American Express Announces Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card Refresh

The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express has long held cult-like status among frequent travellers who find tremendous value in the SPG hospitality loyalty program. Starpoints collectors have been anxiously awaiting what’s in store for their beloved program ever since Marriott International acquired Starwood Hotels to become the world’s largest hotel chain in 2016.

In April 2018, members were given a taste of what’s to come when Marriott announced it will introduce one set of unified benefits across Marriott Rewards, The Ritz-Carlton Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) for its members later this summer. At that time, members will be able to combine their separate Marriott Rewards, The Ritz-Carlton Rewards and SPG accounts into a single account spanning the entire loyalty portfolio. The combined loyalty programs will also get a new name in 2019.

American Express Canada announced changes to its Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card and Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card, both of which relaunched publicly in August 2018.

Debuting alongside Marriott International’s newly unified loyalty programs, the cards offer business and leisure travellers updated benefits and ways to earn points across 6,500 properties in 127 countries and territories, across 29 brands.

Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card

Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express

The new look Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express will be refreshed and benefits will include:

  • An updated earn rate. Cardmembers will earn 5 points for every dollar spent at SPG and Marriott Rewards properties, and 2 points for every dollar spent everywhere else.
  • An Annual Free Night Award. This no longer includes a spend requirement and will now be redeemable any night of the week at SPG and Marriott Rewards properties with a room rate of up to 35,000 points. This means you can redeem at over 5,000 hotel properties. It will be awarded automatically after a Cardmember’s anniversary date.
  • Automatic complimentary upgrade to Silver Elite Status. This entitles Cardmembers to priority late checkout where available, exclusive member rates, and more. In addition, Cardmembers will be eligible for complimentary Gold Elite Status after spending $30,000 each year.
  • Free supplementary Card. Cardmembers will no longer incur an annual fee on supplementary cards.

Get a 50,000 point welcome bonus when you spend $3,000 in the first three months (sign up here)

Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express

The refreshed benefits for the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express include:

  • An updated earn rate. Cardmembers will earn 5 points for every dollar spent at SPG and Marriott Rewards properties, 3 points for every dollar spent on eligible gas, dining and travel, and 2 points for every dollar spent everywhere else.
  • An Annual Free Night Award. This no longer includes a spend requirement and will now be redeemable any night of the week at SPG and Marriott Rewards properties with a room rate of up to 35,000 points. This means you can redeem at over 5,000 hotel properties. It will be awarded automatically after a Cardmember’s anniversary date.
  • Automatic complimentary upgrades to Silver Elite Status. This entitles Cardmembers to priority late checkout where available, exclusive member rates, and more. In addition, Cardmembers will be eligible for complimentary Gold Elite Status after spending $30,000 each year.

Get a 50,000 point welcome bonus when you spend $3,000 in the first three months (sign up here)

Existing Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Cardmembers and consumers who apply for the Starwood Preferred Guest consumer and business credit cards will automatically receive the refreshed benefits that launched in August 2018.

For SPG fans it’s a slight downgrade in value from the previous program but as far as hotel rewards go it’s still far and away the best loyalty program in the country.

Three Credit Cards To Save On Foreign Currency Fees

Virtually every bank and credit card issuer card in Canada charges a 2.5 percent fee to convert your foreign purchases back into Canadian dollars. It’s an insidious charge, often hidden within your credit card statement and blended in with the exchange rate so you don’t even notice.

While seemingly benign, a 2.5 percent foreign currency conversion fee represents a significant cost to those who frequently travel to the U.S. or abroad, or who shop online in U.S. dollars and other foreign currencies.

Savvy credit card users can avoid these sneaky fees by carrying a ‘no foreign currency conversion fee’ card. With that in mind, here are three credit cards to save on foreign currency fees.

The No Fee, No Frills Option

Home Trust Preferred Visa Card

Home Trust is a subsidiary of Home Capital Group and offers a no annual fee cash back card that does not charge foreign currency conversion fees.

The Home Trust Preferred Visa Card gives users 1 percent cash back on every purchase, with no limit to their total rewards and no restrictions on where they earn rewards. Customers also get a Roadside Assist membership at no extra charge.

All foreign purchases are converted at the spot rate set by Visa without any additional charges.

Interested applicants should be aware that applications for the Home Trust Preferred Visa Card may take two to four weeks to be approved.

The Perks and Points Option

Scotia Passport Visa Infinite Card

Scotiabank became the first major Canadian financial institution to offer a no foreign transaction fee credit card earlier this year when it launched the Scotia Passport Visa Infinite Card.

Cardholders earn two Scotia Rewards Points for every dollar spent on groceries, dining, entertainment purchases, and daily transit purchases, plus one point on all other purchases.

In addition to not being charged a foreign currency conversion mark-up on foreign currency purchases online or outside of Canada, this card also offers airport lounge access with a complimentary Priority Pass membership and six free visits per year.

This card does charge an annual fee of $139 and successful applicants must have a minimum annual income of $60,000 or a minimum household income of $100,000 to qualify for the card.

The ‘It’s Complicated’ Option

Fido MasterCard by Rogers

One other credit card option available to Canadians looking to save on foreign currency conversion fees is the Fido MasterCard by Rogers Bank.

While this card does charge the standard 2.5 percent mark-up on purchases made in a foreign currency, it also pays a healthy three per cent cash back on those purchases to negate the fee and then some.

Not just limited to Rogers or Fido customers, this card comes with no annual fee and pays 1.25 percent cash back on Canadian dollar purchases.

Fido customers do get added perks, with 2 percent in unlimited cash back rewards on Fido products and services charged to the card. Customers can also put their cash back rewards towards their monthly Fido bill or save them up for other Fido accessories.

Finally, successful applicants will get a $25 cash back bonus when they make their first purchase within three months of card ownership.

Final thoughts

Consider the number of credit card users that go out of their way to earn an additional one or two per cent worth of cash back or travel rewards on their spending. Yet Canadians spend billions each year traveling to the U.S. and abroad, plus billions more shopping online at foreign retailers, unknowingly paying hidden fees each time they do so and negating any rewards advantage in the process.

That’s why, if you do plan to make significant purchases in U.S. dollars, or other foreign currencies, then it’s wise to carry a credit card that does not mark-up the cost of those purchases by 2.5 percent.

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