The credit card I’ve used most during the pandemic might surprise you

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I’ve got 17 travel credit cards. Thanks to COVID-19, I’ve barely traveled in 2020. And since I can’t exercise the valuable benefits these cards have to offer, I’m hemorrhaging money in annual fees.

Fortunately, credit card issuers have sharply pivoted their card benefits to accommodate those of us on house arrest. The promotions have been way better than pre-pandemic deals. It’s hard to swipe a credit card without earning between 3 and 8 points more than usual. Those of us with travel credit cards are actually making out like bandits.

My card with the most wear and tear since the coronavirus outbreak is the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card. I’ll explain why this hotel credit card is monopolizing my spending, despite my sparse Marriott hotel stays this year.

I’ve been using Marriott cards for road-tripping, and earning scads of points in the process. (Photo by Sarah Hostetler/Million Mile Secrets)

My favorite mid-pandemic credit card

The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant credit card comes with a $450 annual fee (see rates and fees). Not cheap! But the card also comes with top-of-the-line travel benefits, including a free night certificate worth up to 50,000-points (which I value at $400) and Priority Pass Select membership (worth at least $429 per year for semi-frequent travelers). Unfortunately, those things don’t do me much good during an era of closed lounges and limited-service hotels.

The remaining card benefits, however, inspire me to use it more than any other card in my wallet.

10 points per dollar at restaurants and gas stations

I may not be spending Marriott points at the moment, but I’m earning a ton of them. Through October 31, 2020, the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant earns 10 points per dollar on purchases made at gas stations and U.S. restaurants for up to $7,500 in purchases in each category. That’s 8 more points than usual! We estimate Marriott points value to be around 0.8 cents each. Earning 10 points per dollar gives me an effective return of 8% towards stays at Marriott properties.

Since the coronavirus, my family has driven thousands of miles around the U.S. We’ve visited a couple national parks (FYI, Yellowstone is exactly as dreamy as you think it is), and I’ve used my Marriott card at every opportunity when filling up the tank and dining out. I’ve earned thousands of bonus points this way.

Fumaroles billowing steam ambush you at seemingly every turn in Yellowstone. (Photo by Joseph Hostetler/Million Mile Secrets)

These deals are technically Amex Offers, so you’ll have to sign into your Amex account and add the offers manually.

The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant isn’t the only Marriott card that earns these bonuses — read our post about cards that earn up to 10x bonus Marriott points for dining and gas. Most of the Chase and Amex Marriott credit cards will net you this bonus.

$300 worth of “free” food

One of the best benefits of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant is its annual credit of up to $300 which can be redeemed towards purchases with Marriott. It can go toward your room rate, in-house restaurants, spa treatments, etc. In other words, if you spend at least $300 per year at Marriott hotels, this card’s $450 annual fee effectively becomes $150.

The benefit is super easy to use — unless there is a global pandemic that discourages you from booking a hotel stay.

Thankfully, you can now use this statement credit towards any purchases at U.S. restaurants (takeout and delivery included). This is a big help in getting my money’s worth from the annual fee when I’m not traveling.

Amex Offers

Amex Offers are an easy way to save money on everyday purchases. They’re targeted statement credits (or sometimes bonus point offers) that only American Express cardholders receive, for things like dining, shopping, and travel.

Amex Offers have saved me a small fortune during the pandemic from dining alone. For example, through Sept. 20, 2020, Amex will give you a $5 statement credit when you spend at least $10 in one transaction at small businesses. You can do this up to ten times, for a total of $50 in savings.

It’s easy to find small businesses with the Amex Shop Small map and online directory. To maximize this deal, I make online orders but split them up as close to increments of $10 as I can. For example, a local pizza joint charges $11 for a pizza. Instead of ordering three pizzas at once, I simply make three orders of one pizza. I then get $15 in credit for my $33 order.

I’ve saved a significant amount of money with my Amex Offers in the last few months.

Amex rental car insurance

Amex cards aren’t as famous for offering primary rental car insurance as cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve®. But in some ways, they’re actually better.

If you’ve got an Amex card, you can purchase premium car rental protection for a flat fee of $20 to $25 for your entire rental. If you’re renting for even a few days, that’s way cheaper than the in-house coverage rental agencies try to push on you at the counter. Yes, the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers primary insurance for free, but the insurance you receive with Amex premium protection generally covers more expensive cars than Chase is willing to cover.

For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve will cover up to $75,000 in damages, while Amex premium insurance will cover up to $100,000 in damages. You may be able to rent higher-class cars with Amex and still be covered (though there are exceptions). Perfect for the road trips we’ve been having!

Other cards with temporarily enhanced benefits

While I’ve primarily been using the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant, there are a ton of other cards that are offering more useful perks in the wave of the pandemic. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card are offering bonus points on purchases made with streaming services, gas stations and Instacart, plus a $50 credit towards an Instacart Express membership until September 30. The Citi Prestige® Card has made its travel credit easier to use and The Platinum Card® from American Express has released a slew of monthly credits to help cover the cost of cell phone bills and streaming subscriptions. These are just a few cards with limited-time perks.

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

Make sure to check with your card issuer to see if your credit cards are offering any temporary benefits — you’ll want to take advantage of these quickly since many are added and removed on a bi-monthly or quarterly basis.

Bottom line

While I won’t be making many stays at Marriott hotels in the near future, I will happily rack up a boatload of Marriott points through these bonus spend multipliers to use for stays once the world is back to normal.

Let me know which card you’ve been using most since coronavirus and why. And subscribe to our newsletter for more posts like this delivered to your inbox once per day.

For rates and fees of the Amex Bonvoy Brilliant, click here

Joseph Hostetler is a full-time writer for Million Mile Secrets, covering miles and points tips and tricks, as well as helpful travel-related news and deals. He has also authored and edited for The Points Guy.

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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