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 Preferred Guest 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 SPG 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 between 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 6x points 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, and in a policy change last year, Marriott now allows you to earn up to 30 elite night credits from credit cards a year: one set of 15 credits from any personal card and one set of 15 credits from any business card — which can get you to Marriott Platinum status in a hurry.
Given the heavy overlap and redundancy in benefits, many people might think they only need one Bonvoy credit card in their wallet — but I disagree with that approach. Here’s why I happily pay the annual fee on 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 bonus points after you spend $3,000 in purchases within the first three months of card membership. Plus, earn up to $200 in statement credits for eligible purchases made on your new card at U.S. restaurants within the first six months of card membership. Terms apply. $450 annual fee (see rates and fees).
- Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express Card: Earn 75,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after you use your new card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first three months. Plus, earn up to $150 back in statement credits on eligible purchases made on your new Card within the first three months of card membership. Terms apply. $125 annual fee (see rates and fees).
- Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Card: Earn three free nights (each night valued up to 50,000 points) after spending $3,000 on purchases in your first three months from account opening.
- Marriott Bonvoy Bold Credit Card: Earn 30,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the 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 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 policy change I mentioned above, where you can now earn up to 30 elite night credits from credit cards each year: 15 from any personal Marriott card and 15 from any business Marriott card. Having 30 elite night credits automatically qualifies you for Marriott Gold Elite status (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 required).
But better yet, if you’re getting 30 elite night credits each year, that means you only need to stay 20 nights in a hotel (or between one and two nights each month) to reach Marriott Platinum status. It’s actually even fewer nights in 2021 (more on that below).
This is where the benefits really start to get good, including a 50% points bonus, suite upgrades at most properties, 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.
2021 shortcut to elite status
Earlier this year, Marriott announced it was making it easier to earn elite status in 2021.
It deposited elite night credits into members’ accounts, amounting to 50% of the nights required for the status they earned in 2019. For Marriott Bonvoy credit cardholders, these additional nights are on top of the ones awarded from eligible Marriott Bonvoy credit cards.
|ELITE STATUS TIER EARNED IN 2019||ANNUAL TIER REQUIREMENTS||50% ELITE NIGHT CREDITS DEPOSIT|
|Ambassador Elite||100 qualifying nights and $20,000 stay spend||50 elite night credits|
|Titanium Elite||75 qualifying nights||38 elite night credits|
|Platinum Elite||50 qualifying nights||25 elite night credits|
|Gold Elite||25 qualifying nights||13 elite night credits|
|Silver Elite||10 qualifying nights||5 elite night credits|
|Member||Not applicable||Not applicable|
Free night certificates
Even before Marriott doubled how many elite night credits you could earn from credit cards last year, I was addicted to my Bonvoy cards for the annual free night certificates they offer.
Each Bonvoy credit card offers an anniversary free night worth up to 35,000 points, except for the Bonvoy Brilliant, which 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 a free night. Free night rewards are valid at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program (certain hotels have resort fees).
35,000-point free night certificate
TPG values Marriott points at 0.8 cents each, meaning that a 35,000-point free night is roughly worth $280. Compare that to the annual fees on these entry-level cards, ranging from $95 to $125. If you ignore every other perk of these cards and only focus on the annual free night, you’re getting twice as much value as you’re spending on your annual fees.
Those 35,000 points roughly map over to Category 5 on the Marriott award chart (excluding Category 5 peak rates). I think Category 5 is the best sweet spot in the entire award chart, and I have no problem getting $300 or more out of these 35,000-point free nights at some of my favorite properties in the Marriott portfolio, such as the Mira Moon Hong Kong. But even if you are traveling domestically right now and are looking for a family-friendly property, it’s still really easy to get a great return for these certificates.
At the Sheraton Grand Sydney Hyde Park …
When you add in the suite upgrades, bonus points and free breakfast I get as a Titanium Elite, my actual value ends up being a few hundred dollars above whatever the cash rate would’ve been. If you’re telling me I can pay around $100 a year for a hotel stay that would cost over $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 free 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 free 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 anniversary free night (certain hotels have resort fees). You also get 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 a free 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. One surefire way to max out this free night would be to book the Mykonos Theoxenia, which sells for over $750 during peak season. If you have Marriott elite status, the benefits you get at a high-end property will also be worth more.
I have used my 50,000-point free night certificate to stay at the St. Regis Langkawi in Malaysia, booking a room that would’ve 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.
I can make the case to do so by ignoring 99% of the card’s functionality and just focusing on the annual fee, the elite night credits and the free night certificate you receive. When you add back in the other perks like bonus categories, Marriott elite status and more, the scales tip even further in favor of holding multiple Bonvoy cards.
Chris Dong, Benji Stawski and Madison Blancaflor contributed to this post.
Featured photo courtesy of the Prince de Galles Paris/Marriott.
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