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Update: 12/11/13: The 50k Business Gold Card offer is dead.

Update 9/3/13: The 30k bonus Starpoint offers on the personal and business versions of the SPG card are dead. For the current 25k offers, see here for the personal card and here for the business card.

With only five days until the Starwood Preferred Guest personal and business cards’ 30,000 Starpoints sign up bonus ends on 9/3/13, I got an interesting question from reader JT who wants to know whether he should get the SPG Business Card or the Business Gold Rewards with a 50,000 Membership Rewards sign up bonus.

Key Links:

  • The Business Gold Rewards Card® from American Express OPEN with 50,000 bonus Membership Rewards
  • Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express with 30,000 bonus Starpoints

What’s the difference between these American Express business cards? Which is better for you?

Sign Up Bonus

The Business Gold Rewards card offers 50,000 bonus Membership Rewards after spending $5k in the first three months of cardmembership. That means you will earn 55,000 or more Membership Rewards–probably 1-2k more because of the card’s category bonuses which I’ll mention below–for spending $5k on the card.

The 55,000 Membership Rewards transfer to 16 airlines, mostly at a 1:1 ratio, though often with a transfer bonus like the recent 35% bonus to transfer to British Airways. The points are not as good for hotels. They can be transferred 3 Membership Rewards to 1 Starpoint–an awful ratio!–or 1 Membership Reward to 2 Hilton HHonors points (in a roundabout way), which is still a pretty bad deal after the Hilton devaluation.

The SPG Business Card offers 30,000 bonus Starpoints for spending $5k in the first six months of cardmembership. That means you’ll earn 35,000 Starpoints for spending $5k on the card.

The 35,000 Starpoints transfer to 30 airline partners, mostly at a 1:1 ratio. Plus for all those 1:1 partners, 20k Starpoints transfer to 25k miles with the automatic 5k mile bonus. Starpoints can be profitably used in several ways other than airline transfers including Free Nights at SPG properties, Cash & Points stays, and Nights & Flights. For more information, see my Starpoints Primer.

In the abstract, I value Starpoints at about 2.5 cents and Membership Rewards at about 2 cents, so 55k Membership Rewards are worth $1,100 to me, and 35k Starpoints are worth $875 to me. But that is not the whole story. Their value to you depends on what you want to do with them.

If you want the points for hotels, Starpoints are far more valuable than Membership Rewards. If you want American Airlines miles for ultra-luxury travel or US Airways miles for its cheap award chart and helpful agents, you want Starpoints. If you want a complete vacation via Nights & Flights awards, you want Starpoints.

But if you want niche airline miles, you want Membership Rewards. For every airline that both airlines transfer to, you want Membership Rewards since they are less valuable and since you get more Membership Rewards for opening a card. Here are some common destinations between the two programs and why you’d want to transfer there:

The reason I call all these niche programs is that none of them offers the versatility of United, US Airways, or American because of limited partners, limited availability, or because the airlines charge fuel surcharges on awards.

I treasure my Membership Rewards, but they are for specific niche plays not for stockpiling one million points for a lifetime of free flights wherever you want to go. (Don’t stockpile a million of anything, but if you do, make it Starpoints or Ultimate Rewards or United miles.)

On my valuations, the edge for best sign up bonus goes to the Business Gold Card, but that assumes my valuation and perfect use of points. Most people will get more value from the Business Gold Card, but some will get more from the SPG Business Card.

Transfers

I touched on transfers already, but it’s important to understand the options fully.

Starpoints transfer to 30 airlines including US Airways, American, and Delta 1:1 or more accurately 20k Starpoints to 25k miles, since that is the amount you should always transfer to maximize bonuses.

That means 35k Starpoints are worth 40k American Airlines miles. But 40k Starpoints would be worth 50k American Airlines miles, enough for a one way in business class to Europe or a roundtrip in economy year round.

If I were to use Starpoints as airline miles, I would almost certainly transfer them to US Airways and American because both programs have excellent partners with excellent availability and do not impose fuel surcharges on any awards (except AA imposes them on BA and Iberia flights.)

American Airlines miles and US Airways miles are two of the three types (the other being United) that I love to earn because they are the three most valuable miles.

So the main benefit of Starpoints transfers is having two of the best three mileage programs as good options. The main drawback is that transfers are not instant. They take a few days to go through, potentially complicating award booking.

The Membership Rewards program has 16 airline partners, the best of which are Delta and British Airways, both of which have huge flaws. Delta has limited availability and an expensive chart while also imposing fuel surcharges on many partners. British Airways awards get very expensive in miles if connections are added or you want first class. Plus British Airways collects fuel surcharges on all but a handful of awards.

But at least eight of the Membership Rewards partners (listed above) have very high value, specific uses. For instance, I love using British Airways Avios for 25k point roundtrips from the west coast to Hawaii. Most programs charge 40k.

I also recently used Avios within Europe to get onto a British Airways A380. My 9k Avios flight would have cost 20k AA miles with higher fuel surcharges.

And I recently cashed out my Membership Rewards balance to book Singapore Suites Class for 92k Membership Rewards. Singapore Suites Class is only bookable with Singapore miles, and I would have no other way to earn Singapore miles besides a transfer. Singapore is a transfer partner of Starpoints also, but when I can transfer either, I transfer Membership Rewards since they are easier to earn.

The best transfer options belong to Starpoints. It’s effortless to transfer to the US-based oneworld alliance representative (American) or the best US-based Star Alliance option (US Airways.) But Membership Rewards also have a lot of value. You just need to understand their transfer partners and their sweet spots.

Category Bonuses

The SPG Business Card has only Starwood purchases as a 2x. This is basically a 1x-on-everything card.

The Business Gold Card earns 3x on airline purchases and 2x at gas stations, two very valuable bonuses for travelers.

That gives the Business Gold Card the edge on category bonuses. But when both earn 1x, the SPG business card is better.

Annual Fee

Neither card has an annual fee the first year. Subsequent annual fees are $175 for the Business Gold Card and $65 for the SPG Business Card, giving the SPG Business Card the Edge.

Urgency

To me, this is something that cannot be overlooked. Even if the Business Gold Card is otherwise the best option for you, you may want to get the SPG Business Card instead if you determine both would be good for your business. Why?

The SPG Business Card is offering its once-a-year 30k bonus for the next five days only. The Business Gold Card sometimes offers one-day-only 75k offers for $10k in spending. Even if that’s too much spending for you, the 50k offer doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.

So if you decide your business could eventually benefit from both, the edge now has to go to the SPG Business Card.

Other Considerations

Account Closure

If you close the SPG Business Card, your Starpoints still live on in your SPG account. Just comply with its expiration policy to keep them active.

If you close the Business Gold Card and have no other Membership Rewards-earning cards open, the Membership Rewards you have disappear. Of course it is trivially easy to transfer the points before account closure, and most agents closing your card will remind you to do this.

Six Months Versus Three

If you’re not a big spender, the SPG Business Card offers a way more generous six months to meet the minimum spending requirement. That means the minimum spending requirement by month is $1,667 for the Business Gold Card and $834 for the SPG Business Card.

Recap

I think the better total offer is from the Business Gold Card. But whether that’s the best offer for you depends on how you’ll use the points. And don’t forget that the 30k SPG business card offer ends Tuesday 9/3/13, and it’s the best offer ever. The 50k Business Gold Card offer has no known end date, and there have been better offers on the card.

I give the edge on the sign up bonus and category bonuses to the Business Gold Card. The edge on annual fee, urgency, account closure, and length of time to meet the sign up bonus, all go to the SPG Business Card.

Overall both are excellent rewards cards that are right for lots of people. I have the Business Gold Card in my wallet now, and I plan to apply for the SPG Business Card in the next five days.

The Business Gold Rewards Card® from American Express OPEN with 50,000 Membership Rewards

  • Earn 50,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $5,000 in purchases on the Card in the first 3 months of Card membership.
  • Earn points even faster to get more rewards for your business.
  • 3X points on airfare purchased from airlines. 2X points at US gas stations.
  • Up to $100,000 in each category per year, then 1 point.
  • Terms and limitations apply.
  • Reduce travel costs, show appreciation for employees and clients, and offset everyday expenses by using points to get something back and grow your business.
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $175
  • Apply online to qualify for this offer. See offer terms for details.

Application Link: The Business Gold Rewards Card® from American Express OPEN

Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express with 30,000 bonus Starpoints

  • Limited Time Offer: Earn up to 30,000 Starpoints®. Offer ends September 3, 2013.
  • Earn 10,000 Starpoints® after your First Purchase on the Card and another 20,000 after you make $5,000 in eligible purchases on the Card in the first 6 months of Cardmembership.
  • Earn 1 Starpoint® for each dollar of eligible purchases.
  • Earn more Starpoints for stays.
  • Redeem Starpoints® for free flights on over 350 airlines with SPG Flights with no blackout dates.
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $65.
  • Terms and limitations apply.

Application Link: Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express

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