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Comparing Marriott Bonvoy credit cards: Which one is right for you?

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Comparing Marriott Bonvoy credit cards: Which one is right for you?

Joseph HostetlerComparing Marriott Bonvoy credit cards: Which one is right for you?Million Mile Secrets Team

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At the moment, Marriott offers four of the best hotel credit cards, with every card except the no-annual-fee Marriott Bonvoy Bold™ Credit Card offering an anniversary free night certificate (which are potentially worth several hundred dollars).

If you want to know how to earn Marriott points quickly, earning credit card welcome bonuses is key. With three of the four cards offering the exact same bonus, the intro offers alone won’t be enough to sway you one way or another. What you need to consider here is the application rules each issuer has, including the Chase 5/24 rule (which means you won’t be approved for Chase travel cards if you’ve opened five or more personal credit cards in the last 24 months) and Amex’s rule that you can only get the bonus on each credit card once per lifetime.

Unfortunately, the complications don’t stop there. Chase and Amex have teamed up to share customer data and restrict new applications even further. For example, you aren’t eligible to apply for the Bonvoy Brilliant Amex if you’ve held the Chase Ritz-Carlton card (issued by Chase) in the last 30 days, have acquired the Bonvoy Boundless (from Chase) in the last 90 days, or received a welcome bonus on the Bonvoy Boundless in the last 24 months (note that these terms and conditions have been edited for clarity, please make sure to double check the terms of the application yourself before applying).

Plus, if you know the right card combo, you can begin every year with THIRTY elite night credits — that means you’ll achieve prestigious Platinum elite status by staying just 20 nights per year! Platinum status comes with complimentary suite upgrades when available, 50% bonus points, free breakfast and more.

Let’s take a look at the Marriott Bonvoy credit cards, as well as some of the best ways to use Marriott points.

Best Marriott credit card

Marriott Bonvoy credit cardWelcome bonusBest card for
Marriott Bonvoy Bold™ Credit Card50,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three monthsBest no annual fee Marriott card
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card100,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.Best mid-tier Marriott credit card
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card75,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. Terms ApplyBest Marriott card for benefits and perks
Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card75,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. Terms ApplyBest Marriott card for small businesses
I love using my free night from the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card to stay at luxury hotels like the St. Regis Abu Dhabi Saadiyat Island. (Photo by Ethan Steinberg/Million Mile Secrets)

Marriott Bonvoy Bold™ Credit Card

Bonus

The Chase Marriott Bonvoy Bold comes with an increased bonus of 50,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. We estimate Marriott points value to be generally 0.8 cents per point, making this bonus worth $400 on average.

The Marriott award chart prices its hotels between 5,000 and 100,000 points per night. 50,000 points can get you one night at several of Marriott’s five-star hotels around the world, but you’ll probably find it more useful on multiple nights at less expensive hotels. It’s a solid springboard for Marriott Bonvoy points collectors. If you encounter any low-category hotels (there are tons in Europe), you could easily get at least four nights from this bonus. Plus, Marriott gives you the fifth night free on award stays of five or more nights!

Ongoing earnings

  • 3 points per dollar at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels
  • 2 points per dollar on other eligible travel purchases (including airfare, trains, taxis, etc.)
  • 1 point per dollar on all other purchases

Annual fee

$0

Bottom line

This is a decent starter card if you’re new to the hobby, but just know that the card bonus and its ongoing perks aren’t going to net you a night in a fancy hotel with potential room upgrades like the rest of the cards on this list. There’s no risk to this card since there’s no annual fee, so if you’re a newbie, you should feel comfortable dipping your toe into this hobby with the Chase Marriott Bonvoy Bold.

Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card

Bonus

The Chase Marriott Bonvoy Boundless comes with an increased 100,000-point bonus after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. Again, you can usually expect to receive at least 0.8 cents per Marriott point, which makes this bonus worth at least $800. That’s an enormous bonus, and more than enough for a memorable stay at top-notch hotels like the St. Regis Bora Bora. Rooms can cost $1,300+ per night after taxes, or 85,000 points per night. If you and a travel buddy opened a Marriott credit card or two, you’d instantly receive thousands of dollars in hotel stays at this hotel.

Ongoing earnings

  • 6 points per dollar spent at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels
  • 2 points per dollar spent on all other purchases

Annual fee

$95

Bottom line

This card has a very manageable annual fee, and it comes with a free night worth 35,000 points each year you renew the card. That perk alone makes the card’s annual fee worth paying, as you can get hundreds of dollars in value from it. Read our review of the Marriott Boundless card for all the details.

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card

Bonus

The Amex Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant offers 75,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. It’s not difficult to receive a value of at least $750 (and very possible to receive much more). My wife and I opened this card to earn the remaining points we needed for a stay at the St. Regis Maldives, and ended up receiving a value of 2.3 cents per point for that redemption. In other words, this bonus — to us — was worth $1,725 in hotel stays.

The St Regis Maldives cost $1,400 per night before taxes. We saved ~$8,000 by using points. (Photo by Joseph Hostetler/Million Mile Secrets)

Ongoing earnings

  • 6 points per dollar of eligible purchases at participating Marriott Bonvoy Hotels
  • 3 points per dollar at U.S. restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines
  • 2 points per dollar on all other eligible purchases
  • Terms Apply

Annual fee

$450 (see rates and fees)

Bottom line

The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant does have a large annual fee. However, it offers an up to $300 annual Marriott statement credit, effectively dropping your out-of-pocket cost in annual fees to just $150 for this card (so long as you’d organically spend $300 per year at Marriott). This credit is valid on room rates and eligible property charges (like dining or drinks at the bar), and it’s as good as cash to me.

The Bonvoy Brilliant also offers an annual free night worth 50,000 points, which can offset the remaining $150 fee by hundreds of dollars. Also read our Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant review to see the laundry list of worthwhile benefits.

Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card

Bonus

The Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card earns 75,000 bonus Marriott Bonvoy points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening with an estimated median value of $750. This is enough for multiple nights at a low-category hotel, a couple nights at a solid four-star hotel, or one night at a five-star stunner, like The Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Collection Resort, Waikiki, which costs 60,000 points per night.

Ongoing earnings

  • 6 points per dollar at participating Marriott Bonvoy Hotels
  • 4 points per dollar of eligible purchases at participating U.S. restaurants, U.S. gas stations, and on wireless telephone services purchased from U.S. service providers and on U.S. shipping purchases
  • 2 points per dollar on all other eligible purchases
  • Terms apply

Annual fee

$125 (see rates and fees)

Bottom line

This is the only small business card on the list. If you have a for-profit venture, like freelance writing, selling items on eBay, or dog-walking, you qualify for a small business card. Opening this card won’t count against the Chase 5/24 rule, which makes it perhaps the most enticing card on this list for many. The card also comes with a free night worth 35,000 points per year — but it also comes with another annual free night after you spend $60,000 on the card in a calendar year. That’s one of the amazing Amex Marriott Bonvoy Business credit card benefits for those who have a lot of business expenses. Be sure to read our review of the Marriott Bonvoy Business card.

Annual free night certificates

Free night certificates are the easiest way to justify paying the annual fee on a hotel credit card, and the Bonvoy family of cards is no exception. While the no-annual-fee Bonvoy Bold doesn’t offer a free night, the other three cards do.

The entry-level Marriott Bonvoy Boundless and Amex Marriott Bonvoy Business each offer an anniversary free night worth up to 35,000 points, which maps over to a Category 5 hotel or lower (during standard award dates). I have no problem getting $300 or more in value out of these free nights, which makes it a no-brainer to keep paying the $95 or $125 annual fees, respectively. In the past year alone, here are some of the 35,000 point redemptions I’ve made and how much they would have cost in cash:

With 35,000 points you’ll have enough to book some luxury Marriott hotel brands, including many JW Marriott/Westin/W Hotels, and occasionally a cheaper Ritz Carlton and St. Regis hotel. If you pick and choose when to use your free night certificate, even the most casual traveler should be able to get $250 or more in value from it.

As you would hope from a premium credit card, the Bonvoy Brilliant free night certificate is much more valuable, worth up to 50,000 points, which covers most Category 6 hotels. For me, that’s meant the following redemptions:

Again, the average traveler should be able to recoup nearly the entire $450 annual fee just by using this free night certificate, not even accounting for the card’s other perks.

The math stops here. If the free night certificate, on its own, wipes out the annual fee you’re paying (and then some), then every other benefit these cards offer is just icing on the cake. Keep in mind that you won’t earn the free night certificate your first year, but you will get it on your first cardmember anniversary.

Elite status

Every Bonvoy credit card comes with 15 annual elite night credits, which is enough to get you automatic Marriott Silver elite status. You’re limited to one set of credits per Marriott personal card, so even if you have two or three personal Marriott credit cards, you’ll still only get 15 elite night credits per year. HOWEVER, you can stack the elite night credits from a Marriott personal card and the Marriott Bonvoy Business card. Having one personal and one business card will net you 30 elite nights per year. For more info, read our post on how to earn Marriott elite status with credit cards.

Marriott Bonvoy Boundless and Marriott Bonvoy Business cardholders can upgrade to Gold Marriott Bonvoy elite status by spending $35,000 in a calendar year on the card. Gold status in the new program doesn’t offer all that much, so you should strongly consider whether this is the best use of your limited spending power.

Qualifying for Marriott Platinum status normally requires 50 elite nights a year (or as little as 20 nights once you subtract the 30 nights you get with Marriott cards). That’s not that much traveling in the grand scheme of things, and if you aren’t actually spending 20 nights a year in Marriott hotels, the benefits of Platinum status may be lost on you. In other words, Platinum status is very easy to earn if you travel even semi-frequently.

The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card offers automatic Gold status to all cardholders with the ability to earn Platinum status by spending $75,000 in a calendar year. Gold is a nice step above Silver, but I don’t put too much weight into this perk since you can also earn automatic Marriott (and Hilton) Gold status with cards like The Platinum Card® from American Express.

One thing to note is that you won’t get your choice benefit (i.e. suite night awards) if you earn Platinum status by credit card spending instead of through actual hotel nights.

COVID-19 benefits enhancements

Between July 15 and September 15, 2020, you’ll earn 10 Marriott points per dollar at gas stations and restaurants. The bonus will only be applied to the first $3,500 in combined spending in these categories. You’ll also earn 6 Marriott points per dollar at grocery stores on up to $7,500 in spending, ending soon on July 31, 2020.

Marriott has also suspended points expiration through February 2021. And if you’ve got a free night award that would normally expire this year, Marriott has pushed all expiration to January 31, 2021.

Marriott has announced that it will extend the status you earned in 2019 an extra year, so instead of expiring in February 2021 it will expire in February 2022. They’re even depositing extra elite night credits into your account in the amount of 50% of the nights required for the status you earned last year (read this post for details). And on that note, Suite Night Awards earned from Platinum or Titanium Marriott elite status that are meant to expire on December 31, 2020, will now be extended to December 31, 2021.

Bottom line

I’m a firm believer that the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant offers the most compelling value of any of these cards, between its $300 annual Marriott property credit and 50,000 point free night. However, if you aren’t looking to pick up another premium card with a hefty annual fee, that’s okay. I think most people would be best off getting the Amex Bonvoy Business, even though it has a marginally higher fee than the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless. There are two reasons for this:

  1. You have the option to earn an additional free night each year along with helpful bonus categories that the Bonvoy Boundless doesn’t have
  2. Opening this credit card won’t count against your Chase 5/24 status. You can keep applying for valuable cards like the Chase Freedom Unlimited®

But what about the Marriott Bonvoy Bold? While I appreciate Marriott offering this option, I think this is the wrong choice for most people. The 30,000 point bonus isn’t worth wasting a 5/24 spot, the card’s earning rates are simply mediocre and while you won’t pay an annual fee, you miss out on a ton of value year after year by not getting that free night certificate.

Let me know which card appeals most to you in the comments.

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

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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I am BonVoy Lifetime Titanium. Retired, so my travel is less frequent.

Tough to justify actually using these cards for any spending other than at a Marriott property. It takes 3 points to get one airline mile. Not much sense in that. With Amex Delta adding 2 miles for each dollar of grocery spending, both BonVoy cards are total losers for everyday spending.

I would like access to priority lounges and the Bon Voy Brilliant may be the best way for me to go. I will continue to charge my airline tickets to my Amex Delta, Free bag and priority boarding. Therefore, I will forfeit the new benefits of trip cancellation and trip delay.

Hello! I currently have a Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card and a “regular” Marriott Bonvoy Amex (previously SPG, it just got swapped out and my new card just came in the mail recently). I am a Bonvoy points member through my time-share membership (I hate to use the term “time-share” as I literally only use the points that I receive each year from being a time-share owner, wherever I see fit, not tied to a specific Marriott property). I stay at Marriott properties less than 35 nights/year… probably more like 20 nights/year but I always try to travel and stay at their properties and I always use my Bonvoy Amex while on their properties. I currently am only earning 2x points with my Bonvoy Amex, I believe, so 6x points is extremely attractive. I already have Global Entry, TSA pre-check and Priority Pass as you guessed so I am just hoping to tease out which of the 3: Brilliant, Business or Boundless would make the most sense. Thanks for writing such a great article!

Wow! Sounds like you’re really prepared with priority pass and global entry 🙂

Glad you found this article useful!

you “fully support” spending $60,000 on a Bonvoy Business card to get another free night certificate?! You are currently working towards this? I can’t see how this makes any sense. $60,000 spend on a no fee 2% cash back card would net $1200 which is far superior to a free night certificate.

Why not get all? If each card’s free night covers the annual card expense, why stop at one card. Strategically applying so you can meet the required spend is simple. I have 3 (no business version) and use every free night certificate. When we drive on vacation trips, Marriott properties are everywhere. I feel the annual fees are a lot less than the benefits each card returns.

This is a good point. I think the biggest challenge (besides strategizing spending to meet the min. spend to earn the intro bonuses) would be navigating the application rules and restrictions among the different cards.

Great read here! If you have two cards (Amex and Visa), will you get 30 elite nights and 2 free nights? I have a chase sapphire reserve and just canceled Amex platinum. For me this Brilliant card is better than the platinum because it’s almost impossible for me to spend my $200 on airlines (since I fly so much I invite virtually no incidentals) and my Uber/Lyft is minimal. That and Centurion lounges almost always being over occupancy I think makes this $300 Marriott is far superior for me.

Doesn’t matter how many cards you have, the 15 elite nights don’t stack. They used to but marriott put an end to it.