There's plenty of room for argument when it comes to the best airline mileage program, the best hotel program, the best frequent flyer promotion, and so on. But when it comes to travel rewards credit cards, the heated discussions typically resolve into a chorus of harmonized voices singing the praises of a single contender: the Starwood Preferred Guest credit card issued by American Express.
There are two keys to the card's outsized popularity.
First, the Starwood Preferred Guest points earned by using the card can be converted into miles in more than 30 airline programs, including those of Aeroplan, Alaska, American, British Airways, Continental, Delta, Hawaiian, United, and US Airways.
Points generally transfer 1:1 for airline miles, although it's a disappointing 1:2 conversion rate for Continental and United miles.
And second, there's a 5,000-point bonus when transferring 20,000 points. So transferring 20,000 Starwood points to American, for example, nets 25,000 AAdvantage miles.
With the bonus, then, one dollar charged to the Starwood card is worth 1.25 miles in many airline programs. That's more than the one-mile-per-dollar earning rate for charges on the airlines' own co-branded cards. And miles earned with those cards can't be readily converted into other programs.
The price for the card's value and flexibility: a very reasonable $45 annual fee. And that's waived for the first year.
(While Starwood Preferred Guest is a solid hotel program, the fact that points can be redeemed for free room nights is almost beside the point.)
Through July 6, consumers who sign up for a new Starwood card will earn 30,000 points after spending $1,000 or more within the first three months.
Deal or No Deal
The current standard sign-up offer for the Starwood card is 25,000 points. And the best past offer I can recall was 15,000 points after the first purchase plus another 15,000 points after spending $15,000 within six months. So this new limited-time offer is the most compelling I've ever seen for this card.
While the bonus isn't quite the jaw-dropper of the recent British Airways credit card sign-up promotion (100,000 bonus miles after charging $2,000 within three months), it's a very good offer for an excellent card.
If the card meets your needs, and you don't already have one in your wallet, there may never be a better time to apply.
Reader Reality Check
If not, why not?
This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.