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Marriott Bonvoy is already starting to feel like the new normal, for better or worse. While the February switch-over to the Bonvoy branding was mostly a cosmetic change, it coincided with a redesign/rename/rebrand of all the Marriott credit cards. To make matters even more confusing, just as five cards changed names, two of them closed to new applicants and the other three launched limited-time 100,000-point welcome offers.
If this is all just a bit confusing to you, I promise you’re not alone. I for one have pinned the following cheat sheets to my desktop until I actually learn to keep these new card names straight:
As part of these changes, the Marriott BonvoyTM American Express® Card closed to new applicants, leaving Chase to issue the entry-level consumer card, the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card, and Amex to issue the premium Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card.
Deciding between an entry-level and premium credit card is challenging enough on its own, but when those cards are issued by two different banks with different sets of application rules, the decision gets even harder. Today we’re going to try and demystify the decision and help you decide whether the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless card or the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card makes more sense for you.
Current Welcome Offers And Eligibility
The good news it that both cards are offering the same limited-time welcome bonus. New applicants can earn 100,000 Marriott points after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months. TPG values Marriott points at 0.8 cents each, making this bonus worth an even $800. You have a few different options for redeeming these points, including up to 16 nights at a Category 1 hotel or three nights at a Category 5 hotel, which I think is the best-value “sweet spot” redemption in the Bonvoy program.
The Amex Bonvoy Brilliant’s 100,000-point welcome bonus expires on Apr. 24, and the Bonvoy Boundless’ 100,000-point offer expires on May 16, so make sure to keep those dates in mind and apply before then to lock in this elevated offer.
Before you decide which card you want, it’s important to figure out which, if either, 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 card holder, or if you’ve received a bonus on those cards in the last 24 months.
Now here is where things get a little alarming. While 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 co-branded card family.
You won’t be eligible for a bonus on the Chase Marriott Bonvoy Boundless card if you…
- are a current card member, or were a previous card member within the last 30 days, of Marriott BonvoyTM American Express® Card (also known as The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express);
- are a current or previous card member of either Marriott Bonvoy BusinessTM American Express®Card (also known as The Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express) or Marriott Bonvoy BrilliantTM American Express® Card (also known as the Starwood Preferred Guest® American Express Luxury Card), and received a new card member bonus or upgrade bonus in the last 24 months; or
- applied and were approved for Marriott Bonvoy BusinessTM American Express® Card (also known as The Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express) or Marriott Bonvoy BrilliantTM American Express® Card (also known as the Starwood Preferred Guest®American Express Luxury Card) within the last 90 days.
While Amex doesn’t have a rule quite like 5/24, it does limit you to earning the welcome bonus on a given card 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™ from Chase, the Marriott Rewards®Premier Plus Credit Card from Chase, the Marriott Bonvoy™ Premier from Chase, the Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card from Chase, the Marriott Bonvoy™ Premier Business 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™ from Chase, Marriott Rewards®Premier Plus Credit Card from Chase, the Marriott Bonvoy™ Premier from Chase, the Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card from Chase, the Marriott Bonvoy™ Premier Plus Business 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 won’t 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 over nothing.
Premium vs. Entry-Level
When comparing an entry level 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…
|Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card||Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card|
|Welcome bonus||Earn 100,000 points after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months||Earn 100,000 points after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months|
|Annual fee||$95||$450 (see rates & fees)|
|Bonus categories||6x points on Marriott purchases, 2x everywhere else||6x points on Marriott purchases,3x at US restaurants and on flights booked directly with the airline, 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||$300 annual Marriott statement credit, valid on room rates and hotel charges
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 vs. $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 like dining or spa treatments, and I value it at face value. If you’re committed enough to Marriott to get its premium credit card you should have no problem using that credit up each year.
This drops the out of pocket cost on the Bonvoy Brilliant to $150 a year, and narrows our gap to $55 (note that this is the exact same math as in the Chase Sapphire Preferred vs. Chase Sapphire Reserve debate).
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. This roughly maps to a Category 5 and 6 hotel respectively, but once peak and off-peak pricing are introduced later this year, it will exclude Category 5 and 6 hotels under peak pricing.
On the surface, TPG values those extra 15,000 points at $120, much more than the difference in annual fees, but 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 like 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 elite status, but the Silver status that comes with the Bonvoy Boundless doesn’t get you much of anything beyond a 10% points bonus. Gold status from the Brilliant card, on the other hand, includes a 25% points bonus, room upgrades and a welcome gift. You can also upgrade all the way to Platinum status 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 also throws in 3x earning at US restaurants and on flights booked directly with the airline.
While the new Bonvoy names and designs are still a little confusing, the cards themselves are not. Once you’ve confirmed that you are in fact eligible to apply for either the Chase Bonvoy Boundless or Amex Bonvoy Brilliant, it’s easy to see that the Brilliant is the better call. Despite a higher upfront annual fee, the Brilliant offers much more 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.
For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex, click here.
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