Credit card showdown: Deciding between the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless and Bonvoy Brilliant
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If you’re in the market for a new card, you may be torn between the mid-tier Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card issued by Chase and the premium Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card, specifically.
Deciding between a mid-tier and premium credit card is challenging enough. But in particular, when two different banks issue those cards with different sets of application rules, the decision gets even harder. This is even truer when both offer elevated welcome offers or sign-up bonuses as they are now.
Today we’re going to demystify the decision and help you decide whether the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless or the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card makes more sense for you given their current offers.
Current welcome offers
The first thing most of us look at when evaluating a new card is the welcome offer, or intro bonus, and both these cards currently field phenomenal ones.
Now through Nov. 3, 2021, the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant is offering 150,000 Marriott Bonvoy points plus a bonus free night award worth up to 85,000 points after using your new card to make $5,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening. That’s up to a potential total of 235,000 points in value.
For its part, now through Nov. 3, 2021, Marriott Bonvoy Boundless is offering a sign-up bonus of 125,000 bonus points and a bonus free night award worth up to 50,000 points after spending $5,000 on purchases within the first three months. That’s a total potential value of up to 175,000 bonus points.
TPG values Marriott points at 0.8 cents each, making these bonuses worth a whopping $1,880 and $1,400, respectively — with the same amount of spend required.
They can be worth potentially much, much more depending on where you redeem those free night awards, though.
Consider, the Brilliant’s bonus free night is worth up to 85,000 points, which opens up pretty much any hotel in the Marriott Bonvoy roster since, although peak nights at a Category 8 hotel hit 100,000 points, you can usually find off-peak or standard awards at the same hotels for 70,000 or 85,000 points, respectively. For example, a night at the popular Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua on Maui costs between 70,000 or 85,000 nights most dates this fall and winter, whereas paid rates on the same nights start at a jaw-dropping $1,381 per night.
Likewise, a bonus free night award worth up to 50,000 points should work for a lot of dates at Category 6 hotels like the Avalon Hotel Beverly Hills, or for off-peak dates at Category 7 hotels like the Wailea Beach Resort (also on Maui), where award rates this far dip to 50,000 points, but paid rates are over $800 per night.
Although it seems pretty clear cut which offer is better — the higher one, of course — it’s not quite so cut-and-dried as all that.
Before you decide which card you want, it’s important to figure out which of them you’ll actually be eligible for. 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), but Marriott is one of them, and it limits bonus eligibility across the entire cobranded card family with both its issuers: Amex and Chase.
Let’s start with the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless. This card is subject to Chase’s 5/24 rule, so you’ll probably automatically be rejected if you’ve opened five or more credit cards in the last 24 months.
Next, you will not 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.
What’s more, you won’t be eligible for a bonus on the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless if you fall within any of these categories pertaining to Amex’s Marriott cobranded stable:
- A current cardmember, or a previous cardmember within the last 30 days, of the Marriott Bonvoy™ American Express® Card (also known as The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express).
- A current or previous cardmember of either the 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 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.
Brilliant vs. Boundless
When comparing a mid-tier card to a premium version, it helps frame the conversation regarding 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|
|Welcome offer||Now through Nov. 3, 2021, earn 125,000 bonus points and a bonus free night award worth up to 50,000 points after spending $5,000 on purchases within the first three months.||Now through Nov. 3, 2021, earn 150,000 Marriott Bonvoy points plus a bonus free night award worth up to 85,000 points after using your new card to make $5,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening.|
|Annual fee||$95||$450 (see rates & fees)|
|Bonus categories||6x on purchases at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels
2x on other eligible purchases
|6x on purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program
3x at U.S. restaurants and on flights booked directly with the airline
2x on other eligible purchases
|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 by spending $35,000 on purchases in a calendar year||Complimentary Gold Elite status. Earn Platinum by spending $75,000 on purchases in a calendar year|
|Perks||15 elite night credits a year||Up to $300 in annual Marriott statement credits, valid on room rates and hotel charges
Up to a $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
Which should you get?
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. With the elevated sign-up bonus with the Bonvoy Boundless, TPG values the sign-up bonus from the Brilliant by an additional $480, which makes up for that annual fee. But the Brilliant offers several other value-added benefits, too.
Annual statement credit
Let’s start with the most important benefit of most premium credit cards: the annual statement credit. In this case, the Bonvoy Brilliant offers an up to $300 annual credit on Marriott purchases that’s automatically applied to your account (for use at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program). This is valid on room rates and other hotel charges such as dining or spa treatments, so we value it at face value. If you’re committed enough to Marriott even to 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 at that point.
Annual free nights
In addition to those higher-valued free night awards each card is offering as part of its current intro bonus, both cards also include 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.
On the surface, TPG values the extra 25,000 points from the Bonvoy Brilliant’s annual free night at $200. However, as we mentioned above, it should be easy to get $400-$500 from a 50,000-point free night, or more, thanks to a number of luxury hotels such as the Ritz-Carlton, Bali and Ritz-Carlton, Cancun where you could potentially book a night using it. The Boundless’s 35,000-point free night is still worth about $250 to $300 if you redeem it well, but looking at the available properties you can see that it really is a full category lower.
Automatic elite status
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.
On the other hand, Gold Elite status from the Brilliant card 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, which unlocks perks such as upgrades to suites and free breakfast by spending $75,000 a year, though that might not be worthwhile.
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.
At this point, you’ll have to assess how often you stay at Marriott properties and if you’re able to put in the work to maximize the free night certificates to determine which card is the better choice for you. Despite a higher upfront annual fee, the Brilliant offers much more long-term value beyond the welcome offer through annual statement credits, a valuable free night certificate and better elite status.
That said, if you’re not fully ready to commit to a high fee, there’s still incredible value to be had with the Boundless and its current sign-up bonus.
The Bonvoy credit card names are a little confusing, but the cards themselves are not. While both cards are offering enticing elevated bonuses, once you’ve confirmed that you are eligible to apply for either the Chase Bonvoy Boundless or Amex Bonvoy Brilliant, the choice comes down to your travel habits and how often you’ll stay at Marriott properties in the future.
Additional reporting by Stella Shon and Eric Rosen.
For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex, click here.
Featured photo by The Points Guy.
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