Big Merger Means Big Savings: American Express SPG vs. Chase Marriott

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American Express SPG vs. Chase Marriott

Surprise! It’s always a mixture of emotions when two families come together to make one, and the goal is generally the same: make our new, bigger family a happy one. Well, the big folks behind the scenes of the Marriott Starwood merger were thinking the same thing, and cardholders are kinda the stubborn teenagers sitting on the couch, arms folded across their chests, with a look of loathing and despondency on their faces that say “How are you going to make this better?”

Luckily for cardholders, this merger is a lot easier to smooth over than the complex politics that come from joining two families. So, if you’re holding an American Express Starwood Preferred Guest card or a Chase Marriott card in your wallet or are thinking of applying for one, here’s how your 2018 spending is going to look and how you can maximize your rewards with this new joint venture.

The Skinny on Two Great Cards

  • Annual fees and additional bonuses

So you see, both the American Express Starwood Preferred Guest card and the Chase Marriott card charge a comparable annual fee (the Marriott card is $10 lower, though the SPG card waives it for the first year, so it kinda evens out). The Marriott card also has a recurring bonus offer for a free night on the anniversary of opening your account. The SPG card has a nice 5,000 Starpoint bonus when you transfer 20,000 points to any of the 30 participating rewards programs, too and you’ll get pretty much the same travel benefits and shopping perks from both (like extended warranty on new purchases, travel insurance, and purchase protection). So, thus far, both cards are pretty even Steven.

  • Signup bonus

Of course, the glaring elephant in the room is the signup bonus. At first glance, the Marriott card has the obvious upper hand (80,000 versus 25,000 doesn't seem to be that much of a contest). But there's an important caveat to remember. All American Express Starwood Preferred Guest card points transfer over to Marriott points at a 1:3 ratio. That means that one Starpoint equals 3 Marriott points. It seems pretty obvious that earning on the American Express Starwood Preferred Guest card and then transferring it over to Marriott rewards points will yield the highest paying rewards structure possible.

So, the signup bonus skyrockets to 75,000. When you factor in the first year annual fee waiver, that gives the American Express Starwood Preferred Guest card the edge. Additionally, you’ll get a lot more rewards points if you transfer the SPG miles to Marriott rewards.

Which One to Choose?

If you’ve been reading comparisons, you know there are a lot of factors bouncing around. The long and short of it is that if you have either of these cards, spending on them and then transferring the points over to one of the partner rewards programs helps you make the most out of your miles. If the points and translations are confusing for you, here are a few concrete examples of how you can really max out on these transfer partners:

Example One:

You can get a flight anywhere within the United States for just 7,500 points via British Airways on American or Alaska Airlines.

Example Two:

You can get a first-class round-trip ticket from America to Asia with two stopovers built in for roughly 60,000 with Cathay Pacific.

Example Three:

Fly Qantas in first class to Australia and New Zealand, and only spend 140k miles for the entire round trip ticket.

These are just a few of the ways you can work the system to really get the most out of your Marriott-SPG card combo.

Digging a Little Deeper

Now that you have the basic info down, let’s check some more details about points redemption and how you can cash in on your freebies with the AmEx SPG and Chase Marriott cards. To start with, these brands partner with more than 30 other airlines to cover the globe and help you fly more easily to wherever you want to go. The partner airlines include:

  • Aegean Airlines
  • Aeromexico Club Premier
  • Aeroplan/Air Canada
  • Air China
  • Air New Zealand
  • Alaska Airlines
  • Alitalia
  • All Nippon
  • American Airlines
  • Asia
  • Asiana Airlines
  • Avianca
  • British Airways
  • China Eastern Airlines
  • China Southern Airlines
  • Delta
  • Emirates
  • Etihad
  • Air France
  • Gol Smiles
  • Hainan Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Japan Airlines
  • Jet Airways
  • Korean Air
  • LATAM Airlines
  • Lufthansa
  • Qatar Airways
  • Saudi Arabian Airlines
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Thai Airways International
  • United Airlines
  • Virgin Atlantic

When Flying Isn’t the Only Way to Fly

Getting free flights is great, but air travel isn’t the only way to utilize these points. You can also use your points on hotel stays, rental cars, and activities, or you can get a combo package and save. For example, if you opt for the Marriott Hotel + Air package, you can get a full week at one of the category 1-5 hotels, plus earn up to 132,000 miles and have the flight thrown in all for just 270,000 points. That’s an incredible deal!

The American Express SPG card earns 2 Starpoints per dollar spent on Marriott or Ritz-Carlton purchases, and now there’s a 1:3 ratio for transferring points, so you walk away with 6 Marriott points when you transfer those SPG points over. On the other hand, the Chase Marriott card can earn you up to 5 points per dollar on purchases made with this card.

A Few Tricks to Work the System to Your Advantage

Here are a few insider tricks on how to maximize your American Express Starwood Preferred Guest card or Chase Marriott cards in the most enjoyable and beneficial ways:

  • Redeem for Cash

Redeeming for cash is the worst case scenario for points valuation since you’ll only get around 1 cent per mile for your troubles. So, when would be a good idea for you to redeem for cash? If you never travel or don’t see yourself flying anytime (or ever), then transferring your points to the Ultimate Rewards portal can be a better option. You’ll get a cool $500 bucks in cash for 50,000 points. Not a bad haul for a non-traveler.

  • Travel Portal

Use the travel portal when you are stuck and need more flexibility to make your travel arrangements. You won’t always be saving the most on your points valuation, but when you need to make a booking without any wiggle room, this is the best way to do it. Plus, you can get 20% off on these purchases.

  • Elite Status Switching

Since the accounts are now linked, you can actually get higher Elite status than you would have before the merger. Here’s what I mean:

  • To get Marriott Rewards Gold Elite, you’ll need 50 nights at the hotel
  • That same 50 nights bumps you up to Platinum Preferred status with the American Express Starwood Preferred Guest card
  • But the Platinum Preferred status matches the requirements for the Marriott Platinum status, which normally requires 75 nights stay at the hotel

So, you earn Marriott Platinum status for 50 nights instead of 75, a whopping 25-nights’ stay savings!

Bottom Line

The SPG card offers the higher redemption value within the partner programs. If you want to use your miles for other things or in other ways, it might be better to stick with the Chase Marriott card. Also, requirements for earning Elite status changes across the brands. So at the end of the day, it depends on how you use your cards, and what's most important to you. You will get solid returns, great rewards, and excellent benefits from either of these cards, so it's really a win-win situation whichever way you go. And, really, since the annual fee is waived on the SPG card for the first 12 months anyway, you could always try 2 for the price of 1 for the first year, and see which card works out better for you in the long term!

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