Which Marriott & Starwood Credit Cards Should You Keep?

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Update: These offers for the Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus Credit Card and the Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express have expired. Learn more about the current offers here.


Reader Ryan asked the following question on Twitter:

I suspect Ryan isn’t alone in terms of the card portfolio he has, as the Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus Credit CardStarwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, and Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express, are probably the three most popular Marriott & Starwood credit cards.

So if you’re someone who is trying to decide between these cards — either because you don’t have any of them and are considering applying, or because you have all three of them, and can’t decide which to keep — what should go into your thought process?

In this post I’ll focus specifically on these $95 annual fee cards given their comparable benefits, and not on the new $450 SPG Luxury Card, which is being introduced on August 23, 2018.

If you already have all three cards

The reality is that these three cards largely have overlapping benefits. The Marriott Rewards Premier Plus CardStarwood Personal Amex Card, and Starwood Business Amex Card, all offer:

  • A free night award every year after your card account anniversary, valid at a property retailing for up to 35,000 points
  • Silver Elite status for as long as you have your card
  • Gold status when you spend $35,000 on the card in a calendar year (that amount is the same across cards starting in 2019)
  • Starting in 2019 you earn 15 elite qualifying nights per year just for having the card (you can receive this benefit for at most one card)
  • No foreign transaction fees

So when deciding whether to keep these cards, the first question I’d ask myself is how much you value the anniversary free night certificates. Personally I value those alone at more than $95 each. You can earn that benefit for each of these cards, so based on that, I’d keep all the cards solely for that benefit.

But let’s say you don’t value them at more than $95 each, which is also reasonable. Given the overlapping benefits, at that point you may want to drop one or two of these cards.

Do any of these cards have benefits that set them apart?

  • All else being equal, I’d probably choose the Starwood Personal Amex Card and/or Starwood Business Amex Card over the Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Card because they give you access to Amex Offers, which can save you money on all kinds of purchases; I often save hundreds of dollars using this benefit per year
  • While the two personal cards offer 6x points at Marriott properties and 2x points on everything else, the SPG Business Card has the added benefit of offering 4x points at US restaurants, US gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased directly from US service providers, and US purchases for shipping
  • Both the SPG Business and SPG Personal Cards offer unlimited Boingo wifi on up to four devices at more than one million Boingo hotspots worldwide
  • If you’re worried about using the card internationally, generally more places accept Visa cards than American Express cards

So while there are lots of overlapping benefits, the above are what I see as the primary differences between the cards.

If you’re considering applying for the cards

If you don’t have any of these cards yet and want to apply for one or multiple of these cards, what should you be considering? Well, to start, here’s how the welcome bonuses on the cards compare:

As you can see, the SPG Business Card has the best welcome bonus at the moment, and it’s limited time, so getting that card would be my first priority.

In terms of general odds for approval:

  • The two American Express cards have “once in a lifetime” language, so you can only earn the bonus on each card once
  • If you’re concerned about Chase’s 5/24 rule, applying for the SPG Business Amex Card wouldn’t count towards your five card limit
  • The Marriott Card is subjected to the 5/24 rule, and you’re not eligible for the bonus if you currently have any Chase Marriott Personal Card, or have received the new cardmember bonus on such a card in the past 24 months

We’re also seeing new restrictions added to all of these cards for applications as of August 26, 2018.

Here are the new restrictions for the Starwood Personal Amex Card:

Effective 8/26, welcome offer not available to applicants who have or have had The Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card from Chase, The Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus Credit Card from Chase, Marriott Rewards Credit Card from Chase, or The Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card from JP Morgan in the last 30 days.

Then here are the new restrictions for the Starwood Business Amex Card:

Effective 8/26, welcome offer not available to applicants who (i) have or have had the Marriott Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card from Chase or Marriott Rewards Business Credit Card from Chase in the last 30 days, (ii) have acquired The Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus Credit Card from Chase or The Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card from Chase in the last 90 days, or (iii) received a welcome offer in the last 24 months on The Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus Credit Card from Chase or The Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card from Chase.

Lastly, here are the new restrictions for the Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Card:

The bonus is not available to you if you:

  • are a current cardmember, or were a previous cardmember within the last 30 days, of the Starwood Preferred Guest® credit card;
  • are a current or previous cardmember of either the Starwood Preferred Guest® Business or the Starwood Preferred Guest® Luxury credit card, and received a new cardmember bonus or upgrade bonus in the last 24 months; or
  • applied and were approved for the Starwood Preferred Guest credit card, Starwood Preferred Guest Business credit card, or Starwood Preferred Guest Luxury credit card within the last 90 days.

Bottom line

There’s value to be had with all three of these cards. Personally I plan on holding onto as many Marriott and Starwood cards as possible, because I value the anniversary free night certificates on the cards at more than the annual fees. So that alone is a reason to have as many of these cards as possible.

If you are hoping to decide between the cards, hopefully the above is a good outline of the major differences.

In general I tend to think the Starwood Business Amex Card is the most compelling in the collection, in terms of the welcome bonus, approval odds, access to Amex Offers, and better bonus categories. But there are circumstances under which the Starwood Personal Amex Card or Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Card could make more sense as well.

To those trying to decide between the $95 annual fee Marriott and Starwood Cards, what’s your strategy?

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Comments

  1. Frankly I wouldn’t do anything until after the 18th and the dust settles as I don’t think we will know the extent of the positioning of the credit cards/ issuers as well as the actual program. Sure there have been announcements gossip and “leaks” but one has to look at Hyatt to know wait till the details are in print then wait again.

  2. Annual fee on the posted on Aug 02 for long term personal Spg Amex card holder.

    No definite answer from Amex as to whether the annual free night will apply this year. Customer service calls are being routed to the Philippines or India and results in no answers. The combination of reduced earning and overlapping cards makes this a doubtful hold.

    Anyone able to get an answer on the free night for annual fees posting in August?

  3. Another plus for the SPG Amex card is that you can request it with contactless payment feature. This is invaluable when traveling to London where using the underground or busses is as simple as tapping your card at the entry/exit. New York Citiy introducing this for the subway in the next year too. Chase is not issuing any contactless payment cards yet.

  4. Hi Lucky,

    I applied for the SPG Business Amex card back in March. I missed the minimum spend deadline and did not get the sign up $100K bonus.

    What is your recommendation on the next step or action I should take?

    Thank you

  5. Yeah. Marriott biz is the best, 4x restaurants, which is competitive. No Amex offers but Amex isn’t accepted a lot of places, especially small restaurants in Greece.

  6. @playalaguna – I called Amex today and asked to cancel my SPG personal Amex I’ve had according to them since 2013 (had my first Amex in 1986 but somehow they’ve lost tract of that). I told the retention specialist I wanted to cancel due to the card’s earning devaluation and was told immediately that the annual free night applied to my card. After telling her it was limited to hotel categories below those we typically utilize, she offered 20,000 points on $2k of spend over the next 3 mos. to renew my card in September. I accepted the offer which represents an 8% return on spend even with the annual fee payment taken into account.

  7. @Ralph were those 20K Marriott points or the good old SPG points that translate to 60K Marriott points.

  8. Damn, Lucky. Posts like this are why you always have the most interesting content. Useful and timely.

    Good work.

  9. 4x restaurants on a ~$.08 currency is not as competitive as the CSR’s 3x restaurants on a ~$.17 currency.

  10. I kept the old Marriott Rewards personal card (didn’t upgrade to Premier Plus) as I value the Elite night credit after every $3k in spending. That benefit is not offered on the new cards. I also have the SPG Amex personal card, which was my primary everyday card, but am not interested in the free night hotels that are offered so will likely cancel.

  11. I’m a little confused about the logistics of the SPG Amex free anniversary night. I’ve had both the personal and business cards for several years. I paid the annual fee(s) in March. When will I receive the award night? Will it be available for use starting in March 2019? Or March 2020? And if I cancel the card within the grace period for paying the annual fee, will they claw back the free night if I’ve already used it?

  12. Hi Lucky,
    Have both the old AmEx SPG personal and recently got the new Chase Marriott card, thinking that I would close the old AmEx one. What I forgot to consider is the long account history of the AmEx card; I don’t want to lose that for credit history purposes. Don’t see a lot of value in keeping both open for the free night. Do you have any suggestions for what to do? Could I downgrade either one to a non-premium account to avoid the annual fees?

  13. Random thoughts, as I meant to reply when this was posted two days ago, but something came up…

    @Lucky (and by extension, @Steve) —> With regards to the SPG Biz Amex, and by extension the Marriott Business card, which is not included in this post, you wrote (in part): “SPG Business Card has the added benefit of offering 4x points at US restaurants, US gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased directly from US service providers, and US purchases for shipping.”

    Let’s set aside the wireless and shipping for the moment. With the point devaluation — that is, from SPG points being worth ~2.7¢, but now earning Marriott points instead, worth only ~0.9¢ — earning 4x MR points at restaurants just isn’t worth it:
    → SPG Business, 4x MR points @ 0.9¢ = 3.6¢;
    → Chase Sapphire Preferred, 2x UR points @ 2.1¢ = 4.2¢;
    → Chase Sapphire Reserve, 3x UR points @ 2.1¢ = 6.3¢.

    Heck, even the Hilton Aspire card is 7x in restaurants (also US only) → 7x Hilton Honors points @ 0.6¢ = 4.2¢, equaling the CSP, but with less flexibility.

    In re: gasoline purchases, again:
    → SPG Business, 4x MR points @ 0.9¢ = 3.6¢;
    → Hilton Aspire, 7x HH points @ 0.6¢ = 4.2¢
    → Citi Premier, 3 TYP @ 1.6¢ = 4.8¢.

    IMHO the ONLY reason to hold the SPG Business card is for the Free Night Cert, the value of which exceeds the AF. Yes, Lucky is right in that it also gives you access to some Amex Special Offers, but since you can also access them with other Amex cards, I don’t count that as a real benefit/reason for keeping this card.

    /\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

    As for what to keep, I too intend to keep both my SPG and my Marriott personal cards for the free nights — at least in the short term. I suspect I’ll reevaluate this every year for a time, to make sure I’m using the free nights. For me, however, there is another, more important issue at hand.

    I’m semi-retired at this point. I don’t travel for work, and indeed very rarely did when fully employed. I was often SPG Gold, however not enough to achieve lifetime status. This was earned through the number of stays (10+), never the number of nights (25), and now that Marriott eliminated status-for-stays, and upped the minimum nights to 50, I’ll never be Gold again (unless it’s through acquiring a new card, like the Amex Platinum, for which I otherwise see little need). Since my “hotel chains of choice” were 1) Starwood, 2) Hilton, and 3) Marriott, the point devaluation and less earning power with my SPG Amex would make it quite easy to swap Hilton for Starwood, making it my #1 chain, especially as I am Diamond with the Aspire card. So, YES, as someone has already pointed out, I’m waiting for the dust to settle before figuring out my next “move.”

  14. Is the anniversary award night credit a new thing? I have had the SPG amex for a number of years but have never gotten an anniversary award night that I am aware of.

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