500 per night hotel stay.
    1:1 translates – what?
    Really appreciate the “translation” for a complicated arena.
    (d) Say I stay at a lesser expensive hotel for $200 per night with a ratio of
    1:6. Could you tell me how many AX Platinum miles will be subtracted.
    * Trying to figure out the best deal for me…retried lady traveling alone to
    see the Christmas lights of Paris.
    Sarah

  16. Is this considered a different/new product aka will previous holders of the personal spg amex now be able to requalify for the sign up bonus if applying after August?

  17. Really the news here is that the annual fee is going up almost 50%. Clever to couch it in after touting the new benefits. With that said, I have to agree with you that eliminating foreign transaction fees is an overdue benefit, as I cringe to use it at overseas Starwood properties with the stiff 3% fee tacked on.

  18. I think the additional benefits outweigh the additional costs. After a few days of wifi and breakfast in a lounge, you’ve paid the annual fee. What’s the easiest way to tell if a specific Sheraton has a lounge? Also, is there a comprehensive listing of Sheratons that have lounges? Would Sheratons that are part of the Luxury Collection still offer the lounge benefit? I’m looking at Thailand next year, so the lounge benefit really adds value, particularly when breakfast is otherwise $30 per person.

  19. As a platinum who does not require the nights or stay credits to requalify the card is no
    Longer worth it to me. I value spg points only marginally higher than ultimate reward points, which is where my spend will go to if I do not have this card. Amex is still hard to use in Asia and often subject to retailer imposed surcharges. Also customer service on the sapphire is much better than Amex customer service, and their online access is easier to use, secure messaging more effective as well.

    Still worth it for sign up bonuses. Is it still once in a lifetime for the personal card, with a requirement of having not had the card for two years for the business card?

  20. i think the lowest hanging fruit that they still haven’t plucked is the lack of instant transfers. With the disappearance of award holds, this really devalues the SPG points. I know they are a hotel program first and foremost but the IT investment can’t be THAT hard can it. Can they license Chase’s tech for the carriers they share! Geez Louise. If they want to pretend to be like MR and UR with the annual fee that’s the first place to start.

  21. My current Amex Starwood business card does not have a chip in it. The removal of the foreign transaction fee is good but not great until it comes with chip and pin. Any word on when that’s likely to happen?

  22. I ditched my Amex Plat last weekend (replaced by Citi Prestige since its Priority Pass includes 2 free guests). With the annual fee increase I’ll ditch my Amex SPG too. Only place I was still using an Amex was Costco, for 6 more months. I will be Amex-less for the first time in 18 years. Sad. Very sad.

  23. Any chance the extra $30/year buys us a redesign of the card itself? The current version has to be one of the most unattractive looking cards in my wallet. lol

  24. +$30 for additional “benefits” that have no value to me (even Gary admits he won’t really benefit either). Only a blogger shilling Amex could love this “enhancement”

    FYI $95 is not competitive, when you consider that Chase Hyatt, Marriott and IC all have lower annual fees that come with a free night annually.

    The only thing that makes this card worthwhile are the SPG points – same as always – and Gold status for those of us who can’t earn it the hard way.

  25. – all good things come to the end and now the time had come for SPG AmEX. As SPG PLT I am not interested in SPG GLD status, premium internet, or Sheraton Club access. Paying $95 for Boingo just does not make sense. I do have other cards that are not AmEX and that also do not have a foreign transaction fee. Granted, I do pay $95 for a city AAdvantage card but I always redeem >100,000 K AA miles every year and return of 10K AA miles pays off for the fee.
    The bottom line is that I do not see compelling reasons for an SPG PLT to keep AmEX after the fee increase. I will simply switch my spending to HHonors card that offers a similar or, perhaps, higher kickback on spending.

  26. @Gary

    With no FTF would the card now be the best choice over Chase Sapphire or other cards while staying at SPG hotels. I have never used the card becuase I live overseas and stay in SPG hotels outside of the US. So I’m wondering if I should start using it when I stay at SGP hotels beucase of the no FTF

  27. Access to the lounge and Boingo is a pretty sweet deal for the extra $30. I like that will be able to use the card at overseas SPG hotels too. On train from airport to Sheraton Brussels as I type.

  28. If my wife has a business card and I am a authorized user on that account, will that work for Sheraton Club access for me??

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