Do SPG Amex Perks Outweigh Foreign Transaction Fees?
February 29, 2012

I got an email question from a reader named Karan about the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express (I figured it made sense since I was staying at an international Starwood property at the time, so I filmed the video response in the Atrium lounge at the Westin Dublin).

“I like the SPG card because when I pay for my stay, I get the base points, the Better by the Nights promotion, and SPG Platinum status bonus, and the bonus for using the SPG Amex. I have 18 nights in Europe coming up, all at Starwood properties. Do you feel the bonuses I get by using the SPG Amex  card sufficiently offset the 2.7% foreign transaction fee? I personally don’t but perhaps you had some insight.”

In case you can’t view the video, my short answer is:

No - don’t pay foreign transaction fees if you don’t have to. For my Westin Dublin stay, I’m using my Sapphire Preferred card because I still get two points per dollar spent (since a hotel stay qualifies for the 2x travel and dining bonus) and I still rack up a ton of Starpoints because I’m a Platinum member (3x base) plus I am staying for 3 nights so I get the 3x Better By the Night. I always recommend diversifying your point balances and not putting all of your points in one basket, so I like accruing Chase Ultimate Rewards points in addition to Starpoints.

However, if you don’t have a card with no foreign transaction fees, paying the 1.35 cents in fees per Starpoint earned isn’t horrible. I generally get at least 2-3 cents in value when I redeem Starpoints, so I’d personally outright buy them at 1.35 cents a piece. Additionally, you get Gold status after $30,000 in spend on the card, so if you need your international spend to hit that threshold, it might make even more sense to bite the bullet and use this card abroad.

I hope American Express decides to waive the foreign transaction fee on this card to make it more competitive. Until then I’ll be using my Sapphire Preferred card for all international travel spend!

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