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Middle Age Miles

Executing on Our Amex Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Downgrade, Plus Future Strategy Options & Considerations

american express amex marriott bonvoy brilliant card downgrade strategy options analysis amex marriott bonvoy personal card upgrade offers
We used our $300 Marriott Bonvoy credit from the Brilliant card
at the spectacular Parklane hotel in Cyprus!

Introduction

Back in August 2019, we examined the Amex Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card in detail and analyzed our keep/cancel/product-change strategy for the card as it approached its first anniversary:

This article is definitely worth a read (or re-read) if you’re considering applying for the card or faced with an annual fee bill and a keep/cancel/product-change decision of your own.

In the article, we identified the strategy that we’d pursue with our Brilliant card, which was:

  • Not call Amex for any potential retention offer
    • If we received a retention offer and accepted it, this would lock us in to the Brilliant card for a full year (at least under Amex “best practice” unwritten rules)
  • Initially pay the $450 annual fee
  • Keep the card until we:
    • Used the card’s $300 Marriott Bonvoy statement credit;
    • Used the special $25 “anniversary offer” Bonvoy statement credit we had received;
    • Used the card’s Global Entry fee credit; and
    • Received our 50k Free Night Award that comes as an “anniversary” benefit of the card but is not deposited until 8-12 weeks after the annual fee posts
  • Then, downgrade to the “regular” Amex Marriott Bonvoy card
    • This card carries a much lower $95 annual fee.
    • We would receive a pro-rated refund of the $450 annual fee on our Brilliant card but pay a pro-rated portion of the Bonvoy card’s annual fee for the rest of our cardholder year.

In this article, we’ll examine how we’ve implemented this strategy and how it played out. Then, we’ll analyze our current situation with the Amex Marriott Bonvoy card and look at our strategy options going forward.

Using the Brilliant Card’s Benefits and Downgrading

We knew from the outset that we’d have to wait at least a couple of months past our August 23 cardholder anniversary date before we could downgrade our Brilliant card. That’s because it takes so long for the card’s annual 50k Free Night Certificate to post. (Amex wants you to be required to pay the next year’s annual fee before you receive the “anniversary” certificate.) We also knew that we could use the $300 and $25 Bonvoy credits for an already-planned stay (no modified behavior) in November.

So, our use of the Brilliant card’s benefits went like this:

  • Our annual 50k Free Night Certificate posted on 11/3/2019
    • This was 72 days after our anniversary date of 8/23 and 54 days after our annual fee posted on 9/10/19
  • We stayed at Parklane, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa, in Limassol, Cyprus, checking out on 11/18/2019, and paying with the Brilliant card
    • This would use our $300 annual Marriott Bonvoy credit from the Brilliant card, plus the $25 special “anniversary offer” credit that we had received
    • Unfortunately, we had problems receiving the statement credit and the 6x Marriott points from our stay at Parklane. Parklane payments apparently went through a third-party processor and did not initially code as a Marriott purchase. Amex eventually made everything right, but it took 2 or 3 calls to Amex customer service and we didn’t finish receiving the correct statement credits and Marriott points until early January 2020.
The Parklane, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, was awesome
– but its use of a third-party processor for payments caused issues
with the points and statement credits from our Brilliant card
  • We used the card’s $100 Global Entry fee credit in late November 2019 and the credit posted in early December

Thus, we picked up $425 in credits plus a 50k Free Night Certificate before we downgraded our card.

On 1/13/2020, we called Amex and downgraded our Brilliant card to an Amex Marriott Bonvoy card. The downgrade processed immediately. Amex refunded a pro-rated portion of our $450 annual fee on the Brilliant card and charged a pro-rated portion of the $95 annual fee on the Bonvoy card.

In case you’re wondering how Amex calculates the pro-rated fees, here’s an explanation. The proration keyed off of the date that our annual fee posted (not our actual anniversary date), which was 9/10/19.

  • Starting from 9/10/19, we had the Brilliant card open for 125 days until 1/13/20. That’s 34.15% of our anniversary year (125 days / 366 days this year). We were charged $153.69 in fees for the Brilliant card ($450 minus the $296.31 prorated credit), which was 34.15% of a full year’s annual fee.
  • We would have the Bonvoy card open for 241 days, from 1/13/20 through 9/10/20. Our pro-rated annual fee of $62.72 was 66.02% of a full year’s annual fee, which is the same proportion of our cardholder year that we would hold this card. (If you’re being precise, this number is very slightly off, and I’m not quite sure why – but it’s close enough for any necessary analysis.)

Thus, we’ve paid a total of $216.41 in fees for this cardholder year. We’ve already received $425 in credits, plus we have the 50k Free Night Certificate that should easily be worth at least $250 and perhaps much more. We’re very pleased with how our strategy has played out so far.

What’s Next? Where Do We Go From Here?

At this point, we hold an Amex Marriott Bonvoy card. We really don’t have any immediate use for it, as its points-earning (6x at Marriott; 2x everywhere else) is not best-in-class in any category. For now, though, it costs us nothing to keep the card until its next annual fee posts in early September 2020.

At this point, our options and strategy issues are:

(1) Keep the card through the next annual fee cycle – If we do this, we’d pay the next $95 annual fee and receive a 35k Free Night Certificate in November 2020. We’d probably get $200+ in value out of the Certificate fairly easily, so this is a reasonable option and a good reason to hold the Bonvoy card long-term even though it’s not useful in our points-earning efforts.

In addition, we might be able to use Amex Offers for Marriott properties that pop up on this card. Among our Amex cards, this card has the best earning rate for Marriotts, so we’d want to use this card to enroll in Amex Offers for Marriott properties. As it turns out, we enrolled our Bonvoy card in a new Amex Offer for Marriott just this week:

(2) Keep the card, hope for an upgrade offer, and upgrade back to Brilliant if we get one – It’s fairly common for Amex to send lucrative offers to entice Bonvoy cardholders to upgrade to the Brilliant card. Recent upgrade offers seem to have been in the range of 100k to 125k Marriott Bonvoy points for $3,000 to $5,000 in spend within 3 months. At our baseline value of 0.67 cents per Marriott point, the upgrade offers alone would be worth about $670 to $840.

Doctor of Credit has a good summary of recent Brilliant upgrade offers here:

This is also a pretty attractive option. If we accepted an upgrade offer, it would essentially lock us in to the Brilliant card for a year. We’d have to pay at least $450 in fees, but in addition to the upgrade bonus, we’d get another $300 Bonvoy statement credit and another 50k Free Night Certificate. That’s a winning points-and-miles play for sure.

(3) Cancel the card to help open up a slot for a new Amex credit card – Generally, Amex has a limit of 5 credit cards per primary cardholder. Charge cards (like Platinum, Gold and Green cards) don’t count and authorized user cards don’t count – but both personal and business cards do count toward this limit. In some circumstances, the limit can be higher. In fact, I currently hold 7 Amex credit cards. The 6th slot opened up back in early 2018 when I had a Citi Hilton co-branded card that transferred to Amex. And somehow, I got a 7th Amex credit card when I was approved for the Brilliant card in August 2018 (then, the Amex SPG Luxury card).

Anyway, if I want a new Amex credit card, I’m probably going to have to cancel either one, two or three of my current Amex cards. There are two cards closer to the chopping block that this card – an old Blue for Business card that’s mostly gathering dust, and my Marriott Bonvoy Business card that’s not as useful as the personal Bonvoy card (higher annual fee; no upgrade possibilities). But if I had to close a third Amex credit card to make room for a new one, my Bonvoy card would be next in line.

I’m not feeling any pull on the personal card side, because I’m in the midst of a long-term project to get under 5/24 to restore my ability to get Chase cards. But there may be business card opportunities of interest – most notably, the Amex Hilton Honors business card with its 125k sign-up bonus (worth about $562 at our baseline value of 0.45 cents per HH point) plus the ability to earn a Hilton Free Weekend Night certificate with $15k spend.

The Verdict – Our Strategy for Now

I’m going to let this decision simmer for a bit. I don’t have any immediate need to do anything with this card or its Amex slot. There are no costs until the annual fee posts in September 2020. And although I’m thinking about the Amex Hilton business card, I don’t have any imminent need for additional HH points or free nights. For now, I want to be patient and wait to see if a nice upgrade offer comes along, because that’s probably the most valuable option of all to me if it becomes available.

Wrap-Up

We’re very happy with our downgrade strategy for our former Amex Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card so far. We got plenty of value out of the card, far in excess of the fees we paid. Now, we’re in a holding pattern, and none of the going-forward options are bad.

If you know the ins-and-outs and can use the free night certificates that come with Amex’s Marriott co-branded cards, these cards can be quite valuable. We hope that this article – as well as our previous article about Amex Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant keep/cancel/product-change strategy – helps you think through your own strategies and ultimately helps you travel more for less money!


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7 thoughts on “Executing on Our Amex Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Downgrade, Plus Future Strategy Options & Considerations

  1. Steve

    ” … If we accepted an upgrade offer, it would essentially lock us in to the Brilliant card for a year. We’d have to pay at least $450 in fees, but in addition to the upgrade bonus, we’d get another $300 Bonvoy statement credit and another 50k Free Night Certificate.”

    Say you get an upgrade offer prior to your next anniversary (9/10/2020) and you take that offer – would you get the 50K cert, $300 credit, and etc. again? Hope I’m making sense here. How would this play out? Just curios …

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Hi Steve – Great question again. I believe that the answer to this one is no, you wouldn’t get another 50k cert, $300 credit, etc., again if you upgrade during the same cardholder year that you downgraded. I have a personal experience with Amex that’s on-point, albeit with a different card. A couple of years ago, I downgraded a Business Platinum card to Business Gold, and then I upgraded the card to Biz Plat again during the same year. In that instance, I had used the $200 Biz Plat airline fee credit before the downgrade, and I did *not* get another $200 airline fee credit on the re-upgraded Biz Plat card. I don’t know directly, but I strongly suspect the answer would be the same if you had a similar downgrade/re-upgrade situation with Amex Marriott personal cards. Hope that helps.

      If anyone has confirming or conflicting data points, on this, can you please let Steve and me know? Many thanks. ~Craig

  2. Bob

    Crig: Thanks for the update. I’m probably going to do something similar with my Brilliant card when the fee posts in June. Separate question – for various reasons, I’m looking at cancelling my AMEX Bonvoy Business card within the next few days. The annual fee is due on 4 Feb, and I see the value in opening up an AMEX card slot. Today I requested a transfer of my credit limit to my Business Blue Plus card, leaving only $1k c/l on the card. But the c/l request may not be approved for a week or so. I wonder – can I implement a variation of your strategy (i.e., pay the fee now, collect the free nite cert, and then cancel and get the fee reimbursed on a pro-rated basis? I think it won’t work, as it’s not a a downgrade and there’s nothing to pro-rate the fee into. Am I correct? If so, it may still be worth paying the fee, getting the c/l transfer approved, collect the free nite cert, cancel and write-off the $125 fee as a “payment” for the c/l shift and free nite cert. Or will AMEX try to “claw back” the free nite cert (although I don’t see how rhey’d do this)?

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Hey Bob – Thanks for the comment and good questions, and no worries on the late-night misspelling!

      On your question about the Bonvoy Biz card – As a general rule, you’re correct – no proration if you cancel >30 days after the AF posts. But see some contrary recent data points (only a few, but still) in this DoC article from a couple of months ago: https://www.doctorofcredit.com/get-american-express-annual-fee-prorated-when-closing-card-requires-manual-request/

      Another important point – Note that you may have a few days after your “due date” to see if the credit limit transfer clears. You technically don’t have to pay the AF by the “due date” of your Amex statement, just within 30 days of posting. So, you might have a better chance than you’re thinking about getting the C/L transfer to clear in time. You won’t be able to get the free night certificate in time, though.

      If it’s worth the $125 to you to get the free night certificate, then just wait out that period, then cancel if you need to open up an Amex slot. Maybe call to try get a prorated refund as is suggested in the DoC article (although I agree with one commenter to the DoC article who noted that such a request might not be risk-free; you’ll have to decide for yourself). Your free night certificate will not be clawed back.

      Thanks for the thought-provoking questions and good luck! ~Craig

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Hi Bob – I think this would work with the RC Visa card too, under Chase’s rules. We’ve never really considered doing this because we get too much value out of the RC Visa card to close or downgrade it (think kids as AUs with Priority Pass cards; ongoing car rental reservations; etc.). ~Craig

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