Introduction: Gin & Churros For The Weekend

Filed Under: American, Hotels
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Review: American Business Class 767 New York To Madrid
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Review: Westin Palace Madrid Hotel
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Review: American Business Class 777-300ER London To Los Angeles

For the past several years I’ve been participating in the SPG Amex Stars program, which has taken me to some pretty awesome places. Earlier in the year I was able to attend the SPG Amex Card Member Event at the US Open, which is exclusively for card members.

I love the SPG Amex, and it’s one of the cards I’ve had in my wallet the longest. It was one of the very first cards I applied for when I was 18, and I’ve had it ever since. I actually have both the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and the Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express.

This year has been an especially exciting year for the cards, as they were refreshed in August, whereby we saw them make several changes to the cards:

  • The elimination of foreign transaction fees
  • Complimentary unlimited Boingo wifi
  • Complimentary in-room premium internet access
  • Sheraton club lounge access (for those with the SPG Business Amex)
  • The annual fee being raised by $30 per year, from $65 to $95 (the first year’s annual fee is $0, though)

Tons of people will get value out of these new benefits, and in particular the Sheraton club lounge access which is now complimentary for those with the SPG Business Amex. That’s a huge new perk.

Sheraton club lounge access is now a perk of the SPG Business Amex

For a long time one of the weak points of the card was that it had foreign transaction fees. Those have now finally been eliminated, making the SPG American Express a great card to use when traveling internationally.

As part of the Amex Stars program I was sent on an international trip for four nights so I could use the card without foreign transaction fees. I put a lot of thought into where to go, and after much consideration decided on Madrid. I’ve always been intrigued by the Westin Palace Madrid, which looks like a cool, quirky property. And in early November I figured the weather would still be quite nice. Also, Madrid isn’t that far from the US, so it wouldn’t be a ridiculous trip to take for just four nights.




The SPG Amex covered the cost of my roundtrip (economy) airfare and four nights at the Westin Palace Madrid. Then I used two systemwide upgrades on American to upgrade the roundtrip journey.

My itinerary was as follows:

10/29 AA118 Los Angeles to New York departing 7:00AM arriving 3:40PM
10/29 AA94 New York to Madrid departing 6:55PM arriving 7:15AM (+1 day)
11/03 IB3162 Madrid to London departing 8:20AM arriving 9:50AM
11/03 AA109 London to Los Angeles departing 11:35AM arriving 2:50PM


As far as the flights go, I intentionally planned it so I could fly American’s refurbished 767 from New York to Madrid, given that I haven’t yet reviewed that product yet.

American-767-Business-Class - 5

Then for the return I booked on American’s 777-300ER via London, so I could have a flight direct to Los Angeles with wifi for the daytime flight, which is something I value.


While the return upgrade cleared about a week in advance, the outbound upgraded ended up being a real challenge, and cleared at the airport in New York.

Tiffany and her cousin joined me in Madrid, though they flew out separately (you can expect some reviews from them in the coming days, which will be added to the above trip report index). We all stayed at the Westin Palace Madrid, and had an amazing time drinking gin & tonics and eating churros (among other things).



Stay tuned, as I’ll be covering the flights and hotels, and Tiffany and her cousin will also be adding some installments about what we did on the ground in Madrid, as well as their extended trip.

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  1. Complimentary flights to, and stays in Madrid! This looks great! How do we sign up for the Stars program?!

  2. You know, you’ve been promising trip reports since January, and this 0, besides random hotel reviews, and AFAIK one in January, is the second, and it is November?

    This looks interesting!
    And delicious. I love churros!

  3. @Joey/Bill – It’s only for bloggers. I tweeted something at AskAmex wondering the same kind of thing and how they decide who gets to be a part of the “program.” Of course, I received no reply. My interpretation is that the program exists as an inducement for those with some influence to push SPG/AMEX products. Whether that is good/bad/indifferent is up to you, but it does leave a bad (admittedly, also, jealous) taste in my mouth.

  4. Ben:

    Why do you continue to participate in the AMEX Stars program? It really hurts your credibility. I know your response is that you’re not influenced by AMEX/SPG and/or that you’re willing to say negative things about them. But you’re so big and successful now that you should be able to wien yourself off this program. There are already serious concerns about your credit card recommendations given your obvious self-interest in promoting your links. I like to think I can rely on your air and hotel reviews at a minimum, but your participation in this program calls that into question.

  5. @Daniel M – There’s a reason this trip is being review within a week as opposed to other one’s mentioned and promised from months ago. It’s the reason also you should take a lot of what is said on any blog with a grain of salt.

  6. @Nick: So this trip report got bumped to the front of the queue as quid pro quo for the comped travel? That’s certainly disappointing.

  7. Really excited for the LHR-LAX review. Booked this exact flight last month during the $440RT business sale on BA. Can’t wait to hear you thoughts and ideas for maximizing the flight experience.

  8. I feel like the members of Tiffany’s family have an awesome gig. She seems to always have a relative in tow!

  9. We have stayed at the Westin Madrid a couple of times. I think it’s beautiful and location is ideal. However, the service was hit-and-miss both times The service in that gorgeous rotunda is slower than anything I have ever experienced.
    Heading to Madrid tonight and will be staying at the Ritz.

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