Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card Review

April 9, 2011

The Starwood Preferred Guest credit card from American Express offers one Starpoint for every dollar spent on the card, as well as 4–5 Starpoints for money spent at Starwood Properties. The Starwood credit card can also be used to accrue frequent flyer points, with cardholders receiving 10,000 bonus points after the first purchase, which can be used towards hotel stays or airline travel. Put more simply, this is a credit card that is great for people who want to use American Express to save money on travel.

The Starwood Rewards Program
The Starwood Preferred Guest program really does reward you for staying at the Starwood properties – places like Le Meridien hotels, the Sheraton, W Hotels, and St. Regis.  Every night you stay you earn rewards points, called Starpoints.  The number of points you earn depends on how often you stay with them.

starwood preferred guest tiers

Reward Tiers

Starwood has different tiers in their rewards program – Preferred Guest, Gold Preferred, and Platinum Preferred.  You enter the program as a Preferred Guest and after you’ve stayed 10 times (or 25 nights) you move up to the Gold Preferred tier.  Then, if you stay with Starwood 15 more times (or 50 nights) in that same year you’re moved up to Platinum Preferred.

Each higher tier has increasing benefits, one of those is that you earn more points for each Starwood stay.  At the base level you earn 2 Starpoints for every night stay and at the Gold and Platinum Preferred level you earn 3 points per night.

Extra Points & Hotel Credits

The cool thing about the Starwood card is that on top of the Starpoints you earn from staying at the hotel, you earn an extra 2 points if you put your stay on your card. In addition, if you are a Starwood cardholder you get a credit every year for 5 nights and 2 stays towards your next Preferred Guest level.

Frequent Travelers

Our old neighbor was in sales and covered an 8 state area so somtimes he’d be on the road for 2–3 weeks at a time.  He used to stay at mainly Marriott properties and used their rewards program but switched over to Starwood about 2 years ago.  In addition to the consumer card, there’s also a Starwood business card, which is what he was using.

He’d use all the Starpoints he earned in his travels to take his wife and little girl on trips around the country.  They’re also big shoppers – since you earn one point for each dollar you spend on the card it was a good card for them.

Starwood Hotel Deals

starwood card bonus

The best Starwood deals going on right now are the free nights you can get when you signup for the Starwood Preferred Guest card. 

You earn 10K Starpoints when you first use the card and 15K more when you use it for at least $5K of purchases in the first 6 months.  Depending on which category of hotel you redeem them with those points can be good for 3–4 free nights.

In addition to the credit card offer, Starwood’s pretty good about running promotions on their website for discounted hotel stays. Usually it requires you staying for at least one night and then getting discounted or free nights depending on how long you stay.

Some of these hotel promotions are more short-term and require a Starwood coupon code to take advantage of it.  There are some that are more long standing that don’t require a promotion code, for example

Better Tomorrow Promo – For every night you stay at a Starwood hotel and pay the full rate, you save 40% off the next night you stay.

3rd Night Free Promo – If you book two nights in a row, ie Saturday/Sunday, then the third night is free.

No Blackout Dates
Unlike other hotel rewards programs, there are no blackout dates so you can redeem your Starpoints whenever fits into your travel schedule. Obviously, one of the big drawbacks to some hotel rewards programs is that they have blackout during times when you travel most: the summertime or during holidays. The ability to claim your free hotel room whenever you travel definitely helps set this program apart from others.

You do need to be familiar with how Starwood classifies their hotels, by Category levels – the higher the Category the nicer the hotel.  You don’t earn more rewards by staying at nicer hotels but when it comes to redeeming your Starpoints they go farther at the lower category hotels.  For example, you might use the same number of points to stay one night in a Category 6 hotel that you could use to stay for 3 nights in a Category 3 hotel.

So you can choose whether you want to use all your points in one or two nights at a really fancy place or stretch your free stay out for longer at a different hotel.  One thing to keep in mind, the Category 3 and 4 properties are nice hotels, it’s just the 5 and 6 category are far more luxurious.

Redeeming Your Free Room

The free rooms you can reserve with your Starpoints are standard rooms, be aware that a few destinations don’t have regular rooms so you won’t be able to use your StarPoints for free stays at those hotels or resorts.

Something else to keep in mind is that it often takes fewer points to get your free night over the weekend instead of during the week.  As you can see in the chart below, your points can go farther over the weekend.

Starwood Hotel Free Night

Starwood Preferred Guest Airline Miles
Starwood has relationships with about 30 airline companies that allow you to transfer StarPoints into airline miles, most of them transfer one mile for each StarPoint.

They also have an airline bonus, if you transfer 20,000 points into airline miles, you’ll get back an extra 5,000 points. So let’s take a look at how many airline miles you could get in the first year of your card.

As mentioned above you’ll get 10,000 for signing up and an additional 15,000 bonus points if you spend $5,000 in the first six months. If you transfer those 25,000 points into airline miles to get the additional 5,000 bonus points, that’s 30,000 airline miles.  Of course, this assumes that you can exchange 1 point for 1 mile, but many of the major carriers, like United, Delta, Continental, and American Airlines, do give you 1 for 1.

APR and Annual Fee
Compared to other travel rewards cards of its type, the American Express Starwood Preferred Card has a relatively low fee of $65. The APR is also low with a low introductory APR for the first six months of the card (the period where you can earn an extra 15,000 bonus points). All of this means that you’ll be able to reap rewards as soon as you get card without having to spend a lot of money to get it. See the chart at the bottom for specific details about current rates and offers.

Customer Feedback
I asked readers about their favorite credit cards and one guy named Jason had some good things to say about the Starwood card.  He covers the credit card industry for another website so he really digs through all the rewards and term and conditions when comparing and using credit cards.  I thought the fact that he pointed out this card was a good sign, here’s what he had to say:

Jason’s Comments
For travel rewards, I have found no better card than the Starwood Preferred Guest card from American Express. The benefits at Starwood hotels are fantastic – I can book an award stay at any room within their brand, which includes Westins, Sheratons and others, with no blackouts or capacity controls. Awards start at 3,000 points with some Westins going for as little as 7,000.

Your fifth award night is also free, so you can easily save 20% off of those low rates. By comparison, Hilton and Intercontinental group also offer no blackouts and no capacity restrictions on their awards, but their award rates are much higher.

The benefits of the Starwood card goes well beyond hotels. The StarPoints are transferable to dozens of major airlines. They are the ultimate universal currency when you need to top off an airline account for a major award redemption. In fact, you can use the Starwood card to earn more airline miles than the airline’s cards themselves.

Starwood grants a 5,000 point bonus when you redeem 20,000 Starpoints for airline miles. This gives you 1.25 miles per dollar spent rather than the one to one ratio offered by most airline cards. The annual fee is $65, but this pays for itself when you are able to snag a pricey hotel for free or fly in business class after making a transfer of Starpoints to airline miles.

Conclusion
The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card has a tough to beat rewards program, which can then be used at over 30 different airlines or at most of the Starwood hotels around the world. This review didn’t talk much about international travel but Starwood recently announced it’s adding 50 new hotels across the Middle East, Africa, and Europe.

Starwood Preferred Guest is obviously best for people who travel frequently, such as business travelers, but anyone who is interested in staying at Starwood properties can get quality hotel stays for big discounts or for free. The relatively low annual fee you pay for access to their rewards program makes this one of the best hotel credit cards available today.

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