Thursday, March 24, 2016

What's In Our Wallet, Part 3

If you read a lot of miles and points blogs, this post is not for you. You've probably already seen a plethora of posts about the card I'm going to write about in this post.

But if you're one of my Facebook friends that reads this blog to view my vacation trip reports and you are curious about which credit card is the best for earning airline or hotel points, this post is for you.

(See also What's In Our Wallet Part 2).

The current hot card is the American Express Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) card. It currently has a sign-up bonus of 35,000 points if you spend $3000 within the first three months. The annual fee is waived the first year. According to the Amex website, this offer is only good through March 30.

Normally, I don't sign up for a credit card unless the bonus is at least 40,000 or 50,000 points. And this Amex SPG card normally has a 25,000 point bonus, so it has never made it to our wallet. However, after reading countless blogs explaining the high value in SPG points, and with the bonus at the elevated level of 35,000 points, I have been persuaded to get this card.

First, let me say that I am not an SPG expert. My family's history of using hotel points started with Marriott (points earned from my husband's work travel and one credit card) followed by Hyatt (points mostly earned by Chase Ultimate Rewards credit cards). As a family together, we have never stayed in any of SPG's brands of hotels, which include Sheraton, Westin, St. Regis, W and Aloft.

The real value in this credit card, in my opinion, is to spend $5000 on it to earn 40,000 SPG points. $3000 of that spending has to be within the first three months to get the 35,000 points bonus, but the remaining $2000 could be spread out over time. Charge your normal monthly expenses (groceries, gas, restaurants, kids' activities, etc.) and pay off the balance each month so that you don't have interest charges. You can cancel the card after 11 months to avoid an annual fee.

So what does 40,000 Amex SPG points get you?

Airline miles--for every 20,000 SPG points you transfer to a participating airline, you get 5000 bonus airline miles. So, for example, 40,000 SPG points can get you 50,000 American Airline miles. Which can get you two round-trip airline tickets within the US & Canada, or one round-trip ticket to Hawaii during off-peak times. Not too shabby!

Free hotel nights--with SPG points, if you book 4 nights on points, the 5th night is free (for Categories 3 and up). I was scrolling through the SPG hotel list and found some potential great values with 40,000 SPG points!

Category 4 hotels cost 10,000 points for a free night, but since the 5th night is free, you could get 5 free nights in a Category 4 hotel for your 40,000 SPG points. Here are a few Category 4 hotels that have caught my eye:

Westin Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort:

This hotel is across the street from the beach and also has a kids club!

Skyway to the beach!
Westin Cape Coral in Florida:

While this hotel isn't on a beach, it has a free water taxi that takes you to the Fort Myers Beach. And a kids club!

 Four Points by Sheraton Destin-Fort Walton Beach:

The Destin area seems to be very popular with my fellow Texans. This hotel is right on the beach!

Sheraton Sand Key Resort:

In the Tampa/Clearwater Beach area, this hotel fits 5 people per room with a rollaway!

Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel:

This hotel is on Disney property near Epcot! It has some of the benefits of on-site Disney resorts, including extra magic hours and transportation to the parks (but it does not have the Magical Express from the airport). According to this FAQ, the Dolphin can accommodate a family of 5 with a rollaway. Woohoo! (Note: the sister hotel to this one, the Swan, costs more points than the Dolphin).

Sheraton Carlsbad, California

Legoland, anyone? This hotel is north of San Diego in a great location.

As you can tell by now, I am partial to hotels located near beaches.

I could go on and on with other great vacation ideas based on these SPG hotel points...there are 382 Category 4 hotels to use those 40,000 points for 5 free nights, as well as many lower-category hotels that look appealing for fewer points (like the Westin Resort & Spa in Puerto Vallarta, the Westin Cancun Resort & Spa, and the Sheraton Four Points Cocoa Beach).

Hello, Cancun!
The value of 5 nights at one of these hotels will vary based on the time of year you go, but it appears that some of the beach hotels cost as much as $400 during peak times (Spring Break and holidays). That's potentially a $2000 value from one credit card sign-up after meeting the minimum spending amount of $3000 plus an additional $2000 in spending to get 40,000 points.

Is anyone thinking of getting this card while the bonus is 35k? If so, what are your plans for the points?


  1. Those are all good choices! I'm curious what you guys will end up doing for next Spring Break. Fort Walton Sheraton is within driving distance for you, right? It looks very nice, too.

    1. The Fort Walton Sheraton is about 12 hours from our house. So with the kids and all of our stops, that's at least 14 hours. We could do it, but I don't think we'd be of sound mind for the rest of that vacation. :) But we could fly to Destin for 7500 British Airways miles.