When her $95 annual fee posted, we reviewed the benefits and costs of Philly’s Amex SPG Business card and decided to keep the card.
Philly was approved for the Amex SPG Business card a little over a year ago, in late October 2017. The sign-up bonus was at its all-time high of 35,000 SPG points (now 105,000 Marriott Rewards points). We thought it could be the last opportunity to get the card at that level of sign-up bonus in light of Marriott’s acquisition of Starwood (this turns out to be correct, so far). We hit the minimum spend for the sign-up bonus and used these and other SPG points for great free stays during our 2018 international travels, at Sheraton hotels in Quito, Ecuador; Prague, Czech Republic; and Dubrovnik, Croatia.
In late November, the $95 annual fee posted on this card, so reviewed the benefits to decide whether to keep this card or cancel it. The benefits and points-earning had actually changed during the year Philly had held the card, so this exercise was a good refresher course for us.
The key features and benefits of the Amex SPG Business card are:
- Bonus spend categories (with % rebate, giving Marriott Rewards points our baseline value of 0.75 cents per point):
- 6x Marriott Rewards points per dollar at Marriott/SPG hotels (4.5%)
- 4x Marriott Rewards points (3%) at:
- US restaurants
- US gas stations
- Wireless telephone services purchased directly from US service providers
- US purchases for shipping
- 2x Marriott Rewards points on everything else (1.5%)
- Free Night Award every year after card account anniversary, up to 35,000 points
- 15 elite nights credit each year in Marriott Rewards
- This gives automatic Silver elite status
- The 15 nights bring you closer to Gold status (requires 25 nights); Platinum status (50); Platinum Premier (75); and Platinum Premier with Ambassador (100 nights + $20,000 spend)
- These nights are not stackable if you hold multiple Marriott/SPG cards; the most nights you can get are 15 total
- You can also attain Gold status by spending $35,000 on the card in a calendar year
- Premium on-property Wi-Fi; Boingo Wi-Fi plan; some travel and purchase protections
- No foreign transaction fees
In our situation, none of the published benefits give us any meaningful added value, other than the Free Night Award. For example:
- We can get at least as much value from our ongoing spend in all categories, using other cards we hold:
- For stays at Marriott/SPG properties, we have other Marriott/SPG cards that also earn 6x Marriott Rewards points (including the Chase Ritz-Carlton Visa, which is definitely a long-term keeper card for us) – or alternatively, we could use a Chase Sapphire Reserve card and earn 3x Ultimate Rewards (UR) points (also a 4.5% rebate, at 1.5 cents per UR point; some would value UR points even higher because of their flexibility/transferability)
- At US restaurants, we can use our Amex Gold for 4 Membership Rewards points per dollar (6% at 1.5 cents per point)
- For wireless services, we can use our Chase Ink Cash (5x UR points / 7.5%) or our Chase Ink Business Preferred (3x UR points / 4.5%, plus some cellphone insurance coverage)
- For gas, shipping, and other US purchases, at a minimum we can use our Amex Blue Business Plus card (2x Membership Rewards points / 3%)
- The elite status nights for Philly don’t really help us, because I have Platinum Premier status, and we make all of our Marriott/SPG reservations under my name
Thus, for us, the keep-or-cancel decision on Philly’s Amex SPG Business card comes down to a simple question – Are we willing to pay $95 to get the 35,000-point Free Night Award certificate?
- [It’s also worth noting that there may be an intangible benefit of keeping the card and paying the annual fee, in terms of maintaining a good relationship with Amex to allow Philly to continue to be approved for Amex cards and receive sign-up bonuses. The nuance is beyond the scope of this article, but I have seen reports of the Amex “pop-up screen” blocking sign-up bonuses for people who have canceled Amex cards.]
The Free Night Award certificate would be good for one year from issuance. The Amex SPG terms and conditions say that the certificate will be deposited into the member’s account 8-12 weeks after the member’s card anniversary date. True to that term, Philly’s certificate had not posted by her deadline to pay the annual fee (30 days after posting). And, in fact, the certificate is still not in her account, 40 days after her annual fee posted; thus, there’s no opportunity to “game” the system to get the certificate, then cancel the card).
A 35,000-point Free Night Award certificate is good for a Marriott Category 5 hotel at standard rates (but not at “peak” rates once off-peak/standard/peak rates go into effect in March 2019). When I look at the list of Category 5 hotels (see the chart at this link; sort by “Points Required” and the Category 5 hotels will then begin on page 6 of the chart), I see a lot of desirable Category 5 hotels where we would be likely to stay in the normal course of our travels. I would expect to pay $200 or more for a night at one of these hotels.
Just to take one example, I see that the Renaissance Lucerne Hotel is a Category 5 hotel. We’ve stayed there before and had a very nice experience, and this hotel may fit perfectly into a Switzerland trip we’re considering for this summer. A paid night there would cost at least $250, but 35,000-point award nights are currently available. Paying $95 for a Free Night Award certificate that we could use at this hotel is a no-brainer.
And, if all else fails, we could always use a 35,000-point Free Night Award certificate for a date night near home, at the Le Meridien Dallas Stoneleigh, which we’ve done a few times over the years.
Unfortunately, using this Free Night Award certificate in Philly’s name won’t get us an extra elite qualifying night under my account – and mine is the one we’ll use to re-qualify for Marriott elite status in 2019. But that’s a minor downside. And actually, if the night in Lucerne materializes, we would need 2 rooms anyway. Marriott counts only 1 room toward elite status qualification, even if you book multiple rooms. Thus, we wouldn’t lose anything by booking the second room under Philly’s name.
Did We Make a Retention Call?
No. For one thing, Philly doesn’t like to make retention calls, especially when she doesn’t get an offer. And in this case, I thought an offer was unlikely. We hadn’t spent much on this card beyond the minimum spend to get the sign-up bonus. I decided to save my marital capital to ask Philly to call when a retention bonus is more important and hopefully more likely (like her upcoming Amex Business Platinum renewal!).
In sum, given our travel patterns and the likelihood that we can get $200-plus in value from the 35,000-point Free Night Award certificate, we decided to pay the $95 annual fee and keep Philly’s Amex SPG Business card for another year.