The Starwood Preferred Guest credit card, issued by American Express, has long had a prominent place in the wallets of savvy frequent travelers. Here’s why:
- Annual fee: $95, waived the first year
- Annual percentage rate: adjustable, currently 15.49% to 19.49%, based on creditworthiness
- Earn up to 5 Starpoints per $1 at Starwood hotels, 1 Starpoint for other purchases
- No foreign transaction fees
- Annual credit for 5 nights/2 stays toward elite status
- Starpoints transferable to nearly 34 airline frequent flyer programs, mostly on a 1:1 basis
- 5,000 bonus points when transferring 20,000 points to a participating airline program
- Complimentary in-room premium WiFi at Starwood hotels
- Complimentary, unlimited WiFi at Boingo hotspots
In addition to the travel perks, the card has come with some solid sign-up bonuses, including 35,000 points after charging $3,000 to the card within the first three months earlier this year. That may turn out to have been the card’s last hurrah, promotion-wise.
With the pending merger of Marriott and Starwood, it’s been a mostly foregone conclusion that the Starwood card will be discontinued in favor of the Marriott Rewards card. That raised the question of the card’s marketing strategy during its final period of availability. In short, would the sign-up bonuses be increased, or scaled back?
The answer comes this week, with the new offer for customers of both the regular and the business versions of the Starwood Preferred Guest cards. Replacing what had been the ongoing offer of 25,000 bonus points after spending $3,000, successful applicants for the card are now being offered two free nights at Category 1 – 5 Starwood hotels after spending $3,000.
Award stays in Category 5 hotels cost 16,000 points per night during high season. So there is at least the possibility of getting more value from two free nights than from 25,000 bonus points. But even in the best case, the new offer is not as generous as the 35,000-point offer. And perhaps more important for many cardholders, the new bonus doesn’t include the option of redeeming 20,000 points for 25,000 airline frequent-flyer miles.
The new incentive, on offer through October 19, will thus be a downgrade for most prospective customers.
It’s anybody’s guess what will happen to the bonus after October 19. Perhaps it will revert to the previous 25,000-point offer. Perhaps not.
More definite, however, is the fact that the Starwood card’s end is nearing. Which means it’s time to look for a new go-to travel-rewards card.
Reader Reality Check
What do consider a worthy replacement for the Starwood Preferred Guest card?
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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.