Which Credit Card To Use For Foreign Starwood Stays?

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Reader Matt asked the following question on the “Ask Lucky” page of the blog:

Hi Lucky,

Do you ever use your AMEX Starwood card for foreign Starwood stays? I’m trying to figure out if the foreign transaction fee is worth the extra points I’ll get. If it’s not worth it… I’ll just use my Chase Sapphire card.

Thanks, Matt

While most credit card bonus spend categories are pretty straightforward, the math indeed gets a bit tricky on foreign Starwood stays.

I love the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express. It was actually one of the first credit cards I applied for when I turned 18, and I haven’t canceled it yet.

I personally value Starpoints at 2.2 cents each, so for non-bonused, daily spend it offers among the best return of any card out there, in my opinion (along with the Barclaycard Arrival™ World Mastercard® and Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature® Card, as I covered in my post about the best credit cards for everyday spend).

The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express does offer double points on Starwood stays, so you’re theoretically earning what I value at a 4.4% “return” on spend. The only catch with this card is that it has a 2.7% foreign transaction fee, so when you subtract that from the 4.4% “return” (based on my valuation), that’s a “return” of just 1.7%.

You’d be much better off putting your foreign hotel spend on the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, which offers double points on travel so 2 points per dollar spent.

Beyond that, there are no foreign transaction fees. I value Ultimate Rewards points at ~1.6 cents each, so that’s a return of ~3.2%.

If you don’t have the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, the Ink Plus® Business Credit Card or Ink Bold® Business Charge Card will do the trick as well. They offer double points on hotel stays, so that’s the equivalent of a ~3.2% return.

So while you’re better off using one of the above cards for foreign Starwood stays, ironically the best card to use for most domestic Hyatt stays is actually the Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Card from American Express.

That’s because Hyatt participates in the OPEN Savings program, whereby you receive a 5% discount for Hyatt stays of up to $10,000 per year when paying with your American Express OPEN Card:

OPEN Savings® from American Express OPEN

Hyatt Hotels & Resorts® boosts the value you get from your Business Card from American Express OPEN as part of the OPEN Savings® benefit. As a built-in Business Card feature, you automatically receive a 5% discount credited to your American Express statement OR 2 additional Membership Rewards® points for each eligible dollar spent at participating Hyatt Hotels & Resorts in the U.S. up to $10,000 per Card Account in a calendar year. This benefit can be combined with other promotions offered by Hyatt.

So between the 5% cash back and the one Starpoint you’re earning (which I value at 2.2 cents), that’s a return of 7.2% on Hyatt stays… using a Starwood Business Credit Card!

I have gotten my fair share of evil looks from Hyatt front desk associates when using a Starwood credit card, though. 😉

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  1. It must be odd when a Hyatt Diamond walks up and pays with his Starwood Preferred Guest credit card.

  2. I’m thinking of paying for my next foreign hotel stay with the quarters I bought from the US mint. They fit in my carryon but if anybody ever checks the weight of this thing. I’m way over the 40 lb maximum.

  3. Interesting point to note is that the CANADIAN SPG Amex card does not offer any additional points for spend at Starwood properties. It also charges a 3% foreign transaction fee. Which makes it pretty much a poor value for its C$120 annual fee.

  4. Re: Domestic Hyatt’s-
    Wouldn’t the AmEx SimplyCash offer 5% Open + 3% hotel = 8% back, given hotels was your selection?
    No annual fee means it is easier to retain than the SPG bus amex

  5. Will you get the 5% if you go thru a cashback portal to Hyatt and buy gift cards with the SPG?

  6. @ JustSaying — Yes, since it’s all about the card you use at check-out. That’s the method I use right. I purchased the discounted Hyatt gift certificates with the Starwood Business AmEx and use them to pay for my Hyatt stays.

  7. @ Lucky — but there is an Amex SimplyCash Business Card, and it appears to offer the 3% on your chosen category. Which does appear to be stackable with Open savings at Hyatt, so basically 8% back (plus portal or whatever if you don’t use a corporate code).

  8. Most of my travel for work is domestic so I never worry about foreign transaction fees, however, this fall we are taking a 3 week trip to Europe and staying at SPG hotels mostly, been wondering how to pay for the room doing cash and points, since the SPG card add the foreign transaction fees. I was leaning towards using my CSP card which I will now, sort of sad since I am PLT with SPG the added bonus would be a nice way to softening the blow of using my points.

  9. Ahh but if you have used the SPG card to buy the Hyatt gift cards in a surgical manner then you will have the right amount of said gift cards to give at check out and the small balance can go on your Hyatt card without shame……..no one sees you buy the gift cards unless you are doing Facetime?

  10. During my trip to Europe, was super-bummed about not being able to use SPG Amex without getting hit with a fee. If only they’d make an exception for SPG hotels and not charge a fee on those, it’d be awesome!

  11. Insane that hotel cards charge FX for their own international properties. I guess they’ve run the numbers and see most don’t care or don’t pay attention.

  12. @Paul – “I guess they’ve run the numbers and see most don’t care or don’t pay attention.”

    Yep. If these fees were costing the card issuers money, they’d be gone in a heartbeat.

  13. I came back to this because I misread it the first time.

    What card do you use for foreign hyatt stays? 🙂


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