Marriott Bonvoy Boundless vs. Bonvoy Brilliant: Which card is right for you?

Oct 20, 2020

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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card

Editor’s note: This post has been updated with the latest information.

It’s been five years after Marriott and Starwood announced their merger and more than a year since the Marriott Bonvoy program was launched. While the switchover to the Bonvoy branding was mostly a cosmetic change, it coincided with a redesign, renaming and rebranding of all the Marriott credit cards.

As part of these changes, the Marriott Bonvoy™ American Express® Card closed to new applicants, leaving Chase to issue the mid-tier consumer card, the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card, and Amex to issue the premium Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card.

Deciding between a mid-tier and premium credit card is challenging enough, but when those cards are issued by two different banks with different sets of application rules, the decision gets even harder. This is even more so when both are offering elevated welcome offers or sign-up bonuses as they are now.

Today we’re going to try and demystify the decision and help you decide whether the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless or the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card makes more sense for you.

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Current welcome offers and eligibility

The first thing most of us look at when evaluating a new card is the welcome bonus. And, for better or worse, there’s no clear winner here.

The Bonvoy Brilliant is offering a limited-time elevated welcome offer of up to 125,000 Marriott Bonvoy points — you’ll earn 100,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 on your new card in your first three months, plus an additional 25,000 bonus points after your first anniversary of card membership. Additionally, you’ll get receive complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite status for the 2021 status year (offer expires Jan. 13, 2021).

The Bonvoy Boundless, on the other hand, is currently offering a sign-up bonus of five free nights (up to 50,000 points per night) after spending $5,000 in purchases in the first three months from account opening. In other words, this bonus is valued at up to 250,000 Bonvoy points (when redeemed for up to 50,000 per night, which includes up to Category 5 properties, as well as Standard redemption for Category 6 and off-peak redemption for Category 7).

TPG values Marriott points at .8 cents each, making these bonuses worth $1,000 and $2,000, respectively. However, TPG also values Platinum Elite status at $2,655, so depending on how frequently you stay at Marriott properties, the bonus on the Brilliant card may potentially be a lot more valuable to you. Likewise, if you stay at lower-category properties, the bonus on the Boundless card may be worth less.

The free night certificates offered by the Boundless are valid for one year from date of issuance, whereas the points earned with the Brilliant remain valid as long as you have activity in your account at least once every 24 months.

The W Atlanta Downtown is a Category 5 Marriott Bonvoy property. (Photo by Ethan Steinberg/The Points Guy)

Before you decide which card you want, it’s important to figure out which of these cards you’ll be eligible for. Let’s start with the Bonvoy Boundless. This card is subject to Chase’s 5/24 rule, so you’ll be automatically rejected if you’ve opened five or more credit cards in the last 24 months. You also won’t be eligible if you’re a current Marriott Bonvoy Boundless or Marriott Bonvoy Premier cardholder, or if you’ve received a bonus on those cards in the last 24 months.

Although there aren’t many major loyalty programs that have cobranded cards issued by two different banks (American Airlines is the only other one that comes to mind), Marriott limits bonus eligibility across the entire cobranded card family.

You won’t be eligible for a bonus on the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card if you fall within any of these categories:

  • A current cardmember, or a previous cardmember within the last 30 days, of Marriott Bonvoy™ American Express® Card (also known as The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express)
  • A current or previous cardmember of either Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card (also known as The Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express) or Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card (also known as the Starwood Preferred Guest® American Express Luxury Card), and received a new cardmember bonus or upgrade bonus in the last 24 months
  • Applied and were approved for Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card (also known as The Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express) or Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card (also known as the Starwood Preferred Guest®American Express Luxury Card) within the last 90 days.

Amex doesn’t have a rule like 5/24, but it does limit you to earning the welcome bonus on a given card to once per lifetime. So if you’ve already earned a bonus on the Bonvoy Brilliant or the former SPG Luxury Amex, you won’t be eligible for a new bonus. The offer terms also exclude the following Chase customers:

Welcome offer not available to applicants who (i) have or have had The Ritz-Carlton™ Credit Card from JPMorgan or the J.P. Morgan Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card in the last 30 days, (ii) have acquired the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card from Chase, the Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus Credit Card from Chase, the Marriott Bonvoy™ Premier Credit Card from Chase, the Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card from Chase, the Marriott Bonvoy Bold™ Credit Card from Chase, the Marriott Bonvoy™ Premier Plus Business Credit Card from Chase or the Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus Business Credit Card from Chase in the last 90 days, or (iii) received a new Card Member bonus or upgrade offer for the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card from Chase, Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus Credit Card from Chase, the Marriott Bonvoy™ Premier Credit Card from Chase, the Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card from Chase, the Marriott Bonvoy Bold™ Credit Card from Chase, the Marriott Bonvoy™ Premier Plus Business Credit Card from Chase or the Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus Business Credit Card from Chase in the last 24 months.

When you add up the 5/24 rule, Amex’s once-per-lifetime rule and the way Marriott limits eligibility, a large percentage of people who want one of these new Bonvoy cards might not be eligible. Especially with the confusing name changes, make sure to double and triple check the terms and conditions before applying so you don’t waste a hard credit pull for nothing.

Related: Am I eligible for a new Marriott Bonvoy card? This chart tells you yes or no

Premium vs. mid-tier

When comparing a mid-tier card to a premium version, it helps to frame the conversation in terms of whether the premium card offers enough extra value to justify its higher annual fee. Let’s meet our two competitors (terms apply):

Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card
Sign-up bonus/welcome offer Earn five free nights (up to 50,000 points per night) after spending $5,000 in purchases in the first three months from account opening. Earn up to 125,000 Marriott Bonvoy points. You’ll earn 100,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 in purchases in your first three months and an additional 25,000 bonus points after your first anniversary of card membership.

Plus, receive complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Platinum elite status for one year, between Feb. 1, 2021, and Jan. 31, 2022 (offer expires Jan. 13, 2021).

Annual fee $95 $450 (see rates and fees)
Bonus categories 6x points on purchases at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels, 2x everywhere else 6x points on purchases at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels; 3x at U.S. restaurants and on flights booked directly with the airline, and 2x everywhere else
Annual free-night certificate Free night worth up to 35,000 points Free night worth up to 50,000 points
Marriott Elite status Complimentary Silver Elite status. Earn Gold status by spending $35,000 a year Complimentary Gold Elite status. Earn Platinum by spending $75,000 a year
Perks 15 Elite Night Credits a year Up to $300 annual Marriott statement credit, valid on room rates and hotel charges

Up to $100 luxury property credit valid on eligible stays of two nights or more at Ritz Carlton and St. Regis hotels

15 Elite Night Credits a year

Assuming all else is equal and that you’re eligible to apply for both of these cards, the Bonvoy Brilliant has a $450 annual fee (see rates and fees) versus $95 for the Bonvoy Boundless. That means the Brilliant needs to provide at least $355 in incremental value to get our vote.

Let’s start with the most important benefit of most premium credit cards: the annual statement credit. In this case, the Brilliant offers a $300 annual credit on Marriott purchases that’s automatically applied to your account. This applies to room rates as well as other hotel charges such as dining or spa treatments, so we value it at face value. If you’re committed enough to Marriott to even consider getting its premium credit card, you should have no problem using that credit each year.

This annual credit effectively drops the out-of-pocket cost on the Bonvoy Brilliant to $150 a year, and narrows our gap with the Boundless to $55.

Related: What’s covered by the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant’s $300 credit?

Both cards offer a free-night certificate each year on your account anniversary. The Bonvoy Boundless free night is worth up to 35,000 points while the Bonvoy Brilliant’s is worth up to 50,000 points.

Ritz Carlton Cancun (Photo by Zach Griff / The Points Guy)

On the surface, TPG values those extra 15,000 points from the Bonvoy Brilliant at $120, much more than the remaining $55 difference in annual fees. However, if you dig into possible redemption options the gap gets even wider. It should be easy to get $400-500 from a 50,000-point free night, thanks to a number of luxury hotels such as the Ritz-Carlton Bali and Ritz-Carlton Cancun. The 35,000-point free night is still worth about $250-$300 if you redeem it well, but looking at the available properties you can see that it really is a full category lower.

At this point, you can stop and say that the Bonvoy Brilliant is the no-brainer choice as it pays for itself, but we’re not done yet. Both cards offer some form of automatic elite status, but the Silver Elite status that comes with the Bonvoy Boundless doesn’t get you much of anything beyond a 10% points bonus.

Gold Elite status from the Brilliant card, on the other hand, includes a 25% points bonus, room upgrades and a welcome gift (250 or 500 bonus points, depending on the brand). You can also upgrade all the way to Platinum status by spending $75,000 a year, though that might not be worthwhile. However, keep in mind that as a part of the current welcome offer, all new cardholders get complimentary Platinum status for 2021, unlocking perks such as upgrades to suites, free breakfast and lounge access. As previously mentioned, this could be worth more than $2,600 for frequent Marriott guests.

Both cards have similar bonus categories —  6x on Marriott purchases and 2x everywhere else — but the Brilliant card takes things up a notch by also throwing in 3x earning at U.S. restaurants and on flights booked directly with the airline.

Related: 5 ways to maximize free hotel night rewards in the new era of COVID-19

The Bonvoy Brilliant’s annual Marriott property credit helps make the card pay for itself. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

Bottom line

The Bonvoy credit card names are a little confusing, but the cards themselves are not. While both cards are offering enticing elevated welcome bonuses, once you’ve confirmed that you are eligible to apply for either the Chase Bonvoy Boundless or Amex Bonvoy Brilliant, it’s easy to see that the Brilliant is the better choice.

Despite a higher upfront annual fee, the Brilliant offers much more long-term value through annual statement credits, a valuable free-night certificate and better elite status. If you’re ready to commit to Marriott, it’s clear which card delivers a better return.

Ethan Steinberg contributed to this post.

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

Featured photo by The Points Guy

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

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.