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Starwood Amex ending foreign fees, adding free wifi, lounge access, but at what cost?

by on Wed June 3, 2015 • 4 Comments
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American Express has announced that come August 11th, the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express credit cards (personal and business) will get new features:

  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Complimentary Boingo Wifi subscription (just like the Platinum Card from American Express  – in theory this is something that normally retails for about $40 a month so it can be a valuable perk if you work a lot on the road at airports)
  • Free premium Wifi at Starwood hotels (previously reserved for Starwood Gold and Platinum elites)
  • Free access to Sheraton Club lounges (only for the Business version of the card)

All of this is being funded by charging a higher annual fee of $95, from $65 before. That $65 fee was among the lowest around for a valuable point earning card. This comes just after Amex increased the annual fee on the Gold Card and Premier Rewards Gold Card, while adding benefits and removing foreign transaction fees.

The hotel benefits only apply when you book a rate that’s eligible to earn Starpoints, so booking via Priceline, Expedia, Orbitz, or others won’t get you the benefits.

Who wins?

Few times a year guests. If you actually stay at Starwood hotels more than a few times a year, but aren’t quite elite, or are a Gold elite who stays at Sheratons, it’s a nice upgrade of perks for your stays.

International travelers. If you use your card abroad for $1,000 or more in spending a year, you come out ahead with the higher annual fee, but no foreign transaction fees. This is a long overdue and welcome change for the legions of Starwood card holders who travel abroad every year.

Airport wifi users. If you use a lot of airport wifi, you may want to get this as a really cheap way to get a nearly full on unlimited Boingo subscription with access to nearly 1 million hotspots worldwide for up to 4 devices. Boingo’s worldwide wifi plans run about $40 a month so paying $95 a year is a great deal in comparison.

Who loses?

Vacation savers. A lot of people with the Starwood card rarely stay at Starwood hotels – they use it because it’s the most powerful card for earning free hotel nights via card spending rather than actual stays. And if you only vacation once a year, and that’s a domestic trip, you’re paying an extra $30 a year to earn points with the card. Aside from some faster Wifi and maybe access to a Sheraton Club (though you probably don’t want to vacation at a lot of Sheratons), the changes don’t really help you.

People in it for the airline miles. If you use the SPG Amex primarily to earn points you can transfer to airline miles, and rarely use it for hotel nights, then you may come out behind unless you use it for international spending.

Platinum elites who don’t go abroad. If you’re a domestic road warrior and don’t travel abroad – you’re getting a higher annual fee, and the new benefits replicate much of what you already have. Just the Boingo Wifi is new to you, but is that really worth an extra $30 if you didn’t use Boingo before?

Overall, it’s nice to see some change to this card, and if you really do stay at Starwood hotels often you’ll probably come out ahead. But with any increase in fees, there will be losers who need to reassess whether the card is still valuable.

It would have been nice to see some category bonuses added for regular card spending, but Starwood and Amex are really trying to gear this to benefit people who actually stay at their properties. And keeping the points relatively hard to earn may help preserve their uniquely high value.

You can still book a lot of really good hotels for less than 15,000 points a night with Starwood, which you can’t say about most other hotel points.

 

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Miles dont expireas long as card is open
Learn more

Partner Offer

50,000 bonus points

Intro Offer

$0 introductory annual fee, then $95

Annual Fee

$0

Foreign Transaction Fee Waived

Yes

Points Can Transfer to Airline Miles ?

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4 thoughts on Starwood Amex ending foreign fees, adding free wifi, lounge access, but at what cost?

  1. Vinhysynd

    Is the Sheraton benefit only for the primary card member or do authorized users get the benefit as well? Does the primary card member have to be present for the stay?

    Reply
    1. MileCards.com

      @Vinhysynd – It’s for the primary cardholder only and the primary cardholder’s SPG number must be applicable to the stay.

      Reply
  2. Jung

    how does stay at Shareton work? Do you automatically allow access with the card? Or you have book with revenue stay with the card?

    Reply
    1. MileCards.com

      @Jung – You need to book a stay – though it doesn’t have to be with the card. As long as you book via an option that earns points (like booking on Starwood’s website, or via your corporate travel agent) you’ll get the access via your Starwood Preferred Guest member number.

      Reply

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