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:
- Middle Age Miles: Amex Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant – New Anniversary Offer and Our Keep/Cancel/Product Change Strategy (August 26, 2019)
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.
- 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:
- Doctor of Credit: [Targeted] New Round Of American Express Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Upgrade Offers (December 6, 2019)
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.
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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