The Starwood Preferred Guest personal and business credit cards from American Express now come with 35,000 bonus Starpoints for spending $3,000 and $5,000 respectively in the first three months of cardmembership.
- Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express (personal)
- Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express
The normal sign up bonus is 25,000 points, the twice yearly limited time offer is 30,000 points. This is the highest public sign up bonus ever on these cards. (And some people say the hobby is dying…)
American Express recently introduced a rule that you can only get the bonus once per lifetime on each of its cards. Eligibility is separate for each card. That means if you’ve only ever had the business card, you can still get the personal card or vice versa. But if you’ve had the personal card before, you can’t get this bonus on the personal card. If you’ve had the business card before, you can’t get this bonus on the business card.
If you get both cards, you’ll have to spend $8,000 total in the first three months of cardmembership. In return, you’ll get one Starpoint per dollar spent plus a 35,000 point bonus on each card for a total of 78,000 Starpoints. I get at least 2.5 cents of value per Starpoint in the following ways, meaning a total value of at least $1,950 to me.
Here are the main ways to get value from Starpoints:
1. Free Night Awards
Starpoints can be used for free nights at any Sheraton, W, Westin, Le Meridien, Aloft, Four Points, St. Regis, Element, or Luxury Collection Hotel. Free nights start at 2,000 points per night. And the best part is: If a standard room is for sale, you can book it with Starpoints. Free night awards are not capacity controlled like award flights are.
Here is the Free Night Awards chart:
Book a four night award at Category 3-7 hotels and get a 5th night free. Here are the total prices for five nights:
There can be tremendous value in the free night awards. For instance:
These are old examples. The prices have surely changed. Just pay attention to the ideas embedded in them.
Le Méridien Chiang Rai Resort, Thailand is a stunning category 2 hotel that goes for only 3,000 points on the weekends. One weekend night in January goes for $123, so that redemption would be worth 4.1 cents per point.
And more importantly, 78,000 Starpoints would be enough for up to 39 weekend nights at some properties.
As another example of Free Night Awards, the cheapest SPG property in Hawaii is the Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay, a category 4 property that costs 10k points per night or 40k for five nights, using the 5th Night Free pricing.
The property goes for $302 per night after taxes for a five-day stay in March: $1,510 total. Instead you could pay 40,000 Starpoints and get 3.76 cents per point in value. And more importantly, you’d be here:
2. Cash & Points Awards
Cash & Points awards are a way to stretch your cash and your Starpoints. You’ll generally get even more value from your Starpoints through these awards though they are capacity controlled. Here is the Cash & Points chart:
As you’ll notice, a Cash & Points night requires half the Starpoints of a free night plus a cash co-pay.
Unless I were taking advantage of the 5th Night Free with Free Night Awards, a discounted weekend night, or I was cash poor at the moment, I would look to choose a Cash & Points award over a Free Night.
To see why, let’s look at the Sheraton Frankfurt Congress Hotel, a Category 3 property. For a Tuesday this month, the hotel wants 149 euros for the refundable rate. Or you could spend 7,000 Starpoints for a Free Night, or you could spend 3,500 Starpoints + $55.
- 149 euros is $163
- 7,000 Starpoints for a free night is a respectable 2.32 cents per point
- 3,500 Starpoints + $55 is an incredible 3.09 cents per point
And I chose this hotel because I’ll be in Frankfurt next week, not because it has an abnormally valuable Cash & Points option. I’d frankly consider 3 cents per point about average for a Cash & Points redemption.
3. Transfer to Airlines with a Miles Bonus
For people who eschew chain hotels, Starpoints are incredibly valuable to transfer to airline miles because their are so many partner airlines, and in most cases, transferring 20k Starpoints nets you 25k miles in the account of your choice, a 25% bonus!
Starpoints transfer to 30 airlines in total, mostly at favorable rates.
The best three options are Aeroplan, Alaska Airlines, and Asiana. Starpoints transfer in a 20k points to 25k miles ratio (1:1.25) to all three airline airlines, and none is a transfer partner of Ultimate Rewards or ThankYou Points. Click here for the reasons to transfer to those three airlines.
Other partners where I would consider transferring Starpoints include:
- British Airways Avios for its distance-based chart’s sweet spots like 12,500 miles to Hawaii from the west coast
- Delta for Virgin Atlantic Upper Class without fuel surcharges
- Flying Blue (Air France) for one way awards on Delta metal
- Hawaiian for incredible award space to Hawaii, Asia, and Australia
- Singapore to book Singapore Suites Class
- Virgin Atlantic for incredibly cheap awards to London
- Miles & More (Lufthansa) to book Swiss First Class
(Note that many of the airlines on this bulleted list are Membership Rewards or Ultimate Rewards partners, and I would rather transfer those points to these airlines, since I value Starpoints more.)
The one glaring weakness in the airline transfer partners is that United is not a 1:1 transfer partner, 20k Starpoints transfers to only 12,500 United miles. Avoid that transfer, and earn Ultimate Rewards instead to transfer to United.
But apart from that, the transfer partner list is astoundingly excellent. You can get on most commercial flights worldwide through one of these transfer partners.
Other Important Things to Know about the Starwood Preferred Guest Program
Both the Starwood personal and business cards confer 2 stay credits and 5 night credits toward elite status, and they are cumulative, so if you get approved for both cards, I’ll have 4 stays and 10 nights credited to your account, leaving you just 6 stays or 15 nights short of Gold Status.
Gold Status entitles you to free internet and a 4 PM checkout. You also get an extra Starpoint per dollar on Starwood purchases, so cardholders with Gold Status get 5 Starpoints per dollar.
Other than stays, you can also get Gold Status by having an American Express Platinum card or spending $30k per year on a Starwood credit card.
4x or 5x
Cardholders can earn 4 points per dollar on Starwood purchases, 5 points per dollar if they have Gold Status. This breaks down to 2 points per dollar for the spending normally plus another 2 points per dollar if the spending is on a Starwood card.
You can combine points between Starwood accounts if both parties have had the same address on file for 30 days.
This is hugely important, since certain blocks of Starpoints are critical. For instance, if you and your wife each have 10k Starpoints, you could each transfer them to your respective American Airlines accounts and have 10k miles in two accounts. Or you could combine the Starpoints and send the points to one person’s American Airlines accounts, leaving you with 25k American Airlines miles in one account after the transfer bonus.
Your Parents’ Card
Your parents like to travel, they’re jealous of your trips, and they want a rewards card. But they don’t want to keep track of category bonuses, ten programs, and tons of promotions. (OK, maybe I’m just describing my parents.)
Tell each of your parents to get the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express. Of course you can do better than putting all of your spending on this card by taking advantage of other card’s bonuses, but you can do pretty well by putting all your spending year after year on this card and building a balance of valuable hotel points that can also transfer to 30 airlines. When people come to my Award Booking Service with a stash of Starpoints, I know the job will be easy.
I’ve argued before that Big Spenders Should Be Using One of These Three Cards (And They Probably Aren’t). One of those cards is the Starwood card. Because of its transfer partners and transfer bonus, using the card is like earning 1.25 miles per dollar in almost any airline program.
Nights & Flights
I probably should give Nights & Flights more billing because it might be a better deal than Free Night Awards, Cash & Points awards, and airline transfers. With Nights & Flights, you get five hotel nights and 50,000 airline miles for only 60-70k Starpoints.
Unfortunately the award is limited to Category 3 and 4 hotels. But the price is unbeatable. Going back to the Sheraton in Kona discussed above, for 70k Starpoints, you could get five free nights at the property plus 50k American Airlines miles to get there (you only need 35k).
A lot of airlines and hotels, want you to blow your points on overpriced experiences and merchandise, but Starwood Moments have some good values. I spent 5,500 Starpoints for two tickets to a Captial Cities concert, plus the chance to meet the band beforehand, and free food and drinks at a reception.
All in One Place
Starwood has an awesome chart that compares many of the redemption options discussed here and some worse options not discussed here.
If you have the personal or business card, you can refer friends to these offers and earn 5,000 bonus Starpoints for each friend who gets the card. Log in here to get your referral links. You can post or request referrals in the comments.
Currently, both the personal and business versions of the Starwood Preferred Guest credit card have a 35,000 Starpoint sign up bonus until March 30, 2016, their largest ever.
Getting both cards gives you 78,000 total Starpoints after meeting their minimum spending requirements. Through Free Nights, Cash & Points, airline transfers, and Nights & Flights, you can plan to get at least 2.5 cents of value per Starpoint.
These are the set-it-and-forget-it cards. For people who don’t have that attention span, these are go-to, everyday cards to keep in your wallet for a long time to build up balances towards incredible vacations.
- Starwood Preferred Guest Primer and Three Great Uses for the Starpoints
- How to Get 10 Nights in Hawaii and First Class Flights for Free
- A Chance to “Buy” Starpoints for 1.1 Cents: Starwood Cash & Points Awards
- Limited Time: 50k AA Card Offer Plus Expiring SPG Cards’ Offer Means Round-the-World Business Class Award