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Carrying a hotel credit card is key to any travel rewards strategy. Even more so than actually booking trips, in fact. That’s because you can use your card to rack up rewards on everyday purchases when you’re not traveling. Many hotel credit cards also include the benefit of automatic elite status instead of requiring you to spend dozens of nights each year with a particular chain, so you can count on special treatment like room upgrades and premium internet access without making any extra effort.
If Marriott is your chain of choice—and it should be, with over 8,000 properties comprising 30 distinct brands around the world—then you might want to consider carrying the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card. Although it comes with a considerable annual fee of $450 per year (see rates and fees), the card is positively brimming with value-added perks, like annual statement credits and a free night award each year that can more than offset the cost of carrying it.
Here are the details on the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex and what sets this premium product apart from its peers.
Current welcome offer
New applicants have the opportunity to earn 75,000 bonus points after making $3,000 in eligible purchases in the first three months.
Just note that if you have or recently opened another Marriott Bonvoy–branded credit card, like the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card from Chase, you might be precluded from this offer.
Another factor in this card’s favor is its earning power. It accrues six points per dollar on eligible purchases at Marriott Bonvoy hotels. It also racks up three points per dollar at U.S. restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines, and two points per dollar on everything else. If you stay at Marriott properties regularly, using this card to pay can dramatically boost your points balance. Swiping it at restaurants or using it to purchase flights is another way to increase your earning, while its two-point everyday earning rate is a solid backup as well.
Statement credits worth hundreds of dollars each year
Although the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant charges an annual fee of $450, its extensive benefits are potentially worth far more than that.
Cardholders receive up to $300 in statement credits each year for purchases at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels, including room rates plus other on-property charges like spa or restaurant tabs. Starting September 22, 2022, the $300 Marriott Bonvoy statement credit benefit will no longer be available. It will be replaced with a $300 in statement credits per calendar year (up to $25 per month) for eligible purchases at restaurants worldwide.
Folks with this card, specifically, can also book a special rate through Marriott that entitles them to a property credit of up to $100 during stays of two nights or more at St. Regis or Ritz-Carlton properties. You can apply this to purchases made during the stay but not to the room rate itself.
Even if you stay at Marriott Bonvoy hotels only a few times a year, it’s easy to leverage both of these statement credits for hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars in value.
An annual free night
One of this card’s most valuable perks is an annual free night award you receive every year after your account anniversary. The certificate is good for a one-night redemption of up to 50,000 points at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy (certain hotels have resort fees). That precludes the hotels in Marriott Bonvoy’s top two categories but can still go a fair way.
For instance, you could use it for a night at the Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain in Arizona, where room rates tend to start at around $400 per night. Or you could opt for the romantic Castillo Hotel Son Vida, a Luxury Collection Hotel on Mallorca in the Mediterranean, where room rates typically run around the $300 mark. And those are just a few of the choices.
Global Entry and airport lounge access
For frequent fliers, the card comes with two other indispensable benefits that can make your travel days go much smoother. First, it entitles you to up to $100 once every four years for a Global Entry application, or once every 4.5 years for TSA PreCheck. (Go for Global Entry, though, since it usually also confers TSA PreCheck status.)
Cardholders can enroll for Priority Pass Select membership, which offers entry to over 1,200 airport lounges around the world. Having some space to yourself—not to mention Wi-Fi, snacks, and outlets for charging devices—can make long layovers much more pleasant (and productive) than hanging out in a crowded concourse overpaying for fast food. For those who travel internationally, the card waives foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees), so you won’t be hit with pesky surcharges on purchases you make abroad.
Automatic elite status
The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant automatically grants Gold elite status to cardholders, which normally requires staying 25 nights in a calendar year. At that level, you get a 25 percent points bonus on stays (so earning 12.5 points per dollar instead of the usual 10), a modest shot at room upgrades, bonus points at check-in, priority for late checkout requests, and enhanced in-room internet, among other things.
Hit $75,000 in purchases in a calendar year, and you’ll be upped to Platinum status. That might not be necessary, though, since cardholder accounts also receive 15 automatic elite night credits toward status each year, a nice boost toward Platinum if you already stay enough to earn Gold on your own.
Travel and purchase protections
As you might expect from a high-end piece of plastic like this, cardholders can also count on certain travel and purchase protections. Use the card to pay for a trip, and you might be eligible for cancellation and interruption coverage of up to $10,000 per trip and $20,000 per card per consecutive 12-month period. It will also insure your checked and carry-on bags up to $3,000 in some instances, with a $10,000 cap for all covered people on the reservation. Its trip delay insurance kicks in at six hours and will reimburse you for up to $500 per trip (and a max of two claims per 12-month period) if you’re eligible.
While its car rental insurance is only secondary, meaning you’ll have to exhaust other insurance options first, you can buy up to Amex’s much more comprehensive premium coverage for a fee that ranges between $12.25 and $24.95 per rental period, depending on where you’re based.
If an item you buy is lost, damaged, or stolen within 90 days of purchase, you might be covered up to $10,000 per claim and $50,000 per calendar year, which makes the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant a great card to use for large buys. If you need to return something you bought within the past 90 days, but the merchant won’t take it back, you could claim up to $300 per item up to $1,000 per calendar year, too.
Is the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant worth it?
The answer to this question depends on whether you’ll be able to optimize this card’s numerous perks.
Do you spend more than $300 per year at Marriott properties each year, and will you be able to take advantage of that special Ritz-Carlton and St. Regis booking rate to score $100 on-property credits regularly? Will Gold status meaningfully impact the quality of your stays? Do you have your eye on a few different hotels where the annual free night reward will come in handy? Will you actually use the Global Entry application statement credit periodically and pass through Priority Pass lounges?
If you replied yes to most of these questions, then the answer to whether the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant is worth it is probably an affirmative. That said, if you’re balking at the $450 annual fee, you might want to consider the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless from Chase as an alternative since it only charges a $95 annual fee.
Like the Brilliant, the Boundless earns six points per dollar on Marriott purchases, but just two points per dollar on everything else. So no restaurant or airline bonus categories. Like with the Brilliant, Boundless cardholders receive 15 elite night credits per year with the card, which is enough for Silver status, but not Gold (though you can spend your way to Gold with $30,000 in purchases per calendar year). It also comes with an annual free night award, but it’s only worth up to 35,000 points, which means its value is more limited than what the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant offers.
Despite these relative shortcomings, the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless still has a lot going for it, especially considering its much more affordable annual fee. But if you are a Marriott loyalist who stays with the chain a lot, there’s no bettering the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant thanks to its many, many advantages.
While the offers mentioned above are accurate at the time of publication, they are subject to change at any time, and may have changed or may no longer be available. This article was originally published in 2021; It was updated most recently on July 20, 2022, with current information.