With 75k Points, Is the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex Right for Families?

Feb 13, 2019

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As both a family award traveler and writer, I think a lot about which credit cards, destinations, airlines and award redemptions are of interest to families who want to travel more for less. Over the years, I’ve heard plenty of stereotypes about traveling families, and while there is some truth to those stereotypes (yes, Disney World is great for families!), there are other assumptions that I question. For example, with some regularity I hear that premium credit cards with $450+ annual fees simply aren’t for families and that families primarily want no annual fee credit cards.

Now in many cases, those statement are true and plenty of busy families will do great with a no annual fee rewards card that earns easy-to-use cash back (or miles), such as the Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card or Discover it® Miles. However, I do not fully given in to the assumptions that luxury credit cards aren’t for families. I certainly don’t believe that families can’t make use of award charts and get out-sized value from program-specific miles and points — just like travelers without kids. At the very least, those sentiments don’t hold true for my family. We recently enjoyed the heck out of stays at the St. Regis New York and the St. Regis Deer Valley using Marriott points when paid rates were thousands of dollars per night.

St. Regis Deer Valley

So, what about the renamed Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card? Is it a good match for families who like to travel using their points?

To those who are eligible, the shiny luxury card product awards a 75,000 point welcome bonus after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.. TPG values those 75k Marriott points at $600.

With a bonus bonus worth $600, why would anyone think this card isn’t for families? Most likely because of the hefty $450 annual fee that is not waived the first year (See Rates & Fees).

With day care expenses, diapers costs, groceries, saving for college, paying for soccer, etc. does it make sense for families to have a $450 per year credit card? Some say no. However, I say, maybe. In some cases, absolutely. Math doesn’t stop being math just because you have children, so let’s do some basic calculations on whether the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex makes sense for family travelers.

Summer Hull
St. Regis Bal Harbour

Welcome Bonus

As mentioned, the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex now has a new name (formerly the SPG Luxury Card) with a 75,000 point welcome bonus after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months. Those points are worth $600 based on TPG’s most recent valuation of Marriott points at 0.8 cents each. Also keep in mind that Amex has restrictions that will limit your ability to collect a new member bonus if you’ve had Marriott products from Chase. However, having another Marriott (formerly SPG) product from Amex shouldn’t automatically disqualify you. The good news is that a pop-up will tell you if you are not eligible for the bonus when you apply before Amex runs your credit.

Built-In Perks of the Bonvoy Brilliant

Frankly, the welcome bonus makes the card an attractive offer at $600 in value for a $450 annual fee, but there is much more to this story than just those one-time bonus points. Next to the welcome bonus, the two other most attractive elements of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card for families are the annual free night award and the $300 in annual statement credits.

  • 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 50,000-point valuation makes this free night award much more useful for families than the free night certificates that come with the other Marriott Bonvoy cards that are capped at 35,000 points. Since families often need to travel during peak times, it is not hard to get several hundred dollars in value from a 50k Marriott certificate. Some great places for families to use these certificates include: the on-property Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin, Delta Hotels Whistler Village and The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island. Any of those options can easily cost $200 to $300 or more per night, though, of course, be careful in valuing an award night above what you would have spent with cash.
Families can use the annual night award that comes with the SPG Luxury Amex at the Disney Swan or Dolphin (image courtesy of hotel)
Families can use the annual night award that comes with the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card at the Disney Swan or Dolphin (Photo courtesy of hotel)
  • $300 Statement Credit for Marriott Purchases — During each card member year (defined by when you opened the account), you receive up to a total of $300 in annual statement credits for Marriott purchases charged to your card. Since Marriott has confirmed that this credit applies not just to incidentals charged to the room, but also for room rates, this is almost as good as cash for families who spend at least $300 per year on Marriott stays. In fact, this annual $300 effectively drops the annual fee from $450 to $150 if you value the credit at a dollar-to-dollar rate.
Use your annual $300 credit at the Waikoloa Marriott and beyond.
  • Priority Pass Lounge Access — Priority Pass is pretty much “table stakes” for premium travel rewards cards these days. But if a family doesn’t already have a premium card with Priority Pass, then it is a pretty big deal. This card comes with a Priority Pass Select membership, which gives you and two guests unlimited access to more than 1,200 airport lounges worldwide and, perhaps more importantly, included meals up to a certain amount at a growing list of airport restaurants.
  • Application Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck — Again, these credits are standard for more premium rewards credit cards, but they also still have value for families where you have lots of application fees to keep up with. The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card will reimburse you when you charge the application fee for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck to the card (up to $100) once every four years. And remember, Global Entry includes PreCheck, so that’s the smarter choice — even if your family only travels international once every year or so.

The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex has other perks, too, but I don’t associate them with as high of a monetary value as those first few perks. The card offers automatic Marriott Gold status and the ability to earn Platinum status after spending $75k in a calendar year, should your family happen to spend a bunch on cards each year. The most valuable benefits of Gold status are upgrades to enhanced rooms and a 25% point bonus on hotel spending. In other words, it isn’t all that exciting, but is better than nothing.

Card holders receive free enrollment in the Boingo Preferred plan, which gets you unlimited access to over 1 million Wi-Fi hotspots at airports and other locations around the world on up to four devices. Card holders also receive 15 elite qualifying night credits per year. This does not stack with the nights you earn with other Marriott cards the way it did with the old SPG Amex cards though.

Earning and Redeeming Marriott Points

The Marriott 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 6 points per dollar at participating Marriott hotels, 3 points per dollar points at US restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines, and 2 points per dollar on all other purchases. With TPG’s recent valuations in mind, that’s essentially a return of 4.8% on Marriott purchases, 2.4% on restaurants and flights, and 1.6% on everyday spending, which isn’t earth-shattering, but also isn’t bad.

St. Regis Punta Mita
My girls enjoying life at the St. Regis Punta Mita.

Marriott points aren’t just for families who want to indulge at a St. Regis (though that is pretty fun). There are lots of opportunities to stretch your points at Category 1 and 2 hotels and utilize Marriott’s 5th Award Night Free benefit to get multiple award nights with those 75,000 bonus Marriott points. In fact, here are some of our favorite Category 5 Marriotts that are just 35,000 points per night.

Book this Le Meridien Bangkok Golf Resort for 12,500 Marriott points per night
Book this Le Meridien Bangkok Golf Resort for 17,500 Marriott points per night. (Photo courtesy of the hotel)

Marriott even allows you to book awards at Marriott properties in advance — even if you don’t have all the points you need just yet. If you’ve got your eye on the perfect redemption, you can book immediately without having the necessary points, spend with the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card and earn the points you need at least 14 days before check-in.

Living the life of luxury at the St. Regis New York
Living the life of luxury at the St. Regis New York.

Bottom Line: Is the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card Good for Families?

Do all of those credits and benefits justify the $450 annual fee for families? If you value the $300 annual Marriott credit at around face value and will get a minimum of $150 in value from the annual 50,000-point night certificate, then you come out at least even on the annual fee. The Marriott Gold elite status, Global Entry credit, Boingo plan, access to Amex Offers and more are the cherries on top. However, when you factor in the 75,000 welcome bonus points worth $600 by TPG valuations, this card becomes one that is worth it for families who spend at least $300 each year at Marriott properties.

Swimming the day away at the St. Regis Punta Mita
Swimming the day away at the St. Regis Punta Mita.

If the $450 annual fee just isn’t right for your family no matter what it includes, there are other Marriott cards that come with lower annual fees (and fewer perks).

While the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex, or any card with a $450 annual fee, is not the right match for everyone, there are plenty of family travelers who want to stay at nice resorts, can manage traditional award programs and will make use of built-in annual credit card benefits. Some won’t do all that, but for the ones who can, the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex may be worth a shot, especially with the 75,000-point welcome bonus.

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

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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.

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