This is part of my new “How I Would Improve…” series in which I will discuss points- and travel-related items/programs that could be improved to the consumer’s benefit. Why? Because maybe if we (consumers) let the companies know what we want, they’ll be inclined to give us something. We can dream!
Everyone has a go-to credit card for certain purchases. Many people choose the SPG Amex card for many of their purchases since it provides solid value:
- Large chain of hotels, from relatively cheap to extravagant.
- A HUGE list of airline transfer partners, plus you get 5K points for every 20K you transfer.
- Widely recognized as having the highest per-point value of any loyalty points program out there.
- Cash & Points option can make points EXTREMELY valuable.
- SPG Gold status after $30K in annual spend.
- Annual 2 stay/5 night credit toward elite status.
- Relatively low annual fee of $65.
Despite all these great benefits, the card is far from being the “perfect” credit card. If I could improve this card in a realistic way (i.e. offering 10 points per dollar on every purchase is not realistic), then what would I add/change?
In no particular order:
ELIMINATE FOREIGN TRANSACTION FEES
There’s a large group of people that love their SPG card and love staying at SPG hotels around the world, but still never charge an international dime to the card even when staying at an SPG hotel. The extra bonus points you earn are just not worth the 2.7% foreign transaction fee, so the card stays tucked in the wallet or left home on international trips. The Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which earns 2 points per dollar on all hotel spend, does not charge a foreign transaction fee. Even though a Chase point might be worth slightly less, the dollar savings in addition to the points makes it a better option for many people.
THE ABILITY TO EARN PLATINUM STATUS WITH SPEND
The SPG Amex currently offers Gold status for those that spend $30K on the card in a calendar year. This is actually a very weak (and almost useless) benefit. Many of us in the points game have or have had the Amex Platinum card, which automatically gives free SPG Gold status. Additionally, SPG Gold status doesn’t really entitle you to all that much anyway.
Also take into account that Hilton Gold status can be had by just owning the new Citi Hilton Reserve card. Oh, and Hilton Gold Status offers significantly better benefits than SPG Gold status does. In fact, most of the Hilton credit cards allow you to spend your way to top-tier Diamond status with $40K in spend.
I propose that the SPG Amex grant Gold status at $25K in spend and Platinum status at $40K in spend, allowing it to compete with the Hilton products.
ADD A BONUS CATEGORY (OR TWO)
How about 2x for gas, groceries, drug stores, restaurants, the zoo…anything! Many cards have bonus categories, and when I have the option I usually put spend on the card that earns the most points. Two Chase points at a restaurant or two Amex points at a grocery store are almost always worth more than one SPG point.
ANNUAL FREE NIGHT CERTIFICATE
Most of the other hotel-branded credit cards offer a free night every year in return for paying the annual fee. Some, like the Citi Hilton Reserve card, offer the free night after hitting a certain spend requirement ($10K for the Reserve card). The SPG Amex would become a fantastic card with a benefit like this, even if it were restricted to a certain category of hotel.
AN ONLINE SHOPPING PORTAL/MALL FOR BONUS POINTS
It doesn’t matter whether it only offered an extra 1 point per dollar or more, but having an online points mall would be a fantastic addition to the SPG program. Imagine how often people would use this card with the ability to earn an extra point or more for online purchases! Right now, Chase’s Ultimate Rewards Mall is the champion after Amex’s mall suffered an unexpected and sudden death.
IS THAT FAIR?
Adding all these things would make this the clear-cut, undisputed champion of credit cards, but that’s not going to happen. We can, however, hope and/or pray for at least a couple of these changes. I personally would be a HUGE fan of eliminating foreign transaction fees since I stay at Starwood hotels abroad and don’t use the card. The ability to earn extra points or a free night certificate also holds some appeal.
Let’s be realistic though – adding some of these benefits would likely not be “free” additions. It would be extremely costly for Starwood to just hand out a free night certificate to everyone that has a card, so I don’t think it’s unreasonable for them to raise the annual fee of the card. Depending on what they added, I’d say a fee up to $95 would be reasonable.
Other changes, like the ability to earn Platinum status, could be a free addition since it likely wouldn’t cost Starwood much. In fact they might benefit from extra spending by customers trying to attain elite status.
Or maybe it’s just time for a completely new product. Hilton has several options with various banks – maybe it’s time for an SPG Visa/MasterCard from Chase or Citi. I wouldn’t even mind if they marketed it as a premium card for a $200+ annual fee if they could include everything I noted above, plus a nice sign-up bonus of course.
What do you think? Did I miss anything, or are there certain features you’d like more than others?