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Our quick take: The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card offers top-notch luxury travel benefits, including a statement credit worth up to $300 each year at restaurants worldwide, and is a good fit for travelers who are loyal to the Marriott brand and want elite benefits with every stay.
- Earn 6 points for every dollar spent on Marriott purchases
- Earn 3 points per dollar at U.S. restaurants and flights booked directly with airlines
- Earn 2 points per dollar on other purchases
- Complimentary Marriott Platinum elite status for being a card member
- Up to $300 in statement credits per calendar year (up to $25 per month) for eligible purchases at restaurants worldwide
- Receive an annual Free Night Award that can be used at any Marriott property worth up to 85,000 points starting with the second year you have the card
- Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership
- Marriott Bonvoy points aren’t as valuable as some other hotel points.
- The card’s perks can be difficult to use if you aren’t a regular at Marriott hotels.
- $650 annual fee (see rates and fees).
Current welcome bonus: Earn 95,000 bonus points when you spend $5,000 within the first three months after opening the account.
Best for: Marriott loyalists who are willing to pay a steep annual fee to get a premium hotel credit card with VIP benefits and perks.
Digging into the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card
Marriott recently announced several new benefits for the Marriott Brilliant Amex, which include even more luxurious benefits for Marriott travelers than before. Some of the best longstanding benefits of the card to this point have included an annual free night award, a Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership (enrollment required), a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck reimbursement, annual statement credits, complimentary elite status and elite night credits.
None of those benefits have gone away, and some of them are getting even better. But these new enhancements come at a steep cost, as the annual fee on the card has also been significantly increased.
Marriott Brilliant Amex card members now receive complimentary Platinum elite status just for having the card, a major improvement over the previous Gold status that came with the card. Additionally, instead of receiving 15 elite night credits toward status each calendar year, that number has been bumped up to 25 elite night credits. So even though you’ll automatically receive Platinum status, you’ll be one-third of the way to earning an even better Titanium status, which requires 75 elite nights per calendar year.
Another huge enhancement to the Marriott Brilliant Amex relates to the Free Night Award that card members receive each year on their account anniversary starting with the second year you have the card. This free night can now be used at any Marriott property that normally costs up to 85,000 points per night, instead of the previous 50,000-point cap. And since Marriott now allows you to top off a free night award with up to 15,000 additional points from your account, this certificate can effectively be used at almost any hotel in the Marriott portfolio, even during peak nights.
On top of the card’s existing travel and purchase protection benefits, card members also now get cell phone protection. This protection will cover you in the case of an unfortunate mishap with your phone, as long as you pay your monthly bill with the Marriott Brilliant Amex.
Plus, hefty spenders can now earn a new Annual Choice Award after making $60,000 in purchases on the card in a calendar year. You can pick from a variety of options, such as suite night awards, extra elite night credits or the opportunity to gift status to a friend.
While the card’s annual statement credit of up to $300 hasn’t gone away, it’s changed up a bit. Instead of using this credit for Marriott purchases, you now receive it as a statement credit for dining purchases at restaurants worldwide. But unfortunately, you’re no longer able to use it up in one $300 chunk. Instead, you’ll have to use it in portions of up to $25 each month, which means you’ll need to remember to use your card at restaurants on a regular basis.
But all these new enhancements to the card come at a steep price. New card members will need to be prepared to pay a jaw-dropping $650 annual fee for the card, up from the previous $450. Existing Marriott Brilliant Amex card members who opened their account prior to Sept. 22, 2022, will see the new annual fee take effect on your next annual renewal date that falls on or after Jan. 1, 2023.
Finally, new card members can earn 95,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 in eligible purchases in the first three months after opening the account. Frequent flyer website The Points Guy values Marriott points at 0.84 cents apiece, so at that rate, those 95,000 bonus points are worth $798 in travel.
Advantages of the Marriott Brilliant Amex card
Since Marriott Brilliant Amex card members get up to $300 in credits each year that can be used at restaurants worldwide, it shouldn’t be hard for people who dine out regularly to take advantage of most if not all of these credits (though it does require you to be on top of your monthly credit allocation). If you can use up those $300 in credits, you’ll effectively knock the card’s annual fee down to $350.
While that’s still a lot to pay for a single credit card, Marriott fans might find the other card perks to be well worth the cost — especially the annual free night award, which can easily be worth more than the annual fee alone if used strategically.
Starting with the second year you have the Marriott Brilliant Amex (and every year thereafter), you’ll get a Free Night Award that can be redeemed for one night at any Marriott property worth up to 85,000 points. Based on the value of Marriott points, this could be worth more than $700 for one night at a high-end Marriott property.
Just keep in mind that Marriott recently switched to a dynamic pricing system, so the redemption cost for a room at any Marriott hotel now varies from day to day depending on the cash price of the room at any given time.
The Marriott Brilliant Amex also earns 6 points for every dollar spent on Marriott purchases, 3 points per dollar spent at restaurants worldwide and on flights booked directly with airlines, and 2 points per dollar on all other eligible purchases. Plus, card members now get complimentary Marriott Platinum elite status, which comes with benefits like 50% bonus points on stays, late 4 p.m. checkout when available, enhanced room upgrades (including select suites) and breakfast at participating properties.
Other perks of the Marriott Brilliant Amex card include a Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership, up to $100 in credits for a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck membership application, a choice benefit after spending $60,000 on the card within the calendar year (starting Jan. 2023) and a nice package of consumer protections and travel insurance benefits.
In addition, when you have the Marriott Brilliant Amex card, you can get up to $100 in property credit for qualifying charges when you book direct at Ritz-Carlton or St. Regis properties using a special rate for a two-night minimum stay. This credit is in addition to the up to $300 in statement credits and can be used for expenses such as room service and spa treatments.
We also like the fact that the Marriott Brilliant Amex comes with 25 elite night credits each year. While you’ll already get Marriott Platinum elite status with the card to score some elite benefits right away, the elite credits give you a leg up when it comes to climbing up to higher levels of status through paid stays.
Finally, the Marriott Brilliant Amex has a surprising number of consumer protections for a hotel credit card. Travel-related perks include secondary auto rental coverage, a baggage insurance plan, trip cancellation and interruption insurance and trip delay coverage. Other benefits include purchase protection against damage or theft, return protection and an extended warranty on eligible items.
Disadvantages of the Marriott Brilliant Amex card
Obviously, the biggest downside of the Marriott Brilliant Amex is its $650 annual cost. We’ve shown how you can offset the majority of that cost each year by utilizing the card’s various perks, but that’s only feasible if you stay at Marriott hotels on a frequent basis and truly maximize the benefits and statement credits that come along with the card.
Even if you’re a Marriott regular, the fact that all of the card’s perks come with conditions is another annoyance. For example, with the $300 in annual credits, you need to pay attention each month to ensure you’re fully utilizing the benefit. You also don’t earn as many points with this card for purchases at restaurants compared to some other cards, which means the card might not be your typical go-to card when dining out.
Meanwhile, the up to $100 in credits at Ritz-Carlton or St. Regis properties are only good for stays of two nights or longer booked directly with Marriott, so you can’t book with an online travel agency like Expedia or Orbitz and use the perk. And the card’s annual Free Night Award that you get starting with your second card member year isn’t unlimited, so you can’t use it at the ultra-top-tier Marriott resorts.
You get the point. The $650 annual fee on the Marriott Brilliant Amex can be a good value — for some — but there are a lot of hoops to jump through to get your money’s worth, which is unfortunately a common theme when it comes to perks on American Express cards.
Stacking up the Marriott Brilliant Amex card against our benchmark
CNN Underscored uses the Citi® Double Cash Card as our “benchmark” credit card. That doesn’t mean it’s the best credit card on the market — rather, it means we use it as a basic standard to compare other credit cards and see where they score better, and where they’re worse.
Here’s how the Marriott Brilliant Amex card scores against our benchmark. The features of each card in the below chart are colored in green, red or white. Green indicates a card feature that’s better than our benchmark, red indicates the feature is worse than our benchmark and white indicates the feature is either equivalent or cannot be directly compared to our benchmark.
By and large, the Marriott Brilliant Amex comes with significantly better benefits than our benchmark card, but a sizable $650 annual fee compared to the no-annual-fee Citi Double Cash. For this reason, you’ll really need to be able to take advantage of all the benefits of the Marriott Brilliant Amex card in order to make it worth the cost.
Other credit cards similar to the Marriott Brilliant Amex card
If you’re looking for a Marriott credit card but don’t want to pay $650 a year or don’t think you’ll use all the elite benefits of the Marriott Brilliant Amex, there are a few other personal cards to consider. Generally speaking, these options are geared to more infrequent Marriott guests who don’t want to pay such a higher price per year for a hotel credit card.
Although there are many alternative Marriott cards, one of our favorites is the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card. Although it comes with fewer perks, it features a much lower $95 annual fee. It earns the same 6 points per dollar at Marriott properties as the Marriott Brilliant Amex, along with 3 points per dollar on the first $6,000 spent in combined purchases each year on grocery stores, gas stations and dining, and 2 points per dollar on all other purchases. But card holders only get complimentary Marriott Silver elite status instead of Marriott Platinum.
You also won’t get any fancy annual credits with the Marriott Boundless card, but like the Marriott Brilliant Amex, you do get an annual Free Night Award starting with the second year you have the card. The difference is that with the Marriott Boundless card, your free night can only be used at any Marriott property worth up to 35,000 points instead of 85,000 points.
Meanwhile, the Marriott Bonvoy Bold® Credit Card is the most basic Marriott credit card available. It only earns 3 points per dollar at Marriott properties and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases, but it does come with complimentary Marriott Silver elite status and, best of all, no annual fee.
There are also two brand new Marriott credit cards — the Marriott Bonvoy Bevy™ American Express Card and the Marriott Bonvoy Bountiful™ Card from Chase. These two cards offer the exact same benefits, which include Marriott Gold elite status and 1,000 bonus points per qualifying stay, but both have a $250 annual fee, and unfortunately the perks don’t necessarily offset the cost of the card.
Also, keep in mind that Marriott Bonvoy is a transfer partner of both American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards. This opens the door to earning points with a card in either program, then transferring them to your Marriott account only when you need them, while having other options when a Marriott hotel isn’t on your radar.
This terrific flexibility is why we generally prefer credit cards that earn transferable points over hotel credit cards. However, Marriott is one of the few hotel programs that does allow you to transfer points to a large number of airline frequent flyer programs, although Marriott points generally transfer at a 3-to-1 ratio, so you may be better off earning rewards with a traditional flexible points credit card instead.
In any case, you’ll generally only find brand-specific elite benefits on a hotel chain’s own credit cards. But if you’re more interested in earning points than getting perks, you should consider a flexible earning card such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, The Platinum Card® from American Express or the American Express® Gold Card.
Should you get the Marriott Brilliant Amex card?
There’s no question that $650 is a lot to invest in a hotel credit card each year. If you aren’t a Marriott loyalist or don’t expect to travel much during the next year, you’ll likely do better with a different credit card, or even a travel credit card that’s geared toward infrequent travelers or “free agents” when it comes to hotel stays.
But if you’re a frequent Marriott guest and want to be treated better than the average customer, the array of benefits you’ll get with the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card can help you get more out of each trip you take and enjoy your Marriott stays even more. So if you’re thinking about getting the card, make sure you grab it now while it features a great welcome offer, and stock up on some extra Marriott points.
Learn more about the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Credit Card.
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