The Amex Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card is one year old. Amex introduced this card as the SPG Luxury card on August 23, 2018. Many people, including ourselves, applied for this card during the first 3-4 days after it became available, before important limitations went into effect that would have precluded many of us from being eligible for the card.
As a result, we and plenty of others have just arrived at our one-year anniversary date for this card. We’ll soon receive a statement asking us to pay a hefty $450 annual fee to retain the card for another year.
Perhaps anticipating some issues with renewals of this premium-fee card, Amex has proactively sent an “anniversary offer” to us and, we believe, many if not all other cardholders who are hitting their one-year anniversary.
Given these circumstances, we wanted to review the anniversary offer and provide our strategy thoughts on our soon-to-come decision of whether to keep, cancel or product change this card.
Basics of the Amex Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card
As we mentioned in the introduction, the Amex Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card comes with a premium-level annual fee of $450. For that kind of fee, we’ll be expecting a lot in return!
Key benefits of the card include:
- $300 Marriott Bonvoy statement credit per cardholder year
- Spend $300+ at a Marriott property, and you’ll get $300 back as a statement credit
- Free Night Award certificate, up to 50,000 points
- The certificate is automatically deposited into your Marriott Bonvoy member account within 8-12 weeks after your Card Account anniversary date
- Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold elite status
- Marriott Bonvoy Platinum elite status if you spend $75,000 on the card during a calendar year
- 15 Marriott Bonvoy elite night credits each year
- This does not stack with other Marriott co-branded cards; the maximum number of elite night credits you can receive in a year is 15, regardless of how many Marriott co-branded cards you hold
- $100 property credit for stays of 2+ nights at a St. Regis or Ritz-Carlton using the specified Member rate named “$100 Property Credit, Luxury Credit Card Rate”
- Up to $100 Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check statement credit, once every 4 years
- Priority Pass airport lounge benefit
- Includes up to 2 guests, if permitted by the lounge
- Remember that Priority Passes from Amex cards can no longer be used at Priority Pass restaurants, only lounges
- Bonus category earnings:
- 6x Marriott points at Marriott properties (at our baseline rate of 0.7 cents per Marriott point, this is a 4.2% points rebate)
- 3x Marriott points at US restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines (2.1% points rebate)
- 2x Marriott points on everything else (1.4% points rebate)
Analyzing the Benefits
Here’s a quick analysis of each of these major benefits – we’ll look at what they mean to us in particular, and we’ll also comment on how they apply more generally:
$300 Marriott Bonvoy statement credit – This credit is worth almost face-value to us. We can use the credit easily, and we’re not giving up much if anything when we use it. It effectively turns the Brilliant card into a $150-175 annual fee card. If you can’t use this benefit easily, you shouldn’t hold this card, period.
Free Night Award certificate, up to 50,000 points – Free night certificates always have the potential to be a little tricky, particularly because they expire after a year. But even with the recent Marriott Bonvoy devaulations and the imminent start of Peak/Standard/Off-Peak pricing, we can probably use the certificate and achieve a value of at least $250. Most people who stay at Marriott enough to consider holding this card can probably do the same.
Marriott Bonvoy Gold status – This isn’t worth anything to us. We have Lifetime Gold status. This year we’re Titanium, and next year we should be Platinum. More generally, if you don’t stay at Marriott enough to earn Gold status organically, you probably shouldn’t be holding this card long-term anyway. Thus, we believe this benefit is of limited use to most everyone.
UPDATE – Reader Jay commented that our original article omitted the fact that you can obtain Marriott Bonvoy Platinum status when you spend $75,000 on the Brilliant card during a calendar year. We thought of this a a benefit that was very niche: You’d have to not have stayed enough at Marriotts to be Platinum, but be planning to stay enough at Marriotts that Platinum would be sufficiently valuable to you to justify the $75k spend. There’s a heavy opportunity cost to putting this spend on the Brilliant card. Even if you’re just comparing to a 2% cashback card, it would “cost” you 0.6 cents per dollar (2% less 1.4% earnings at 2x Marriott points/dollar), which comes to $450 on $75k spend – and the opportunity cost may be much higher. In Jay’s situation, though, the status was valuable, and he had a targeted offer to earn additional Marriott points for big spend on the card. So, for most people this card benefit won’t move the needle on the “keep vs cancel” decision – but we did want to include it for completeness, as it may be useful to some.
15 Marriott Bonvoy elite night credits each year, non-stackable – This isn’t worth anything to us either, since the benefit can’t be stacked. The 15-night credit is a benefit of many Marriott co-branded cards. For us, one of these cards, the Ritz-Carlton Visa, is one of the most valuable cards in our wallet and we’re never voluntarily relinquishing it. We hold other Marriott co-branded cards as well. In general, the 15 elite night credits are valuable – but you can get them more cheaply by holding one of the non-premium Marriott co-branded cards.
$100 Property Credit for certain Ritz-Carlton/St. Regis stays – Again, this benefit isn’t worth anything to us. Our Ritz-Carlton Visa comes with a similar benefit, but a simple Bonvoy Member rate suffices to trigger it. And as we mentioned, we’re not letting go of that card. Beyond that, this benefit seems to be extremely limited for everyone given that it is very narrow and requires a special rate which may be higher than you could otherwise get.
Global Entry/Pre-Check Statement Credit – Lots of cards have this Global Entry/Pre-Check benefit, and eventually you run out of people who need it. For us, we didn’t use this in Year 1, but we might actually have a use for it soon. More generally, we’re guessing that most people who are in a position to hold this premium card probably are either not using this benefit at all, or giving it away.
Priority Pass airline lounge benefit – With the recent changes to the Amex Priority Pass (PP) program to remove restaurant access, PPs from Amex cards are less valuable than those you’d get from other premium cards such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Citi Prestige, or Ritz-Carlton Visa. We use our PPs from the Ritz-Carlton Visa card (unlimited guesting privileges; restaurants work; authorized users can get PP cards), which are much better than the PP cards from Amex. For a limited few people who hold the Brilliant card but not any of these other premium cards, the PP benefit can be useful. But for us, and for many others, the PP from this Amex card adds nothing.
Bonus Category earning – In short, points earning on the Brilliant card isn’t best-in-class for anything – even at Marriott hotels! (although it’s close) For us, Marriott stays can go on a Chase Sapphire Reserve for 3x Ultimate Rewards (UR) points (4.5% points rebate at our baseline value of 1.5 cents per UR point). For us, this would beat 6x Marriott points on the Brilliant card (4.2% points rebate at our baseline value of 0.7 cents per Marriott point). Besides, you can also earn 6x Marriott points with cheaper Marriott co-branded cards. 3x Marriott points at restaurants and airfare (2.1%) pales in comparison to other premium cards. And 2x Marriott points everywhere else (1.4%) can be beaten with a simple 2% cash-back card, among many others. To give you a better idea about how we feel about the earning structure of the Brilliant card, we’ll tell you that we haven’t spent a dime on this card since we hit the minimum spend requirement for our sign-up bonus.
For us, our keep vs cancel decision could be summarized as, is the Free Night Award certificate worth at least $150-175? The other ancillary benefits don’t help us.
That said, though, there are a couple of other important considerations here – One, I’m above my 5-card limit with Amex; thus, holding this card is standing in the way of me being able to apply for any new Amex cards and getting any sign-up bonuses. Even if the Brilliant card has positive value, could we do better by cancelling it if it frees up a spot for a new card and new sign-up bonus? And two, there is another option besides a straight keep-or-cancel – the ability to product change to the regular Amex Marriott Bonvoy card, which has a $95 annual fee.
The “Anniversary Offer” from Amex
Yesterday, we received an email from Amex with the subject line, “it’s your Card anniversary – and we’d like to say thanks.” The email contained a modest, straightforward offer from Amex on our Brilliant card – spend $25 or more at a Marriott Bonvoy hotel between now and 11/30/19, and earn a $25 statement credit. You must register for the offer by 10/15/19 and before you make the qualifying $25 spend.
Based on what we’ve read, we believe that all Brilliant cardholders who are having their one-year anniversary now are receiving this offer.
We registered for the offer, so now we’re set to use it.
Full terms and conditions are as follows:
Although the official terms and conditions say that it may take 10-12 weeks for your statement credit to be applied, our experience with these types of offers from Amex is that the credits usually post within a few days of the qualifying charge.
As with the $300 statement credit benefit on the Brilliant card, this $25 credit is worth pretty much face value to us. It’ll be easy to use, and if nothing else, we have a Marriott stay coming up in November where we’ll knock it out.
This is a small benefit, but it tips us ever so slightly toward keeping the card.
We see several strategy options with the Brilliant card at this point:
(1) Keep the card, pay the annual fee and hold it for a year – We’d pay $450. We’d pick up the $300 Marriott credit plus the $25 anniversary offer. We’ll get a 50k Free Night Award in 2-3 months (we anticipate that it will not arrive until after we have to pay the annual fee). [For us, we’d probably also be able to use the Global Entry credit.] We’d come out ahead with this option.
(2) Pay the annual fee, keep the card until we use the $300 + $25 statement credits and get the Free Night Award, then downgrade to the regular Amex Marriott Bonvoy card – In this case, we’d initially pay $450. We’d pick up the key benefits of the card, the credits and the free night certificate (plus probably also use the Global Entry credit). Then, we’d downgrade to save fees – annual fees are prorated in this situation. If we can use the credits and receive the free night certificate within 3 months of our annual fee, we’d end up paying $112.50 for the Brilliant ($450 * 3/12) plus $71.25 for the regular Bonvoy card ($95 * 9/12). That’s a total of $183.75 for benefits that will exceed $500. This is sounding like a good option.
(3) Capture the $300 + $25 statement credits quickly, then cancel – The $300 statement credit benefit is based on a cardholder year, so it’s available now. The $25 anniversary offer credit is also immediately available once you register. Some people could utilize these right away, before the annual fee comes due, then simply cancel the card. That’s $325 in extra benefit for no additional spend. This also seems like a reasonable option, if you have an upcoming stay where you can use the credits quickly. In our case, we don’t have a stay that would work easily for this. We’d have to disrupt another stay that is already strategically placed at Hyatt as we strive to achieve Globalist status in 2019. Note that in this option, we do not expect you will receive your Free Night Award certificate before you’d have to cancel to avoid paying the annual fee.
(4) Product change to the regular Amex Marriott Bonvoy card now – This would be possible, but we’d sure want to use the $300 + $25 statement credits before product changing. There’s no reason to give those up, so this strategy seems inferior to strategy #2.
(5) Cancel the Brilliant card now – This would avoid all annual fees. That’s a reasonable choice for some people, although we’d suggest using as much of the Marriott credits as possible before you cancel. We believe you should have 30 days after the statement close date of the statement on which the annual fee posts (Hat Tip to Doctor of Credit for this information).
What We Plan to Do
We’ll probably undertake a 2-stage strategy with our Brilliant card that starts with implementing Strategy #2 above. First, we’ll hold on to the card and pay the annual fee. We’ll use the card for our Marriott stay in mid-November, which should allow us to capture the $300 + $25 credits. By that time, we should have also received the 50k Free Night Award certificate. Once we receive the statement credits, we’ll then downgrade the card to the regular Amex Marriott Bonvoy card and receive a prorated annual fee refund.
Beyond that, we’re not sure what we’ll do. If there is a good opportunity to get a new Amex card that otherwise fits our points-and-miles strategies, we’ll then cancel the Bonvoy card to make room. (The Amex Hilton Business card seems like a promising option.) Note that if we cancel after product changing, we’d only be losing the prorated annual fee – better to cancel a $95 card and lose it all than cancel a $450 card! That’s why it’s far better for us to do the product change prior to canceling.
Alternatively, we might hang on to the Bonvoy card for the rest of our cardholder year and either (a) continue to keep it and pay its $95 annual fee next year for a 35k Free Night Award certificate; (b) upgrade back to Brilliant shortly before our card anniversary to get another $300 credit and 50k certificate; or (c) simply cancel the Bonvoy card when its annual fee comes due next year.
As you can see, using Strategy #2 gives us a multitude of options moving forward. We can see how our own situation develops and how the Amex/Marriott landscape evolves before we have to make final decision.
We hope that this discussion helps you as you consider what to do with your own Amex Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card. Good luck with whatever strategy you choose! And please share your thoughts with us and other Middle Age Miles readers in the Comments. Thank you.
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