The Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) card from American Express has been around for many years. The card used to provide some of the most valuable rewards in the industry. But since SPG and Marriott merged in the summer of 2018, the combined points “currency” has been devalued.

Is SPG’s entry-level hotel card still worth the annual fee?

Earning

The SPG card currently has a sign-up bonus of 75,000 Marriott points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months. It also has an annual fee of $95 (waived the first year).

It earns 6x points per $1 spent on SPG, Marriott, and Ritz-Carlton purchases. You will also earn 2x point per $1 on all other purchases. Because of the devaluation of Marriott points, I would only use this card for Marriott spend after the sign-up bonus.

Burning

Hotel Redemptions

This is the most obvious and basic way to redeem Marriott points. To determine how much a night is worth in points, you can use the table below:

Category

Standard Peak (Starting in 2019)

Off-Peak (Starting in 2019)

1 7,500 5,000 10,000
2 12,500 10,000 15,000
3 17,500 15,000 20,000
4 25,000 20,000 30,000
5 35,000 30,000 40,000
6 50,000 40,000 60,000
7 60,000 50,000 70,000
8 85,000 70,000 100,000

 

Transfer Partners

Transfer partners are a lesser known redemption option for this card. More than 40 airlines are partners with Marriott, including United, Emirates, Delta, China Eastern, and Lufthansa. The transfer ratio is three Marriott points per one airline mile.

Benefits

As a mid-tier travel card, the SPG card includes many great benefits to make life easier when away from home. Some of them can even pay for the annual fee with enough use.

Annual Free Night

This benefit is where the SPG Card’s value lies. Because most rooms at Marriott hotels cost more than $95 per night, you will likely receive positive expected value from this benefit alone. The annual free night can be redeemed for rooms costing up to 35,000 points (Categories 1-5). Most properties are between Categories 1 and 5, so the free night is quite accessible.

The free night can only be earned and redeemed after holding the card for 12 months. Luckily, the SPG card’s $95 annual fee is waived the first year.

Complimentary Silver Status

Marriott Silver Status is not worth much. All you’re getting is a 10% points bonus for Marriott, SPG, and Ritz-Carlton purchases. Room rates and gift shop purchases are included.

Marriott Gold Status can be obtained by spending $35,000 per year ($30,000 until December 31, 2018) on the card. Gold Status can also be obtained automatically through the Amex Platinum Card and its business counterpart.

Secondary Car Rental Insurance

This benefit covers the entire loss, damage, or theft of your car rental after your regular insurance’s policy kicks in. American Express cards only provide secondary coverage. Secondary coverage means that you must go through your own car insurance company first before calling Amex to activate this benefit.

No Foreign Exchange Fees

You will save 3% on all purchases made outside the United States with the card.

Return Protection

If you’re unhappy with a purchase, this benefit enables you to get your money back with the backing of Amex. American Express is the best in the credit card industry in helping cardholders with returns. This card comes standard with all American Express cards.

Rules & Regulations

Like all American Express cards, this card is subject to Amex’s Once Per Lifetime Rule. This rule states that you can only receive a sign-up bonus on any card once. The key is to apply for this card when a balance is struck between maximum points and minimum spend. If you cannot afford the spend to hit the bonus, apply when the threshold is lower.

For the SPG Card, the minimum spend threshold of $3,000 is high for many people. If you can afford to spend that much in 3 months, wait until Amex offers more than 75,000 points. Just after the merger, the highest sign-up bonus was 100,000 points.

Similar Cards

Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Card

This card has the same sign-up bonus, earning structure, redemption methods, and Marriott-related perks as the SPG Card. Because the Chase card is a Visa, you will receive Visa’s network-related perks. The SPG Amex offers American Express’ standard perks.

The only real differences between these cards are the network and issuer. If you are above 5/24, the SPG Card from Amex is likely your only option. If you want a Visa and are below 5/24, the Chase Marriott Card is a good alternative.

SPG Luxury Card

Basically, this card offers complimentary Gold Status and a more accessible free night. Marriott Gold Status lets you upgrade your room for no extra cost. This can be huge for getting value out of the card and saving money.

The SPG Luxury Card offers a 75,000-point sign-up bonus after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months. You also receive a $300 annual statement credit, Priority Pass airport lounge access, and 10 Boingo airport Wi-Fi passes. The card also comes with a credit for Global Entry or Pre-TSA membership.

Despite having a $450 annual fee (NOT waived the first year), this card will offer you way more for your money.

Chase World of Hyatt Card

This card from Chase and Hyatt offers an annual free night and complimentary Discoverist Status.

This card has a $95 annual fee. But it also has a two-part sign-up bonus. First you can earn 25,000 points (40,000 points until January 9) after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months. Then, you can earn 25,000 (20,000 points until January 9) more points after spending $6,000 total in the first 6 months.

For earning, you get 4x Hyatt points per dollar spent at Hyatt hotels. You also earn 2x points on Dining, airline tickets purchased directly from the airline, local transit and commuting, and gym memberships.

Hyatt loyalists and those who spend within the card’s categories are better off with this card.

Final Draw

Once upon a time, the SPG Card was one of the best points-earning cards for everyday spend and hotel spend. But since the merger and devaluation, this card is now a shell of its former self. Despite the points, the “free” night could make this card a long-term keeper card for some people.

Since I got my Amex Business Platinum Card, I am not sure how useful the SPG Card would be for me. The Business Platinum Card gives me Marriott Gold Status and more ways to derive value than the free night the SPG Card offers.