Wow. Didn’t see this one coming. American Express just announced that they are raising the annual fee on the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Card to $95 (previously $65). The fee increase is effective August 11, 2015. I previously wrote about how this card is one of my favorites in this Starwood Amex Card Review, and while I still think the card delivers superior value, I must question whether a $30 increase in cost justifies the new benefits Amex introduced. So let’s dig a bit deeper into the changes.
New Starwood Amex Card Benefits Effective August 11, 2015
The following are the new cardholder benefits being introduced in conjunction with the annual fee increase:
- No foreign transaction fees
- Free unlimited Boingo WiFi
- Free premium Internet access at Starwood hotels
- Free club lounge access at Sheraton hotels (for SPG Amex Business Cardholders only)
My Take on These Changes
I can see what Amex is attempting to do here. They are trying to position the Starwood Amex card against the competing cards in this category, which includes the Chase Sapphire ($95 annual fee), Citi Premier ($125 annual fee), and Barclay’s Arrival ($89 annual fee). I’m guessing Amex considers Chase their closest competitor so they decided to match the Sapphire annual fee. I think the Citi Premier is crap, the Barclay’s card is intriguing as you earn 2% back toward travel on all purchases, but lacks ancillary benefits, so the question then becomes…would I rather pay $95 for the SPG Amex or Chase Sapphire?
Starwood Amex Card vs. Chase Sapphire
Let’s start out by comparing the SPG Amex to the Chase Sapphire in terms of earnings, redemption, and benefits.
|Card||Fee||Foreign Transaction Fee||Point Earning||Point Redemption||Other Benefits|
|SPG Amex||$95||None||2x at SPG Hotels, 1 point all else||Up to 1.25:1 to airlines, SPG hotels||Many|
|Chase Sapphire||$95||None||2x travel & dining, 1 point all else||1:1 to airlines, 20% off for UR travel||Few|
|Winner||Tie||Tie||Tie||SPG Amex||SPG Amex|
Looking at the main benefits of the both the SPG Amex and Chase Sapphire, it appears that both cards are neck and neck, but SPG Amex edges Chase out on redemption options/value, and other benefits. Let’s explore those categories a bit further…
SPG Amex vs. Chase Sapphire Redemption Value
The SPG Amex allows you use your SPG points to transfer to Airlines at usually a 1:1 ration, and you get an extra 5,000 points if you transfer 20,000 Starpoints at once. This equates to a 1.25:1 ratio, which exceeds the Chase Ultimate rewards ratio of 1:1. However, that’s not the only drawback. The breadth of airline transfer partners is vastly superior for Starwood Preferred Guest compared to Ultimate Rewards. Practically every airline is available through SPG, but only Korean, Singapore, Southwest, United, Virgin Atlantic, and Korean are available through Chase. Chase does offer some hotel transfer partners including Marriott and Hyatt, but Starwood has a pretty respectable network and often superior values through their Cash & Points redemptions, so while Chase gets a slight edge there it is not nearly as lopsided as the airline transfer value.
SPG Amex vs. Chase Sapphire Other Benefits
Here the SPG Amex wins easily. The SPG Amex gives you a bunch of benefits including the Boingo unlimited free WiFi, free premium Internet at Starwood hotels, but it also gives you 5 nights, and 2 stays credit toward SPG elite status every year. In addition, you can participate in a variety of Amex Sync Bonuses, which can easily offer enough in savings every year to offset the annual fee. Both cards offer extended warranty, return protection, and price protection for purchases. The Chase Sapphire also offers lost baggage, baggage delay (over 6 hours), and trip delay (over 12 hours) insurance. Despite those insurance benefits, I think Amex easily beats Chase with their frequent and compelling Sync offers. Besides, I rarely ever check a bag, so most of those travel insurance benefits are more or less worthless to me.
Yes, Amex did slap cardholders in the face with a huge $30 per year increase in the SPG Amex annual fee, and the added benefits are meager in my opinion. However, if you compare the card to its closest competitor the Chase Sapphire, the Starwood Amex card still comes out ahead justifying its annual fee.