With the merger of Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) into a single Marriott Bonvoy program, there are now 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 of the Marriott cards that I know of. With each card you’ll see first the new Marriott Bonvoy card name and the original card name in parentheses.
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 (AKA SPG Luxury) vs. Ritz
This table summarizes the benefits for these ultra-premium cards:
|Bonvoy Brilliant (SPG Luxury)||Ritz-Carlton|
|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 SPG/Marriott
(can be used for hotel bill)
|$300 airline incidental fees|
|$100 Global Entry Credit||Yes||Yes|
|Priority Pass Select||2 free guests||Unlimited free guests|
|Travel Protections||Mediocre||Awesome: Primary rental, trip cancellation & delay, emergency medical & dental, etc.|
|Other meaningful perks||
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 Marriott Rewards Premier Business Plus offers the best 4X categories (with the SPG 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).
To give you an idea of what to expect: There are many very nice hotels in the Marriott portfolio that cost 35K points per night. And, even in the most expensive cities, there are decent hotels that cost 35K points per night (such as the Residence Inn New York Central Park shown above). The problem with these will start when peak pricing is introduced sometime in 2019. When that happens, the same hotels that cost 35K points per night standard will cost 40K points during peak pricing, and you won’t be able to use your 35K free nights for those hotels during peak dates.
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.
Obviously 50K free nights are better than 35K free nights, but how much you value them will depend upon your travel preferences. In general, my guess is that most people will be able to get great value from the 35K free night certificates. These certificates do need to be used each year before they expire. If you’re coming to the end of your certificate year and haven’t yet used the certificate to offset a super expensive stay, at least it won’t be that much of a waste to use the 35K certificate to cover an otherwise cheap hotel night (maybe you need a night at a near-airport hotel that would have cost about $120, for example). I don’t know about you, but I’d be pretty upset with myself if I used a 50K certificate in that way.
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. An even easier option is to track all of your cards for free with Travel Freely.
If you want more cards just for the free nights, then check out that post to see which cards can offer you a signup bonus.
If you want more cards, but can’t qualify for a signup bonus, then the best option is the Bonvoy Business (SPG Business) Card since it does not add to your 5/24 count. Even though the annual fee on this card is going up to $125, if you apply before 3/28/19 your first annual fee will be waived and the next one will be only $95 (then $125 after that). 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 5 or more Amex credit cards). Since you won’t qualify for a welcome bonus for each of these business cards, consider offering 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!).
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)…
Almost all Marriott cards offer automatic 15 elite nights towards status, but those nights are not stackable if you have multiple cards. Members need to earn 50 elite nights per year to get to Platinum status, so this will get you 30% 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.
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 Bonvoy Brilliant (SPG Luxury) 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 Bonvoy Brilliant (SPG Luxury) 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).
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.
Last updated on February 9th, 2019