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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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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