Is the SPG card all that? No, but it’s not total shit, either.

A reader asked me why it is (if I may paraphrase) that all the bloggers are so jacked about the SPG card, given its relatively low signup bonus, 1:1 transfers, and slow accumulation, and he wonders whether they’re not just a bunch of link whores.

Well, these are the important questions of our times. Here’s what I think: A few years ago, SPG cards were hot stuff, and they earned a good rep, which carries on to this day. In 2017, they’re still dece, but they’re not all that, either. Still, I picked them up myself, for the bonuses. Let me explain. Or expound. Whatever.

I’m relatively new to the exalted Hobby, so in some ways, I’m woefully ignorant, and in other ways, I’m blissfully ignorant, such as when it comes to inherited wisdom. I don’t have any — I knew pretty much nothing prior to May 2016.

I think that the reason the SPG card has the rep that it has is because, fairly recently, it probably was the best non-category points card out there. Not long ago, there was no Chase Sapphire Reserve; no Chase Freedom Unlimited; no Amex Blue Business Plus. Cash back cards offered 1-1.5%, which made 2% travel back cards like the Capital One Venture Rewards and Barclay Arrival+ look like credible options, too.

In other words, there weren’t many transferable points options for non-category spending. The Amex Everyday Preferred was about it, and that’s only been around since 2014. Many of the established Hobbyists and bloggers have been doing this for much longer than that.

But we are in 2017, and the bloom has gone off the rose on the SPG card, if only because there are sweeter-smelling roses. I think the card is more pro than con if you regularly stay at Marriott, Ritz, or SPG, or you want to convert its points to United miles, as described below. Otherwise, eh, though still worth taking the bonus if you can do the minimum spend. You can also transfer Marriott points to SPG at a 3:1 ratio, and vice versa, meaning the bonus for Marriott cards is also worth getting, as they add value to an SPG card.

Pros:

  • You can really score big if you convert your SPG points to Marriott points, and then order a Marriott hotel+air package, and select United as your transfer airline (though some other airlines are also decent), because Marriott and United have a deal called RewardsPlus. Right now there’s a promo where you can get 7 nights plus 157,000 United miles at a Marriott category 1-5 hotel, for 270,000 Marriott points (90,000 Starpoints), or more for a higher category. You can probably even get those 7 free nights returned to you as 45K Marriott points (15K Starpoints), lowering your total cost to 75K Starpoints. In other words, you get more than 2 United miles per Starpoint. That’s bananas! (Once the promo ends on 30-Nov-17, you’ll be able to do the same thing, but only get 132,000 United miles — still pretty  sweet.)
  • (You can hit those 90K Starpoints by opening both the personal and business SPG cards, plus the business Marriott card; if you’re under 5 new cards in the last two years, you could alternatively, or additionally, get the personal Marriott card. If that sounds excessive: I woudn’t hesitate to apply for the Chase United MileagePlus Explorer card three times if they were willing to give me me three 50,000 mile bonuses, so I don’t see this as different.)
  • Even if you don’t want to open three cards, you can use one SPG card (or Marriott card) signup bonus to get between 35,000 and 60,000 United miles (depending on the signup bonus amount and minimum spend requirement), which isn’t bad at all. I’ll have more on this in a future post.
  • Not surprisingly, SPG points are useful for staying at SPG and Marriott properties, and I’ve used them for that many times. Between SPG and Marriott, there are a lot of properties, so you’re likely to find one somewhere. The different brands cater to different tastes (for example, I stayed at the Klaus K, a member of Design Hotels, which is an SPG, in Helsinki, and it was fucking fantastic).
  • While you can also transfer Chase points to Marriott, or Amex points to SPG, the transfer ratio is painful — you burn three times as many points. So, if you want your spending primarily to go towards free Marriott/Ritz/SPG stays — and some people do — you could almost think of the SPG card as earning 3 points per dollar spent, when compared against another card.
  • Some SPG stays are as low as 3,000 points per night — granted, not at top properties, but still, that’s potentially up to eleven nights from the signup bonus.
  • You can transfer SPG points to 35 different airline mileage programs, as compared with Amex Membership Rewards (17 airlines), Citi ThankYou (14 airlines, though no major domestic), and Chase (7 airlines, but good ones).
  • You get a 25% bonus when you transfer 20,000 SPG points to an airline, making each SPG point worth 1.25 airline miles (on airlines with 1:1 transfer ratios). But…since you usually only ever earn 1 point per dollar spent, this ain’t that exciting. But it’s better than hot grease in your eye.
  • The business version of the SPG card gives you Club Lounge access when you stay at a Sheraton.
  • If you insist on flying American Airlines, and want to be able to book award tickets, SPG is your only transferable points option.
  • I’m not sure anyone does this, but it’s possible to pay for any airline ticket with SPG points, at 1 point per 1 cent. Not terribly rewarding, but better than not having the option at all.
  • The annual fee is waived the first year. (This is not true for the Marriott cards, however.)

Cons:

  • Starpoints early s-l-o-w-l-y — every expense other than staying at Starwood or Marriott properties earns 1 point per 1 dollar spent, and c’est tout. Unless you’re planning on using the points for SPG/Marriott/Ritz stays, or booking a Marriott Hotel+Air plan to convert to a pile o’ miles, or really value that 35-airline transfer flexibility, 1 for 1 just ain’t good enough when options like the Chase Freedom Unlimited, Amex Blue Business Plus, and Amex Everyday Preferred exist.
  • Many of the airlines do not have instant transfers, which is kind of sucky when you see that one lonely saver award you need to grab before someone else does.
  • If, rather than hotel stays, you plan on using the points for airline award tickets (with the exception of the Hotel+Air option for United miles, mentioned above), it’s an awful lot of minimum spend for the number of points you get. On the personal card, it’s typically $3,000 for 25,000 points, and more during a 30K or 35K promo — and still more for the same number of points on the business version of the card. Even when you consider the 25% transfer bonus, it’s less than you’d get on a Chase, Amex, United, American, or Delta card signup.
  • You won’t want to transfer the points to United as Starpoints. It has a shit 2:1 transfer ratio. However transferring them first to Marriott is a way around this, yielding better than 1:1 if you transfer at least 24,000 Marriott points to United. (And if you have 90,000 Starpoints, the Marriott Hotel+Air package I mentioned above is even better.)
  • The card is fucking ugly. What can I say. It’s purple and ugly, like Barney the dinosaur.

So, get it if you want, or don’t. I wont judge you either way. But, if you wanna get it, I wouldn’t wait forever, since who knows if it will stick around once Marriott unifies Marriott Rewards and SPG into a single reward program.

Let’s play a game: Legit, or Bullshit?

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Well, you can’t exactly blame the credit card companies for wanting to crack down on the churners any more than you can blame casinos for wanting to throw out card counters. They just want you to be, you know, a normal person, who gets, you know, a card, and spends on that card, and then ideally carries their balance so they can spend the rest of their life in economic debtor’s prison.

But at the same time, they make the rules of the game, and we just play it. I think it’s bullshit when they then say “well, the rules are what we say they are, at any given moment.” So, here’s my roundup of rules designed to harsh our buzz, and whether I think they’re legit, or bullshit. Continue reading

The great card purge part 2: annual fee cards

Like I was saying here, the time has come for me to evaluate the many cards I’ve picked up in the last year, and dump a bunch of the fuckers before I have to pay the annual fee on them. (There’s no reason to close cards that don’t have an annual fee.) Most of these have an annual fee of around $95, but if I ain’t getting $95 of value out of keeping it, well…

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The great card purge part 1: Premium cards

It’s been a bit over a year since I started this whole insane fucking endeavor, and a rich and rewarding year it has been. We have flown business class to Lisbon; will be doing so to Paris in October; Caroline flew all the way to Bali on the top deck of an Airbus 380, which was entirely business class; I’ve even flown first class to places like Minneapolis; I’ve flown back and forth to California in business several times; and when I’ve flown coach, I haven’t paid for it. So, it was worth opening 25 cards.

But most of these cards were only free their first year, if that; and I’ve already collected their signup bonuses. That means it’s time for me to start sizing up what I’m keeping, and what I’m dropping, over the next six months. Here’s my play by play:

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