I’ve gotta say, I never thought this day would come. I’ve long hailed the Starwood American Express credit card as the all around most rewarding credit card out there. You earn one Starwood point per dollar, which you can put either redeem for hotel stays or transfer to airline miles. I don’t stay at Starwood hotels often, so all of my Starwood points eventually get converted to airline miles. They have dozens of transfer partners, and when you transfer in increments of 20,000, they throw in a 5,000 point bonus. In other words, you’re essentially earning 1.25 miles per dollar. There is one big downside for me, though: the points don’t convert into miles instantly (or even remotely fast). It can take one to two weeks for many programs, which means you can’t find award space, put the ticket on a brief hold, and then transfer the points to ticket the reservation. Since it takes so long, you just have to transfer the points and then find the award space once the points post to the account. And that’s just very, very risky. When I see a single date the whole month that has availability on the flights I want, Starwood points aren’t very valuable.
Anyway, back to the point of this post. While I have quite a few credit cards, I only keep two credit cards in my money clip at a time (the rest are in my travel wallet), and 90%+ of my credit card spend goes onto those cards. For the past year or so, those two cards have been the Starwood American Express and British Airways Signature Visa card. I think the reasons for the Starwood American Express are obvious. I also like the British Airways card for a few reasons. First of all, it’s a Visa, for those retailers that don’t take American Express. Second, it has no foreign transaction fees, which saves me quite a bit of money when traveling abroad. Third, you earn a companion award certificate good for travel on British Airways when you spend $30,000 on the card annually. Now, redemption opportunities aren’t great for travel on British Airways due to the fuel surcharges, but it’s still nice flexibility. More importantly, I actually find the miles to be useful, thanks to the fact that they allow unlimited stopovers. 150,000 miles to Asia in first class on Cathay Pacific with a stopover or 80,000 miles to South America in business class on LAN with a stopover sound like good deals to me. The 1.25 miles per dollar you earn don’t hurt either.
But I’m thinking of dropping the Starwood American Express and replacing it with the American Express Premier Rewards Gold card, which I signed up for last week. The card offers three Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on airfare, two Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on gas and groceries, and one Membership Rewards point per dollar spent on everything else.
Now, I put a lot of money in air fare on my card, for family, friends, clients, etc. Say, theoretically, you spend exactly $30,000 per year in airfare on the card. That would earn you 90,000 Membership Rewards points (for the simple three points you earn per dollar). That’s incredibly valuable, though to make it even better, American Express often has further transfer bonuses, like they do right now to British Airways, with their 40% transfer bonus. That means with a similar deal, you are actually “earning” 126,000 British Airways miles for $30,000 in spend. That’s over four British Airways miles per dollar spent. And the beauty of American Express Membership Rewards points is that they transfer instantly to most programs, and take at most a couple of days for some programs (like transfers to All Nippon Airways).
In fairness the card does come with a steep annual fee of $175 (which is waived for the first year), though it seems well worth it for the miles earned.
So for the time being my Starwood American Express card will be collecting dust. Let’s see for how long that lasts.