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Is the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex worth the $650 annual fee?

Sept. 28, 2022
11 min read
Marriott Le Meridien Maldives
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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.

When a credit card's annual fee goes up by $200, many people will evaluate whether they think this new fee is worth it.

That's certainly the case with the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card — the premium card in the Marriott credit card family. Along with an announcement of several new and enhanced benefits on Sept. 22, we also saw the annual fee jump from an already-pricey $450 to an eye-catching $650 (see rates and fees).

The truth is, cobranded hotel cards usually aren’t the best for maximizing your spending beyond purchases with a given hotel chain. But when a credit card offers a premium free night award each year and elite status that can provide suite upgrades and free breakfast, people pay attention.

The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card proved that it’s possible to get significant value from at least one premium hotel card by offering generous perks such as automatic top-tier elite status and weekend reward nights. After all of these changes, let's 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.

Welcome bonus

In examining whether or not the card is worth it, let’s start with the introductory bonus offer.

With the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex, you can earn a welcome bonus of 95,000 Marriott Bonvoy bonus points after you use your new card to make $5,000 in eligible purchases within the first three months of cardmembership. TPG values Marriott points at 0.84 cents apiece, meaning this bonus is worth $798.

Some of the best uses of Marriott Bonvoy points include free nights at properties such as The Ritz-Carlton, Turks & Caicos, The St. Regis Bora Bora Resort, The West Hollywood Edition and the London Marriott Hotel Park Lane. Those who enjoy time on the powder may love ski-adjacent options at The St. Regis Aspen Resort, The St. Regis Deer Valley or The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch.

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Marriott recently removed its award charts in favor of a dynamic pricing system but is keeping 97% of hotels within their previous off-peak to peak pricing bands through the end of 2022 — meaning knowing how many points you'll need for a hotel in advance can be confusing at times.

Related: Marriott's dynamic award pricing is live — here’s what that means for travelers

Al Maha, a Luxury Collection Desert Resort and Spa near Dubai. ETHAN STEINBERG/THE POINTS GUY

Keep in mind that American Express 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 after your card renewal month, you’ll receive a free night award worth up to 85,000 points. Prior to Sept. 22, cardholders received a free night award worth up to 50,000 points, but this now has the potential to get you an additional 35,000 points in value.

In case you need some inspiration for what that can get you, this can include the luxurious St. Regis New York and St. Regis Deer Valley in the U.S., The Ritz-Carlton, Turks & Caicos for a Caribbean getaway, The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto in Japan or idyllic overwater bungalows at the St. Regis Bora Bora or The Ritz-Carlton Maldives, Fari Islands.

That said, due to the dynamic pricing mentioned earlier, you’ll want to do a calendar search for flexible dates in order to find nights that cost 85,000 points or less.

Related: 9 places to maximize the new 85,000-point Marriott award night certificate

The annual free night award has gone up significantly in value, but it's also worth pointing out that you can only use this award to stay for a single night. This could be challenging if you have plans for a stay of two nights or longer. If you maximize this award night and stay at a property costing 85,000 points, you have three less-than-ideal options for subsequent nights:

  • Pay 85,000 points from your Marriott balance.
  • Pay the cash fee (which can be quite high).
  • Move to a different hotel.

For this reason, people have differing opinions on the value of free night awards that are worth a single night at a luxury property.

See also: 5 reasons we prefer hotel points over free night certificates and Why I'm OK with earning free night awards instead of points with this card offer

The Ritz-Carlton Maldives, Fari Islands. CHRIS DONG/THE POINTS GUY

Up to $300 in dining credits per year

In the past, Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex cardholders had an easy-to-use annual credit for up to $300 to use on spending with Marriott-affiliated properties. On Sept. 22, this changed to monthly dining credits. While the maximum value per year ($300) remains the same, the credits are now given as up to $25 per month.

This means that the credits are now more complicated to use, as you need to remember to use them monthly rather than simply paying for hotel stays related to the hotel program affiliated with the credit card at any time during the year.

That said, just about everyone spends at least $25 per month at restaurants, so as long as you remember to use the credits each month, this can help to offset nearly half of the card's $650 annual fee (see rates and fees).

The Miami Beach Edition. NICK ELLIS/THE POINTS GUY

Elite status and related perks

The card now offers automatic Marriott Platinum Elite status (previously, this was only Gold). You should receive your upgraded status in less than two weeks, according to spokespeople for Amex and Marriott Bonvoy. In terms of Marriott's status tiers, this is the level where valuable perks start to kick in.

Platinum Elite members are eligible for late checkout and early check-in, when available, plus room upgrades based on availability at arrival — including eligibility for upgrades to suites. At the Platinum level, you also have access to welcome gifts at check-in and free breakfast at select properties.

Related: Your complete guide to Marriott elite breakfast benefits

For comparison's sake, TPG values Platinum Elite status at more than $1,600 per year higher than the Gold Elite status previously offered on the card.

Additionally, cardmembers receive 25 elite night credits in their Marriott Bonvoy account each year (previously this was 15 credits). This happens automatically for cardholders and can accelerate your path to status with Marriott. In fact, some customers woke up with higher elite status when this change was implemented on members' accounts.

Note that you can only earn one set of elite night credits from personal Marriott cards, regardless of how many you have. However, this benefit can stack with the 15 elite night credits given to cardholders of a Marriott business card — like the Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card. This allows you to start each year with 40 elite night credits already in your account.

You'll need 50 elite night credits in a calendar year to qualify for Platinum Elite status and gain access to a Choice Benefit, which could be extra elite night credits or suite upgrade requests, among other options. These 40 elite night credits put you more than halfway to Titanium Elite status, as well.

It's worth clarifying that cardholders of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex do have Platinum Elite status automatically, but cardholders still only start the year with 25 elite night credits from this card. You'll need another 25 elite night credits to qualify for a Choice Benefit selection at 50 nights, and you'll need another 50 elite night credits to reach Titanium Elite status. Despite having Platinum Elite status, cardholders won't start with 50 nights in their accounts each year.

For simplicity, it may be easiest to think of this as "Platinum status on paper only." You'll get the benefits when staying at a hotel, but you don't have the stay credits associated with it in your count until you actually earn them.

Related: Points of View: Which credit card should you use for Marriott stays?

If you don't reach the 50-night threshold for an annual Choice Benefit via staying at Marriott hotels, you can gain access to a similar perk through credit card spending on your Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex. After spending $60,000 on the card within a calendar year, cardholders can choose from one of the following:

  • Five Suite Night Awards.
  • An 85,000-point free night reward.
  • $1,000 off a mattress or box spring from Marriott Bonvoy Boutiques.

Certain hotels have resort fees.

Related: These are the best Marriott credit cards


Other perks

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 an up-to-$100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit. The Priority Pass membership is not a massive value-add if you already receive the benefit through other cards. However, if you already have Global Entry or TSA PreCheck because you received it for free with another credit card, you can use this credit to cover a friend’s or family member’s application fee. Enrollment is required for select benefits.

The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex’s earning structure is similar to the other Marriott cards, but with two additional bonus categories: dining and airfare. Cardholders earn 6 points per dollar on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program, 3 points per dollar at restaurants worldwide and on flights booked directly with airlines, and 2 points per dollar on other eligible purchases.

Based on TPG’s valuations, that’s essentially a return of 5.04% on Marriott purchases, 2.52% on restaurants and flights and 1.68% on everyday spending. Those rates aren’t earth-shattering but aren't bad for a cobranded card.

Related: Earn bonus Marriott points on your Uber rides and food delivery orders


Bottom line

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 frequently stay in Marriott properties and place value in the elite perks the card offers. In fact, it may be a no-brainer for the program's most loyal guests.

However, those perks come at a cost. The annual fee has increased by $200, one of the main benefits on the card has become more complicated to use and the status doesn't provide access to annual Choice Benefits for those who value them.

Depending on how you value the updated benefits, you could love the status, dining credits and more valuable free night award. You may also think the annual fee is too much because you don't see yourself maximizing the refreshed benefits.

Official application link: Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card with 95,000 Marriott Bonvoy bonus points after you use your new card to make $5,000 in eligible purchases within the first three months of cardmembership.

For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex, click here.

Additional reporting by Ryan Wilcox, Summer Hull, Jennifer Yellin and Benji Stawski.

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.