Is Amex SPG Still Worth Renewing?

Well, comrades, it’s that time of the year again! No, I’m not talking about kids going back to school (approved!!!) Actually, my son just started pre-school and it has been gut-wrenching. He is crying and begging me not to take him there each morning. I told him he needs a good education so he doesn’t end up an underachiever like his mom. He  just rolls his eyes at me…

But the post isn’t about that. No, it’s about American Express increasing the offer on its Amex SPG card, both personal and business versions. The cards pay me referral. Quite a few readers have contacted me about this card within the last few months. My advice has been to hold off applying till the bonus is increased, unless you could get it to pop up on SPG website while making a booking. Well, you don’t have to hold off no more!  Of course, if you already have Amex SPG and want to refer a spouse or a friend, you can use this link. Make sure it shows the increased offer.

You are only eligible for sign-up bonus on the personal version if you’ve never received it in the past. The rules are a bit different for business card: You are eligible as long as you haven’t had it in the last 12 months. Also, minimum spending for the personal version is $3,000 in 3 months, while for business card it’s $5,000. Otherwise  the offer is identical. It expires on 9/14/2015. The card has undergone some changes as of late. They are:

  1. It’s purple (I like, I like!)
  2. No foreign transaction charges (Amex has finally realized it’s 2015, and all premium cards offer this benefit)
  3. Free internet access for SPG properties (yawn)
  4. Free BOINGO benefit (I don’t know  what that is, but I can’t take anything with a name like this seriously) Do check the comments section, though, for more on this benefit.
  5. Annual fee is increased to $95, up from $65 (say what? I don’t like)

To be fair, the annual fee is waived for the first year, so you will have plenty of time to figure out if this card is worth it. I value SPG point at 1.8 cents each. That’s a bit conservative, as most hobbyists peg it at 2.2 cents. I definitely think this currency is extremely valuable, in fact, the most valuable point  in The Hobby.

When you transfer 20,000 points, you get a 5,000 miles bonus when it comes to most loyalty programs, including AAdvantage. In fact, aside from signing up for their co-branded cards, it’s the only way to get AA miles. Occasionally, there is even a bonus on transfers, like the one that’s going on right now. You get 30,000 AA miles after transferring 20,000 SPG points through the end of August.

Of course, you can also use SPG points for hotel stays. If you redeem them for a Category 1 or 2 properties, you can stretch your stash to get quite a few nights out of the bonus. On weekends, those go for 2,000 and 3,000 points respectively. All of this is to say: Yes, the bonus is worth it. I personally got this card for me and my husband when the offer was increased.

That said, I didn’t renew either one, even when the annual fee was $65. To me, the math just doesn’t make sense. Most of our spending goes toward sign-up bonuses, so I refuse paying fees of any kind unless there is a renewal perk involved. At the moment, my only “keepers” are Chase IHG MasterCard, Wyndham card and US Bank Club Carlson Signature Visa.

Of course, not everyone is like me. I’ve written a post before on some instances when it can make sense to collect SPG points instead of other types of flexible currency.   Many argue that Amex SPG is a keeper because you can make up for annual fee via various promos. That is true, and I would say that it is reasonable to assume that you can save $95 per year. So, this increase shouldn’t be a deal breaker, should it? Maybe, maybe not.

Let’s assume that instead of Amex SPG you decide to go with Fidelity Amex. It earns 2% cash back on everything and comes with no annual fee. You can actually get an even better value when redeeming for flights, but let’s ignore this assumption in this particular case. You also have access to various Amex promos via Sync on Twitter. But let’s say, you’ll get $45 instead of $95 you could have gotten with Amex SPG (since certain offers only appear in your account). Fidelity card is issued by Bank of America, so some promotions are not accessible.

Anyway, let’s assume you have about $12,000 in non-bonus annual spending. If you stick with SPG card, you will have 12,000 points at the end of the year, unless you stay in SPG hotels. If you go with Fidelity card instead, you will have $240. Which option is better?

Well, SPG has quite  a few  Category 2 properties in some popular tourist destinations. Assuming you will stay on a weekend, you can get 4 nights out of that amount. But remember, we have  $95 annual fee. With Fidelity card, any offers you sign up for will yield pure profit. So, we actually need to add $45 to $240, for a total of $285.

If we divide that by 4, it means you would be paying around $71 per night. Sure, it’s a decent deal. But, we are talking basic hotel room, and many of these places have resort fees on top of award rate. We are also assuming that you’ll be staying on weekends maximizing value. Category 1 redemption obviously looks better by comparison, but there is always a risk of unanounced category changes. For me personally, earning SPG points for hotels via everyday spending just isn’t that compelling.

But what about miles? Well, 12,000 SPG points aren’t going to do much for a family. Of course, there is Avios program (British Airways), where some routes only cost 4,500 miles one-way. If you can make it work, it would probably beat cash back option, especially on international routes like Miami-Nassau and New York-Toronto. You may also consider using Amex SPG for everyday spending if you like the idea of having points to top off AAdvantage account.

Overall, if you are mostly interested in collecting miles (including Avios), you will be much better off getting Amex EveryDay Preferred. Even though the transfer ratio to Avios will be cut by 20% in October, when you factor in grocery and gas  bonus, the points’ earning potential far exceeds that of Amex SPG. I’ve written extensively on it in this blog, and consider it a top long-term pick for a traveling family. Just a reminder, check   CardMatch tool (affiliate link) to see if you are eligible for a 30,000 points offer on Amex EveryDay Preferred.

So, as always, my point is not to tell you what to do, but rather encourage you to do the math. The bonus on Amex SPG is a very good offer, and can be a decent long-term card for a middle-class family. But it is NOT  a no-brainer. I know I’m a bit obsessed with math, and actually, just obsessed, period. You can blame it on my upbringing. This is something a fellow blogger once sent out via Twitter:

russian math

Enough said.

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19 thoughts on “Is Amex SPG Still Worth Renewing?

  1. I’m glad the lifetime rule doesn’t apply to AMEX business cards because I plan to get this card in perpetuity every 18 months or so if possible. We cancelled our personal versions, though.

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    • Holly, you can never have too many SPG points, right? I find myself having a hard time letting go of these suckers. So far, I’ve only redeemed them for a Cat 2 hotels and transfers to AAdvantage. Come to think of it, you can never have too many AA miles.

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    • There’s the other problem. Best way to get the points is through the Amex credit cards. But you can only do it once.

      How are you using them? Why are these things so valuable? I kind of drank the kool aid early on and now I am just confused.

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  2. how much grace time do you get to cancel the card. My annual fee is due this month. I want to make sure my points transfer to SPG before I call to cancel.

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  3. I think the whole Amex offer program has changed the dynamics a little bit. The standard and Twitter Sync offers are frequent enough and spread amongst a wide variety of categories that most people can probably recoup the annual fee and then some. I previously had this card for a few years and finally cancelled it due to lack of use. While I like Starpoints, I didn’t totally buy into the old value proposition. It’s a bit better now – the foreign transaction fee was a biggie for me since I do travel internationally. BTW, the Boingo benefit is one that you don’t really appreciate it until you need it. Boingo is a Wi-Fi hotspot aggregator. In the US, free Wi-Fi is fairly common but in other countries, it is not. When you encounter a paid hotspot, there is a decent chance that you may be able to use it with a Boingo account for free. I had this benefit with a Platinum card and used my Boingo account most often in locally-owned hotels/rentals and the occasional foreign airport. The last time I used my Boingo account during a 5-night local hotel stay, I easily saved about $50. I’d like to get the SPG card again but it is a pity that Amex will only let you get the bonus once (and I originally had my card before that rule went into place). One other benefit to mention for someone who may be new to Amex – all of their cards include Shoprunner membership which gives you free 2-day shipping at some decent merchants like Eddie Bauer, Newegg (electronics), Toys R Us, Staples, etc.

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    • @Erik I’m in the same boat as you. I really like Starpoints, but paying that annual fee was a deal breaker. I also don’t find myself using Amex Offers all that often. You are correct, you can recoup the fee and then some with just a little bit of effort. Small Business Saturday is a great promo, and I hope it returns. Fantastic ROI as far as your time is concerned. Amex definitely has some huge advantages over other banks, and I think everyone should have at least one of their cards long-term. I’m just not convinced it should be Amex SPG. I think it’s mostly a good fit for big spenders, not middle-class families. Not sure if you have a legitimate business, but you could consider getting the business version in order to receive the bonus again.
      Oh, I actually knew what BOINGO benefit is! I was just kidding. I’m glad it was useful to you, I had no idea it could save that much money. Definitely a niche benefit that could be a gold mine for some.

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    • Erik,
      Once again, I love you. We are going to Mexico in a few months and we kept both SPG cards so we’ll likely be making use of Boingo hot spots to communicate with the family back home. Completely forgot about this benefit.

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  4. We kept both our SPG cards. Part of it was simply a desire to keep Amex happy with us as customers, and at $65 it’s one of the lower annual fees out there. Until, of course, it goes up. It’s definitely on the chopping block for next year. I admit to being super confused about the value I personally am getting from SPG points for a few reasons:

    Cons:
    1. Having SPG points is kind of like being the guy with the golden goose. You have to be super careful with it to let it lay its golden eggs, but the minute you get too greedy, you lose the goose. It’s painfully slow accruing the points, and I never seem to have enough to do anything particularly exciting.
    2. The bonus transfer makes me leave it alone unless I am at 20,000 points. It’s like a huge waste to use them outside of transferring at 20k points. I only have 12,000 stinking SPG points. I’m pretty sure this line will be in my will to my grandkids: “Please let this stash of 19,067 star points get to 20,000 THEN wait until there is a 20% transfer bonus to American Airlines!”

    Pros:
    1. Super flexible as you can use them as cash. I did use them once to get some of our good friends down to Disney World with us. It’s nice using them as cash as that opens up a lot more availability.
    2. Apparently you can get some good value on hotel stays? Never done this.
    3. The transfer bonus. Then again, see point 2 above.

    I am just confused. Apparently they are as valuable as golden eggs from the golden goose but I am a bit of a loss as to what to do with my stash other then to let it grow by 90pts a month with our YMCA Family membership automatic payment.

    Like

    • @Cheapblackdad I’m glad you’ll find good use for BOINGO passes. I should update the post and encourage readers to check the comments section.
      To me, the biggest advantage of SPG points is the fact that you don’t have to pay an annual fee on that program. With CSP you are stuck with $95 every year if you want to preserve flexibility. Not so with SPG points, since they are not tied to Amex SPG card. You just have to have some activity every 12 months. You can transfer points back and forth to your spouse for free, and that takes care of it. Obviously, you have to keep track of the stash, but that goes for all types of currency in this hobby. You definitely can get some crazy good value on hotels. Check this post I’ve put together last year http://milesforfamily.com/2014/03/24/i-am-raising-the-value-of-spg-point-to-1-5-cents/
      Obviously, the categories can change, but SPG doesn’t usually have drastic type of devaluation each year. And of course, the fact that the points transfer to AA miles is very useful to those of us who value that currency highly (which I do). That’s what SPG points are mostly good for: topping off mileage accounts. It would take forever to accumulate a significant amount through everyday spending.
      I have to say, if you only charge $90 per month, it doesn’t seem worth it to renew it every year. If you are going to pay an annual fee, I believe it would make sense to go with Amex EveryDay Preferred. I know you try to maximize everyday spending and love Avios, so this card is worth considering. Maybe try to convert Amex SPG to Preferred after Mexico trip? The standard bonus of 15,000 MR points isn’t that compelling, and would save you an inquiry. I think you can do quite well with grocery and gas purchases.
      BTW, the line about the will is hilarious! Seriously, consider writing a guest post of me, pretty please.

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  5. I know I can look this question up myself…but for those of us who are not familiar with SPG points…what is the expiration policy on them? i kept asking myself as I read.

    I’m going to save this to come back & read it more in depth later. I don’t yet have this card.

    Like

    • @BB Unless the policy has changed, the points expire after 12 months of inactivity. But you can move them back and forth to your spouse’s account, and that should do the trick. Of course, there is also an option of transferring a few thousand points into miles.
      I do think it’s a very good offer overall. Whether you should go for it, only you can decide. If you have another card in mind, just go with that. At the time this increased offer came out in the past, no cards were “calling” my name. So, I figured, why not just get Amex SPG? Most hobbyists get it at some point, so might as well sign up when the offer is at its highest. I did make use of SPG points a few times, but try to hang on to them. I rarely get cards without a specific goal in mind, but made an exception with Amex SPG.
      This bonus should be of interest to you of you need more AA miles and can’t sign up for Citi AA co-branded card for the foreseeable future. Also, if you see some hotels that are Cat 1 or Cat 2 that could work with your plans, it makes sense to consider it.

      Like

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