Reader Question – SPG AMEX or Chase Sapphire Card for Starwood Stays?

Julie from Marlboro, NJ writes:

I travel weekly for business and mostly stay at Starwood properties.  I’m a long time SPG AMEX holder and have had the Chase Sapphire card for about three months now.  I am able to use a personal card when traveling on business and by default still reach for my SPG card, do you think I should be using the Sapphire card instead?

I asked myself the same question when I switched jobs a few months ago.  My former company required that the AMEX Corporate Card be used for all expenses while my new company allows for personal card use when traveling (something that I was very excited about)! I too tend to favor SPG properties and decided to stick with using my SPG AMEX card for Starwood stays, here’s why:

  • Earning – The SPG card earns 2 SPG points per dollar at all Starwood properties from AMEX for card usage (in addition to 2 points for the actual stay and one additional point if your an elite member) while the Chase Sapphire card earns double Ultimate Rewards (UR) points for all travel spend.  On top of the double points the Sapphire card also awards a 7% annual bonus on all points earned.  While the Chase card may earn more Ultimate Rewards points, I tend to assign a higher value to the SPG points valuing them at 2.3 – 2.8 cents per point based on my average hotel redemptions for the last few years.  If I was to include my Cash & Points redemptions the value for SPG points rises well above the 6.5 mark.  Ultimate Rewards points can be valued in a pretty large range depending on your redemption type, more on this below.
  • Redemption
    • Ultimate Rewards can be redeemed for gift cards, hotel stays, or airline miles amongst others.
      • Gift Cards – generally the worst value at about 1 cent per point.
      • Hotels –  I made mock bookings for August 20 – August 23rd using a luxury, mid level, and low level property for each hotel partner in Asia, Europe, and the US (in the same cities) to compare the point requirements to the lowest available rate and then averaged the rates across the properties.
        • Hyatt – In my opinion one of the best UR redemptions.  Average for 8/20 – 8/23 is 3.2 cents per point, though Asia comes in at an average of 6.9 cents at the Park Hyatt brand.
        • Marriott – Average for 8/20 – 8/23 is 1.05 cents per point with the greatest value in Europe at almost 1.5 cents per point and the lowest in the US at .68 at a Fairfield Inn.
        • IHC / Priority Club – Average for 8/20 – 8/23 is 1.57 cents per point with the greatest value in Europe at 2.8 cents at an Intercontinental and the lowest at a Holiday Inn in the US at .54.
      • Airfare – You can earn 2 UR points per dollar spent (plus a 7% annual bonus) at Starwood hotels which can be transferred 1:1 to British Airways, Korean Air, and United, meaning that you are earning 2.14 miles per $ at SPG properties (thanks Rando).
    • SPG Points can redeemed for hotel stays at SPG properties, exchanged for airline miles, used to book flights, or for SPG Moment experiences.  I focus on hotel redemptions and airline transfers here.
      • Hotels – Starwood divides their hotels into categories from 1-7 and different points are required per night for each category.  A four night redemption stay at any category 3 or higher hotel will earn you a fifth night free. Additionally, there are no award restrictions, meaning if a standard room is available for purchase then you can redeem points for it as well. Using the same hotel date range and cities above I looked at hotels in category 2, category 5 and category 6 and compared the points requirements to the lowest available rate, averaging across the categories to obtain a complete score. Average for 8/20 – 8/23 is 3.93 cents per point with the greatest value in Europe at 6.7 cents per point and the lowest  in the US at 2.1 cents at a Four Points. Remember, this average does not take into account the 5th night free at the category 5 and category 6 hotel used in this example!
      • Cash & Points as noted above is one of my favorite SPG point redemptions.  My all time best value was when I stayed at the Le Meriden in Monaco last summer for 8000 points and $150 per night instead of 528 E ($647.52/ per night).  Using the same 8/20 – 8/23 date range for this year, look at the value of $150 cash and 8000 points when compared to a $584 (476E) rate
      • Airline Transfers – Starwood partners with over 30 airlines and awards you 5,000 additional miles for every 20,000 points transferred.  The majority of their partners transfer at 1:1 meaning that you get 25,000 miles for every 20,000 SPG points or a 1.25 transfer rate, allowing you to earn 2.5 miles (@jason) when spending strictly at Starwood hotels.
  • Caveats
    • Unless your company reimburses you for foreign exchange fees, you should always use your Sapphire card for foreign hotel spend as there are no foreign transaction fees with the card and they can rack up very fast when staying more than one night at a hotel.
    • If you plan to transfer your points to United you should always use your Sapphire card as points transfer 1:1 while SPG points transfer to United at only a 2:1 rate.
    • In terms of airline miles, the SPG AMEX is earning you 2.5 miles per dollar when spending ONLY at Starwood hotels, 1.25 on all other spending.  However, the Sapphire card earns you double miles and the annual bonus (2.14 miles total) on all travel and dining expenses including stays at any hotel.  I am now exclusively using my Sapphire card for travel and dining expenses outside of Starwood properties but continue using my SPG card for all Starwood stays.

Readers, what are your thoughts?  I know many of you have both cards, which do you use when staying at an SPG property?

Don’t have one of my two favorite cards?  You can see the terms and conditions and current offers for each here.

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  1. If you earn 2 points per dollar in the Sapphire bonus categories, your 7% annual bonus gives you a total of 2.14 (2 * 1.07 = 2.14) points per dollar at the end of the year.

      • Similarly, the 1.25 airline miles/dollar that the SPG Amex earns on normal spend should be doubled for spend at SPG hotels to 2.50 instead of 2.25.

        So unless you’re out of the country, stick with the SPG Amex at SPG hotels.

  2. What values did you use for the UR Park Hyatt redemption? and would it have been better transferring to Hyatt?

  3. Wouldnt the SPG Amex actually reward 4 star points per dollar spent at their properties? (or 5 if you are elite)

    From the T&C:
    “You will receive two Starpoints® from American Express and two Starpoints (or three Starpoints if you have Starwood Preferred Guest® elite status) from the Starwood Preferred Guest Program for each U.S. dollar of Eligible Spending charged on your Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express at participating Starwood properties, standalone retail establishments and online stores that, in each case are wholly owned by Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc, and its affiliates”

    • @James – Sort of but only 2 of those are for the card the rest would be earned regardless – 2 points for AMEX usage + 2 points for regular hotel stay + 1 point if you’re an elite member (As an SPG member you always earn two Starpoints for every eligible U.S. dollar spent, or 3 if your an elite).

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