Which Marriott Bonvoy credit card is right for you?

Oct 9, 2019

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The merger of Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest into a single combined loyalty program — dubbed Marriott Bonvoy — has felt more like a piecemeal process than a single fell swoop. First, the points currencies and status levels were combined. Next, the legacy SPG properties were migrated over to Marriott’s reservation system. Then Marriott unified its cobranded credit card offerings under the new Marriott Bonvoy branding and finally announced the introduction of peak and off-peak pricing.

Both Chase and Amex continue to issue different versions of Marriott Bonvoy credit cards. There are now a total of six different options, with Amex and Chase each issuing three, although each issuer closed one of its products to new applicants, leaving only two Amex cards and two Chase cards that you can still apply for.

Given all these changes, which include new welcome bonuses, new perks and updated annual fees, we felt it was time to look at which Bonvoy credit card is right for you.

Before we dive into the details, here’s a quick refresher on how the old Amex and Chase cards converted to the new Bonvoy branding:

In addition to these changes, Chase launched a Bonvoy credit card with no annual fee called the Marriott Bonvoy Bold™ Credit Card.  As you would expect from a no-annual-fee product, it offers some, but not all, of the benefits of the other Bonvoy cards.

Eligibility

Unfortunately, many experienced award travel experts will not be eligible to earn the welcome offers on these Bonvoy cards for one reason or another. Each issuer has its own specific rules that restrict welcome bonus eligibility.

For Amex, the rule is one bonus per card per lifetime, and while the Bonvoy cards feature a new design, they aren’t technically counted as new products. That means you won’t be able to earn the 100,000-point welcome bonus after you spend $5,000 in the first three months on the Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card from Amex if you ever earned a welcome bonus on the Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express (no longer available), since they’re considered to be the same product. With Chase, you have to deal with the infamous “5/24” rule, which says that in most cases, if you’ve opened five or more credit cards in the last 24 months, you’ll be automatically rejected when applying for new Chase cards.

In addition to these rules that apply, respectively, to nearly every Amex and Chase credit card, the terms and conditions of Chase’s entry-level Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card (previously known as the Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card) say the following:

“The bonus is not available to you if you:

  1. are a current card member, or were a previous card member within the last 30 days, of The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express;
  2. are a current or previous card member of either The Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express or the Starwood Preferred Guest® American Express Luxury Card, and received a new card member bonus or upgrade bonus in the last 24 months; or
  3. applied and were approved for The Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express or the Starwood Preferred Guest® American Express Luxury Card within the last 90 days.”

As you can see, you’ll have to clear several hurdles to make sure you’re eligible before applying for any of the Bonvoy credit cards. The first step is to make sure you’re on the right side of issuer-specific rules (like 5/24), but then you still need to double-check the terms and conditions of each individual credit card.

Cards closed to new applicants

Two Bonvoy cards are no longer available to you if you don’t already have them in your wallet. The first is the Marriott Bonvoy Amex, previously known as the SPG Amex, one of the most iconic and well-loved cards in the history of travel rewards. It comes with a $95 annual fee, which you can more than recoup through the card’s annual free night certificate, valid at hotels that cost up to 35,000 points.

The second is the Marriott Bonvoy Premier Plus Business Visa Signature Card (previously the Marriott Premier Plus Business Credit Card from Chase). This card’s annual fee was raised and cardholders gained the ability to earn a second 35,000-point free night certificate after spending $60,000 in a year.

Current holders of both of these products will be able to keep using their cards, but you’re no longer able to sign up for either.

Premium vs. entry level

When deciding which cobranded card in a certain family is right for you, the first question to ask is whether you want the premium card or the entry-level version. Much of this boils down to whether the increased annual fee of the premium card is worth its extra perks. In this case, the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card (previously the SPG Luxury Amex) comes with a $450 annual fee (see rates and fees), while the entry-level personal cards — the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Card from Chase (previously the Marriott Premier Plus) and the Marriott Bonvoy Card from American Express (previously the SPG Amex and no longer available) — each have a $95 annual fee.

So how can we justify that extra $355 ($450-$95)? For starters, the premium Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card comes with an annual $300 Marriott statement credit, valid on room rates as well as property charges such as dining and spa treatments. If you’re considering a premium cobranded credit card, I’ll assume that a room rate credit is as good as cash, essentially dropping the out-of-pocket cost for the Bonvoy Brilliant card to $150.

That extra $55 a year ($150 vs. $95) gets you an anniversary free night certificate worth up to 50,000 points, versus the 35,000-point free nights on the lower-fee Marriott Amex cards. This can get you into some real fancy hotels around the world, including the The Royal at Atlantis, the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, the Ritz-Carlton Bali and more. TPG values that 15,000-point difference at $120, but if you redeem this free night certificate in peak season, the extra value can be even greater.

The Bonvoy Brilliant card also gives you the option to spend your way to Marriott Platinum Elite status by charging $75,000 in a year, though that comes with a pretty high opportunity cost. Last but not least, the Bonvoy Brilliant now offers a $100 property credit (not valid on room rates) on select cash bookings of two nights or more at Ritz-Carlton and St. Regis hotels. I was able to use this credit at the St. Regis Washington D.C., and I got lucky that the eligible room rate was the same as the cheapest available rate so it cost me nothing extra to use.

While the math on the luxury Bonvoy Brilliant card is pretty compelling, there’s no way around the fact that you have to front the $450 annual fee (see rates and fees) in order to start receiving its benefits. If you’re not prepared to do that but want the perks of an annual fee card, which entry-level card is right for you?

Since the Bonvoy Amex and Marriott Bonvoy Premier Plus Business cards are now closed to new applicants, you’ll have the choice of an Amex-issued Bonvoy business card or a Chase-issued Bonvoy personal card. Assuming you’re eligible to apply for both of these products, there are pros and cons to each.

With the Marriott Bonvoy Business card, you pay a higher annual fee ($125, see rates and fees). You have the ability to earn a second 35,000-point annual free night certificate after you spend $60,000 a year. You also will get access to money-saving Amex Offers, which can completely offset your annual fee if you use them frequently.

The Chase Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card offers a lower annual fee of only $95, and still comes with an anniversary free night. With the closure of two cards to new applicants, this Bonvoy Boundless card is now your lowest-cost way to get your hands on a Marriott free night certificate. If you don’t qualify for a business credit card (though you might be surprised to learn that you do), this is the way to go. The card is currently offering a limited time, 100,000-point welcome bonus after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months.

How about a no-annual-fee card?

Whether it’s the premium Bonvoy Brilliant or the entry level Bonvoy Boundless, one theme keeps repeating itself: much of the value of the Bonvoy credit cards comes from the anniversary free night certificate they offer. While the new Marriott Bonvoy Bold Credit Card from Chase might be appealing because it doesn’t charge an annual fee, it also doesn’t offer any type of free night certificate, meaning you miss out on a perk worth as much as several hundred dollars.

The Bonvoy Bold is currently offering a sign-up bonus of 30,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months, worth $240 based on TPG’s valuations. That’s a pretty low return from a card that will take up one of your 5/24 slots, and the bonus categories aren’t great, either. You’ll earn 3x points per dollar at participating Marriott hotels (vs. 6x on every other Bonvoy credit card), 2x on other travel purchases and 1x everywhere else (vs. 2x with other Bonvoy credit cards).

The bottom line with the Bonvoy Bold is that it doesn’t pack a strong enough punch for most serious Marriott travelers who are willing to pay $95 a year (or more) to lock in a valuable free night certificate and better bonus categories. Some people who don’t want to worry about forgetting to use a free night certificate before it expires may be tempted by a Marriott card with no annual fee, but if you don’t stay in Marriott hotels frequently, you should pause and ask yourself whether this is really the best use of one of your valuable 5/24 slots.

Which card should I use to pay for Marriott stays?

I happily carry four different Bonvoy credit cards for the annual free night certificates they offer, so a common question I get is which one should I use for Marriott stays. Outside of the Bonvoy Bold, with its lowly 3x points per dollar on eligible Marriott purchases, all the other Bonvoy cards offer an identical 6x points per dollar. In my case, I keep the Bonvoy Business card at the front of my wallet so that I’ll earn an additional 35,000 point free night certificate after spending $60,000 in a calendar year.

TPG values Marriott points at .8 cents each, meaning that 6x earning is equivalent to a 4.8% return. That’s very respectable — but if you’re not set on earning Marriott points, you can potentially do much better. The ever-popular Chase Sapphire Reserve earns 3x Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on travel, including hotels. Based on TPG’s valuations this comes out to a nice 6% return.

The Citi Prestige® Card also earns 3x points on hotels, although TPG values ThankYou Points slightly lower, at 1.7 cents each, for a 5.1% return. If you have The Platinum Card® from American Express, you can earn 5x points per dollar (10% return) if you make prepaid hotel bookings through Amex Travel or Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts. The downside is that these bookings are unlikely to earn you any Marriott points or elite benefits, so you have to weigh that cost against the additional Membership Rewards points and property amenities if booking through FHR.

At the end of the day, I opt to use my Bonvoy Business card for all my Marriott purchases, even though it isn’t the highest return based solely on point valuations. I spend my Marriott points faster than I can earn them, and the high bonus multiplier on hotel purchases means I always have enough points in my account for a last-minute trip. I also find that the perks associated with my Titanium elite status help me consistently score a higher redemption value.

Bottom line

With six cards across two issuers getting new names, designs and features, picking the right Bonvoy card for you is a real challenge. Heck, even remembering which card is which is going to require a cheat sheet for days and weeks to come.

Despite these changes, the premium Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex still makes an excellent case for itself with a valuable up-to-50,000-point anniversary free night, a $100 luxury property credit on select cash bookings at Ritz-Carlton and St. Regis hotels and more. Just be sure to double-check the rules before applying for any of these cards to make sure you are, in fact, eligible for the welcome bonus.

For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express Card, please click here.

For rates and fees of the Platinum Amex, please click here.

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card

Earn 75,000 points with this card after spending $3,000 within the first 3 months. TPG values 75K Bonvoy points to be worth around $600. Aside from the huge welcome offer you'll earn up to $300 in statement credits each year and 1 free night every year after cardmember anniversary.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 75,000 bonus Marriott Bonvoy points after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.
  • Enjoy up to $300 in statement credits each year of Card Membership for eligible purchases at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels.
  • Earn 6 Marriott Bonvoy points for each dollar of eligible purchases at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels. 3 points at U.S. restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines. 2 points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card account anniversary. Award can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 50,000 Marriott Bonvoy points) at a participating hotel. Certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Enjoy unlimited airport lounge visits when you enroll in Priority Pass™ Select membership.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $450 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
17.49%-26.49% Variable
Annual Fee
$450
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

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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