The introduction of an officially-branded Starwood Preferred Guest credit card means we can now lay to rest the old Sheraton card and celebrate the programs first and second birthday. This new card should make you reconsider what brand of credit card you currently carry in your wallet. Officially called the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express (with apologies to both parties, we’ll adopt a somewhat shorter name when referring to it), it is essentially a re-branding and updated version of the former Sheraton American Express card. The basics are: one Starpoint for every dollar charged plus two additional Starpoints for every dollar charged at participating Starwood hotels (SPG Gold and Platinum members earn three bonus points per eligible dollar spent at participating Starwood hotels). Starwood is also allowing cardholders an opportunity to earn up to 6,000 bonus Starpoints during the first year when they pay for Starwood stays with their new card: 1,000 Starpoints for the first stay and 500 bonus Starpoints for up to 10 more stays in a calendar year. Other card benefits include a certificate good for 50-percent off a leisure stay for up to five nights (this certificate is also offered each year the card is renewed), no fee for the first year ($30 for subsequent years. This will certainly disappoint some, but it’s likely the cheapest card you can get and still earn benefits from), fee-free additional cards and new Preferred Plus-level benefits (essentially some of the base Gold benefits like upgrades when available, 4 p.m. late checkout and your free weekday newspaper).
So, what’s the big deal? Here’s what we see: an American Express card that rivals the Membership Rewards program, but with a lower annual fee. Sure, you don’t have the merchandise offers of Membership Rewards and can’t move your points into Marriott, Hilton or Hyatt, but the Starwood SPG program isn’t all that bad. And this card shines when it comes to earning miles. Hotel programs can argue all day long as to who has the best point conversion for free nights, but when it comes to the mileage-earning rates of their credit cards, there is little room for debate.
The Marriott Visa earns one point for every dollar spent on the card (and, similar to Starwood, offers a bonus for points earned when charging your hotel stay). Thirty thousand points ($30,000, or a little less) will earn 10,000 frequent flyer miles. With the Hilton American Express card, spending $30,000 will earn a total of 18,125 miles (slightly more for American AAdvantage miles and we’ve added in the acquisition bonus as well as first time use bonus). With the Hilton Visa you’re looking at about 12,625 miles (again, slightly more when choosing American AAdvantage miles). And, with the Priority Club credit-cards-for-miles conversions, you’re looking at a $30,000 spend earning 12,500 miles. But, that same $30,000 spent with the new Starwood credit card will earn 35,000 frequent flyer miles — an average earn of 1.16 frequent flyer miles for each dollar spent.
So, looking only at credit cards issued directly from the hotel guest programs, Starwood is easily the champ, earning on average twice as many frequent flyer miles as any other cards in the category. Granted, the $30,000 spend level (which many of our readers average annually) that we used boosts Starwood’s performance due to the 25 percent bonus that members receive at the 20,000 point-to-mile redemption, but even without that, Starwood is still 10,000 to 15,000 miles ahead of everyone else.
But, you ask, the headline claims that this is the best airline credit card, what gives? Well, if you’ve ever wanted an American Express card and still want to earn American and United miles, here’s your chance. With the Starwood card, you earn 1.16 miles per dollar spent for either of these airlines, plus you get the added flexibility of having free hotel-room nights with no blackout dates. With an airline credit card, your only option is miles. We will stop just short of saying that the Starwood card is better than any American Express airline credit card. We just can’t bring ourselves to suggest substituting this card for the Citibank AAdvantage card, which gives you the special award chart that cannot be replaced by any other card.
So, what’s it going to be? The line forms to the left for this new card and we’re in it.