I got a lot of positive (and some negative) feedback for my Bluebird/Chase Ink Award Cost Chart post, so I decided to do it again for one of my other favorite cards: the SPG Amex card.
The Amex SPG card only earns one point per dollar on all non-SPG spend. No bonuses, ever. And the card also has foreign transaction fees, making it useless when traveling abroad. But the card can still earn points that are very valuable.
SPG points are generally considered a valuable points currency for two reasons: 1) You can often redeem points at a rate of 3 cents per point or more, which is considered very favorable (Cash & Points redemptions in particular can be redeemed for great values); 2) You can transfer SPG points to A LOT of mileage currencies (AA, Singapore, etc.) and get a bonus. Every 20K SPG points gets you 25K miles for most airlines, effectively earning 1.25 points per dollar spent.
But at the same time, SPG properties are pretty darn expensive and cost a lot of points, and it feels like even more considering you can’t earn points by any method aside from the credit card and hotel stays. Amex transfers to SPG, but at a horrible 3:1 ratio.
First some math: if you use your SPG Amex card to buy Vanilla Reloads, you earn 504 points for an effective cost of $3.95. The cost-per-point is .007837 in this case. If you don’t have VRs nearby, you’ll almost definitely have $500 Visa/MasterCard gift cards at CVS or local grocery stores. These will earn you 505 points for an effective cost of $4.95, and a cost-per-point of .009802.
SPG has a convoluted reward chart, so I’ll break it down into 3 sections: Reward Nights during Low Season and Weekdays, Reward Nights during High Season and Weekends (note only Categories 1 and 2 decrease for weekends), and Cash & Points.
So with that in mind, let’s look at what it would cost to get a free stay at Category 1-7 hotels. First we’ll start with costs associated with buying Vanilla Reloads.
SPG Reward Chart for Vanilla Reloads
The one thing that pops out immediately is that Cash & Points are NEVER a good value when doing manufactured spend like this. The reason is actually pretty simple: Since you’re paying fewer points for more cash, you can essentially think of it as buying points. For a Category 3 room, instead of paying 7,000 points you pay 3,500 and $55, so you’re buying 3,500 points for $55. That’s a rate of .01571 dollars per point, which is more than twice the rate at which we can manufacture spend (remember we’re buying VRs for .007837 dollars per point).
You can also see the prices rise quickly for high category hotels. It’s generally considered a bad value to redeem SPG points for top-tier, “aspirational” properties because they’re just so damn expensive with points. Heck, it’s expensive even when you manufacture spend! But with that being said, that $275 for a Category 7 is still probably half of what you’d pay in cash for the same room, so you’re still coming out ahead. In my opinion, hotels up to Category 5 are worth looking into for manufactured spend.
SPG Reward Chart for $500 Visa/MC Gift Cards
That extra $1 per $500 makes quite a difference, doesn’t it? A Category 7 hotel in high season goes from $275 with Vanilla Reloads to a whopping $343. But when you think about it, that $1 is a 25% increase ($3.95 vs. $4.95), which is exactly the increase in all these rates from the chart we just saw above.
It’s not ideal, but it’s still likely cheaper than the normal nightly rate.
Five Night Award Stays
One of the interesting redemption benefits with SPG is that your 5th night is free when redeeming nights with points. For example, a Category 4 hotel would cost 40,000 SPG points for 4 nights, but you get a 5th night free. This brings your effective points-per-night rate down to 8,000 points-per-night instead of 10,000 – effectively 20% off. Let’s factor 5 night stays in to the manufactured spend chart for Vanilla Reload purchases. Note that this redemption option is not available for Cash & Points redemptions.
If you’re planning on staying 5 nights at an SPG hotel, your points become a lot more valuable. At the Category 5 level there are five hotels in Hawaii and five St. Regis hotels that you can have for pretty cheap. There are some exceptional Category 6 properties, and maybe even Category 7 properties will become worth it for rare “aspirational” redemptions.
You can see the values above and decide whether it’s worth it for you to go big with SPG. It’s always worth having a stash of SPG points in my opinion, so I make sure to make the SPG Amex part of my manufactured spend routine. I personally have no plans to ever redeem for a SPG Category 7 property because I’m simply not willing to pay $275 for a night after manufactured spend, but I might consider it if I have the desire to stay 5 nights at one of them.
For high-end properties, I’m much more inclined to stay at Hyatt hotels using the Chase Ink card as I outlined in my previous post. Hyatt hotels are essentially half the price when using manufactured spend. I’d be more than happy to redeem my SPG points at some Category 4 and 5 properties, particularly in Asia.
As a reminder, don’t go overboard and spend too much and earn an Amex Financial Review (or a review from any bank). It wouldn’t be the end of the world, but it would be really annoying.
If you want the SPG Amex card and you’re feeling generous towards me, you can apply for one through my affiliate link on Credit Karma (just click “show all” and scroll down to the SPG card). I’d actually recommend waiting until August/September when the sign-up bonus usually increases from 25K to 30K points.