SPG vs. Marriott credit card face off. Which is worth keeping?

Last week I compared the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) credit card signup bonus to the Marriott Rewards credit card signup bonus (see: 35K SPG vs. Marriott 87.5K. Surprising results).  I was surprised to find that on a number of dimensions the signup bonuses appear to be roughly equal.  Sure, the current 35K SPG signup bonus appears to be better than the current Marriott signup bonus, but not by as wide of a margin as I expected.

 

Let’s now take the comparison to the next level.  Last week’s post looked only at the signup bonus.  Let’s now look at each card’s benefits, earning rate, and fees.  Is one card substantially better than the other in the long term?  Is either card worth keeping beyond the first year?

SPG vs. Marriott Card Overview

Both cards are available as personal cards and business cards.  Here is a high level comparison of the four cards:

 Blank SPG Personal Blank SPG Business Blank Marriott Personal Blank Marriott Business
Annual Fee $95 $95 $85 $99
Foreign Transaction Fee None None None None
Bonus Categories 2X Starwood 2X Starwood 5X Marriott; 2X airline, car rental, & restaurants 5X Marriott; 2X airline, car rental, & restaurants; 2X office supply, internet, cable, phone
Card Ownership Benefits

Free premium internet at SPG properties

Unlimited Boingo WiFi

Free premium internet at SPG properties

Unlimited Boingo WiFi

Sheraton Club lounge access

OPEN Savings

Free category 1-5 certificate each year upon renewal Free category 1-5 certificate each year upon renewal
Elite Status Benefits

5 night / 2 stay credit towards elite status.  Elite credits from personal and business card are additive.

SPG Gold elite status with $30K annual spend

5 night / 2 stay credit towards elite status.  Elite credits from personal and business card are additive.

SPG Gold elite status with $30K annual spend

15 night credit towards elite status every year upon account anniversary

Also: 1 credit towards elite status for every $3,000 in purchases

15 night credit towards elite status every year upon account anniversary.

Also: 1 credit towards elite status for every $3,000 in purchases

Annual Fees: Roughly Equal

The Marriott personal card is $10 less per year than the SPG cards, but the Marriott business card is slightly more.

Rebate on Spend: SPG by a wide margin

All four cards offer just 1 point per dollar for most spend.  While it’s true that the Marriott cards offer a number of 2X categories and 5X at Marriott properties (vs. 2X at Starwood properties for the SPG card), SPG points are worth much more than Marriott points.  Depending upon how you use your points, SPG points are worth anywhere from 2 times to 4 times Marriott points:

Marriott SPG How many times more valuable are SPG points vs. Marriott points
Fair Trading Price 0.56 2.26 4X
Median Point Value
(from Hotel Hustle)
0.763 1.849 2.4X
Cheapest Free Night 7,500 points (not including point saver awards) 3,000 points (not including weekend awards) 2.5X
Middle Tier Free Night 30,000 points 10,000 points 3X
Top Tier Free Night 70,000 points (Ritz) 35,000 points 2X
Convert to 25,000 miles

75,000 points*

* Better transfer ratios may be possible with Marriott Travel Packages

20,000 points 3.75X

Given the greater value of SPG points over Marriott Rewards points, the 1X base earning rate of the SPG card is far better than the 1X base earning rate of the Marriott card.  And, depending upon how you use your SPG points, the value of the 1X base earning rate of the SPG card most likely exceeds the value of the 2X category bonus rates available through the Marriott cards.

Elite Status from card membership: both offer value

In my experience, SPG Gold status is worth having, but it doesn’t guarantee any great perks.  The first meaningful SPG status is Platinum status, which you get with 25 stays or 50 nights per calendar year.  Holding a SPG credit card gives you 2 stays and 5 nights towards elite qualification.  In other words, it gets you about 10% of the way to Platinum status.  If you have both cards, personal and business, you get 20% of the way there.

With Marriott, Silver status is pretty close to meaningless, but Gold status is pretty good since it guarantees lounge access or free breakfast at most properties.  Gold status requires 50 nights per calendar year.  Holding the Marriott card gives you 15 nights towards elite status each year.  In other words, it gets you 30% of the way to Gold status.  Note that elite nights from the personal and business cards do not stack.  If you hold both cards you’ll still get just 15 nights towards elite status, not 30 nights.

On the surface, it appears that the Marriott card is better since it gets you 30% of the way towards meaningful elite status, vs. 10% of the way there with the SPG card.  That may be true, but many will argue that SPG Platinum status is far more valuable than Marriott Gold status.  So, to me, the real take away is this: if you’re seeking elite status with either program, the cards can help get you there.

Elite Status from card spend: SPG is better, but neither is great

Both cards offer options for earning elite status through spend, as follows:

  • SPG: Spend $30,000 in a calendar year, get Gold status
  • Marriott: 1 night credit towards elite status for every $3,000 in purchases

With the SPG card, I don’t think it is worth spending $30,000 just to get Gold status.  However, since points earned from spend are quite valuable, it’s certainly not a bad idea.  With Marriott, though, I’d argue that it is a bad idea to put a lot of spend on the card (due to the relatively low value of Marriott points) except under specific circumstances: For example, if you’re short of earning Marriott Gold or Platinum status by a few nights, it may be worth spending enough on the card to get to that next level (keep in mind, though, that Marriott offers roll-over elite nights, so you might be better off keeping the extra elite nights for next year).  In my opinion, if you’re interested in earning Marriott elite status through spend, there are better ways of doing it.  See: How to manufacture Marriott elite status.

Card Ownership Benefits: The SPG business card and Marriott personal card may be worth keeping

Each of the cards in this review have benefits that may make them worth keeping (and paying the annual fee) even if you never use the cards for spend and if you don’t care about elite status…

SPG card ownership benefits:

  • Free premium internet at Starwood properties
  • Unlimited Boingo WiFi

In addition to the two benefits listed above, the SPG business card adds:

  • Sheraton Club lounge access
  • Amex OPEN Savings (automatic savings with certain Amex partners currently including FedEx, Hertz, HP, and 1800Flowers)

Whether or not the benefits listed above are worth the card’s $95 annual fee depends upon how much you expect to use and benefit from those benefits.  Personally, I highly value hotel lounge access, so I would be willing to pay $95 per year for the SPG business card just for that benefit, but only if I expected to stay at Sheraton hotels 3 or more nights per year.  Similarly, if you need Boingo WiFi, either SPG card is probably worth keeping for that benefit alone.  Boingo Wifi plans range in price from $4.98 to $29.95 per month ($59.76 to $359.40 per year), but none are global and unlimited as with the SPG card benefit.

The Marriott cards offer just one benefit that can make them worth keeping year after year.  When you renew the card after the first year, and each year thereafter, you get a certificate good for a free night at any Marriott category 1-5 hotel.  Most desirable Marriott properties are not in that category 1 to 5 range, but its not hard to find category 4 or 5 hotels that would otherwise charge over $150 per night.  If you know that you would stay in such hotels each year anyway, it may be well worth paying the annual fee (especially with the lower fee personal card) to essentially get a good discount on these hotels.  Keep in mind, though, that you’ll only get this value if you actually use the certificates.  They will expire if not used (but you may have luck calling to ask for an extension, if needed).

Summary

If you’re looking for a card to use for day to day spend, consider SPG, but not Marriott.  Marriott points are simply not worth enough to consider putting much spend on Marriott cards.  There may be other cards, though, that are even better for you than the SPG card.  For examples of cards with great rewards for all spend, see: Best rewards for everyday spend.  And, for examples of cards with great rewards within categories of spend, see: Best category bonuses.

If you’re interested in elite status, then you’re probably already committed to one chain or another.  In that case, it may be worth getting and holding onto a card that helps you re-qualify.  Both SPG and Marriott cards do so.  With SPG, consider getting and keeping both the personal and the business card.  See above, for details.

If you’re willing to pay for perks such as Sheraton Club lounge access, Boingo WiFi, or premium internet at Starwood properties, then I’d recommend the SPG business card (since it has more benefits than the personal card).  Or, if you’re willing to pay in advance for category 1-5 Marriott night in the hopes of getting a decent discount, then I’d recommend the Marriott personal card since it is a bit cheaper than the Marriott business card.  If you don’t care about the particular chain, but like the idea of getting a certificate for a free night each year, consider instead the Chase IHG card.  That card costs only $49 per year and the free night is good at any IHG property including top of the line Intercontinental Hotels.

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About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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  1. I usually make back my SPG card annual fees many times over through Amex Sync.

    Agree $30K spend for SPG Gold is marginal by itself, though I’ve got a pretty good track record with upgraded rooms, including a fair number of club floors. For Delta Plats and Diamonds, SPG elites get one Starpoint per $ spent on Delta via Crossover Rewards. That’s at least a few low-level weekend nights every year for me.

    • The reason I don’t include Amex Offers when considering whether to keep a card is that you can get the same offers with a no-fee Amex card. So, I don’t see it as a reason not to at least product change to a no fee card. I guess the same argument could be made regarding Amex OPEN savings too

  2. Has anybody had any luck getting a credit for the annual fee for the Marriott card? I’ve called a couple of times with no luck. I might have to downgrade it…

  3. I think your calculations could use alternate view as you mention SPG AMEX earns 2X on hotel spends which its in fact just 2x in addition to 2x earned by the stay for a regular member. Which in case of Marriott would be 11.5x (15% bonus due to silver status just by holding credit card) for the stay and 5x for using the credit card.

    Eg. 100$ spend on SPG property for one night stay earns 400 points while same spend at Marriott earns 1150+500=1650 points.

    Valuing them with their current value of 2.2 cents and 0.7 cents for Marriott… 8.8$ vs. 11.55$ respectively!

    • The point of the post was to look only at the value of the credit cards themselves. The points earned from staying at properties is mostly independent of whether or not you have the credit card. As you point out, though, with the Marriott card, you get automatic Silver status, so keeping the card does give you an extra 15% bonus on stays, so that is worth considering!

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