With an increased 125k bonus, is the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex worth the $450 annual fee?
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information.
Among the many premium credit cards out there is the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card. This cobranded hotel credit card doesn’t offer automatic top-tier status and comes with a pretty high $450 annual fee (see rates & fees).
Is there any world in which that could possibly be worth it? With travel on the rebound, we wanted those find out.
The truth is, cobranded hotel cards usually aren’t the best for maximizing your spending beyond purchases with a given hotel chain. However, the annual award nights that come with these cards can be quite valuable. So when there’s one with an annual fee that rivals the likes of other premium cards, one of our first questions is always whether it’s worth it.
The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card proved that it’s possible to get outsized value from at least one premium hotel card by offering generous perks such as automatic top-tier elite status and weekend reward nights. But today, we’re going to see whether the same holds true for the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant.
The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
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125,000-point welcome bonus
In examining whether or not the card is worth it, let’s start at the top with the introductory welcome bonus offer.
The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex currently comes with a welcome bonus of 125,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months of card membership. That’s worth $1,000 based on TPG’s most recent valuations. But on top of that, the bonus also currently includes up to $200 in statement credits on eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants within the first six months.
Together, those components offer a pretty compelling bonus valued by TPG at $1,200 — and much higher than the previous bonuses that are usually in the 75,000 – 100,000 point range.
During normal times, some of the best uses of Marriott Bonvoy points include a free night at properties such as The Naka Island, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa, Phuket, the W Hollywood or The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne, Miami. Those who enjoy time on the powder may love ski-adjacent options at the St. Regis Aspen, St. Regis Deer Valley or Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch.
Alternatively, you could leverage Marriott’s 5th Night Free feature and get more than 10 free award nights at a mix of low-cost Category 1 and 2 hotels. If you’re looking to splurge, you could redeem 70,000-100,000 points for a night at the all-suite St. Regis Maldives, St. Regis Bora Bora or Al Maha Resort in Dubai.
Keep in mind Amex has restrictions that will limit your ability to collect a new member bonus if you’ve had Marriott products from Chase. Fortunately, there’s a pop-up that will tell you if you are not eligible for the bonus when you apply before Amex runs your credit — and our chart can help clarify things as well.
Annual free night award
Each year on your card-opening anniversary, you’ll receive a free night award worth up to 50,000 points. That’s enough to book a standard night at a Category 6 hotel or even an off-peak night at a Category 7 hotel.
In case you need some inspiration on what that can get you, you can use your 50k certificate for a stay at the W Shanghai, the Mykonos Theoxenia, soon-to-open Swan Reserve at Walt Disney World, J.W. Marriott Bonnet Creek or the Renaissance Aruba Resort and Casino.
$300 statement credit for Marriott purchases
This part is very straightforward: During each card member year (defined by when you opened the account), you’ll receive up to a total of $300 in statement credits for Marriott purchases charged to your card.
This credit applies not just to incidentals charged to the room, but also for room rates, so you should have no trouble maximizing this benefit and essentially drop the card’s annual fee to $150 if you stay with Marriott each year. Assuming you get more than $150 in value from the 50,000-point annual award night, the card quickly can tip to the worth-it category.
The card offers automatic Marriott Gold Elite status. Truthfully, that’s not great, but it’s better than nothing. The most valuable benefits of Gold status are upgrades to enhanced rooms and a 25% point bonus on hotel spending. The Platinum Card® from American Express also offers automatic Gold status (once you enroll), making this potentially duplicative if you have other premium travel cards.
However, what can be a bit more useful for those chasing a higher level of elite status is that the card also comes with 15 elite-qualifying night credits per year. So, if you’re chasing free breakfast, suite upgrades and all the other benefits that come with Platinum elite status, you’ll need just 35 nights, instead of 50 nights.
And as of 2020, this benefit does stack with the nights you earn with Marriott small business cards.
That means you could have 30 elite night credits from having a personal and a small business Marriott card, such as the Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card, which is pretty great.
Other built-in perks of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card include a Priority Pass Select membership, which gives you and two guests unlimited access to more than 1,200 airport lounges worldwide, as well as a $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit. While the Priority Pass membership is not a huge value-add if you already receive the benefit through other cards, if you already have Global Entry or PreCheck, you can use this credit to cover a friend or family member’s application fee. Enrollment required for select benefits.
The Bonvoy Brilliant’s earning structure is pretty similar to that of the other Marriott cards, but with two additional bonus categories: dining and airfare. Cardholders earn 6x points per dollar at participating Marriott hotels, 3x points per dollar points at U.S. restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines and 2x points per dollar on other eligible purchases.
Based on TPG’s valuations, that’s essentially a return of 4.8% on Marriott purchases, 2.4% on restaurants and flights, and 1.6% on everyday spending. Those rates aren’t earth-shattering, but also aren’t bad.
While it might not be the best card for everyday spending, there’s plenty of value to be had in the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card if you stay, or want to stay, at Marriott properties.
Aside from the increased welcome bonus (valid until May 12, 2021), ongoing perks such as the annual free night award and up to $300 statement credit can actually make the card pay for itself year after. If you are just getting started in reward travel or only plan to hold one credit card, this wouldn’t be our top pick, but for Marriott aficionados who will get good value out of the annual 50k certificate and welcome bonus, it can be worth it.
Application link: Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card — Earn 125,000 bonus points and an up to $200 statement credit with the limited-time bonus. The offer ends May 12, 2021.
For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex, click here.
Additional reporting by Summer Hull
Featured image by The Points Guy
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