UPDATE (April 17, 2018): As a result of the upcoming Marriott/SPG merger, the signup and referral bonuses on this card have been decreased significantly. A new co-branded credit card for the combined loyalty program should be launched in the coming months.
When anyone asks me what's the best credit card to use for daily spending here in Canada, my answer is almost always the American Express SPG Card. That's primarily because, as I've written about, Starwood Preferred Guest is such an immensely valuable points program and Starpoints are therefore very useful to have around. Let's have an in-depth look at all the features of this card to see why it's worth grabbing – before it might be too late!
The American Express SPG Card offers 20,000 Starpoints as a signup bonus upon spending $1,500 in the first three months. The card has an annual fee of $120 which, to my knowledge, has never come with a first year fee waiver.
Let's face it: annual fees suck, big time. But if you do the math, you'll see that the 20,000 Starpoints signup bonus more than offsets your $120 outlay. To give you an idea of what the bonus can get you (read our full guide to the SPG program for more):
- Transfer 15,000 Starpoints into 45,000 Marriott Rewards points and redeem for a free night at a top-tier Category 9 Marriott hotel (retail cost: $500–700, with 5,000 Starpoints left over)
- Transfer 20,000 Starpoints into 60,000 Marriott Rewards points and redeem for a free night at a Tier 4 Ritz-Carlton hotel (retail cost: $600–900)
- Transfer 20,000 Starpoints to any of SPG's 35 airline transfer partners and redeem for flights (retail cost: $500+)
- Redeem for up to 10 (!) nights at lower-end Category 1 Starwood hotels (retail cost: $1000+)
Those are just a few examples that come to mind, and you could also mix and match the options that best suit your needs. The point is, the ultimate value of the SPG program derives from its flexibility, and as a result of that, it's almost difficult not to get multiple times' return on your $120 annual fee when signing up for this card.
In terms of other bonuses, you'll earn 10,000 Starpoints for every referral you make to any SPG card (i.e., either this card itself or its small business version), up to a maximum of 150,000 Starpoints per calendar year. That's a very strong referral bonus, and can be another excellent way to rack up Starpoints. Keep in mind that even the US-issued American Express SPG cards, whose signup bonuses are usually much higher than ours, only offer 5,000 Starpoints per referral.
The SPG cards are also unique within Amex's credit card offerings in that they feature rewards for spending up to a certain threshold per membership year. Upon spending $30,000 you'll be rewarded with Gold Elite status within the SPG program, and upon reaching the $40,000 spending threshold, you'll be awarded a free weekend night certificate at any Category 1–4 hotel.
Finally, like the Gold Rewards Card, supplementary cards are free for the first year, and there are links floating around that offer 1,000 Starpoints per authorized user added. As with all Amex cards, you're allowed up to nine supplementary cards per card account.
In terms of the return on everyday spending, you'll earn 2 Starpoints per dollar spent at all Starwood and Marriott hotels, including room charges, food and beverages, and incidentals. You'll also earn 1 Starpoint per dollar spent on all other purchases.
Now, why would you use the SPG Card for everyday spending in favour of either the Platinum or Business Platinum Cards, which earn 1.25 Membership Rewards point per dollar spent?
It depends on how you intend to use those MR points. As we know, the most valuable way to use MR points is to transfer to Aeroplan or other programs. So at 1.25 MR point per dollar, you're effectively earning 1.25 Aeroplan miles (or 1.25 British Airways Avios, etc.)
But you can also transfer Starpoints to those same programs at an effective rate of 1:1.25, due to SPG sweetening the deal with a bonus 5,000 Starpoints when transferring to their airline partners in 20,000-point chunks. So by earning 1 Starpoint per dollar, you're also earning 1.25 Aeroplan miles or Avios per dollar.
Keep in mind that SPG also offers 30+ other airline partners, including the ability to transfer at an effective ratio of 1:1.25 to Delta SkyMiles, Etihad Guest, Alitalia MilleMiglia, and Cathay Pacific Asia Miles. With these partners, the ratio offered by Membership Rewards is a measly 1:0.75. Therefore, assuming you're earning MR with your Platinum or Business Platinum, hoping to transfer to other programs, you'd be equally as well off, if not better off, earning Starpoints with an SPG Card instead.
Lastly, if you really, really wanted Hilton HHonors points (the only MR transfer partner not offered by SPG), then by all means, use your Platinum...
The insurance provided by the SPG Card is decently far-reaching, and includes coverage such as:
- Travel accident insurance, up to $500,000, for you, your spouse, and any dependent children under 23
- Baggage delay insurance, up to $1,000 (aggregate total with Flight Delay insurance), for items purchased within four days when your baggage is delayed
- Car rental theft and damage insurance, which helps you save the daily insurance fee that most car rental companies charge
There's a few notable omissions from the list of covered items, though. For example, both the Gold Rewards Card and the Platinum Card offer emergency medical insurance up to $5,000,000, in addition to all of the coverage provided by the SPG Card. In terms of travel insurance best practices, you'll probably wantto book your flights on either of those cards.
The American Express SPG Card is quite easy to get approved for, with a minimum $15,000 in annual personal income required. There's also a very good reason to "apply now": with the SPG and Marriott points programs merging soon, no one knows what will happen to either program's co-branded credit cards.
Currently in Canada, there's a Marriott card issued by Chase and two SPG cards issued by Amex. It's anyone's guess what will happen to these credit cards when the programs merge, and there's a fair chance that the SPG Card, in its current form, might be discontinued in the near future. This may be your last chance to grab the excellent signup bonus before the card is replaced.
As always, if you enjoy the stuff I put out on the blog, I'd love it if you used my referral link to apply. It helps me massively to continue running the site and update it regularly with fresh content.
The American Express SPG Card is one of the killer cards to have in Canada, and its name comes up in every discussion I've had on the best travel points credit card in the marketplace. It's a superb "daily driver" card for everyday spending and allows you to take full advantage of the tremendous value and versatility that SPG offers. Grab one for your wallet now before it might be too late!