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Is the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex worth the $650 annual fee?

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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information and offers.

When a credit card’s annual fee is over $600, many people raise an eyebrow and question whether its benefits make that fee worth paying.

That’s certainly the case with the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card — the premium card in the Marriott credit card family. Along with announcing several new and enhanced benefits in late 2022, we saw the annual fee jump from an already-pricey $450 to an eye-catching $650 (see rates and fees).

The truth is, cobranded hotel cards usually aren’t the best for maximizing your spending beyond purchases with a given hotel chain. But when a credit card offers a premium free night award each year and elite status that can provide suite upgrades and free breakfast, people pay attention.

The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card proves that it’s possible to get significant value from at least one premium hotel card by offering generous perks such as automatic top-tier elite status and weekend reward nights. After its recent changes, we’re breaking down whether the same holds true for the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant below.

The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Welcome bonus

Let’s start with the introductory bonus offer to examine whether the card is worth it.

With the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex, you can earn a welcome bonus of 150,000 Marriott Bonvoy bonus points after spending $6,000 on eligible purchases in the first six months; plus, earn 50,000 points after you stay six eligible paid nights at Marriott hotels through Jan. 31, 2024. This offer ends Aug. 9.

TPG values Marriott points at 0.84 cents apiece, meaning this bonus is worth $1,680.

a small hut at a hotel sits behind a pool
Al Maha, a Luxury Collection Desert Resort and Spa near Dubai. ETHAN STEINBERG/THE POINTS GUY

Some of the best uses of Marriott Bonvoy points include free nights at properties such as The Ritz-Carlton, Turks & Caicos, The St. Regis Bora Bora Resort, The West Hollywood Edition and the London Marriott Hotel Park Lane. Those who enjoy time on the powder may love ski-adjacent options at The St. Regis Aspen Resort, The St. Regis Deer Valley or The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch.

Remember that American Express has restrictions that will limit your ability to collect a new-member bonus if you’ve had other Marriott products before. Fortunately, there’s a pop-up that will tell you if you are not eligible for the bonus when you apply before Amex runs your credit — and our chart can help clarify things as well.

Related: Marriott’s dynamic award pricing is live — here’s what that means for travelers

Annual free night award

Each year after your card renewal month, you’ll receive a free night award worth up to 85,000 points.

In case you need some inspiration for what that can get you, this can include the luxurious St. Regis New York and St. Regis Deer Valley in the U.S., The Ritz-Carlton, Turks & Caicos for a Caribbean getaway, The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto in Japan or idyllic overwater bungalows at the St. Regis Bora Bora or The Ritz-Carlton Maldives, Fari Islands.

That said, due to Marriott’s dynamic pricing model, you’ll want to do a calendar search for flexible dates in order to find nights that cost 85,000 points or less.

a ladder from the ocean leads up to an overwater bungalow
The Ritz-Carlton Maldives, Fari Islands. CHRIS DONG/THE POINTS GUY

The annual free night award has significant value, but it’s also worth pointing out that you can only use this award to stay for a single night. This could be challenging if you have plans to stay two nights or longer. If you maximize this award night and stay at a property costing 85,000 points, you have three less-than-ideal options for subsequent nights:

  • Pay 85,000 points from your Marriott balance.
  • Pay the cash fee (which can be quite high).
  • Move to a different hotel.

For this reason, people have differing opinions on the value of free night awards that are worth a single night at a luxury property.

Related: 9 places to maximize the new 85,000-point Marriott award night certificate

Up to $300 in dining credits per year

In the past, Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex cardholders had an easy-to-use annual credit for up to $300 to use on spending with Marriott-affiliated properties. But when the Brilliant underwent its changes in 2022, this changed to monthly dining credits. While the maximum value per year ($300) remains the same, the credits are now given as up to $25 per month.

A Hotel breakfast buffet inside a dining room
The Miami Beach Edition. NICK ELLIS/THE POINTS GUY

This means that the credits are now more complicated to use, as you must remember to use them monthly rather than simply paying for hotel stays related to the hotel program affiliated with the credit card at any time during the year.

That said, just about everyone spends at least $25 per month at restaurants, so as long as you remember to use the credits each month, this can help to offset nearly half of the card’s $650 annual fee (see rates and fees).

Related: How to use Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant’s $25 monthly dining credit

Elite status and related perks

The card offers automatic Marriott Platinum Elite status. In terms of Marriott’s status tiers, this is the level where valuable perks start to kick in.

Platinum Elite members are eligible for late checkout and early check-in, when available, plus room upgrades based on availability at arrival — including eligibility for upgrades to suites. At the Platinum level, you also have access to welcome gifts at check-in and free breakfast at select properties.

Unfortunately, you are not entitled to a Choice Benefit (the most valuable of which are five Suite Night Awards) just by having this card. You can, however, earn a Choice benefit by spending $60,000 on your card in a calendar year or, alternatively, by reaching 50 elite night credits. You’ll automatically get 25 credits by having your card, so you’ll need to stay just 25 additional nights to qualify for the Choice benefit.

Note that you can only earn one set of elite night credits from personal Marriott cards, regardless of how many you have. However, this benefit can stack with the 15 elite night credits given to cardholders of a Marriott business card — like the Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card.

If you have both the Bonvoy Brilliant and the Bonvoy Business cards, you’ll have 40 elite night credits, so you’ll only need to stay 10 qualifying nights to get the Choice benefit.

Breakfast at Le Meridien Maldives

And if you’re shooting for Titanium Elite status, you’ll need 75 qualifying credits. The 40 elite credits you’d get from holding both the Brilliant and the Business cards will get you over halfway there.

Related: Your complete guide to earning Marriott elite status with credit cards 

Other perks

Other built-in perks of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card include a Priority Pass Select membership, which gives you and two guests unlimited access to more than 1,300 airport lounges worldwide, as well as an up-to-$100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit.

The Priority Pass membership is not a massive value-add if you already receive the benefit through other cards. However, if you already have Global Entry or TSA PreCheck because you received it for free with another credit card, you can use this credit to cover a friend’s or family member’s application fee. Enrollment is required for select benefits.

a created card on a table of spa supplies

The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex’s earning structure is similar to the other Marriott cards but with two additional bonus categories: dining and airfare. Cardholders earn 6 points per dollar on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program, 3 points per dollar at restaurants worldwide and on flights booked directly with airlines, and 2 points per dollar on other eligible purchases.

Based on TPG’s valuations, that’s essentially a return of 5% on Marriott purchases, 2.5% on restaurants and flights and 1.7% on everyday spending. Those rates aren’t earth-shattering but aren’t bad for a cobranded card.

Related: Earn bonus Marriott points on your Uber rides and food delivery orders

Bottom line

While it might not be the best card for everyday spending, there’s plenty of value in the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card if you frequently stay in Marriott properties and place value in the elite perks the card offers. In fact, it may be a no-brainer for the program’s most loyal guests.

Depending on how you value these benefits, you could love the status, dining credits and more valuable free night award. Still, you may also think the annual fee is too much because you don’t see yourself maximizing them. Be sure to calculate the value you’ll get from the card before deciding to add it to your wallet.

Official application link: Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card with 150,000 Marriott Bonvoy bonus points after spending $6,000 on eligible purchases in the first six months; plus, earn 50,000 points after you stay six eligible nights at Marriott hotels through Jan. 31, 2024. Offer ends August 9.

For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex, click here.

Additional reporting by Emily Thompson, Ryan Wilcox, Summer Hull, Jennifer Yellin and Benji Stawski.