Why I caved and got the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex card

Jan 13, 2021

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I’ve said it before and it still rings true: I’m not big on loyalty or chasing elite status. Sure, having status comes with incredible benefits, but I prefer the freedom of not being tied to a single loyalty program. I want to pick the best hotel in any given city without thinking about which option will help me fulfill elite status requirements. This philosophy has resulted in some really amazing and unique hotel stays that would not have been possible if I’d been overly concerned with loyalty.

Because of this, I’ve resisted getting hotel credit cards, other than the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card (which pays for itself three times over). I certainly wasn’t planning on getting a Marriott card because of how high the redemption rates are.

The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related: Which Marriott Bonvoy credit card is right for you?

I was perfectly content using my Capital One miles to cover Marriott stays. So why did I finally cave and get a Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card in the middle of a pandemic? For starters, the card is chock-full of benefits that will come in handy regardless of how much (or little) I travel this year.

(Photo by Eden Batki/The Points Guy)

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Global Entry

I’m in the process of signing my entire family up for Global Entry (parents, siblings, nieces, nephew – everyone). I absolutely think the up to $100 credit fee every four years is worth every penny, especially since membership includes TSA PreCheck. It’s going to make our family trips so much easier, especially during peak season, when seemingly every plane lands at SFO at the exact same time, creating a two-hour wait at U.S. Customs. It’s so nice to breeze through, beat traffic and get home faster.

I have Global Entry fee credits from my Citi Prestige® Card and Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. And since I was already going to pay $100 per person, I thought, why not put that toward a credit card annual fee and rack up some extra Marriott points? That’s precisely why the Bonvoy Brilliant card got on my radar.

The information for the Citi Prestige has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related: Why I’m earning more Marriott Bonvoy points during the pandemic

Annual free night

The Bonvoy Brilliant card offers an annual free night award valid at a Marriott hotel that requires 50,000 points or less. That’s essentially a Category 1-6 award, which offers lots of great options, whether I redeem it stateside or abroad. At the very least, I can use it for a staycation and get $100 in value out of it. The annual free night will be put to better use than that, but having it helped me justify the card’s $450 annual fee (see rates and fees).

(Photo courtesy of the JW Marriott Gold Coast Resort)

Related: 14 best uses of the Marriott 50,000-point certificates for family vacations

$300 annual fee credit

The Bonvoy Brilliant carries a $450 annual fee, which is why I resisted getting the card for so long. I already have two premium cards in my wallet (Citi Prestige and Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card) and I don’t want to gratuitously add more. However, I’m already saving $100 on my Global Entry application fee, and the up to $300 annual Marriott credit practically takes care of the rest.

Last year, the credit didn’t seem that useful, considering we were in the middle of a pandemic, and I wasn’t planning on staying at a Marriott hotel any time soon. Even when Amex extended the credit toward dining purchases, it wasn’t an appealing feature. I was up to my ears in dining credits and didn’t feel the need to get this card for that purpose. However, with travel projected to pick up this year thanks to the COVID-19 vaccine distribution, I’m bound to get use out of this credit.

Related: Take full advantage of annual credit card benefits in 2021

I’m saving up for a trip to Al Maha

So here’s the real reason I got this card: I need some Marriott points stat. My last Marriott stay was in October 2019 and I haven’t earned any points since. If I had kept this up, my 60,000 points would have expired this fall, which would be embarrassing, to say the least.

Sure, I could use the Marriott shopping portal or Eat Around Town to earn some more points, among other options. But I need kind of a windfall this year because I’m planning a vacation for my parents that will involve a stop at the famous Al Maha resort outside of Dubai.

Al Maha Dubai
Al Maha Dubai. (Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

This all-inclusive desert oasis goes for more than $1,000 per night, which is way out of my budget. But at 95,000 Marriott points per night, it’s a steal. The welcome offer for the Bonvoy Brilliant card is currently 125,000 points after $5,000 spent on purchases within the first three months of account opening. That bonus is worth $1,000, according to TPG valuations. Plus, earn up to $200 in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants within the first six months of card membership. Offer ends 5/12/2021.The welcome bonus is hands down the easiest way for me to stock up on extra Marriott points fast.

Complimentary Marriott status

Remember when I said I wasn’t chasing elite status? The exception is when it requires no effort. Normally, Marriott’s Gold status requires 25 nights a year. Clearly, someone disloyal like me would have a hard time racking up that many stays. But getting the same level of status with a credit card? Sign me up.

Over the years, I’ve had Marriott Gold status through promotions and credit cards and it was quite rewarding. I’ve gotten upgraded to club level rooms, which included free breakfast in the lounge. While gold status from the Bonvoy Brilliant card isn’t the main reason I got the card, it’s definitely a nice bonus. Plus, I have the option to spend my way to Platinum status if I really need to. Enrollment required for select benefits.

Marriott Platinum breakfast at the St. Regis New York. (Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

As I said, I plan on putting the annual free night and $300 resort credit to use this year. When I do, having Gold status will make my stay just a little bit better with space-available room upgrades, late checkout and bonus points.

Related: 3 reasons I loved my Marriott Platinum status last year — get yours now with a credit card

Amex Offers

I can’t emphasize the value of Amex Offers enough. In fact, last year I saved almost $400 on essential purchases thanks to Amex Offers. I also earned a ton of Membership Rewards points through an Amazon promotion. Without fail, I have continuously managed to offset part (or all) of my Amex annual fees through Amex Offers.

Just in the last week alone, I’ve added offers for a Peet’s coffee subscription (spend $20, get $5 back up to three times), HBO Max (spend $14.99, get $7 back) and a 5% cash-back offer at KitchenAid that my sister is taking advantage of to buy new appliances. I’m sure there will be even better offers throughout the year that will more than offset the Bonvoy Brilliant card’s $450 annual fee. Eligibility for Amex offers is limited. Enrollment is required in the Amex Offers section of your account before redeeming.

Related: The secret to getting more (and sometimes better) Amex Offers on your card

Bottom line

In the end, my personal spending habits and goals made getting the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex card worthwhile. The welcome bonus helps me cover a few nights at an incredible hotel, while the elite perks will make the experience better. If all else fails, Amex Offers and the Global Entry fee credits will help me recoup part of the annual fee. And even if international travel fails to resume this year, I’m happy putting the annual free night award toward a hotel stay somewhere nearby to escape the monotony of home.

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

Featured photo by The Points Guy.

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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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