In my decade-long pursuit of travel rewards, I’ve had virtually every credit card out there. I’ve enjoyed the thrill of a new sign-up bonus and the travel benefits each card has afforded me.
Cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express and Citi Premier® Card have paid for themselves several times over, earning a permanent place in my wallet. Even the cards I didn’t keep past the first year offered benefits that made them worth having in the short term.
But there’s one credit card that not only didn’t work out for me but that I actively regret applying for: the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card.
I applied for the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card in December 2020, when it offered an attractive welcome offer. Usually, the card includes automatic Marriott Gold elite status, which temporarily increased to Marriott Platinum. I had some significant expenses coming up and thought this would be an excellent opportunity to leverage that spending towards a new credit card welcome bonus, top off my Marriott Bonvoy balance and get elite status with a hotel chain I had made several bookings with.
But things didn’t go as I had expected. Since hotels continued to limit services and elite benefits for much of the year, I found myself using fewer of this card’s perks than I had anticipated. Granted, it’s been tough to get full value from any hotel credit card during the pandemic. Here’s why I regret getting the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card:
The Platinum status was less valuable during the pandemic
When I applied for the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card, it came with a limited-time benefit that really sweetened the deal: Platinum Elite status. As Marriott Bonvoy’s second-highest elite tier, this elite level offers valuable perks like complimentary breakfast, lounge access, welcome gift, and room upgrades. Typically, these would be incredibly valuable. But the pandemic has caused hotels to cut back many of these services.
While I should have expected this to be the case when I applied for this card in December 2020, I thought things would be back to normal a lot sooner. I’ve stayed at several Marriott hotels this year and up until the summer, every hotel I stayed at had cut back on breakfast. Club lounges were closed, and because hotels were hurting financially, they weren’t quite as generous with room upgrades as they normally would have been.
Ultimately, the Marriott Platinum status from this card ended up not being quite as handy as I hoped. It became one reason I regretted applying for this card.
Marriott Bonvoy points will devalue soon
During the pandemic, Marriott temporarily lowered all award redemption rates to off-peak levels. Simultaneously, consumers stocked up on points from credit card sign-up bonuses and point sales, with little opportunity to redeem them. That may change as travel demand rebounds, but an abundance of points on the market could also spell a devaluation. That’s exactly what Marriott recently announced.
Starting in March 2022, Marriott will eliminate its current award chart and switch entirely to dynamic pricing. That means the number of points required for an award night will depend entirely on paid rates and demand. This could be disastrous, especially at high-end properties where points have historically offered the best value.
The hospitality industry has taken a substantial financial hit since the pandemic. As travelers gear up to put their Marriott points to use, the program is looking to reduce the financial impact of these redemptions. Increasing redemption rates through dynamic pricing is one way to mitigate this.
Paired with my current limited ability to travel, getting a co-branded Marriott credit card wasn’t a good move on my part. Let alone one with a large welcome offer and a $450 annual fee.
I can’t justify Marriott award redemptions when paid rates are so low
Marriott’s award chart is quite inflated, with top-tier award nights going as high as 100,000 points. While Marriott eliminated peak pricing during the pandemic, I still have found it hard to justify redeeming points when paid rates have been low.
Even as travel has rebounded and hotel rates increased, I haven’t found much value in redeeming Marriott points. I tend to travel during off-peak periods when paid rates are low and award rates at upscale hotels are relatively high. Redeeming points hasn’t made sense for me over the last year and a half.
Perhaps that will change in 2022, as travel continues to rebound and hotel rates climb. By then, I’m concerned we’ll face a point devaluation and the value of Marriott points will drop. This is pure speculation at this point, but judging by how Marriott has leaned on the Bonvoy program to generate revenue during a crippling pandemic, I may not be far off.
I haven’t made use of the card’s $300 hotel credit this year
Last year, American Express threw us all a bone by expanding the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant’s annual $300 hotel credit towards restaurant purchases. Unfortunately, that came to an end on Aug. 31, 2020. Since I got my card in December of that same year, I’ve struggled to make use of the credit.
The credit is valid on on-site hotel spending, including dining and spa services, to name a few. Unfortunately, it doesn’t apply to pre-paid hotel rates, which I always book because they’re cheaper than standard rates. As a result, I’ve had a hard time redeeming the $300 hotel credit on the Bonvoy Brilliant Card. That makes the $450 annual fee even harder to swallow.
The annual fee is high
I knew this when I applied for the card, but the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant’s $450 annual fee is quite hefty. I don’t mind paying a high annual fee if it’s largely offset by the benefits I receive, but this year I haven’t been able to get enough value from the card.
Ultimately, paying $450 and only getting about half the value in benefits has not been ideal. It will certainly factor into my decision to renew the card when the annual fee is due in December. So far, I’m leaning towards not doing so.
Pros: I earned hundreds of dollars in Amex Offers credits
Not everything about the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card has been disappointing. The card came with a monthly $20 dining credit and got me access to Amex Offers, saving me a combined $234 on essential purchases so far.
It’s hard to have too many regrets when the card essentially paid for itself this year. Still, I don’t know if I’ll renew it when the annual fee comes due. The key takeaway here is one we can all learn from: Don’t apply for a credit card just because the welcome bonus and a key benefit look appealing. Consider the long-term benefits and how useful the card might be if you’re no longer able to utilize those few benefits.
The pandemic has certainly changed the way I use my credit cards and the benefits they offer. In the case of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card, I misjudged how useful the card would be and ended up not taking advantage of them like I normally would. I still have a healthy stash of Marriott points that I’ll eventually get some value out of, and the $20 monthly dining credit certainly came in handy.
Hindsight is 20/20 and knowing how this year turned out for me in terms of travel, I probably wouldn’t apply for this card again.