There’s been a surge in co-branded hotel credit cards increasing their sign-up bonuses. The latest includes the SPG American Express with its highest ever offering of 35k points available until April 5th, 2017.
Other credit cards without an increased bonus, like the Club Carlson Premier Visa, continue to offer an 85k point bonus to be used for award stays at their properties, like Radisson Blu.
Several readers have posted questions on blog posts and social media asking what these sign-up bonuses actually equal in terms of the number of award nights.
In other words, the sign-up bonus number may or may not look glitzy, but how do you know when a hotel credit card bonus is worth it?
If you’re new to earning and using points for award stays, read A Beginner’s Guide to Hotel Reward Programs first and review the infographic. Then, come back and join us!
For those of you who are looking for a cent by cent analysis of the value of each point on every available credit card, this is not the post for you. This post digs a bit deeper into the big (or not-so-big) number behind a flashy increased sign-up bonus promotion.
Starwood Preferred Guest American Express
Current offer: Earn 35k SPG points for spending $5k within 6 months. The first $3k needs to be spent in 3 months to earn the first 25k SPG points. The remaining 10k SPG points are earned by spending an additional $2k within 6 months. The $95 annual fee is waived the first year. You’ll get 1 SPG point for every dollar you spend and 2-5 SPG points for every dollar spent at a Starwood property.
In the lowest Category, the current SPG sign-up bonus (25k) would equal 8 weeknights, 12 weekend nights, or a combination of both. While using the 25k SPG points for a Category 2 hotel would return 6 weeknights or 8 weekend nights. You can do the math, I’m sure. 😉
An example of a truly luxurious Category 2 hotel is the Le Meridien in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Stay for 3 nights in a luxury property just minutes from the Angkor Wat Archaeological Ruins for just 9k-16k depending on whether the nights count against the weekday or weekend rate.
The Starwood Category 3-4 is where the 35k bonus can really return a solid value. There tends to be a considerable jump in the quality between Category 2 and 3 hotels. Best of all, Category 3 hotels and higher offer the 5th consecutive night of an award stay free. This means you’d need just 28k SPG points for a 5-night Category 3 hotel stay and 40k SPG points for a 5-night Category 4 hotel stay!
The Westin Resort and Spa in Cancun is a great example of an SPG Category 3. For just 28k SPG points, you could stay and soak up the sun in one of these lounge chairs for 5 days and nights!
Category 4 SPG properties include Walt Disney World Dolphin, as well as a couple Sheraton properties in Orlando just minutes from Disney World. The W Hotel in Bangkok is also a Category 4! After meeting the minimum spend on the SPG Amex, you’d be 12k points shy of earning a 5-night stay at any Category 4 hotel around the world.
Worth it or Not?: It’s for good reason miles and points enthusiasts have been excited about the increased sign-up bonus on the SPG Amex. SPG points are valuable and having 25k of them means you’ll have a number of options for redeeming those points for award stays or with their airline transfer partners. This is a highly worthy credit card offer!
UPDATE: Marriott purchased Starwood. The 2 hotel loyalty programs began merging in 2016. Currently, Marriott points can be converted to SPG points at 3:1 ratio or vice versa.
Chase Marriot Rewards Premier Card
Current Offer: Earn 80k Marriott Points after spending $3k within 3 months. The annual fee is $85 a year with a free bonus night in a Marriott Category 1-5 hotel every year you renew your card. For every dollar you spend at a Marriott property, you’ll earn 5x the points. Certain travel expenses earn 2x the points per dollar and all other purchases are 1 point per dollar.
Marriott’s PointSavers Rewards are a good deal but are only available at certain hotels or on specific dates. To put it bluntly, you’ll need a stroke of luck mixed with perfect timing to book a PointsSavers Reward.
You could use all 80k Marriott Points on 2 nights at a high-end Category 7 or 8 hotel. Depending on your travel goals and travel style, a better value might be with properties in Category 4. At 20k a night, combined with the 5th consecutive night free, you’d earn a 5-night award stay.
Many Category 1-4 Marriott Hotels are not well-located or altogether outside of a city center. It was even tricky to find a Category 5 Marriott that wasn’t “10km from the airport and 5km from the city center.” The higher categories will likely be where you’ll want to book, especially considering the 5th consecutive night free perk. (Who stays at an airport hotel for 5 consecutive nights on purpose?)
Consider this example. The Marriott Hotel in Budapest is a Category 7 making the 80k sign up bonus enough for 2 nights. This hotel is very well-situated along the Danube River and near the convenient #2 Tram. In comparison, I stayed at the Radisson Blu Beke in Budapest, which is not in the Marriott family, but rather a Club Carlson hotel. My stay was perfectly comfortable and we were a 7-10 minute walk to the river. Comparing the Marriott and my experience at the Radisson Blu Beke, the Marriott Hotel looks newer and more upscale. It’s certainly more central.
Still, I’m not sure I’d use 70k Marriott points for a 2-night stay knowing I’m getting a comfortable stay close by for far fewer points.
Worth it or Not?: If you’re a Marriott die-hard or know you want to stay in a Marriott as part of a trip you’re planning, then this Marriott sign-up bonus might be right for you. Marriott is also a Chase transfer partner, meaning Chase points earned with a card like Chase Sapphire Reserve could help you top up your Marriott account when necessary. On the other hand, it’s clear the 80k Marriott points don’t look as glitzy once a closer analysis is done. There are better co-branded hotel offers out there that are worth considering before applying for the Marriott Rewards Card.
Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa
Current Offer: Earn an 85k point sign-up bonus when you spend $2,500 within 3 months. The card has a $75 annual fee, which is not waived the first year. Cardholders get Club Carlson Gold Status and 40k bonus points every year the card is renewed. This is NOT an increased sign-up bonus.
Consider that every dollar spent at a Club Carlson Hotel using the card earns 37 points per dollar (20 points per dollar for regular Club Carlson members + 10 points per dollar for using my card x 35% for having Gold Status)! All other purchases are 5x the points per dollar spent. Using the card is very lucrative when trying to stockpile points for an award stay.
The Club Carlson Rewards Program has excellent value, especially when you consider my 15k Radisson Blu Beke in Budapest example from above. But, the nicest hotels are likely to fall within a Category 5-6. The cozy Radisson Blu Mercer in London, located in the heart of the Theatre District is a Category 5, as is the fantastic Radisson Blu Alcron in Prague. The Radisson Blu Style in Vienna is a Category 6 hotel and is one of the nicest Club Carlson Hotels.
There’s also terrific value for stays at Club Carlson properties in up-and-coming European cities like Krakow, Poland, Tallinn, Estonia, and Riga, Latvia. They’re all centrally located and in a Category 2-4 range.
Let’s look at the Park Inn by Radisson in Krakow as an example. As a Category 3, award nights are 28k points per night. Using the 85k point Club Carlson bonus, you could book 3 award nights at this hotel.
To be fair, Club Carlson Categories 5-6 and the Marriott Categories 7-8 are somewhat comparable in terms of points needed for each award night. Yet, Club Carlson has solid redemption values in their Category 2-4 properties, while Marriott has fewer centrally-located hotels in their Category 2-5 range.
Worth it or Not?: As a standard sign-up, the 85k Club Carlson points can be used for upscale Radisson Blu Hotels or can be stretched at good value Category 2-4 hotels. There aren’t many Club Carlson hotels in North America, so if you’re a U.S. resident, you’ll likely have to travel internationally for the best redemptions. The Club Carlson Loyalty Program is a solid choice for miles and points enthusiasts looking to earn points for award stays. This is a strong offer from a card and loyalty program certainly worth your consideration.
No matter what you’re miles and points strategy is, go beyond what an offer looks like on paper and be sure to understand what that sign-up bonus actually means. The final worthiness of an offer will come when you know how helpful it is to get you closer to achieving your travel goal!
Which co-branded hotel credit card interests you the most? What is your favorite hotel loyalty program?
Like this post? Please share it on social media using the share buttons below!