On the surface, the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express (or SPG Amex) card doesn’t seem all that special, with an earn rate of 1 point per dollar spent. But…

Dig a little deeper, and you’ll find one of the best travel credit cards available.

For those of you who were Chase Marriott Visa holders, we also have a special offer exclusively for you available until April 18, 2018 (more on that later).

The SPG Program Overview

Before we get to the card, let’s go over the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) program. This is the loyalty program for all Starwood hotels with brands that include: Sheraton, Four Points by Sheraton and Westin to name a few.

Points (called Starpoints) are earned based on amount spent per stay at a hotel – and they can be used in many different ways:

  • Use points to stay at any Starwood hotel. Taxes and fees are all covered as well. Book a room with points for a five night stay and the 5th night is free!
  • Use your points to book travel through the SPG program with no restrictions or blackout dates. Taxes and fees are also covered.
  • Transfer your points (usually on a 1:1 basis) to 35 different airline programs (Aeroplan is one of them). As a bonus, for every 20,000 points you transfer, SPG will give you an additional 5,000 airline miles for free.
  • With Marriott’s acquisition of Starwood, you can freely transfer points to Marriott Rewards (and vice-versa). One Starwood point is equal to three Marriott points. Status is also matched when you link your SPG and Marriott Rewards accounts together.

There are a couple of other uses for points, but these four are the biggest ones.

If you’re a traveller, SPG clearly is a valuable rewards program, with a variety of options in how you wish to redeem your points.

The SPG Amex Credit Card

Here we have the only Canadian credit card to earn SPG points, that has both personal and small business versions (we will only cover the personal one). You get the following when you use this card:

  • 1 Starpoint for every dollar spent (2 points at Starwood and Marriott hotels until July 31, 2018), and
  • A welcome bonus of 20,000 Starpoints after spending $1,500 in the first 3 months.

…for a $120 annual fee.

The increased earn rate at Starwood and Marriott hotels is not permanent, but seems to be getting continually extended (it was previously supposed to end on February 15, 2018). It was originally started on November 15, 2016. And it may be something they keep extending, but for the purposes of this article, all return on spending calculations will not include the promotional increased earn rate.

Insurance coverage

It has great set of insurance features for travelling:

SPG Amex Canada insurance coverage

Credit card perks

There are also a couple of SPG-specific perks as well:

  • Get upgraded to a Starwood Gold Preferred guest when you spend $30,000 annually; and
  • Receive a free weekend night at a category 1-4 hotel when you spend $40,000 annually

Related: 17 Drool-Worth Credit Card Perks

Redeeming Starpoints For Best Value

Earning one point per dollar spent doesn’t seem like much – but when you dig a little deeper, you’ll discover that each point is quite valuable. We’ll evaluate the return of this card in three ways:

  • using your points for hotel stays,
  • booking flights through SPG, and
  • converting them to Aeroplan.

1. Using Starpoints for hotel stays

To figure out the value of a Starpoint, we surveyed 18 Starwood and Marriott hotels across Canada to get a rough value for a point (here is the PDF with our results).

All hotels stays were for a 3 night stay from Thursday to Sunday booked 3 weeks in advance, using the program’s flexible preferred rates. For our larger cities we surveyed two hotels: one in the downtown core and the other outside the downtown area (usually close to the airport).

We came up with a value of 2.45 cents per point (to remove outliers, we removed the two highest and lowest results). On our average $2,000 month spend works out to 240,00 Starpoints per year for a value of $588. Less the annual fee of $120 – your annual return is $468, or 1.95%.

A couple of notes to make about the research conducted.

  • Marriott hotels, on average, provided a better value per point than the Starwood’s we surveyed.
  • When using points for hotel stays, be sure to look at an equivalent Marriott option to maximize your point value.
  • In most of the smaller locations we surveyed, there wasn’t a Starwood hotel in the city.

2. Booking flights through SPG

Starpoints can be used to book any flight on any airline with no blackout dates using SPG flights.

A quick survey of various flights revealed a point value of between 1.3 to 2 cents – with lower numbers found for flights within North America and higher values for long distance international flights

While this is a convenient way to book flights as you don’t have to pay for anything, the value is generally not as good as using them for hotels. But then again, it does present another good way to use your points.

3. Convert Starpoints to Airline Programs

Starpoints can be converted to many different airline programs. We’ll evaluate the return using the Aeroplan program.

The following table shows various Aeroplan point values and the return for each one. Transferring to Aeroplan is done in increments of 20,000 points to maximize the value of the 5,000 point bonus – and the percent return is also based on the 20,000 dollars spent to get those points.

Aeroplan Point Value Total value based on 25,000 miles Percent return based on $20,000 spend Annual Return less Annual Fee
(based on $24,000 spend)
1.5 cents 375 1.875% $330
2 cents 500 2.5% $600
2.5 cents* 625 3.125% $750

*the 2.5 cent Aeroplan return is used to calculate rewards at creditcardGenius for this card

Depending on what you are able to get for your Aeroplan points, this is can be an even better return than using points for hotels stays. If you can consistently get more than 2 cents per Aeroplan mile you can get an even better return on your spend, and is one of the top Aeroplan cards available.

Doing any or all of the following can increase point value:

  • Fly as far as you can within a point zone.
  • Book far in advance and fly on points at peak travel times when flights cost more.
  • Consider flying business or first class. Flights can cost 5X more in dollars but sometimes only cost 2X the points as economy.
  • Add a free open jaw (get off the plane in one city and back on in another city). Some airlines allow this.
  • Add a free stopover that forms a triangle with your departure and destination city. Some airlines allow this.

Marriott Rewards Premier Visa Cardholders

For those of you who had you Marriott Rewards Visa cancelled, you have probably seen your special offer for this card, which expires on April 18, 2018. There are a few differences between your offer and what is available to everyone else:

  • Additional 5,000 points for the welcome bonus.
  • Automatic upgrade to SPG Plus membership.
  • Automatic qualification for Marriott Rewards Silver Elite status when you link your Marriott Rewards & SPG accounts.

Sure, the loss of the no-fee currency exchange and the annual free night was a hard pill to swallow for many – but this is actually a very good offer.

You get to keep your automatic silver status and earn more points than you would have before. The Marriott Visa earned one point per dollar spent on base spend, 2 points per dollar on airline tickets and restaurants and 5 points at Marriott hotels…

With the SPG card, you will earn the equivalent of 3 Marriott points per dollar spent on all your purchases (once they end the extra earn at Starwood and Marriott hotels). While there is a little loss on the Marriott spend, you get a big boost on everything else you would use the card for.

The Bottom Line

While seemingly an average card on the surface, after digging we found a card that has points worth a great deal more than they appear. That’s because the Starwood Preferred Guest rewards program is the most flexible and most valuable rewards program out there that isn’t tied to a bank.

With many options on how to use your points, this is a card to take a look at and is one of the most versatile travel credit cards available in Canada.