The annual fees of some travel credit cards can make renewing tough to swallow. What if the credit card company was actually willing to not only offset an annual fee at renewal time but actually provide a credit greater than the annual fee? That happened to me this week.
I’ve had a Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) American Express card of either the personal or business type for about 7 years. For many years the card’s benefits remained stable (though there was an increase in the annual fee from $45 to $65 in 2010).
In August of this year though, American Express made some significant changes to the SPG Amex benefits and they also raised the annual fee from $65 to $95.
The Card’s Earning Structure Remained Unchanged, Offering the Following:
- Up to 5 Starpoints® for each dollar of eligible purchases at participating SPG hotels – that’s 2 Starpoints for which you may be eligible as a Card Member in addition to the 2 or 3 Starpoints for which you may be eligible as an SPG member
- 1 Starpoint® for all other purchases
Several Ongoing, Year-round Benefits Were Added in August 2015:
- Free Boingo internet access at over 1 million hotspots
- No foreign transaction fees
- Free in-room, premium internet access (booking requirements apply)
- Access to Sheraton Club Lounges (only for holders of the business version of the SPG AMEX)
Sheraton Club Lounge Access Can Be Quite Valuable
Patty and I used the last listed benefit extensively during our free award stay at the Sheraton Salzburg in Austria. Between beverages and snacks for the two of us, we saved $80-$100 over the course of three days. For travelers who stay at SPG hotels more than a couple times a year it’s potentially worth a lot more than that. On the other hand, travelers with SPG Platinum status will already receive access to Club Lounges. The free lounge access applies to award stays in addition to paid stays. Though we were pleased with the Club Lounge access I also realize that we don’t stay at Sheratons very often so replicating the situation we had in Salzburg is unlikely.
No Specific Reward for Renewing = Hard Push for Retention Offer
I do value SPG points higher than any other hotel or airline currency but I have always been disappointed by the card’s lack of renewal benefit. Whereas other cards, like the IHG Rewards Select card, offer a free night award when you renew the card, there is no renewal benefit of any kind with the SPG Amex.
Additionally, American Express’ annual Small Business Saturday program is being watered down this year for consumers. Whereas in the past a consumer could essentially get $20 or $30 free for each American Express card they held, this year there will be no payout for card holders.
So in the past, I’ve usually requested an annual fee waiver when the fee was charged each year. American Express sometimes provided a statement credit and other times offered me a few thousand SPG points. They always offered me just enough of an offset to the annual fee to make keeping the card worthwhile.
Would This Be the Year I Cancel the Card?
With the increased annual fee and mods to the Small Business Saturday program, I figured this might be the year I cancel the card. However, I never cancel a card without hearing out the bank on retention offers. My first call didn’t get me an offer but I learned the name of the group at American Express with the authority to issue retention offers – the Membership Consulting Department – and I got their direct phone number: 800-875-5592.
The Third Time’s a Charm
After a second unfruitful call (due to a computer system issue) I made a third call and it did the trick. The agent I spoke with first offered me a statement credit of $50, to partially offset the annual fee. I almost bit but caught myself and with a slight hint of disappointment in my voice asked if that was the absolute best offer he could provide. The agent did some more looking in the system and enthusiastically informed me that he had found an offer for a $100 statement credit. I told him that I would happily accept that offer and renew the card.
If the agent had stuck with the original $50 offer I would have renewed. With the change in benefits to the card in August, it’s worth about $50-$60 per year to me right now.
In the End, Renewing Wasn’t Just Free…I Got Paid $5 or $100, Depending on How You View It
So American Express actually paid me $5 to renew a card that many travelers feel is one of the best travel credit cards on the market, even with its $95 annual fee. Now obviously $5 isn’t going to get you much in 2015 but I’m thrilled to get the entire annual fee offset and then a few extra bucks included for good measure. The three calls took about 30 minutes in total. “Earning” $100 post-tax for a half-hour of work is a great deal in my book.
The $100 credit actually showed up in my American Express account online within two days of the phone call, which was very impressive.
The Signup Bonus Makes the SPG American Express Cards Appealing
Even if you don’t see long-term value in getting and keeping an SPG American Express card, you may want to consider obtaining a card for the signup bonus.
The 25k SPG points you’ll receive, if you meet the spending requirement, are worth approximately $550 per my valuations. If you’re persistent in searching for good uses of SPG points you can sometimes even get 4 or 5 cents of value per point.
To apply for the SPG American Express card, click here (I don’t receive any commission or reward).
To apply for the SPG American Express business card, click here (I don’t receive any commission or reward).
Have you received a retention offer from American Express recently? Share your experience or your questions in the comments below. Thank you for reading!