Free nights and easy status: Here’s why I have 4 Marriott Bonvoy credit cards
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with the latest information.
While it’s been several years since the Marriott-Starwood merger was completed, many people still have the same hotel credit cards they held pre-merger — including the legacy Chase-issued Marriott cards and American Express-issued Starwood Preferred Guest cards (though all have since been rebranded under the Marriott Bonvoy name).
Even after the merger, both Chase and Amex continued to issue Marriott cobranded cards. While some, like the Marriott Bonvoy Amex and the Chase Ritz-Carlton Card, have since closed to new applicants, the following cards are still accepting new applications:
- Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card.
- Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card.
- Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card.
- Marriott Bonvoy Bold Credit Card.
While there are slight differences among these cards, there are also a lot of similarities.
For example, except for the no-annual-fee Bonvoy Bold card, all the Bonvoy credit cards earn the same 6 points per dollar at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program, whether you have the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless or the premium Bonvoy Brilliant.
Each card also offers 15 elite night credits each year. What’s more, Marriott now allows you to earn up to 30 elite nights from credit cards per year, but you can only stack them by adding one set of 15 night credits from any personal cobranded card and one set of 15 night credits from any business cobranded card. So carrying the right combination of Marriott cards can get you to Marriott Platinum status in a hurry. You can also earn one night’s credit towards elite status for every $5,000 you spend on purchases with the Marriott Boundless card.
Given the redundancy in these cards’ benefits, many people might think they only need one Bonvoy credit card in their wallet. Here’s why I disagree and happily pay the annual fee on not two or three, but four different Bonvoy credit cards each year.
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Elevated sign-up bonuses/welcome offers
Before we dive in, I want to highlight the current welcome bonuses on the Marriott Bonvoy cobranded credit cards.
- Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card: Earn 75,000 Marriott Bonvoy bonus points after you use your new card to make $3,000 in eligible purchases within the first three months of card membership. $450 annual fee (see rates and fees).
- Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express Card: 75,000 bonus points after you use your new card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first three months of cards membership. Terms apply. $125 annual fee (see rates and fees).
- Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card: Earn 5 Free Nights (each night valued up to 50,000 points) after you spend $5,000 in the first three months from account opening.
- Marriott Bonvoy Bold Credit Card: Earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 on purchases in your first three months from account opening.
Elite status shortcut
As a Marriott Bonvoy Titanium Elite, I plan my travels from start to finish on Marriott.com.
I currently have four Bonvoy credit cards — three from Amex and one from Chase — and I’d happily get more if I were allowed. Most of these cards sit on my desk and don’t see much sunlight (although I do put a good amount of spending on my Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex), but there are two main reasons that I’m happy to pay the annual fees year after year.
The first reason has to do with the elite-night stacking policy I mentioned above, where you can earn up to 30 elite night credits from credit cards each year. Receiving 30 elite night credits automatically each year qualifies you for Marriott Gold Elite status right off the bat (if you didn’t already have it from holding a card such as the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card or The Platinum Card® from American Express; (enrollment is required).
But better yet, if you’re getting 30 elite night credits each year, that means you only need to stay 20 nights in Marriott Bonvoy hotels (averaging out to between one and two nights each month) to reach even higher Marriott Platinum status.
This is where the benefits really start to get good, including a 50% points bonus on stays and purchases with Marriott, a good chance at room upgrades, free breakfast, and more. I’ve been very pleased with how I’ve been treated as a Marriott elite member, which makes Platinum status and its wonderful world of benefits very accessible to the average traveler.
Award night certificates
One of the other reasons it makes sense for me to carry four Marriott cobranded cards is that each one affords me an annual free night.
Each Bonvoy credit card offers an anniversary award night worth up to 35,000 points, except for the Bonvoy Brilliant, which has an anniversary award night is worth up to 50,000 points (we’ll come back to that in a minute), and the Marriott Bonvoy Bold Credit Card, which doesn’t offer an award night. These award nights are valid at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program (certain hotels have resort fees) and awarded after the card renewal month.
Due to upcoming Marriott Bonvoy program changes, members will soon be able to “top up” these award nights with up to 15,000 points each, meaning those 35,000-point nights might be worth up to 50,000 points, and the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant’s 50,000-point night could be worth up to 65,000 points, depending on your strategy. For now, though, let’s just look at their base value.
35,000-point award night certificate
TPG values Marriott points at 0.8 cents each, meaning that a 35,000-point award night is roughly worth $280. Compare that to the annual fees on these mid-level cards, ranging from $95 to $125. If you ignore every other perk of these cards and only focus on the annual award night, you’re getting twice as much value as you’re spending on your annual fees.
Due to Marriott’s imminent changes, where it will be moving away from award charts with fixed redemptions based on categories to a more dynamic pricing model, it’s going to get harder to predict where these certificates will come in handy. Right now, though, 35,000 points puts you roughly in the middle of a Category 5 redemption, and that should remain somewhat consistent in the near term.
Even if you are not traveling extensively right now, it’s still very easy to get a great return for these certificates. Take, for instance, the W Chicago – Lakeshore. Room rates there regularly top $200 per night, but cost just 30,000-35,000 points on most nights.
When you add in the suite upgrades, bonus points, and the award breakfast I get as a Titanium Elite, my actual value ends up being a few hundred dollars above whatever the cash rate would have been. If you’re telling me I can pay around $100 a year for a hotel stay that would cost around $500 if paid with cash, that’s just a no-brainer.
This is also why I concentrate a lot of my spending on my Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express Card, often choosing to use it for everyday spending even if it’s not the card in my wallet with the highest earning rate.
I know that if I spend $60,000 a year on the card I’ll get an extra 35,000-point award night certificate, and while that’s worth $280 based on TPG’s valuations, I’m personally likely to get $400-$500 in value from it.
50,000-point award night certificate
The same logic applies to the Bonvoy Brilliant, although there is one extra step involved.
That card carries a $450 annual fee and offers an up to 50,000-point annual award night (note that certain hotels may also have resort fees). After the Marriott changes go into effect, this certificate could be topped up to as many as 65,000 points, though.
The card also comes with up to $300 in Marriott property statement credits each card membership year, valid on room rates and incidental charges such as food and drinks at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program. This is as good as cash to me and drops the out-of-pocket cost on the card to $150. In exchange for that, you get an award night, which TPG values at $400 but can potentially be worth a lot more.
Those 50,000 points unlock many more luxury properties, including Ritz-Carlton and St. Regis hotels. For instance, the Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain outside of Tucson, Arizona, posts room rates that regularly top $700 for which you could redeem a 50,000-point credit card award night instead.
I have personally used my 50,000-point award night certificate to stay at the St. Regis Langkawi in Malaysia, booking a room that would have otherwise cost $650. We were then upgraded to a massive suite with a private pool and cabana and enjoyed one of the best hotel breakfasts I’ve ever had — all without paying a dime for the stay.
To me, the Marriott Bonvoy credit cards are some of the easiest ones to keep open year after year thanks to a few key benefits they offer that more than offset their annual fees. Their annual award nights plus the elite status I can attain by stacking credits from each mean I can count on a few free stays and value-added perks like free breakfast and upgrades year after year. That’s why I’ll continue to carry four Marriott Bonvoy cards for years to come.
Additional reporting by Chris Dong, Benji Stawski, Madison Blancaflor, Christina Ly and Eric Rosen.
Featured photo courtesy of the Prince de Galles Paris/Marriott.
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