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Comparing Canadian and U.S. SPG American Express (updated August 29, 2018)

There have been quite a few changes since my last post Comparing Canadian and U.S. SPG American Express; namely the merger between Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest. As a result, this post is definitely due for a major update.

One major change is that 1 Starpoint (in my previous post) is now worth 3 Marriott points. So we need to factor in this correlation if comparing to the old versions of the cards. However, for today’s post, I will focus on comparing the Canadian and U.S. version as they are currently, rather than worrying about the past.

Before we start the comparison, let’s take a look at the highlights of the four cards in question. Note that I left out the U.S. Starwood Preferred Guest Luxury Card from this post as there is no comparable Canadian version to refer to.

U.S. Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express

  • $95 annual fee (first year fee waived)
  • Earn 75,000 sign up bonus points (after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months)
  • Earn 6 points for every $1 spent at participating Marriot and SPG hotels
  • Earn 2 points on all other purchases
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after the Card account anniversary (redemption of up to 35,000 points)
  • Receive complimentary Silver Elite status with your Card.
  • Earn Gold Elite status after spending $30,000 in a calendar year (effective January 1, 2019, the spend threshold will increase to $35,000)
  • No foreign transaction fees

U.S. Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express

  • $95 annual fee (first year fee waived)
  • Earn 100,000 sign up bonus points (after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months) (if you apply before October 31, 2018)
  • Earn 6 points for every $1 spent at participating Marriot and SPG hotels
  • Earn 4 points for every $1 spent at U.S. restaurants, U.S. gas stations, U.S. wireless telephone services providers and U.S. purchases for shipping
  • Earn 2 points on all other purchases
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after the Card account anniversary (redemption of up to 35,000 points)
  • Receive complimentary Silver Elite status with your Card.
  • Earn Gold Elite status after spending $30,000 in a calendar year (effective January 1, 2019, the spend threshold will increase to $35,000)
  • Coming in 2019 – Receive 15 credit nights towards the next level of Elite status
  • No foreign transaction fees

Canadian American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card

  • $120 annual fee
  • No annual fee for supplementary cardholders
  • Earn 50,000 sign up bonus points (after spending $1,500 in the first 3 months)
  • Earn 5 points for every $1 spent at participating Marriot and SPG hotels
  • Earn 2 points on all other purchases
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after the Card account anniversary (redemption of up to 35,000 points)
  • Receive complimentary Silver Elite status with your Card.
  • Earn Gold Elite status after spending $30,000 in a calendar year

Canadian American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card

  • $150 annual fee
  • $50 annual fee for supplementary cardholders
  • Earn 50,000 sign up bonus points (after spending $1,500 in the first 3 months)
  • Earn 5 points for every $1 spent at participating Marriot and SPG hotels
  • Earn 3 points for every $1 spent on gas, dining and travel
  • Earn 2 points on all other purchases
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after the Card account anniversary (redemption of up to 35,000 points)
  • Receive complimentary Silver Elite status with your Card.
  • Earn Gold Elite status after spending $30,000 in a calendar year

I know it may not always seem fair to compare the Canadian card to the U.S. version seeing as their have 10 times the population. However, some Canadians cards have been relatively competitive to its U.S. counterpart. These type of posts do make me wish that our cards were better, but it also reminds me that they still offer decent value.

So let’s take a look at how the cards match up against each other.

Annual Fee / Free Award Night

$95 USD versus $120 CAD / $150 CAD is a close enough. The first year fee waived in the U.S. is really what makes a world of difference for many people deciding whether to sign up in the first place or not.

That being said, I am glad that they are now offering a Free Night Award stay every year, as well as obtaining Gold status (on $30,000 spend), which gives more incentive to retain this credit card beyond the first year!

Winner: U.S.

Sign Up Bonus

I am extremely disappointed with the Canadian version. The old SPG version of the card offered 20,000 sign up bonus Starpoints, so I was expecting to see at least 60,000 sign up bonus points (since Starpoints convert 1:3 Marriott points). Especially since the U.S. card went from 25,000 Starpoints to 75,000 Marriott points). I suspect we may see a “promotion” at some point with a 60,000 sign up bonus.

Winner: U.S.

Earning Ratios

The earning ratios are close enough. Even though the CAD is weaker than the USD, it may seem easier to argue that the Canadian version has a better earning ratio. But if the Canadian dollar keeps getting stronger, then the U.S. version will look way more attractive. So for this reason, the U.S. version gets the win.

Winner: U.S.

Spending Bonus

Spending $30,000 CAD versus $30,000 USD gives Canada the win in this category! It is benefits like this one that makes the Canadian card more competitive relative to the U.S. counterpart.

Winner: Canada

Foreign Transaction Fees

This is probably too much to ask for the Canadian version. If I had to choose, I would rather see them waive the first year annual fee. The U.S. version almost has no choice but to waive their foreign transaction fees to keep up with the competition.

Winner: U.S.

Conclusion

Overall, I think the Canadian version may have devalued for new customers signing up (i.e. lower sign up bonus and lower earning ratios). However, I do like the fact that they provide a free award night without a spending requirement, to give more incentive for people to retain their credit card beyond the first year. The previous $40,000 spending requirement was a little high.

As for the Americans, it seems to me that the U.S. Starwood Preferred Guest Luxury Card would be more ideal (for those who qualify), as it offers many more perks even with a $450 annual fee (e.g. $300 travel credit, Priority Pass, $100 Global entry, more extensive travel insurance).

I doubt we will see a premium version of the card in Canada any time soon.

24 Comments

  1. Thanks for the useful information. I understand that the Cobalt MR points can be converted to SPG and then to Aeroplan. Do you know if it’s still possible to do that and if it is, did they similarly devalue the transfer ratios?

    I like that the free night takes care of the annual fee.

  2. The Canadian version wins hands down in the earning ratios. The Canadian card earns 2 points per Canadian dollar, whereas the US card earns just over 1.5 points per Canadian dollar, and at Marriott properties it’s 5 points per Canadian dollar on the Canadian card and around 4.6 points per Canadian dollar on the US card.

  3. What have you found is the best way to apply for the US SPG Amex as a Canadian? Will Amex Global transfer work in this case… and still enable you to get the Welcome Bonus? Can you do Amex Global transfer on just a few of your cards, or does it have to be all of them?

  4. Thanks for this, Matt. If you travel to the US, this card remains a great value.

    Bottom line, cheap flights can be found if you do your homework, but if you are even just a little fancy about accommodations the SPG loyalty program is the best way to save on your overall vacation budget.

  5. You forgot to include comparisons of referral bonuses for the cards. I understand referral bonuses for the US cards are 15k and 20k points. Referral bonuses in Canada are zero, nada, zilch!

  6. @Other Matt
    Cobalt transfer ratios are 1 MR Select point to 1.2 Marriott Rewards point. Of course, 3 Marriot points translate to one airline mile, giving you 2.5 MR Select : 1 airline line point ratio

    So in essence, the old transfer ratio of 2 MR Select points for one SPG point to one airline mile was 25% better for Marriott conversions and for some airlines (Recall that it was 2 SPG points for United mile, for example, making it really horrendous to transfer to United). While converting 20K SPG to most other miles, however, you were getting 5K airline miles bonus, making the ratio in essence 8 MR Select to 5 miles.

    After the merger you can convert 50K MR Select points to 60K Marriott to 25K airline points (with Marriott 15K bonus), effectively giving you 2:1 ratio.

    So there you have it with Cobalt:
    Was: 2 MR Select points -> 1 SPG point -> 1 airline mile (for most airlines) (2:1 ratio)
    Is: 2.5 MR Select points -> 3 Marriot points -> 1 airline mile (2.5:1 ratio)

    Was: 40K MR Select points -> 20K SPG points -> 25K airline miles (1.6:1 ratio)
    Is: 50K MR Select points -> 60K Marriott points -> 25K airline miles (2:1 ratio) (27.5K if transferring to United)

    Now, old Marriott 270K Marriott points for 120K miles and cat 1-5 seven night certificate travel + hotel packages was where the money was:
    180K MR Select -> 90K SPG -> 270K Marriot -> 120K airline miles (132K if transferring to United) giving you 1.5:1 ratio (1.363:1 in case of United) if you kept and used the cat 1-5 hotel cert. If you traded that hotel cert back for 45K Marriott points, in essence making this package cost 150K MR Select, you were getting 1.25:1 MR Select to airline mile ratio. And transferring to United used to give you a 10% bonus, so you were getting 1.13636:1 MR Select to United ratio.

  7. You missed a big part of the business version card:

    You can earn 3 points for every $1 in Card purchases on eligible gas, dining and travel.

    Same earning ratio pre merger for these categories..

  8. Is the free night you get each year available in the first year, or only after the first anniversary and onward?

  9. I’m a Canadian living in US. Got my Chase Marriott premier plus (US version) CC in 2018. Do I need to change my residential address from US to Canada in Marriott Bonvoy account before applying the Canadian Amex SPG? Will I receive the welcome bonus?

    BTW, the welcome bonus of Canadian Amex SPG is 60k now.

    1. I think you may need a Canadian address. The requirements does say: “You are a Canadian resident and have a Canadian credit file.”

      Thanks for the heads up Nathan! I will be updating this information in future post.

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