During the month of April (2014) Are you considering the Starwood American Express credit card? Then find out how it really compares.

There are a number of very attractive hotel rewards credit cards on the market, so how does this one compare against the competition? Well take a look for yourself...

AmEx Starwood compared to other credit cards
April's Best Offer: If you've been waiting, now is the time to apply because you can earn up to 25,000 Starpoints AND get a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $65 (and that's very reasonable compared to many other travel cards). You receive 10,000 bonus points after the first purchase and the other 15,000 points after spending $5,000 in the first six months of cardmembership. Combined that's 25,000 points, which is enough for a weekend getaway at a very nice Category 4 hotel!
The ultimate frequent flier credit card?
Not only do many consider the Starwood Preferred Guest card to be one of the best hotel cards out there, but it's also the most versatile card out there for airline miles.

You can use your points for both Starwood hotel stays as well as airfare. The biggest problem with airline cards is that your miles are only good on one airline. Sometimes they allow you to transfer, but usually you get penalized for doing so, or the number of transfer partners is limited. But with the Starwood Preferred Guest program, you can transfer points almost always on a 1-for-1 basis to more than 30 airlines. Examples include Delta, American Airlines, US Airways, Aeroplan/Air Canada, and about two dozen others.

This is a very special benefit. Even the Membership Rewards program offered on other American Express cards like Premier Rewards Gold doesn't have 30 partner airlines.

That's exactly why I put my money where my mouth is and use this one myself (mine is pictured below).

How the Points Work
photo of my AmEX SPG
Known as Starpoints, you earn them on everything you buy. For regular purchases, you earn 1 Starpoint per dollar on every purchase made. For spending at Starwood properties, the amount of points you earn depends on your SPG tier:
Starwood Preferred Guest
This is the base tier for those new to the Preferred Guest program. At their properties you will earn a total of 4 points per dollar -- 2 as an SPG member plus 2 for using this card.

Gold Starwood Preferred Guest
You automatically reach this tier if you have 10 eligible stays (or 25 eligible nights) at their hotels in a calendar year.
However, having the Starwood American Express will get you there faster since it automatically gives you credit for 5 nights and 2 stays annually towards your Elite Status. Alternately, when you spend $30,000 per year on your card, you will get upgraded to Gold. Whatever path you take to get there, once you get Gold you will earn a total of 5 points per dollar (2 coming from the AmEx) spent at their properties.

Platinum Starwood Preferred Guest
You reach this level after 25 stays (or 50 nights) at Starwood hotels in a calendar year. This tier also gives you a total of 5 points per dollar spent at their properties (same structure as the Gold).
Starwood now has more than 1,100 hotels and resorts. Their major brands include W Hotels, Sheraton, Westin, Le Meridian, St. Regis, and The Luxury Collection (which consists of over 90 unique properties).

How Much Are Starpoints Worth?
Some hotel chains have an absolutely terrible point value, where you might only get the equivalent of $0.30 or $0.50 per point when you redeem them, if you're lucky.

Fortunately, Starwood's program is different... their points are worth quite a bit comparatively speaking.

As of Q1 2014, here is the Starpoints redemption chart which shows you how many points it will take for a free standard room. The number required is quite reasonable when you consider how much it would cost in cash if you were paying for an uber-luxury Category 6 or 7 out of pocket.
Starpoints redemption chart
In addition to paying 100 percent with points, they also offer options for paying with a combination of points and cash (which is a very useful benefit when you're a little short on points).

Of course you might be wondering... what is a typical Category 1? Or Category 4? Well here are three random examples for each tier to give you an idea of what to expect...
  • Category 1: Aloft (which is a subset of W Hotels) in Winchester VA, Four Points by Sheraton Tucson Airport, Le Méridien Dead Sea Israel
  • Category 2: Four Points by Sheraton San Diego, Four Points by Sheraton Chicago O'Hare Airport, Le Méridien Chongqing China
  • Category 3: Four Points by Sheraton Los Angeles Westside, Aloft Silicon Valley, Sheraton Heathrow Hotel England
  • Category 4: The Tremont Chicago Hotel at Magnificent Mile, Le Méridien Stuttgart Germany, The Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa
  • Category 5: The Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort & Spa, Aloft New York Brooklyn, Sheraton Kauai Resort
  • Category 6: SLS Hotel, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Beverly Hills, W New York - Times Square, The Westin Paris - Vendôme
  • Category 7: The St. Regis New York, Hotel President Wilson Geneva Switzerland (a Luxury Collection Hotel), The St. Regis Aspen Resort
In a nutshell, your Category 1 options will be limited, no surprise there. But if you don't have too much of a champagne taste, you often can find something within the Categories 2-4 that's in a good location. But if you want a room in the heart of NYC or at a high-end beach resort, expect to be in the 5-7 Categories.

Whatever the case, when you look at the number of points it takes for these rooms and compare them to the amount of money you would have to pay for them, your Starpoints can really go a long way.

American Express benefits
This credit card also comes with a variety of useful benefits from American Express:
  • Extended Warranty: How often have you had a computer or TV go bad right after the warranty expired? On eligible purchases, American Express will double the original manufacturer warranties, up to one extra year.
  • Purchase Protection: With this valuable benefit, AmEx will cover eligible purchases against accidental damage for 90 days from purchase.
  • Travel Protection: AmEx is known for their exception travel services. On eligible purchases made with the card you receive car rental collision coverage, up to $100,000 travel accident insurance for eligible Common Carrier travel, as well as other benefits.
The best signup offer available in April 2014: