New Starwood American Express Benefits Coming August 11, 2015

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The Starwood American Express is one of the first credit cards I ever applied for, and is one I’ve held onto every since. While it doesn’t have huge category bonuses, it offers one of the most lucrative returns on everyday spend, given how valuable Starpoints are.

Well, the SPG AmEx will be undergoing some major changes as of August 11, 2015, as follows:

No foreign transaction fees

This is long overdue, in my opinion, but American Express is finally eliminating the foreign transaction fees on this credit card. The foreign transaction fees on the card are currently 2.7%, so as it stands I’ve never used the Starwood American Express to pay for hotel stays abroad, even at Starwood properties. Instead I’ve used the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Citi ThankYou® Premier Card.

It’s great that they’ll finally be eliminating these foreign transaction fees, making this card a great option for credit card spend abroad (where I spend over half of my time).

Complimentary unlimited Boingo wi-fi

Starwood American Express cardmembers will enjoy complimentary unlimited wifi-access when enrolling in the Boingo American Express Preferred Plan. This is valid for up to four devices at more than a million hotspots worldwide. This is similar to the benefit which was added to The Platinum Card® from American Express last year.

AmEx-Platinum-Boingo-1

When I first registered for Boingo I didn’t think I’d get much use out of it, though I’ve been really surprised, as I’ve used it at a ton of airports which otherwise charge for wifi. I guess I never knew just how useful it is because Boingo is often a “partner” of whoever the wifi provider at an airport is, so you sometimes have to go to the bottom of the log-in page to enter your Boingo credentials.

Complimentary in-room premium internet access

Late last year Starwood announced that they would add complimentary wifi for all SPG members when booking directly through Starwood.

SPG-Free-Internet-1

Gold and Platinum members now receive complimentary premium internet.

SPG-Free-Internet-2

SPG AmEx members will also receive complimentary premium in-room internet access at Starwood hotels, which is awesome news.

Sheraton club lounge access for SPG AmEx Business card members

This is probably the single biggest new perk of all. Those with the SPG Business AmEx (not the SPG Personal AmEx), will receive access to Sheraton Club Lounges when staying at those hotels. That’s a huge perk, given that otherwise you have to pay for club access or be a Platinum member to get access.

Sheraton hotels are about to rebrand, so I suspect club lounges will get even better. And do keep in mind that in many cases (especially outside the US) Sheraton Club Lounges are already really nice, like at the Sheraton Salzburg.

Sheraton-Salzburg-Club-Lounge

Annual fee increasing

Not surprising, the annual fee on the SPG AmEx is being raised from $65 per year to $95 per year, which is more in line with what other co-branded airline and hotel credit cards charge. That being said, the first year’s annual fee continues to be $0.

Why I’ve kept this card year after year

One thing that makes this card so valuable is that it offers two elite stay credits and five elite night credits towards status annually. Best of all if you have both the SPG Business AmEx and SPG Personal AmEx, the benefit stacks. In other words, just for having both cards I receive four elite stay credits and 10 elite night credits towards Platinum status annually. That’s a great perk, especially for someone otherwise struggling to achieve Platinum status.

SPG-Amex-2

Also keep in mind that if you spend $30,000 on the SPG AmEx in a calendar year you get SPG Gold status.

Bottom line

The Starwood AmEx has long been one of the most rewarding credit cards out there. It offers what I’d consider to be the single most lucrative points currency, given that I value Starpoints at 2.2 cents each. So for everyday, non-bonused spend it’s a card which is extremely tough to beat.

While I don’t think anyone is happy about the annual fee going up by $30 per year, I do think the new benefits warrant it. The Sheraton Club Lounge access benefit on the SPG Business AmEx is in my opinion the coolest new benefit of all, and makes that card extremely attractive.

What do you make of the SPG AmEx refresh?

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Comments

  1. Any experience/problems converting the card from the personal version to the business version? The club lounge access is a very nice benefit – much more attractive to me than room upgrades.

  2. @ Travel4b — I don’t believe there’s a way you can convert a personal card into a business card, though you can always apply for it new and still earn the sign-up bonus on the card. I think that’s the only way to do it.

  3. Can you re-earn the bonus on these cards? I initially got both the business and personal in August/September 2013 and cancelled before the annual fee was charged. Can I reapply now and get the bonus?

  4. I don’t currently have an SPG AmEx, but I’ve thought about getting one. Is there any downside for signing up for the Business version? (I do occasionally have side projects that I bill for/treat as a business, so I don’t have any problems with going through business motions – just wondering if there’s anything I should be aware of vs. the Personal.)

  5. Not worth the higher annual fee. I already have plenty of no-foreign-fee credit cards, and I already get the Boingo benefit from the platinum card. I will probably cancel.

  6. I respect the thought that you put into the evaluations, but I just can’t see SPG points being worth 2.2 cents per. Yeah, you can transfer them with a 25% bonus (if done in the correct amounts). So that means that my 20,000 Starwood points is worth 25,000 American miles. Great, but I really don’t think 25,000 American miles is worth $440, so that’s out. And then with the increased cost of hotel redemptions plus the lower value of Cash + Points I don’t see 2.2 being a good baseline at all for use in Starwood’s own properties.

    I know you CAN get 2.2 cpm in value but I get a lot more than 1.1 cents a mile from Delta (125,000 to Europe in business usually gives you 3-4 cpm) and usually do — however, that doesn’t mean we should say Delta points are worth worth than 1.1. I get that they’re worth a lot, but I think the difficulty in attaining them (compared to, say, Hilton, which just throws point at everyone left and right) causes people to overstate their value. A card that earns 25,000 SPG as a signup causes everyone to speak in awed tones, but why?

  7. Instant transfer to both airline programs and within households are the only perks of this card I care about. I think the points aren’t quite as useful as often hyped.

  8. @ James K. — It all depends how you’re redeeming the points. At a rate of 2.2 cents per point, that’s like valuing airline miles at 1.76 cents each. I recently bought Alaska miles for about 2.1 cents each, when I could have transferred them from Starwood. I agree Delta miles aren’t worth that much, but I do think SPG has some partner airline currencies which are worth at least that much. And that doesn’t even begin to factor in the value you can get out of hotel stays with fifth night free, for example.

  9. Wow, I could have sworn I had the business version of this card (one of those get the card, finish the spend, put it in a drawer situations), but I don’t. Just in time for my planned app-o-rama next month.

  10. @Guyguyguy – Since when do SPG points transfer to airline miles instantly? They seem to take a few days (at least) for most airlines.

  11. Wow-you buried the fact that the annual fee is going up almost 50%! Guess you know who butters your bread!

  12. Business card –If a Sheraton does not have a lounge floor – will you get free a breakfast anyway like other hotels allow
    since this is the best benefit I would not apply if the answer is no

  13. @ BILLY — I don’t believe you would. Though a vast majority of Sheraton properties have club lounges.

  14. Not sure if I will keep the card since I travel only 2 to 3 times year and dont stay at any SPG properties. And I get free internet at the airport via my att hotspot. And with Costco changing from Amex to Visa, it doesnt look like this card is going to be useful to me esply with the increase in annual fee. Need to think about this one.

  15. People, don’t forget about Amex Sync and small business Friday deals. I’m actually making money after all these deals minus the annual fee. For example the latest Smart & Final’s $25 off $50 purchase x 3 and Sam’s Club $20 of $20 purchase have more than offset current $65 annual fee. Even with $95, it’s still worth after the small business Friday and other deals such as iTune, Amazon or uBer purchase.

  16. @James K

    Consider that per Starwood’s 2014 Annual Report, their worldwide average ADR was $175.64 when taking into account all of their properties. We can also determine the average standard SPG award night points needed when considering how many properties fall into each of the categories (Category 1 – 63 hotels, Category 2 – 199 hotels, Category 3 – 316 hotels, Category 4 – 332 hotels, Category 5 – 232 hotels, Category 6 – 86 hotels, Category 7 – 35 hotels). As categories 5, 6 and 7 can range in points required, at the low end, the average SPG award redemption is 9,557 points. At the high end, it is 10,771.

    Looking back at the average year end 2014 ADR of $175.64, this doesn’t include additional value realized from ADR gains in 2015 or the average taxes covered on an award redemption. Nationally, ADR is expected to grow at 4% and Starwood is unlikely to adjust their categories until next year. Therefore, let’s assume the 2015 ADR will be $182.67. Hotel taxes can vary by location but in major cities tend to range between 12% and 18%. For ease of calculation, let’s assume 15%. This means that worldwide, the value gained from an average room in 2015 would be $210.07 ($182.67 * 1.15). If we calculate cents per point using the low average award redemption, value would be pegged at 2.198 cents per point ($210.07 / 9,557 points). If we consider the higher average award redemption, value would be pegged at 2.0 cents per point ($210.07 / 10,771).

    We can therefore confidently say that on the average, Starwood points are worth between 2.0 to 2.2 cents per point for standard award redemption. While 2.1 cents per point might be slightly more accurate, I’m willing to give Lucky a pass at 2.2 cents per point if he’s using airline point transfers as his basis.

  17. Just in time for Oktoberfest! Removing to foreign transaction fee is going to save me roughly $130 when we stay at the Le Meridien in Munich on top of saving at least another $400 on premium Internet between our rooms. The additional $30 annual fee is totally worth it!

  18. The access to the club lounge is a game changer for me. I always stay at Hyatt’s wherever possible when traveling for vacations because I value the diamond benefits, and access to the lounge. I am only an SPG Gold, and usually avoid booking SPG brands because breakfast for a family of 4 can soon add up, especially overseas. Having access to the Club Lounge now for breakfast, with my SPG Business Amex (which I have had for several years) will change my vacation-stay habits. It opens up a much wider selection for me now.

    LOVE this new benefit.

  19. Eliminating the forex fee alone is worth the $30 increase in annual fee, especially since I’ve always put so much spend on these cards (business entirely at SPG hotels, personal for most of my non-bonus spend) that I’ve always received statement credits and bonus points to obviate the fees completely anyway.

    The Boingo benefit will be fantastic while traveling abroad, where I notice Boingo most often. I also love that the benefit is offered on these cards which are far cheaper and of greater benefit to me than the Platinum cards.

    The other benefits don’t help me since I’m already Platinum. But I suspect the Sheraton Club benefits will increase interest in Sheratons internationally and domestically for more business travelers, coinciding with the new Sheraton initiative for Starwood.

  20. I’ve had the personal SPG card for more than a decade, but will dump it with this annual fee increase. I don’t see a lot of value in the perks being given to the personal card since I get Boingo through my Amex Plat, and nearly every serious travel card has no foreign exchange fees. Because of the category bonuses on other cards my spending had dried up a lot on this card anyway, so the increased annual fee just put me over the top.

    Ironically, I have had the SPG card so long I never even got a bonus for it when I signed up, so I will have to think about re-applying in a few months to get the bonus points.

  21. Very excited about foreign transaction fees going away! It felt a little bit ridiculous to pay with another card at foreign SPG hotels.

  22. AFAIK, the only benefit of the personal card over the biz card is worldwide rental car coverage. (The biz card provides coverage free in the US; for an extra fee outside the US.)

    I’ve had both the personal and biz cards for several years. With the increased annual fee, may downgrade the personal card to a different Amex no fee card.

  23. what if Sheraton does not have a lounge – still get free breakfast with the business card?

  24. @Lucky

    At the Front Desk how will they be able to differentiate between the business and the personal SPG Card when it comes to granting Club access?

  25. @Christian: I’ll normally go for humor, but your post wins my Best Post of the Day prize.

    I know that 1.76 cents is very close to a “consensus” value for AA miles. For me, however, I think they might be worth slightly less on account of how hard it can sometimes be to find “saver” space these days. I’d frankly rather rack up the Prestige Card’s “cash” points at 1.6 cents.

  26. @Stvr

    I took a look at the analysis done in the link you provided. The only problem I have with the analysis is that it is only considering the lowest retail rate associated with each hotel that is being searched. If we are being honest, the real average “value” for a hotel is what the entire marketplace is willing to pay to stay in that hotel on the specific night in question (the hotel’s nightly ADR). Given that we will never have that information ahead of time, considering a hotel’s annual ADR is usually the next best thing as it takes into account all 12 months and the seasonality the hotel experiences. The problem with taking a “retail” analysis is that many hotels will sell discounted group rooms to a certain point and then highly markup the retail rate to pull their average rate up. This tends to distort the values somewhat.

  27. Do you know if these changes apply to the SPG Amex in Canada – would love to get a card with no foreign transaction fees?

  28. lopere – thanks for the clarification. I still view this as a benefit, because if I have to pay for 2 breakfasts, it sure is better than paying for 4!!! Also, I like the club access for beverages, water, snacks, etc. Also love the fact that the Forex fee is going away. I forgot that it was charged, and just recently put a hotel bill on my spg biz amex in China, and instantly regretted it when I realized I would be hit with the forex fee. Fortunately it was at a Hyatt, so the 5% open savings helped offset the fee.

    lopere says:
    June 3, 2015 at 2:21 pm
    Mommatraveler –

    The benefit is only for the cardholder + 1

    Not cardholder + 3

  29. I am very unhappy with the higher annual fee and lack of meaningful improvements, such as an annual free night or something useful. I’ve raved about this credit card for years and it was my first real credit card in college. I’m fairly certain that I will cancel the card and the only reason that I am having second thoughts are the Amex Offers, which seem to offset my annual fee. However, those offers get me to spend more money that I otherwise would. Between losing Costco, Amex’s HORRIBLE customer service, and the higher annual fee I don’t see a reason to keep them anymore. Just about every other bank offers better products.

  30. 1.9 sounds about right to me. I think we should also factor in that (correct me if the data doesn’t support this, but I believe it does) the best values are normally found in lower-level properties, which can skew the value because very few of us are ever going to redeem for the Sheraton Madison

  31. @ James K. — And totally respect that valuation. That’s the beauty of this hobby — well all value things differently.

  32. @ Danny — Well first of all, the business version of the card clearly states on the front that it’s a business card. That being said, I suspect whether or not you have a business card will be linked to your SPG account, so there should be no need to even show the card, if eligible.

  33. @James K.

    1.9 is perfectly supportable as an overall value for Starwood. I’ve done some extensive individual hotel modeling on this as my company has about 5,000 hotels send us their annual financial statements each year as part of our national publication. The range in value using individual hotel annual ADR runs from about 1.8 to 2.3 with one or two exceptions. Generally, the hotels move up or down in category as their value moves outside of this range. I can typically pinpoint exactly which hotels will be changing categories through looking at this. While the lower end hotels do tend to stay closer to the higher end of this value range, ironically, the individual hotel with the highest average value is a category 7 property which had an ADR of $933.30 in 2014. When factoring the city’s hotel tax rate, the value of a nightly award redemption is $1,074.46, giving off a value between 3.1 and 3.6 depending on whether you redeem 30,000 or 35,000 points.

    All that said, I think any quoted value between 1.8 and 2.3 has merit.

  34. Christian – very interesting analysis of average value. Of course, revenue rates at many hotels fluctuate widely depending on demand; part of our hobby is paying revenue rate when low and using points when revenue rate is high. So I am consistently able to get more than 2.2 cents/point value from my Starwood stays on points.

  35. @UAPhil

    Thanks…you are right in that all the 1.8 to 2.3 value represents is the average point at which half of redemptions would be better and half would be worse. By no means am I suggesting that I’m happy redeeming points at that value as I will always strive to redeem during higher demand periods when my value is considerably greater.

  36. I love this new lounge perk for the biz card! I wish it extended to all properties (not just Sheraton brand) but I tend to stay at Sheraton’s over Westin’s when possible because Westin rarely shows me love. I’d love to see a post outlining some of the best Sheraton Club Lounges (especially in beach destinations!)

    Cheers!

  37. @lucky

    With lounge access, how does Boingo help? For the time you are at the gate.

    As a lifetime platinum who is no longer trying to get SNAs at 50 nights, I see little benefit to the card beyond straight earnings. the annual fee increase offsets a third to half half of the forex savings.

    This is really dilutive given more folks in the lounge. I’ll keep the card because it’s my oldest by far and it’s hard to earn points otherwise.

  38. @ Beachfan — Lots of airports don’t have lounges, and in some cases I prefer just waiting in the gate area, since that’s often less crowded than the lounge.

  39. I think these are all good changes, except the annual fee increase of course – but I too agree it’s worth it for the benefits.
    My question now is, when will AMEX/Hilton remove the foreign transaction fees on their AMEX Hilton Surpass card? We’ve seen them removed on the SPG and Gold card…wonder if more are to come.

  40. $30 more will cause me to cancel. Wish they would offer a no fee (or low fee) version like Amex does with Hilton.

  41. I think these new benefits are great if you regularly stay at SPG properties. If you are using the card solely as a transferrable point currency, however, the benefits just don’t justify the new annual fee.

    I was thinking of applying for this card once they increase the signup bonus, but now I’m thinking there are better value cards out there.

  42. So, I don’t have my own SPG business, but I forgot I am an authorized user on my partners card. Do the benefits extend to me? When I am traveling with him or even when traveling alone? We have an upcoming stay in late August at the Sheraton Tirana that this will be super useful for!

  43. Am I correct in that the American Express Starwood card does NOT provide you Gold (nor Platinum) status? I feel like I am missing something – why would the card not offer a status “step-up”, like American Express Hilton cards do? Is SPG status that much more valuable than Hilton or Marriott status? Anyone who has comments/opinions on this, please share. Even with the new benefits coming, it seems like this card is lacking in benefits (given the annual fee) yet seems to be fairly popular.

  44. @Mark B – “Am I correct in that the American Express Starwood card does NOT provide you Gold (nor Platinum) status?”

    The Platinum AmEx comes with SPG Gold status.

    “Even with the new benefits coming, it seems like this card is lacking in benefits (given the annual fee) yet seems to be fairly popular.”

    A big reason for the card’s popularity is the ability to transfer SPG points to airlines at a 1:1 basis, I think. As long as they keep that, the card will remain fairly popular.

  45. @ Mark B — Correct. You get Gold after spending $30K on the card, and you get two elite stays and five elite nights towards status annually, but that’s it.

  46. Any work arounds for getting the bonus on this card if you’ve had it in the past? With the new updates is it by chance considered a new product? I’d really like to have an SPG card again and regret closing the account. (apologies if this has been answered upthread)

  47. Any discussion or feedback on these new benefits devaluing being an SPG Platinum status customer? I currently have Platinum status from 25+ stays but not 50+ nights, and am not sure it is worth renewing for next year. I am currently at 14 stays and 23 nights this year, but considering taking the Hyatt Diamond challenge, and keeping the AmEx cards for SPG.

    Thoughts on the strategy?

  48. Thanks for update Lucky!! I appreciate it also can you let us know when you fly the New American Airlines Dreamliner would like your opinion about the business class seats on that plane!! Thanks also Best of you Luck to you and always Safe Travels!!

  49. @ Ken E — That’s a toughie, I guess it all depends on which hotels you mostly stay at, and whether Hyatt would meet your travel needs better.

  50. SPG seems to have more properties where I generally travel (domestically) but not by a wide margin.

    Only considering taking the Hyatt challenge to essentially have high level benefits at both chains.

    What SPG Plat perks would I be giving up at this point… the free upgrades I suppose? I am thinking I would have both Hyatt and SPG hotels to choose from, with close to the same amount of perks at each.

    Thinking through typing at this point…

  51. Hey Ben,

    Do you know whether the lounge perk that comes with the Starwood AMEX Business card also apply if you book your stay via a third-party site?

  52. Hi Ben,

    I’m confused about what you said “it offers two elite stay credits and five elite night credits towards status annually”. Does it mean I will get rebate 2 stays and 5 nights if I achieve Gold status which requires 10 stays or 25 nights?

    Thanks

  53. When I inquired about the club access by showing my AE SPG Biz card this was the response (nothing mentioned about this benefit at all). I am going to Argentina soon and will stay elsewhere with free breakfast if this benefit will not be provided.
    As a valued Gold member you receive the following benefits:
    • Upgrade to enhanced room at check-in, upon availability
    • 4 pm check out (subject to availability at resorts and conf. ctr. Hotels)
    • 3 Starpoints per eligible dollar
    • Welcome Amenity – Choose from bonus Starpoints, HSIA, or Complimentary Drink

    Your enhanced room at some hotels may include an upgrade to a room on the club floor but this is not guaranteed and is subject to availability. You do not need to present or pay with your SPG American Express card to receive these benefits.

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