Which Marriott Bonvoy card is best?

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Given that both Amex and Chase issue Marriott Bonvoy credit cards, there are a boatload of cards that earn the same type of rewards. Whether you already have some of these cards or are thinking of getting one, you might be curious about which is best. Here’s everything you need to know…

The table above shows all Marriott cards that have been issued in the United States. With each card you’ll see first the Marriott Bonvoy card name and the original card name in parentheses (many of the cards were previously issued as Starwood Preferred Guest, AKA SPG, cards).

The column labelled “Avail New?” indicates whether or not the card is available for sign-ups today. Others are kept on the list either because it may be possible to product change to them, or because you may have one of those cards and may be wondering whether to keep it.

Bonvoy Brilliant vs. Ritz

This table summarizes the benefits for these ultra-premium cards:

Bonvoy Brilliant Ritz-Carlton
Annual Fee $450 $450
Authorized User Fee $0 $0
Annual free night upon renewal 50K free night award 50K free night award
Elite Status Gold status. Platinum status with $75K calendar year spend. Gold status. Platinum status with $75K membership year spend.
Statement Credits $300 per membership year for Marriott Spend
(can be used for hotel bill)
$300 per calendar year for airline incidental fees
$100 Global Entry Credit Yes Yes
Priority Pass Select 2 free guests Unlimited free guests
Priority Pass for Authorized Users None Yes
Travel Protections Mediocre Awesome: Primary rental, trip cancellation & delay, emergency medical & dental, etc.
Other meaningful perks
  • $100 property credit for each 2 night or longer paid stay at Ritz or St. Regis. Must book with member rate named “$100 Property Credit, Luxury Credit Card Rate”
  • 3 club level upgrades for paid Ritz stays
  • $100 property credit for each 2 night or longer paid stay at Ritz or St. Regis. Must book with member rate named “$100 Property Credit, Luxury Credit Card Rate”

The Bonvoy Brilliant card and Ritz-Carlton card aren’t as expensive as they appear to be. Yes, they cost $450 per year, but if you get the full $300 in hotel rebates from the Brilliant card, or the full $300 in airline incidental fees from the Ritz card, then your net cost comes to just $150. That’s still more than the next level down cards which cost $95 to $125 pear year, but the extra may be worth paying if you value the card’s other benefits.

And that brings us back to the main question…

Which Marriott Bonvoy card is best?

If you’re looking for a rewarding card for general spend, you’ve come to the wrong place. Marriott Bonvoy points are worth approximately 0.7 cents each [See: Reasonable Redemption Values (RRVs)]. So, since most cards here offer 2 points per dollar for most spend, they offer only about 1.4% back in rewards. You can do much better than that. See these posts, for ideas: Best Rewards for Everyday Spend and Best Category Bonuses. That said, if you still want to use these cards for everyday spend, the Bonvoy Premier Plus Business offers the best 4X categories (with the Bonvoy Business card close behind).

In my mind, there are only two good reasons (for most people) to keep these cards: annual free nights, and elite status.

Annual Free Nights

Most of the cards on the list offer annual free night certificates each year upon renewal (but not first year) for hotels costing up to 35K points per night or up to 50K points per night. Obviously, the 50K free nights are worth more, but the cards that provide the 50K nights also cost much more ($450 per year) than the cards that provide 35K free nights ($95 to $125 per year).

The Inn at Bay Harbor in northern Michigan is currently a category 5 hotel which costs 35,000 points standard for a free night. That means that the annual free night certificates from most Bonvoy cards can be used at this resort during standard or off-peak pricing. Unfortunately, this resort is often peak priced (40K points per night) during desirable summer months.

To give you an idea of what to expect: There are many very nice category 5 hotels in the Marriott portfolio that cost 35K points per night standard. And, even in expensive cities, you’ll often find decent category 5 hotels. The problem is with peak pricing. When category 5 hotels are priced at peak rates (40K per night), you can’t use your 35K free night certificates.

St. Pancras Renaissance London now costs 50K points per night, standard. 50K Free night certificates will work here except during peak pricing.

At the 50K level, you’ll find outstanding properties even in the most expensive cities. For example, I’m a big fan of the St. Pancras Renaissance hotel in London, which is now priced at 50K points per night standard.

Obviously 50K free nights are better than 35K free nights, but how can we quantify the difference? I did some analyses to try to figure that out. See these posts:

The answers I found were as follows:

  • With 35K certificates, it is easy to get at least $200 value.
  • With 50K certificates, it is easy to get around $300 value.

These answers don’t mean that I’d recommend paying $200 or $300 for these certificates. Instead, it means that (for example) paying $95 pear year to get $200 per year of value is a good deal.

Important: these certificates are not worth anything if you let them expire. If you think you’re likely to go year after year without using them, then you probably shouldn’t keep any Marriott cards.

If you value the certificates more than the annual fee, consider getting/keeping more than one card

If you already have more than one of the $95 – $125 Marriott cards and you’re pretty confident that you’ll get much more than that value from the free night certificates, then keep the cards.

If you’d like to get more cards so that you’ll have more certificates, things get complicated. There are strict rules about whether or not you can qualify for a welcome bonus based on what other Marriott cards you have or have earned bonuses on (see: Navigating Marriott’s Byzantine Credit Card Rules). Also note that the Chase cards are subject to 5/24.

Chase's 5/24 Rule: With most Chase credit cards, Chase will not approve your application if you have opened 5 or more cards with any bank in the past 24 months.

To determine your 5/24 status, see: 3 Easy Ways to Count Your 5/24 Status. The easiest option is to track all of your cards for free with Travel Freely.

The following chart attempts to show which card you can get now based on which cards you already have:

Marriott Bonvoy credit cards are issued by both Chase and American Express.  If you're interested in signing up for more than one Chase and/or Amex Marriott card, it's important to consider the complex rules they have put in place:

If you want more cards, but can’t qualify for a signup bonus, then the best option is the Bonvoy Business Card since it does not add to your 5/24 count. If you have multiple businesses, you should be able to get a card for each business in order to secure multiple 35K free night certificates each year (Keep in mind though that Amex won’t approve a new application if you already have 4 or more Amex credit cards). Since you won’t qualify for a welcome bonus for each of these business cards, consider asking a friend or family member to refer you so that they’ll get points (or use our link, found here, to support this blog with our thanks!).

Elite Status

Other than the free night certificates, another reason to get or keep these cards is to help you acquire elite status. In my mind, Platinum status is worth striving for if you stay often at Marriott hotels. Platinum status offers free breakfast (at most hotels), lounge access, upgrade to a suite (when available), 50% point bonus, etc. Gold status, though, is more of a nice to have if you get it automatically. I wouldn’t go out of my way to get it. So, let’s look at how the different cards can help you get meaningful elite status (Platinum or higher)…

Elite Nights

Almost all Marriott cards offer automatic 15 elite nights towards status, but those nights are not stackable if you have multiple consumer cards or multiple business cards. The best you can do is stack by having both one or more consumer cards and one or more business cards. This way you’ll get 15 elite nights from the consumer side plus another 15 elite nights from the business side. Members need to earn 50 elite nights per year to get to Platinum status, so this will get you 60% of the way there.

If you typically stay 35 or more nights per year at Marriott properties, then keeping one of these cards is a no-brainer. You’ll get to Platinum status, or maybe even to a higher level of status that you wouldn’t have attained without the card. And when you use the free night that comes with the card, you’ll earn another elite night that way.

And if you typically stay 20 ore more nights per year at Marriott properties, then keeping two of these cards (one personal and one business) is a great option. You’ll get to Platinum status, or maybe even to a higher level of status that you wouldn’t have attained without these cards. And when you use the free nights that comes with the cards, you’ll earn additional elite nights.

Automatic Elite Status

The $95 – $125 cards offer automatic Silver status. Silver status isn’t worth much: you get 10% bonus points on paid stays, plus the chance to ask for a late checkout.

The $450 cards offer automatic Gold status. Gold status adds 25% bonus points on paid stays; guaranteed 2pm late checkout, and the possibility of a room upgrade. Neither status level is worth all that much, but obviously Gold is better than Silver. But I wouldn’t pay the higher annual fee on these cards just to get to Gold status. No way.

Status through spend

The $95 – $125 cards offer Gold status with $35K spend, and the ultra-premium cards offer Platinum status with $75K spend. $75K spend is an awful lot, but it may be worth doing for some.

Interestingly, the Chase cards base the spend on card membership year whereas the Amex cards go by calendar year. Depending on when your card anniversary falls, the Chase cards may have a significant advantage.

Suppose, for example, you want to earn Platinum status via $75K spend. With the Amex Bonvoy Brilliant Card, it is theoretically possible to do this once every two years in order to keep Platinum status continuously. Status lasts the rest of the year in which you earn it, through all of the next year, and through February of the year after that. So, if you could spend $75K in January and February every other year, you could keep Platinum status without a break.

With Chase cards, this could be much easier. Suppose your account year starts in September. In that case, you could spend $75K on the Ritz card between September and the end of February in order to earn Platinum status for two years. This gives you much more time to complete the spend.

Chase would have the same advantage for spending your way to Gold status, but I just don’t think it’s worth doing, so I’m going to ignore that option.

In summary, if you want to earn Platinum status with spend, then keep the Ritz card if you have it (or product change to it from another Chase Marriott consumer card). Otherwise, your only option is the Amex Bonvoy Brilliant Card since the Ritz card is no longer available to new applicants. Do keep in mind that if you earn Platinum status this way, you won’t earn the Choice Benefits that come when you achieve 50 elite nights each year (and again at 75 nights).

Bottom Line

There’s no single best Marriott Bonvoy card for each person.

If you highly value 50K free nights over 35K free nights, and/or you value the ability to earn Platinum status with $75K spend, then I’d argue that the Ritz card is best. Unfortunately the Ritz card is no longer available to new applicants, but Chase may let you product change to it from another Chase Marriott consumer card.

If you know that you’ll make good use of the 35K free nights each year, then all of the $95 – $125 per year cards are arguably a good bet. I wouldn’t use them for spend, but just to have and to hold in order to get a nice hotel stay each year. If that’s you, consider getting or keeping more than one of these cards so that you can stay more than one night per year for “free” (really for $95 to $125 per night if you account for the card’s annual fee). Keep in mind, though, that you won’t get your first free night until you’ve had the card for a year.

If you’re not sure that you’ll use the free night each year, and you don’t need the 15 elite nights that come with these cards, then don’t carry any of them. As I wrote early in this post, none of these cards is a good choice for everyday spend. There are many better alternatives. See: Best Rewards for Everyday Spend and Best Category Bonuses.

For more (much more) about Marriott Bonvoy, including more tips for earning elite status, see: Marriott Bonvoy Complete Guide.

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