Starwood Hotels has two of the very best places to stay for vacations to Disney World or Disneyland, the Walt Disney World Dolphin and Sheraton Park Hotel at the Anaheim Resort. They have a number of other great choices for Disney vacations, but these two alone should make the SPG Amex, which has a $95 annual fee (waived the first year), a strong consideration for anyone thinking about a Disney vacation.
Sign Up Bonus (Grade: A-)
The Starwood Preferred Guest Card comes with a 25,000 point sign up bonus when you spend $3,000 in the first three months. This may not sound like much because we’ve all gotten 50k, 60k, 70k, or even 100k sign up bonus offers in the mail, but Starpoints are the most valuable single rewards point in the loyalty universe. Worth about 2.4 cents a piece, they’re worth roughly five times a Hilton HHonors point (0.5 cents) and more than three times as much as a Marriott Rewards point (0.7 cents).
So, when you’re talking about a 25,000 point sign up bonus for the SPG Amex, you’re looking at about $600 in value.
|Sign Up Bonus||25,000 Starpoints|
|Value Per Point||2.4 cents|
|Value of Sign Up Bonus||$600|
Daily Spending (Grade: A-)
The way this card works is that you get two points per dollar spent at Starwood hotels and one point per dollar on everything else. Pretty simple. Many people who use this card use it in combination with other cards that have category bonuses. They might use a Chase Sapphire Preferred for travel and dining purchases, which get double points, and then use this for everything else. However you decide to use it, getting about 2.4% back, you can know you’re getting a good deal every time you swipe your card.
We’ve mentioned before that we believe the metric to use when measuring whether a card is a good deal is comparing it to a cash back card like Citi Double Cash, which earns 2% back on all purchases. If you’re not earning at least 2%, you may as well earn cash.
|Category||Points per Dollar Spent|
|All Other Spending||1x|
Additional Card Perks (Grade: B+)
No Foreign Transaction Fee – You may not use it very often, but having a card you can use when you travel internationally that won’t ding you for the foreign transaction fee is a nice perk.
Amex Offers – Amex Offers is a rebate program where you spend a certain amount of money with a retailer and American Express gives you a credit on your statement. They typically have about 30 offers going at a time. While many may not be useful to you, we typically save a few hundred dollars a year just watching for opportunities with retailers we already use in our normal day-to-day spending.
Earn Gold Status – If you spend $30,000 in a calendar year on this card you can earn Gold status. This comes with a couple worthwhile perks. First, you get an upgrade to an “enhanced room” at check-in, which includes corner rooms, higher floors, or enhanced views. Fireworks anyone? Also, you get access to their premium wifi, which can be nice if you want to upload photos from the hotel room or stream Netflix at night.
Free Boingo Wifi – The card comes with free access to the Boingo Wifi network. Although they have 1,000,000 hotspots, they never seem to be where we need them. This hasn’t added much value for us.
Redeeming Points (Grade: B+)
Like most hotels, Starwood runs a category system where more expensive hotels fall into higher categories and cost more points. Here a couple unique ways to redeem points that should be mentioned:
5th Night Free – With Starwood, when you’re redeeming points on hotels that are categories three and up (which is more than 85% of their hotels in the US) you can get a 5th night free. This is so valuable because a trip to Disneyland or Disney World commonly includes five nights or more. For example, Disney’s Dolphin (actually a Sheraton hotel) costs 10,000 points per night. But, you can get five nights for 40,000 points. Since this card comes with a 35,000 point sign up bonus, you’re not too far away from the get go.
Transfer to Marriott – Starwood Hotels was recently acquired by Marriott. The programs run separately, but you can transfer points back and forth. You get three Marriott points for every Starwood point (3:1). We value Starwood points at 2.4 cents each and Marriott points at 0.7 cents each. In general, you’ll be a little better offer using your points at Starwood Hotels, but this flexibility opens up a lot of Marriott hotels around Disney Parks.
Transfer to Airlines – Starwood gives you the opportunity to transfer points to a couple dozen airlines so you’re not stuck using them only at Starwood hotels. Plus, for every 20,000 points you transfer, you get a 5,000 point bonus into that airline (20,000 Starpoints gets you 25,000 airline points). Most airline points aren’t worth as much as Starpoints; even with the transfer bonus you’re probably losing a little. However, it’s really nice to have the flexibility in circumstances when the airline points are more important.
Since Starwood has over 1,300 hotels around the world, plus all of Marriott’s hotels, and the ability to transfer points to a large number of airlines, this card gives you above average flexibility in redeeming points.
Overall Grade: A-
For Disney travelers we’re going to round this up to an A- because of Disney’s Swan in Orlando and the Sheraton Park Hotel in Anaheim being such great options for Disney travel. The solid sign up bonus and ongoing earning rate make this a card to get and keep. It’s definitely in our top three cards to consider for anyone thinking about a Disney vacation.