In my humble expert opinion, the Starwood Preferred Guest point is the most valuable point/mile out there, hands down (regardless of what other bloggers think ), so I’d like to dedicate a series of articles on how to maximise the usage of these points. Let’s first talk about the Starwoood program in general, and how to earn Starwood points (including the Starwood American Express card).
Starwood Preferred Guest
So lets back up a bit here, and talk about Starwood in general. Starwood is a hotel chain consisting of certain brands, such as Sheraton, Westin, W, Four Points and a few lesser-known brands. Starwood Preferred Guest is their loyalty program, often abbreviated SPG. As hotel points, generally speaking, are worth less than airline miles, SPG is the exception to this rule. There are a couple of reasons for this:
- SPG points can be used for cash+points redemptions which offer great value (and Starwood counts award nights toward elite qualification requirements)
- They offer a 25% bonus when transferring to airline programs
- They transfer to a wide variety of airline programs from across the globe.
I’ll cover the ways to spend them in the next few posts, but for this one we’re going to focus on the ways to earn points, because you can’t spend them without earning them!
Earning Starwood Points by Staying at Starwood Properties
Of course, the “conventional” way of earning points is to stay at Starwood properties. General members get 2 SPG points per dollar spent, while elites get 3 points per dollar spent. While this isn’t as generous as other chains such which offer up to 10 points per dollar spent, it’s still fairly decent when you factor in the higher value of SPG vs. say Priority Club points.
Earning Starwood Points by Spending on the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express
There’s a reason that I say SPG points are for everyone, not only for Starwood guests, and it’s the Starwood Amex. Sure, if Starwood is your primary hotel chain, then you could get some extra SPG points, but even if you prefer say Priority Club/InterContinental as your main hotel chain, the SPG Amex should still form a part of your wallet.
What does the SPG Amex offer its cardholders? You earn 1 SPG point per dollar spent, and 2 points per dollar at SPG properties. So while that’s another benefit of staying at SPG properties in addition to using the card, just one point per dollar should be enough to make this the go-to card for most people.
Now just 1 point per dollar seems unimpressive, but as I said, the value of SPG points is as lot higher than those of airline miles. Most non-SPG guests would be interested in earning SPG points to convert into airline miles, or using them for cash+points stays at SPG properties (which also count towards elite status). Now, for every 20,000 SPG points converted to airline miles, a 5,000 mile bonus is awarded- therefore the transfer rate is essentially 1:1.25. There are two notable exceptions, firstly United/Continental miles are only transfered at half the rate, which makes it uncompetitive for UA transfers (though other partners such as US Airways allow for easy Star Alliance awards). The second fact is that points to LAN transfer at a 1:2 ratio (or 2:5 including the bonus), and this is one of the real gems of the program which I will discuss in more detail in the next posts.
While the SPG Amex is a great card, there are certain situations that probably means that it would be better to put the spend on another card, most notable card that offer bonus points for certain types of spending, such as airfare or dining (the SPG Amex offers no bonuses outside of 2x points for SPG spend). I’ll break down the recommended cards for each type of spending.
Alternative Credit Cards to the Starwood Amex
- The American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card- Offers 3 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on airfare. Despite Membership Rewards points being massively devalued, they still be can transferred to Delta, Air Canada and ANA among others. A 15,000 point bonus applies for $30,000 spend, which is probably too steep for most people- though 3 points per dollar spent is still a great deal, and despite charging fuel surcharges, both ANA and Aeroplan offer very reasonable mileage charges for international business class awards. Membership Rewards points can also be transferred to SPG at a 1:3 ratio, so for only one SPG point per dollar spent on airfare, it really isn’t worth it.
- The Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa Card- Offers 2 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on travel and dining, and one point on all other spend, as well as a 50,000 sign up bonus. They also offer a 7% points dividend on all points earned, including the sign up bonus, resulting in an actual sign up bonus of 53500 points and 2.14 points per dollar spent on dining and travel. Chase UR points transfer primarily to United/Continental, as well as other programs such as Hyatt or British Airways. This is a good card for all travel (non-airfare), including non-SPG hotel stays, as well as all dining spend.
- All spend at SPG properties (including cash components of cash+points redemptions), and all other non-travel, non-dining spend should go on the SPG American Express.
One of the major “rules of thumb” that applies to all points with transfer partners is that one should never transfer their points unless you are planning to redeem an award in the immediate future. One of the main benefits of SPG (and Chase UR and Amex MR) is that the large number of transfer partners, and this flexibility is lost when one transfers to another program.
So there you have it… the comprehensive guide to earning Starwood points. In the next few posts, I’ll cover the best ways to make the most of these points.