Goodbye American Express SPG Travel Rewards Credit Card (this time for realz)

I wrote an emotional eulogy a little more than a year ago when I had to say goodbye the the MBNA Starwood Preferred Guest credit card.  It was an amazing card (seriously, it was amazing.  So pretty to look at.  Since its demise, I've cut it up and even saved it because it's so pretty).

Since then I succumbed to getting an American Express card, as the first year was free for previous MBNA Starwood Preferred Guest holders.  I ended up getting the American Express Starwood Preferred Guest card and since then, have accumulated about 12,000 in points.  It was much much more difficult to accumulate points with the American Express card, well, because it's not accepted everywhere.  I would ask each time I was about to make a transaction only to hear “nope, sorry only Visa or Mastercard”.  I did like the American Express card, it earned me some points (valued 1:1 with airline points programs like British Airways, Asia Miles, etc.).  The one year promotional rate ($0 annual fee for one year) was coming to an end, and I was experiencing some separation anxiety related to the possible loss of the Starwood Preferred Guest credit card for good.

I had called to check if they could waive the yearly fee (I think it was to the hefty tune of $150 a year or something ridonkulous like that).  I tried my best negotiation tactics, I was as sweet as honey to the customer service reps, I told them that I pay off my credit card bill regularly and am never past due, but alas, to no avail.  Apparently American Express is really strict with their fees, and they did not waive it.  They suggested that I get another American Express credit card instead.

So I paid for my auto insurance ($1500) with my credit card, took the points, and bid one last goodbye before cutting up the card and canceling it.

Then I went ahead and applied for the American Express Gold Rewards Card.  Yeah, that's right, I'm a fickle credit card whore.

Here's what the American Express Gold Rewards Charge Card is like:

  • It's a CHARGE card, not a credit card– which means you cannot carry a balance (but if you are late, a 30% annual interest charge will be dinged on you)
  • There is NO preset spending limit (uhhh this is kind of scary!  But they say it will be evaluated and approved based on spending patterns… so if you usually spend $300 on the card and suddenly you get a charge for $50,000 they'll make sure its valid before approving it)
  • You need to make at least $30,000 annually to be eligible for this card (I guess that's why its a gold card??)

Now, onto the important part-

Here are the points and perks:

  • DOUBLE points on travel related purchases (flights, hotels, car rentals, cruises, vacation packages)
  • DOUBLE points on grocery stores, stand-alone gas stations, drugstores
  • One point on charges everywhere else

Even though the double points SOUNDS good, if you look at the conversion ratio to the major airline programs, it's good (actually even better than the Starwood Preferred Guest cards, but ONLY for these double points purchases).  If it's NOT used for these double points purchases, then this card ISN'T as good as the Starwood Preferred Guest credit cards.

Now even more importantly, here's what you can get with the points:

  • You can have the “flexibility” of paying for any type of travel with points, though you would need 1000 points to equal a 10% statement credit (um… that's like spending $1000 to get $10 off, which is equal to a 1% rebate… not the best if you ask me)
  • It's a 1:1 ratio of points to Air Canada's Aeroplan points.  Aeroplan miles are difficult to gauge in terms of “worth” and aren't like the rest of the Airline rewards points (those Canucks, always have to be different and quirky!).
  • It's a 1000 AMEX points equals 750 Airline points for airlines like:  Alitalia (Italian airlines… weeee Tuscany!), British Airways, Delta, Cathay Pacific, Hilton HHonors, Starwood Preferred Guest, and Priority Club

So, if you spent $1000 in groceries over the course of a few months lets say, you would get 2000 points.  That would mean 2000 Aeroplan miles.  That would also mean about 1500 points with British Airways, Delta, Cathay Pacific etc.  (It would be about 1.3x the amount you would get from a 1:1 ratio with the regular Starwood Preferred Guest credit cards).  To give some perspective, one would need about 60,000 miles to head to Asia (friend's wedding in Thailand next year, yippee!) from Vancouver.

My strategy with this card

  • My strategy would probably be use the points for British Airways, Cathay Pacific (going to a wedding in Thailand in February), and possibly transfer them to Starwood Preferred Guest (more flexibility in terms of airlines transfers and points)
  • I would try my best to only use the card for purchases related to groceries, travel etc.  and other DOUBLE points purchases.  Otherwise, I would feel like I am getting “gypped” 250 points for every $1000 spent (because the Starwood Preferred Guest credit cards were 1:1 with the above airlines).

Readers, any of you die-hard Starwood Preferred Guest rewards card fans as well? Do you usually pay an annual fee with your credit cards? Did anyone have any luck negotiating waiving of credit card fees with American Express, or was it just me that didn't have any luck?

 

38 Comments

  1. No Debt MBA on June 13, 2011 at 8:43 am

    I have an AmEx and I would say that I only have a problem with it being accepted in maybe 2% of transactions. So that hasn’t been a factor for me. Do you shop at a lot of independent or smaller stores? I find those are less likely to accept AmEx (and rightly so! It’s expensive for them).



  2. Steve Zussino - Canadian Coupons on June 13, 2011 at 8:46 am

    Have you tried looking into the Alaska Card?

    We have it and I love the benefits – $99 companion fare (great for Hawaii flights).



  3. retirebyforty on June 13, 2011 at 11:28 am

    I’m thinking about AMEX to use at Costco, but I haven’t signed up yet. I hate annual fee with a passion so it’s tough…



  4. Ginger on June 13, 2011 at 10:44 am

    I tried to get AMEX to wave their annual fee as well, did not work. I agree with you, AMEX is strict with their annual fees. I use my fidelity AMEX for most of my purchases and rarely have a problem with using it except with small businesses. I refuse to pay an annual fee for any program because I get get a similar or better deal without the annual fee.



  5. No Debt MBA on June 13, 2011 at 11:49 am

    My AmEx is through Fidelity. It has no annual fee and has 2% cash back. I’ve used it at costco with no problems.



  6. BeatingTheIndex on June 13, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    wow Y&T, you sure hunt for those cards. I find myself loyal to the one and only gold MC I have had for the past 7 years!

    It pays 1.25 points for each dollar and you can exchange 11,000 pts for $100 gift cards. I don’t know how good that is but that’s what I have right now.



  7. SavingMentor on June 13, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    I also recently parted ways with my Starwood Preferred Guest Amex. They were willing to offer me a $50 credit to stay or 2500 SPG points – my choice. That wasn’t enough to keep me and I tried to negotiate for a bit more but they weren’t playing. They also offered me the Gold Rewards Amex with the first year free as a substitute.

    I am planning to sign up for that card eventually but I feel like I’ve applied for enough cards recently that I am holding off for now. It is a pretty sweet card though – especially for gas, grocery, and drug store. It is better than all the Aeroplan cards out there for that if you are going to convert your points to Aeroplan. When I do sign up I will be taking advantage of the cash back through a cash back website to make the deal even sweeter.

    For those on the west coast or somewhere where an Alaska Airlines partner (i.e. American Airlines) flies out of – the Alaska Airlines MBNA MasterCard is a good choice like Steve Zussino said. I have a page about it up on my site (see previous link)



  8. Helly on June 13, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    I’m a huge fan of rewards cards, but I refuse to pay an annual fee for a credit card, any credit card– no matter how good the reward is. If AmEx is going to charge you, stay away.

    In my opinion, the best kind of rewards card is the kind that gives you things you are 100% sure to use. For me, that’s plain cash. I have no loyalties to hotels or airlines, and even if I did, I don’t make regular travel plans enough to make full use of such rewards. And when I do travel? I just book the cheapest airline/hotel I can find. It isn’t always the same chain.

    Our best card? The Household Bank card. You get 2% cash back on all your purchases. No airline points, no hotel points, no points to redeem for gift cards on limited merchants… just cold, hard, cash. Free to spend ANY way I see fit– no airline/ blackout date restrictions, no hotel chain restrictions, no merchant restrictions. And that, to me, is the best kind of reward. It’s a MasterCard, so it’s more universally accepted. And it’s free. No annual fee, and I pay my balance in full every month.

    Another good one is CitiCard (also MC). They only give 1% cash back, but give 2% cash back on certain purchases like groceries and gas. Plus, every so often they’ll run promotions whereby you get additional cash back on purchases in select categories for a certain time period. What I like best of all comes from a recent experience: I pay my credit card bills on the 7th of the month. Every month. Without fail, for the past few years. I set up an Outlook reminder for it. Then one day, while paying my CitiCard bill online, I inadvertently forgot to click the “Submit” button. The due date came and went, and rather than just tack on late fees and charge interest, giving me a rude shock the next month, they actually CALLED me to find out why I, who consistently paid my bill on time, on the same date, missed a payment. After giving my payment over the phone, the agent reminded me to be sure to click all the way through the screens, and then promptly waived my late fee. Now THAT’s customer service!

    Anyway– between the Household and Citi cards, and putting as many transactions as we can on the card (basically the only place we still use cash are for small mom-and-pop stores that can’t afford to eat fees, and things like Farmers Markets) we rack up enough cash back each year to pay for our extended family’s Christmas presents 🙂



  9. Bryan on June 13, 2011 at 8:32 pm

    Yeah MBNA Alaska card – awesome for Vancouver/Seattle etc people. Although it was better when the companion ticket was $50!!! Yep Hawaii/Cabo awesome deal. And they give you a TON of points somehow every time you actually pay for an Alaska fare with the card online etc etc.

    SPG Amex – well, it’s nice to have an Amex for Costco, or Ticketmaster front of the line. That feature actually works, and keeps getting me tickets to shows that end up selling out really fast to general sales. Starpoints are so excellent though……. might just swallow the dumb annual fee at renewal time…. maybe convince them to to entice me with 2500 starpoints like SavingMentor! If you can put $30k/year on it (I would imagine fairly doable for a lot of people if you use it for work expenses etc, and especailly couples) then you’ll be Gold. I think my last 5 stays (on points of course) have all had fairly nice upgrades including suites and high floors/views and late checkouts of course.

    BUT there’s one more which I would apply for RIGHT NOW if I didn’t already have it and cancelled it previously: the American Express Aeroplan Platinum. Right now they’re offering 50,000 aeroplan points to sign up!!!!!! That is a LOT!!!! $500 annual fee (haha ouch)…. but still the points are worth way more than that, and plus you get lounge access, and a zillion other bells and whistles to make you feel like a big shot and whatnot I suppose haha.



  10. young on June 13, 2011 at 11:43 pm

    @Heckled- Wow, that IS customer service- though I think it makes sense, you have been such a good customer, they probably have a red flag when they see you haven’t paid for your bill. We don’t have Household here in Canada (though its a fitting name, very ‘to the point’ hehe) but it sounds really good. I am not sure WHY but I like getting travel points… for me, getting cash isn’t quite the same as I am sure I am less likely to “treat myself” if I got cash than if I got travel points.



  11. young on June 13, 2011 at 11:43 pm

    @No Debt MBA- Yeah, Costco is smart that way to limit their credit card merchants to only Amex. 🙂



  12. young on June 13, 2011 at 11:45 pm

    @Steve Zussino- The Alaska card sounds great but I already have a mastercard (getting two mastercards would be overkill for me) 🙁 (the MBNA Travel Rewards Elite or whatever its called). I haven’t actually redeemed for any points yet on it though. I wanted to get a Visa, MC, and an Amex.



  13. young on June 13, 2011 at 11:46 pm

    @No Debt MBA- Are you in Canada or the US? I would think that in the US, Amex is accepted more than Canada. The places I have like with Amex are at restaurants and at Costco, and big grocery stores. But yeah, it sucks to pull out your Amex only to find that it’s not accepted and then have to put it back in (I usually blush when I ask, I’m not sure why).



  14. young on June 13, 2011 at 11:48 pm

    @Ginger- Phew, glad I’m not the only one. Perhaps we should get SavingMentor to call for us?? 😉 I refuse to pay for an annual fee too. For example, the Asia Miles credit card (for Cathay Pacific which flies to Asia, NYC etc) through HSBC (I believe its HSBC) has a $120 annual fee for a 1:1 ratio of $ to points. With the PetroCanada card, it’s a 1:1 ratio too (but you have to transfer the points).



  15. young on June 13, 2011 at 11:49 pm

    @retirebyforty- I am with you on this one. I refuse to pay an annual fee- it makes the “deal” or “reward” less of a reward, IMO. I guess it’s psychological. There are lots of No fee Amex’s though, but they do give pretty dismal returns for dollars spent.



  16. young on June 13, 2011 at 11:50 pm

    @BeatingTheIndex- Yup, I’m a credit card reward addict. LOL I get annoyed when my BF pays for things with debit card when it can be paid by credit card to reap the rewards. I think it was from too much exposure to Red Flag Deals! Haha, after I got the first SPG MBNA, I was HOOKED. Loved that card 🙁 Do you have to pay an annual fee for your MC?



  17. young on June 13, 2011 at 11:55 pm

    @SavingMentor-Wow you are GOOD. Seriously lol. I think I need to take a negotiations course from you! If you took the 2500 SPG points, would you still have to pay the annual fee? I thought of that- to sign up through a cash back website, but Great Canadian Rebates (which gives you $60 for signing up) only has MBNA cards. yeah, the Gold Reward Amex is a good deal for grocery and drug store etc and gas. I’m going to switch my speedpass for Esso to my Amex soon.

    The problem with too many travel rewards card is that they don’t “communicate” or can’t transfer to each other. For example, the MBNA Travel Rewards Elite card points can’t be transferred directly to airline points, unfortunately.

    You mean the Alaskan airlines mastercard is a good choice, not the SPG Mastercard (I see you miss the card too 😉 )



  18. young on June 13, 2011 at 11:59 pm

    @Bryan- I’ve never tried the Ticketmaster feature- I’ll be sure to use that one, thanks! I LOVE starpoints, I love sheraton/westin etc. It was SO great when we went to Hawaii- we got to stay in beautiful hotels with beautiful views for dirt cheap. Sometimes if you just ask, they can upgrade you to gold- I think I was upgraded to gold while talking to one of the CSR’s (I might have been complaining, I’m not sure lol). We got one of the ocean front suites at the Westin for $100 a night.

    Wow- I read about that card on another blog- paying the $500 is worth it for those points. I need to look more closely to see how many points gets you places (e.g. where does 50,000 points get you? Return trip to Europe? Asia?). Will it get you a MEAL on Air Canada for long haul flights? (hahahaha sorry had to throw that Air Canada joke in there)



  19. No Debt MBA on June 14, 2011 at 4:41 am

    I’m in the US. I didn’t know that AmEx was less common in Canada, interesting.



  20. Milli fox on June 14, 2011 at 7:39 am

    Hello ! I just wanted to make note of a great website called points.com that is doing something great. They are making it possible to exchange points between your different rewards programs! They don’t have all rewards
    Programs signed on yet (like ones w banks) but many airlines and other companies. So check it out !!!



  21. SavingMentor on June 14, 2011 at 10:48 am

    I would like to advise anyone who is reading this to avoid Points.com like the plague. When “exchanging” your points they steal an incredible amount of the value of your points off the top leaving you with much less left in terms of point value.

    Only use Points.com if you are desperate and absolutely need to exchange points and there is no other way.



  22. Miss T @ Prairie Eco-Thrifter on June 14, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    I have never even heard of charge cards before until your post. I didn’t know there was such a thing. I definitely have to look into them.
    We have a CIBC Infinite card which we use a lot for travel rewards. We also have PC mastercard which we use for free groceries. So far we have been quite satisfied.



  23. Helly on June 14, 2011 at 4:36 pm

    Well, if you’re certain to use the travel points, then it sounds like it makes sense for you, especially if there’s no annual fee.

    Also, re: your comment to someone else about AmEx being more accepted in the USA, I’m not sure how true that is. Certainly more accepted compared to other countries. Still, Visa and MC are definitely the dominant players, I’ve seen plenty of places that only accept Visa or MC, no Discover, no AmEx.

    Re: another comment of yours: I am curious as to why you want Visa, MC and AmEx? Does it really make a difference? Most places that accept Visa will accept MC, and vice versa. To me, the two are interchangeable. And most places that accept AmEx will accept Visa/MC, so you’re set on those fronts, as well. Besides, if your card’s provider could change it, anyway. My husband’s personal CitiCard used to be Visa, now it’s MC. Aside from having different-looking logos in your wallet, doesn’t it all wind up being more or less the same?



  24. SavingMentor on June 15, 2011 at 5:04 am

    @Helly

    You are right that Visa and MasterCard are almost identical. However, MasterCard has a lock on Tim Horton’s here in Canada and that’s a pretty big deal for us Canadians.

    Visa has a lock on the Olympic Games – so if you were in Vancouver for 2010 then that may have mattered to you 🙂

    Finally, American Express has a lock on Costco here in Canada and a LOT of people shop at Costco and spend a lot of money there so they like to have an Amex that they may only use at Costco.

    This is my current setup:

    1) No fee MBNA Smart Cash MasterCard for 3% cash back on gas and groceries
    2) No fee Amex Air Miles Gold for purchases at Costco
    3) No fee MBNA Travel Rewards Elite MasterCard for all other purchases

    I do have a no fee Esso Extra Visa that I don’t use and don’t keep in my wallet. I’ve never encountered somewhere that takes Visa and doesn’t take MasterCard in years. McDonald’s used to only take Visa but that has long since changed.

    Normally I have a temporary fee-based card that I use as my primary card and to get the sign up bonus and then cancel before the first year is over but right now I’m in between cards and am just sticking with my no fee cards for now.



  25. JoachimM on June 15, 2011 at 8:30 am

    I found that you actually can save much more through insurances you that get with your credit cards, especially on Travel Medical or Rental Car Collision Damage Waiver (normally costs you around 20$/day here in Canada).

    I have CIBC Aerogold Visa Infinite for travel that I use for all the trips and RBC Rewards Gold for other purchases since it has purchase security and extended warranty. The last one just saved me over $300 for my HP laptop’s repair after a small



  26. SavingMentor on June 15, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    @JoachimM

    That credit card insurance comparison site is indeed very good! I like how they have laid out the comparison tables by using a simple checkmark system and then being able to hover over the checkmarks to get more details about the specific insurance for a particular card.

    I have also put together an insurance comparison including ratings of most of the major credit cards in Canada in two spreadsheets.

    Travel Credit Cards
    Cash Back Credit Cards

    I find the Capital One Aspire World MasterCard to be the clear winner as far as insurance coverage goes.



  27. young on June 15, 2011 at 11:39 pm

    @No Debt MBA- Well I’m not too sure about that- perhaps that’s an assumption on my part. I just know its not accepted ‘everywhere’ like MC and Visa are.



  28. young on June 15, 2011 at 11:42 pm

    @Milli fox- It IS possible to exchange points on points.com but you do often get less ‘bang for your buck’. I guess it’s reasonable for those who are ABSOLUTELY sure they can’t use anything in the points program or even transfer them and they are willing to take a loss on the value of the points when they are transferred. I personally haven’t ever used Points.com to exchange anything.



  29. young on June 15, 2011 at 11:42 pm

    @SavingMentor- yeah, agree!



  30. young on June 15, 2011 at 11:43 pm

    @MIss- T- Honestly, I didn’t know either! It doesn’t really SEEM like there’s much of a difference (except for the drastic difference in interest rates- 19.99% for a regular credit card compared to 30% for a charge card), to me (its not like a carry a balance or anything).



  31. young on June 15, 2011 at 11:47 pm

    @Helly- Saving Mentor basically replied for me 😉 For example, at Costco, they ONLY accept Amex. And Superstore initially only accepted Mastercard. My hairdresser ONLY accepts Visa. So it’s nice to have all three, though Mastercards I find often have better rewards cards. Often if you travel overseas, only Visa is accepted. So even if I don’t use them (for example, I have an Esso Extra Visa that I perhaps used 6-12 months ago), it’s nice to have in case I need it.

    Another reason is due to the points accumulation. Right now I”ll try to use my Amex as much as possible because it has the best points reward program of the three cards I have. The Mastercard is a ‘meh’ and has become my back up if Amex doesn’t work. Next year when my “first year free” runs out, I’ll likely downplay my use of the Amex 10 fold.



  32. young on June 15, 2011 at 11:49 pm

    @SavingMentor- LOL we are like brothers and sisters from another mother- we are so similar.
    This is my set up:
    1) Amex Gold Rewards Card (though its not accepted in about 7/10 purchases I make)- which will change in 1 year’s time when it charges a fee
    2) if joint groceries/ joint expenses, use Avion RBC VISA (joint credit card with BF)
    3) If my own personal expenses, use MBNA Travel Rewards Elite Mastercard



  33. young on June 15, 2011 at 11:51 pm

    @JoachimM- I found that out too (the hard way) 🙂 and got swindled into buying rental car insurance in Hawaii (well, not swindled, but the insurance cost more than the car rental!). Thanks for the link- that looks like a useful resource— just checked it out and LOVE IT. I didn’t know my card had all these benefits!



  34. JoachimM on June 16, 2011 at 9:21 am

    @SavingMentor

    Cool! Thank you for the overviews, very nice! It really appears that Capital One Aspire World leads the list. I also like that they offer Price Protection feature… Especially after Citi’s Driver’s Edge is moving to CIBC…



  35. Helly on June 16, 2011 at 10:53 am

    @SavingMentor and @young:

    Ooooh, that makes a lot of sense. I guess it’s a little different in the States, where Visa and MC are so interchangeable that you rarely find a merchant that will accept only one vs. the other. It’s always both.

    Thanks for clarifying! 🙂



  36. young on June 16, 2011 at 9:29 pm

    @Helly- Yeah, the merchants here have the upper hand 😉 For example, No Frills (uber cheap grocery store) always just only accepts Mastercard.



  37. Taylor on June 18, 2011 at 8:54 pm

    AMEX is widely accepted in Ontario, except for the Independent Grocer and some small family-owned businesses.

    I love the AMEX SPG card but I’ll be cancelling before the one year deadline is up. Grrr fees. It’s interesting that there is another card that allows transfers to SPG points. Good to know for November…



  38. young on June 20, 2011 at 11:56 pm

    @Taylor- I am planning to transfer out my SPG points to an airline points program, so will use the points I get from the Gold Reward Amex and transfer those to the same airline points program, I think. Remember, you have a year of inactivity with your SPG points before they go *poof*! 🙂



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