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Just a few years ago, a $450+ annual fee on a credit card seemed absolutely ludicrous to all but the heaviest spenders and most frequent travelers. Nowadays the premium credit card market is heating up with increased competition from both transferable points cards and cobranded airline and hotel credit cards. In order to attract customers, these cards are coming up with more creative and valuable perks, including the now ubiquitous Priority Pass Select membership, concierge services, travel/airfare/hotel credits and free hotel nights.

Now that the new Marriott Bonvoy loyalty program is in place, there are two types of annual free night certificates available on the company’s co-branded credit cards. The mass-market cards, such as the Marriott Bonvoy Credit Card from American Express (no longer open to new applicants) and the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card from Chase, offer a free night worth up to 35,000 points at each cardmember anniversary starting with the first one. On the other hand, the recently rebranded Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card offers a free night worth up to 50,000 points at each anniversary after the first year.

(Note that the Ritz-Carlton Rewards card also offers the same 50,000-point certificate, but that card is no longer available to new applicants).

The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card comes with a $450 annual fee (See Rates & Fees), and the free night certificate is one of the best ways to recoup that value. With that in mind, here are seven high-value redemptions for the free night certificate that comes with this premium card (and the Ritz-Carlton Rewards card). In compiling this list, I focused on three main factors:

  1. The brand of the hotel — specifically luxury brands like Ritz-Carlton and St. Regis — that are eligible for free night redemptions
  2. Average nightly rate, to make sure you’re getting a good redemption value
  3. Location and other unique amenities that can enhance your stay

If you have other top properties priced at 50,000 points or lower, feel free to share them in the comments section below.

Finally, if you don’t currently have the Bonvoy Brilliant card, now is a great time to add it to your wallet. It’s offering a 75,000 point welcome bonus after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months. This haul is worth $600 based on TPG’s most recent valuations, but if you save the points and use them in conjunction with the free night certificate you’ll get at your first account renewal next year, you could book three nights at the below properties and get even more value.

The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne, Miami

The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne in Miami. (Photo courtesy of the hotel)

Average cash rate: $400

Standard points rate: 50,000

Don’t let the name fool you. Although the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne is in fact located on Miami’s Key Biscayne, the hotel’s serene beaches face outward to the Atlantic Ocean. Key Biscayne was one of the later parts of Miami to be developed, so while the hotel provides easy access to Miami International Airport (MIA) and South Beach, it remains private and exclusive. As the only luxury resort on the island, it offers guests stunning ocean views or tropical island views in mofdern but luxurious accommodations. You can choose to dine on the beach, by the pool or at the on-site ice cream parlor to escape Miami’s heat.

Atlantis Royal Towers, Bahamas

Photo courtesy of Atlantis
The Atlantis complex in the Bahamas. (Photo courtesy of the hotel)

Average cash rate: $400

Standard points rate: 50,000

While this mythical hotel complex is starting to show its age, it’s still a dreamy vacation spot and a bucket list item for many travelers. Pros include the 141-acre Aquaventure water park, 11 pools, five miles of beaches, the Atlantis casino and endless dining options to suit every taste and budget. With cash rates routinely topping $500, this redemption can be an easy way to recoup your annual fee in one easy move.

Note that the less expensive Atlantis Coral Towers is a Category 5 property costing 35,000 points a night, meaning you can use your regular Bonvoy free nights to stay there.

W Shanghai

Photo courtesy of W Shanghai
The W Shanghai. (Photo courtesy of the hotel)

Average cash rate: $350

Standard points rate: 50,000

You haven’t seen Shanghai until you’ve seen it come to life at night, and the W Shanghai offers some of the best views of the city skyline. Although it bills itself as being on The Bund, it’s actually a few minutes north in the Hongkou district, and when TPG contributer Eric Rosen stayed there late last year, he actually appreciated not being surrounded by throngs of tourists. He also remarked how even the standard rooms were incredibly spacious at almost 500 square feet, but my personal favorite were the chopstick and dumpling pillows he found waiting on his bed.

W Shanghai bed 2
The accoutrements provided at the W Shanghai (Photo by Eric Rosen / The Points Guy).

With 374 rooms, 35 suites and a WET pool that attracts locals and tourists alike, this hotel should be high on your list for your next trip to Shanghai.

The Ritz-Carlton Bali

Photo courtesy of Ritz Carlton Bali
The Ritz-Carlton Bali. (Photo courtesy of the hotel)

Average cash rate: $500+ (highly seasonal)

Standard points rate: 50,000

Although Bali can be a painfully expensive hotel market (it’s not unusual for this property to go for $700 or even 800 a night), Marriott decided to classify it as Category 6 and thus make it eligible for Bonvoy Brilliant free night certificates. Located in the upscale Nusa Dua area, all 313 “rooms” at this property are either suites or villas, and almost all of them feature private plunge pools. With six on-site dining options and a seemingly endless stretch of pristine beach, guests are sure to never get bored. However, the property also provides unique options for those looking for more structure in their day. The Ritz-Carlton offers a unique impact program that allows guests to give back to the local community through various service programs, which are perfect for a meaningful family vacation or team building activities at your next corporate event.

The Ritz-Carlton Cancun

The Ritz-Carlton Cancun. (Photo courtesy of the hotel)

Average cash rate: $370

Standard points rate: 50,000

A little closer to home, The Ritz-Carlton Cancun blends high-end luxury with exotic touches of history. Relax and unwind on the pristine white sand beaches, or venture off-site to explore the Mayan ruins at Tulum and Chichen-Itza. Spice up your stay with a Cirque Du Soleil ticket package, or spend your time snorkeling and diving through the pristine waters. At the end of the day, you can indulge in tequila and locally-caught seafood or stretch your culinary tastes with sushi and Mediterranean cuisine at one of the many on-site restaurants. Ready to get going? Flight deals to Cancun pop up regularly, making this destination incredibly accessible.

Mykonos Theoxenia, Design Hotels

Photo courtesy of Mykonos Theoxenia
The Mykonos Theoxenia hotel. (Photo courtesy of the hotel)

Average cash rate: $550

Standard points rate: 50,000

The white marble buildings of Mykonos and Santorini make them two incredibly sought after travel destinations, but a limited selection of hotels and sky-high cash rates put them out of the reach of most travelers — at least until now. Guest rooms at the Mykonos Theoxenia feature homey wood floors and balconies overlooking either the sea or garden. The windmills on the property, as well as the blend of stone, wood and marble, give it a rustic but luxurious feel. On-site amenities are especially important on a small island, and the Mykonos Theoxenia has it all. From high-end dining to a concierge that can help you book boats, helicopters and even Learjets, the Mykonos Theoxenia has all your high-end vacation needs covered.

St. Regis Sanya Yalong Bay Resort, Hainan

Photo courtesy of St. Regis Sanya Yalong Bay Resort
The St. Regis Sanya Yalong Bay Resort in Hainan. (Photo courtesy of the hotel)

Average cash rate: $175

Standard points rate: 50,000

Hainan, often referred to as “China’s Hawaii,” is going to great lengths to attract more tourism. First the island province announced visa-free travel for Americans, followed by a plan to uncensor the internet for tourists. The 396 rooms and 38 suites at the St. Regis Sanya Yalong Bay Resort are visually stunning, as is the multi-level pool that makes up the centerpiece of the hotel. With beaches on one side and mountains on the other, a marina, golf course and spa, this hotel is reason enough to pick Hainan for your next Asian getaway.

Of course, cash rates here can be the lowest of the properties on this list, so double-check your dates to make sure you’re getting a solid redemption value.

How to Book

Once you receive your certificate, the booking process is quite simple. You just login to your Marriott Bonvoy account and search for an award stay of any length. If you find a property with standard award inventory for 50,000 points per night (or fewer), the booking platform should prompt you to use the certificate instead of points. This even works in conjunction with the program’s fifth night free perk on award stays. However, for that discount to apply, you must have at least five standard nights with points. If you book a five-night stay and use a certificate for one of the nights, you’d need to redeem points for the remaining four.

Bottom Line

The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card offers an array of perks such as elite status, hotel credit and elevated bonus categories to make sure you get your money’s worth from its steep annual fee. That’s good since you won’t be able to take advantage of your free night certificate until your first year is up (Ritz-Carlton cardholders will get earlier opportunities depending on their anniversary date). But while you should absolutely maximize the card’s benefits every year, it’s possible to get more than $450 in value from the annual free night alone starting in year two, making the Bonvoy Brilliant card a no-brainer.

Featured image of the W Shanghai courtesy of the hotel.

For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card, 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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