INSIDER SECRET: Even if you’re not a frequent Marriott traveler, it’s easy to recoup your annual fee through the free night certificate most of the Bonvoy credit cards offer.
At the moment, Marriott offers four credit cards (though there are other Marriott cards that have been closed to new applicants). Every card except the new no annual fee Marriott Bonvoy Bold Credit Card offers an anniversary free night certificate, which can potentially be worth several hundred dollars. However, picking the right combination of welcome bonuses, annual fees, and perks is tricky. Even more important is deciding which issuer to apply for, Chase or Amex. Today we’re going to take a deep dive through Marriott’s credit card offerings and help you decide which one is right for you.
Marriott Bonvoy Welcome Bonuses & Annual Fees
It’s time to meet our competitors!
The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express® Card is the most premium card in the Bonvoy portfolio with a $450 annual fee (See Rates & Fees). The current welcome offer is 75,000 Marriott points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months. That’s a pretty decent offer, but that alone doesn’t differentiate the Bonvoy Brilliant from any of the entry level cards.
Next up is the Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express® Card, with an annual fee of $125 (See Rates & Fees). The Bonvoy Business has the exact same welcome offer as the Brilliant, with new applicants earning 75,000 Marriott points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months.
Moving over to the Chase side of things, we have the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card which is the entry level option for those not interested in a business card. The annual fee is $95, and the sign-up bonus is, you guessed it, 75,000 Marriott points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months.
Last but not least, Marriott just introduced a new no annual fee card, the Marriott Bonvoy Bold Credit Card. While the lack of an annual fee is nice, this card is watered down in a lot of ways. The current welcome bonus is 50,000 Marriott points after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months.
With three of the four cards offering the exact same bonus, the intro offer alone won’t be enough to sway you one way or another. What you need to consider here is the application rules each issuer has, including the Chase 5/24 rule (which means you won’t be approved for Chase travel cards if you’ve opened five or more personal credit cards in the last 24 months) and Amex’s rule that you can only get the bonus on each credit card once per lifetime.
Unfortunately, the complications don’t stop there: Chase and Amex have teamed up to share customer data and restrict new applications even further. For example, you aren’t eligible to apply for the Bonvoy Brilliant Amex if you’ve held the Chase Ritz-Carlton card (issued by Chase) in the last 30 days, have acquired the Bonvoy Boundless (from Chase) in the last 90 days, or received a welcome bonus on the Bonvoy Boundless in the last 24 months (note that these terms and conditions have been edited for clarity, please make sure to double check the terms of the application yourself before applying!).
Annual Free Night Certificate
Free night certificates are the easiest way to justify paying the annual fee on a hotel credit card, and the Bonvoy family of cards is no exception. While the no annual fee Bonvoy Bold doesn’t offer a free night, the other three cards do.
The entry level Marriott Bonvoy Boundless and Amex Marriott Bonvoy Business each offer an anniversary free night worth up to 35,000 points, which maps over to a category 5 hotel or lower. I have no problem getting $300 or more in value out of these free nights, which makes it a no-brainer to keep paying the $95 or $125 annual fees (respectively). In the past year alone, here are some of the 35,000 point redemptions I’ve made and how much they would have cost in cash:
- W Chicago Lakeshore ($623)
- JW Marriott Chicago ($780)
- St. Regis Beijing ($344)
- W Atlanta Buckhead ($290)
35,000 points is enough to book some luxury brands, including many JW Marriott/Westin/W locations, and even a few Ritz Carlton and St. Regis hotels. If you pick and choose when to use your free night certificate, I would say that even the most casual traveler should be able to get $250 or more in value from it. You should have no problem getting a return of double what you pay in annual fees.
As you would hope from a premium credit card, the Bonvoy Brilliant free night certificate is much more valuable, worth up to 50,000 points (or most category 6 hotels). For me, that’s meant the following redemptions:
- Le Meridien Seychelles ($540)
- St. Regis Abu Dhabi Saadiyat Island ($332)
Again, the average traveler should be able to recoup the entire $450 annual fee just by using this free night certificate and not even accounting for the card’s other perks.
The math stops here. If the free night certificate, on its own, wipes out the annual fee you’re paying (and then some), then every other benefit these cards offer is just icing on the cake.
Welcome bonuses are only part of the credit card equation. You’ll also need a card with solid long term earning rates. Here are how the four Marriott cards stack up:
|Earning Rate||Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex||Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex||Marriott Bonvoy Bounddless||Marriott Bonvoy Bold|
|6x||Purchases at Marriott hotels||Purchases at Marriott hotels||Purchases at Marriott hotels||—|
|4x||—||US restaurants, US gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased directly from US service providers and US purchases for shipping||—||—|
|3x||US restaurants & flights booked directly with the airline||—||—||Purchases at Marriott hotels|
|2x||All other purchases||All other purchases||All other purchases||Travel purchases|
|1x||—||—||—||All other purchases|
As you can see, the three cards with annual fees are pretty similar. All earn 6 points per dollar at Marriott hotels and 2 points per dollar on everyday spending, meaning you can grow your Marriott balance pretty quickly by using these cards on a regular basis. The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant offers 3 points per dollar on US restaurants and airfare, but I’d rather put those purchases on my Chase Sapphire Reserve and earn more valuable transferable points instead. However, the bonus categories on the Amex Marriott Bonvoy Business are a great option for business owners.
While we haven’t even begun to discuss the premium perks that make the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant worth the annual fee (and then some), know that it’s possible to get similar earning rates without shelling out $450 a year in annual fees. The most important categories, everyday spending, and Marriott purchases, offer the same amount of bonus points for all three of the Marriott Bonvoy credit cards with annual fees.
Every Bonvoy credit card comes with 15 annual elite night credits, which is enough to get you automatic Marriott Silver elite status. You’re limited to one set of credits per Bonvoy account, so you can’t stack these together if you have multiple cards.
Meanwhile, Marriott Bonvoy Boundless and Marriott Bonvoy Business cardholders can upgrade to Gold status by spending $35,000 in a calendar year on the card. Gold status in the new program doesn’t offer all that much, so you should strongly consider whether this is the best use of your limited spending power.
The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card offers automatic Gold status to all cardholders with the ability to earn Platinum status by spending $75,000 in a calendar year. Gold is a nice step above Silver, but I don’t put too much weight into this perk since you can also earn automatic Marriott (and Hilton) Gold status with cards like The Platinum Card® from American Express.
Qualifying for Marriott Platinum status normally requires 50 elite nights a year, or 35 once you subtract the 15 credits you get. That’s not that much traveling in the grand scheme of things, and if you aren’t actually spending 35 nights a year in Marriott hotels, the benefits of Platinum status may be lost on you. In other words, Platinum status is very easy to earn if you travel even semi frequently.
Note: You won’t get your choice benefit (i.e. suite night awards) if you earn Platinum status by credit card spending instead of through actual hotel nights.
The bottom two rungs of status (Silver and Gold) don’t mean all that much in the new Bonvoy program. This is a nice perk to offer, but don’t expect it to revolutionize your travel experience.
Note that while many of these cards offer standard benefits like purchase protection or extended warranties, I’m going to focus on the unique ones to help you pick which Bonvoy card makes sense in your wallet.
The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant offers a $300 annual Marriott statement credit. That effectively drops your out of pocket cost in annual fees to just $150 for this card. This credit is valid on room rates and eligible property charges (like dining or drinks at the bar), and it’s as good as cash to me. All of a sudden “paying $150 a year” for the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant and its ultra premium free night seems like a no brainer, compared to paying $95-$125 for one of the other cards.
The Bonvoy Brilliant also offers two laughably ubiquitous perks: a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit and a Priority Pass select membership. I value these perks at absolutely $0 because I assume you already have them from a different card. While the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant is a compelling card, there’s no reason it should be your first premium credit card over a Chase Sapphire Reserve or AMEX Platinum.
Another unique perk of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card is the $100 luxury credit, valid on select stays of two nights or more at St. Regis and Ritz Carlton hotels. This credit is only valid if you book a specific rate, but the good news is the price will usually be close to the best available rate. The credit can’t be used for your room rate, but it can help you offset incidental costs like dining at some pricey properties.
Amex Bonvoy Business
While I don’t think spending $35,000 a year on this card to earn Marriott Gold status is a great return, I fully support anyone who can spend $60,000 a year on this card. Doing so will earn you an extra 35,000 point free night certificate, netting you several hundred dollars in additional savings. I’m actually actively working on this myself at the moment, which is why I use my Bonvoy Business Amex for all my Marriott stays. Ironically enough, there’s no incentive to use my premium Bonvoy Brilliant since the business card earns the same bonus multiplier and has this added bonus for big spenders.
Which Card Is Right For You?
I’m a firm believer that the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant offers the most compelling value of any of these cards, between its $300 annual Marriott property credit and 50,000 point free night. However, if you aren’t looking to pick up another premium card with a hefty annual fee, that’s okay. I think most people would be best off getting the Amex Bonvoy Business, even though it has a marginally higher fee than the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless. There are two reasons for this:
- You have the option to earn an additional free night each year along with helpful bonus categories that the Bonvoy Boundless doesn’t have
- Opening this credit card won’t count against your Chase 5/24 status. You can keep applying for valuable cards like the Chase Freedom Unlimited®
But what about this spanking new Marriott Bonvoy Bold? While I appreciate Marriott offering this option, I think this is the wrong choice for most people. The 50,000 point bonus isn’t worth wasting a 5/24 spot, the card’s earning rates are simply mediocre, and while you won’t pay an annual fee, you miss out on a ton of value year after year by not getting that free night certificate.
Picking the right Bonvoy credit card requires a number of balancing acts, between Chase and Amex, premium and entry level, personal and business, and more. While I understand that people are naturally hesitant about adding expensive premium credit cards to their wallet, I think the Bonvoy Brilliant is one of the most compelling card offers on the market. If you can use that $300 Marriott credit up fully each year, you’re essentially paying $150 for a luxurious free night that could easily be worth 3 times that.
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For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express® Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express® Card, please click here.
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