The Ultimate Strategy for US Marriott Bonvoy Credit Cards

Unless otherwise specified, all currencies in this article are in US dollars, and all mentions of Amex are in reference to American Express US and its credit cards issued in the US.

With the recent refresh of the American Express US and Chase Marriott Bonvoy credit card line-up, it’s a good time to revisit the ideal strategy for Bonvoy loyalists.

Forget earning rates on everyday spending  what makes these cards interesting is the fast track to Marriott Bonvoy Elite status and free stays year after year. With these perks, it’s rather easy to justify paying higher annual fees, given all that you can gain from simply holding these cards.

Let’s take a deeper look at the best ways to maximize your Bonvoy credit cards, between status shortcuts, free nights, annual rebates, and welcome bonuses.

In This Post

Summary of Marriott Bonvoy Credit Cards

American Express US has two personal Bonvoy cards you can apply for. There’s the top-tier Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card, and the recently-introduced Marriott Bonvoy Bevy American Express Card.

There’s also a third personal card, the basic Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card. You can only get this card by downgrading from one of the other two personal cards.

Finally, there’s the Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express Card, the only Bonvoy co-branded business card available for new applications in the US.

Amex Brilliant

Amex Bevy

Amex (basic)

Amex Business

Elite Status

Platinum

Gold

N/A

N/A

Elite Qualifying Nights

25

15

15

15

Annual Free Night

85K (anniversary)

50K ($15K spent)

35K (anniversary)

35K (anniversary)

Annual Credits

$25 dining (monthly)

N/A

N/A

N/A

Other Perks

Earned Choice Award: 85K night @ $60K spent/year

1,000 points per stay

N/A

N/A

Annual Fee

$650

$250

$95

$125

Earning Rates

• 6 (Marriott)

• 3 (dining, flights)

• 2 (other)

• 6 (Marriott)

• 4 (dining, groceries)

• 2 (other)

• 6 (Marriott)

• 2 (other)

• 6 (Marriott)

• 4 (dining, gas, telecoms)

• 2 (other)

Signup Bonus

150,000

125,000

downgrade only

100,000

Chase offers three personal Visa cards you can apply for. From premium to no-fee, they’re branded Bountiful, Boundless, and Bold. There’s also a fourth Ritz-Carlton Card, that can only be obtained by upgrading one of the other three.

Chase Ritz-Carlton

Chase Bountiful

Chase Boundless

Chase Bold

Elite Status

Gold

Gold

N/A

N/A

Elite Qualifying Nights

15

15

15 + 1/$5K spent

15

Annual Free Night

85K (anniversary)

50K ($15K spent)

35K (anniversary)

N/A

Annual Credits

$300 airline incidentals

N/A

N/A

N/A

Other Perks

Priority Pass + unlimited guests

1,000 points per stay

N/A

N/A

Annual Fee

$450

$250

$95

$0

Earning Rates

• 6 (Marriott)

• 3 (dining, travel)

• 2 (other)

• 6 (Marriott)

• 4 (dining, groceries)

• 2 (other)

• 6 (Marriott)

• 3 (dining, groceries, gas)

• 2 (other)

• 3 (Marriott)

• 2 (travel)

• 1 (other)

Signup Bonus

upgrade only

125,000

100,000

60,000

You’ll notice that the Amex Bevy and the Chase Bountiful, two new products launched last week, are identical. Meanwhile, there are some other wrinkles across the line-up that we’ll need to parse in order to tease out the best way forward.

How to Achieve Elite Status with Credit Cards

If you’re pursuing Bonvoy Elite status, the tiers you’ll want to target are Platinum and Titanium. That’s where the meaningful benefits kick in, like free breakfast, suite upgrades, and access to Executive Lounges.

To earn Platinum status, normally you need to have 50 Elite Qualifying Nights (EQNs) in a year. Without any shortcuts or promotions, this translates to staying 50 nights in Bonvoy-affiliated hotels.

One of the new benefits of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card is that it grants the cardholder automatic Platinum status. If you’re only looking to maintain Platinum status, it couldn’t be simpler just get and keep the Amex Brilliant!

Enjoy the perks that come with Platinum Elite status, such as free breakfast, with the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex 

However, with automatic Platinum status, you’ll be missing out on a couple of benefits.

It’s important to remember that while Elite Qualifying Nights give you status, status doesn’t give you Elite Qualifying Nights. If you earn 50 nights, you’ll get Platinum status; however, having Platinum status doesn’t get you 50 nights.

That means you won’t get the Annual Choice Benefit, which is earned when you reach 50 nights.

More importantly, if you’re pushing for 75 nights for Titanium Elite status, having Platinum status via the Amex Brilliant won’t give you a leg up. If you’d earned Platinum organically through nights stayed, you’d only be 25 nights away, but with the Amex Brilliant, you’ll still be quite far off.

Fortunately, the Amex Brilliant gives you 25 Elite Qualifying Nights every year, in addition to automatic Platinum status. That would put you 25 nights away from your 50-night Annual Choice Benefit, and 50 away from Titanium status (or 45 if you select five Elite Qualifying Nights as your 50-night Annual Choice Benefit).

The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card gives you 25 Elite Qualifying Nights each year

If the Amex Brilliant’s annual fee is too high for your liking, or if you don’t need 25 bonus nights to reach your status goals, any other Bonvoy personal card gives 15 Elite Qualifying Nights per year. Note that you can’t combine nights if you have multiple personal cards, so the most you can earn from your personal credit cards is 25 per year with Amex Brilliant, or 15 with anything else.

If you’re using credit cards to rack up Elite Qualifying Nights, the Amex Bonvoy Business Card is a must-have. That’s because you can combine the 15 Elite Qualifying Nights on a Marriott Bonvoy Amex US Business Card with the nights earned from holding a US Bonvoy personal card.

If you have the Amex Brilliant and the Amex US Bonvoy Business cards, that’s a total of 40 Elite Qualifying Nights per year, for a combined annual fee of $775. You’d be only 10 nights away from the Annual Choice Benefit after you hit 50 nights, and 30–35 nights away from Titanium Elite status.

Stack the Elite Qualifying Nights from a personal and business US card to get closer to a higher status

Holding these two cards would be an extremely strong play if you’re gunning for Titanium status. One of my favourite perks of achieving Titanium is the Annual Choice Benefit earned when you reach 75 EQNs, which can be used to select a Free Night Award worth up to 40,000 points, valid for up to two years.

On the other hand, any other personal US Bonvoy card plus the Amex US Bonvoy Business card would get you a total of 30 EQNs per year. Without the Amex Brilliant, you wouldn’t get automatic Platinum status, but you’d only be 20 nights away, or 40–45 to Titanium.

This would be a good strategy if you prefer to keep annual fees down, and can hit your status goals with organic stays.

Finally, the Chase Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Visa uniquely offers 1 EQN per $5,000 spent. This might be useful for a top-up if you’re a few nights short, but I wouldn’t rely on it to spend your way to status from scratch, as the opportunity cost of that spending is quite high.

Earning Bonvoy Free Night Awards with Credit Cards

Even without considering the shortcuts to status, all of the Bonvoy cards deliver more value each year than the cost of their annual fees. This is another great reason to hold your Bonvoy cards for the long-term.

In particular, all Bonvoy cards (except the Chase Bold Visa, which has no annual fee) offer an annual Free Night Award, starting in your second year with the card. We value Bonvoy points at 0.7 cents per point, and we can use the same rate to appraise these free night certificates.

The Amex Brilliant offers an 85,000-point Free Night Award on your cardholder anniversary, which, at a value of $595, comes close to offsetting the annual fee of $650. Tack on the $25 monthly dining credit, and you can easily close the gap and even come out ahead by quite a bit.

The Chase Ritz-Carlton Card also offers an 85,000-point Free Night Award certificate each year, plus an annual $300 credit for airline incidentals, all against an annual fee of $450. If you’re able to obtain this card, you’ll certainly come out ahead with ease.

Either (or both) of these premium Bonvoy cards would be the best choice for luxury hotels.

Redeem an 85,000-point Free Night Award certificate at a high-end property, such as the JW Marriott Maldives

For the two mid-tier cards, the Amex Bevy and the Chase Bountiful, there’s no automatic Free Night Award dispensed upon your cardholder anniversary. Instead, you’ll earn a 50,000-point certificate upon spending $15,000 each calendar year.

At $350, the value of the Free Night Award exceeds the cost of the annual fee of $250, the spending requirement is a major deterrent. In fact, I would not recommend holding the mid-tier Bonvoy cards long-term, simply because they don’t automatically award a free night each year.

As an exception, it may be worth it if you tend to redeem the Free Night Award at a higher valuation than our target rate of 0.7 cents per point. The break-even point with the annual fee would be a bit over 1 cent per point.

Redeem a 50,000-point Free Night Award certificate at great properties, such as the St. Regis Langkawi

Also, you may consider the Amex Bevy or Chase Bountiful for your long-term strategy if you have no interest in properties bookable with the 35,000-point certificates earned with the lower-tier cards. Recall that you can top up a Free Night Award with 15,000 Bonvoy points, making the 50,000 point certificates valid for properties up to 65,000 points per night with a top-up.

As for the basic Amex Bonvoy and Chase Boundless cards, you’ll earn a 35,000-point annual Free Night Award with no spending requirement. At a value of $245 against an annual fee of $95, these cards are the best choice if you’re happy with 15 EQNs towards status at a low cost, and any net gain on the annual fee/certificate trade-off.

What About the Ritz-Carlton Card?

While you cannot simply apply for the Ritz-Carlton Card, you can upgrade to it from another Chase Bonvoy Visa by calling Chase after holding another eligible card for at least one year.

As part of a finely-tuned long-term strategy, the Ritz-Carlton Card is definitely worth pursuing. As we’ve discussed above, the 85,000-point Free Night Award and the $300 airline incidental credit significantly offset the $450 annual fee.

Also, the Ritz-Carlton Card comes with the best Priority Pass membership across all credit cards in the US and Canada. Not only does the card offer access to Priority Pass airport lounges, but also unlimited free guest access.

The Ritz-Carlton Card offers outstanding value to cardholders

Even if you aren’t flying with your friends or family members, there’s still a way to use your Ritz-Carlton Card to give them lounge access. You can add authorized users for no additional cost, with each one eligible to sign up for their own Priority Pass membership (and bring in their own unlimited number of guests).

The potential here is really mind-blowing, and there’s no other card quite like this!

Welcome Bonus Restrictions

While the main advantage of the Bonvoy credit cards is their keeper value, points will fuel your aspirational stays. It’ll be to your benefit to nab as many lucrative welcome bonuses as you can, all while navigating the maze of terms and conditions specifically designed for these cards.

Marriott Bonvoy credit cards are unique, in that they have welcome bonus restrictions shared across both American Express and Chase. You may be ineligible for a welcome bonus on one card if:

  • You currently have or have had another card in the past 30 days
  • You’ve opened another card in the past 90 days
  • You’ve received a signup or upgrade bonus on another card in the past 24 months

Basically, it’s hard to play both Amex and Chase if you want to receive welcome bonuses, unless you’re willing to wait a really long time.

The welcome bonuses on all Amex and all Chase cards available to new applicants are mutually exclusive between the two issuers. If you earn a welcome or upgrade bonus from either issuer, you can’t earn one from the other issuer, on any card, for 24 months.

Be strategic about your Bonvoy credit card applications to maximize the welcome bonuses

With Chase you can earn two bonuses Bountiful and Boundless  every 24 months. Chase effectively only has two cards, as you can’t receive a bonus on Boundless and Bold within 24 months of each other.

However, you’re also subjected to the Chase 5/24 Rule, meaning you won’t be approved for any Chase cards if you’ve opened five personal cards from any US bank in the past 24 months. I’d say this hard rule is a bigger hurdle than the nebulous Amex pop-up.

Besides, I’m not even convinced that Chase welcome bonuses are the best way to earn Bonvoy points quickly or sustainably.

With Amex you can earn three bonuses Brilliant, Bevy, and Business as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. However, there’s no exclusions amongst the three, so you could blitz them all to rack up welcome bonuses, Elite Qualifying Nights, and Free Night Awards with no worry for your 5/24 count.

Furthermore, I wouldn’t be surprised to see upgrade offers on Amex’s expanded line-up of Bonvoy cards, like we see with their Hilton and Membership Rewards cards. Once-in-a-lifetime may not be as exclusive as it seems.

Another advantage with Amex is the extra 15 EQNs from the business card, which stack with the 15–25 nights from a personal card. You may want to stick with Amex for your personal Bonvoy cards, to align your status strategy with your points strategy.

Align your Bonvoy status strategy with your points strategy through credit cards

For Canadians, the choice is clear: focus on Amex. If you’re just getting started with US credit cards, you’ll have to put Chase on the backburner anyway, as Amex US is the natural entry point for US credit cards.

If you’re interested in accumulating Bonvoy points, there are still a lot of solid options on the Canadian side. American Express Canada offers its own co-branded Bonvoy cards, complete with their own signup bonuses.

Also, Membership Rewards points are easy to earn with cards like the Amex Cobalt, and can be transferred to Marriott Bonvoy at a favourable rate.

On the other hand, if you don’t need 25 EQNs, or if you’re willing to forego a couple of welcome bonuses with Amex US, you might want to make a move on Chase as soon as you can, to get the wheels in motion for the Ritz-Carlton Card. This card arguably has a superior package of premium perks than the Amex Brilliant, all for a lower annual fee.

Whatever you do, if you’re interested in the Amex Brilliant or Bevy, just make sure you get them before the Chase Ritz-Carlton Card. The latter is squarely a keeper, and holding it will disqualify you from a welcome bonus on the former two.

Conclusion

Marriott Bonvoy credit cards in the US are no simple matter, with a plethora of one-time bonuses, ongoing perks, and restrictions to make sense of.

Broadly speaking, most cardholders will benefit from prioritizing the Amex cards, while staying under 5/24 to work in Chase on the side with a long-term eye on the elusive Ritz-Carlton Card. This can be a sound strategy no matter your goals, whether you’re pursuing Bonvoy Elite status, free nights, or large swaths of points.

Ultimately, the best value on the Bonvoy cards comes year after year. Slot in at the level of annual fees that you’re happy to pay, for the level of benefits that you’re seeking to enjoy. Rest assured that even with a minor misstep in such a complex puzzle, you’re guaranteed to come out ahead.

5 Comments
  1. Marina Lee

    I’m platinum elite & currently hold a Canadian Marriott Bonvoy AMEX. I’m interested to get a Marriott Bonvoy US Business card as I already have a US bank account with a US part-time job. Will I get 15 elite nights on top of my personal Canadian Marriott Bonvoy AMEX? Can you please send me a referral link so I can apply for the US AMEX? Thanks a lot!

  2. WT

    Nice new perks but still an extra $200USD!!
    Might you know if the Platinum Status with Brilliant card will count towards the Bonvoy Lifetime Platinum status?

    1. Josh YVR

      My understanding is that yes, automatic Platinum status from a credit card counts towards lifetime status. You’ll still need 600 nights along with 10 years, but credit card nights also count.

  3. Shay

    I just signed up for the Canadian Amex Bonvoy card and received the 15 night bonus. I am now at a total of 37 nights.
    If I sign up for one of the US cards will I attain another 15 to get my elite status?

    1. Josh YVR

      No, the only combination of cards that gets more than 15 nights is US personal + US business.

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