Why the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant is Suddenly on My Radar
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When it comes to travel, I’m often a creature of habit in many ways. For example, if I travel to a city and the hotel I picked works well for me, I’ll stay there every time from then on. You might assume that this would translate to brand loyalty — but it’s actually quite the opposite. Since I’m really a fan of just staying at places that prove to be the most convenient, I’m largely brand agnostic. However, out of seemingly nowhere, a new frontrunner in the race to earn my hotel loyalty has emerged: Marriott Bonoy. In fact, I’m not only looking at possibly increasing my Bonvoy profile but am even considering adding their pricey top-tier card to my wallet.
So what changed — and why the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant in particular? Allow me to explain.
The (Potential) Case for the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant’s Powers in Las Vegas
Earlier this week, MGM announced that it had signed a long-term pact with Marriott Bonvoy that will result in reciprocal benefits for MGM Rewards and Bonvoy members. This followed the disappointing news that MGM and Hyatt were ending a similar partnership — which had enabled me to continually achieve “unearned” elite status with both brands. On that front, the move to Bonvoy seemed like a potential layup for me as the American Express Platinum Card already includes Marriott Bonvoy Gold status. That said, although we don’t yet know exactly what status matching between MGM and Bonvoy will entail, I’m inclined to think that a Gold to Gold match might be too generous to be practical.
What the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant offers
With that hunch, I immediately pondered how I might be able to get a higher level of Marriott Bonvoy status in the event I’d need to at least maintain MGM Rewards Gold status in the future. Enter the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant from American Express. This premium card has a number of perks (that we’ll discuss), but the key one here is complimentary Platinum elite status. Again, although we don’t know what that will translate to in terms of MGM Rewards tiers, it seems reasonable that this would at least be good enough for MGM Gold.
Problem solved, right? Well… there’s a catch. Currently, the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant boasts an annual fee of $650. That’s just shy of the Platinum card’s $695 fee, but it is still quite hefty.
Turning back to good news, however, that fee can be offset in a few major ways. First, cardholders can get up to $300 per year in statement credit toward dining purchases. Annoyingly, these credits are capped at $25 per month, but I’d say this is still a pretty usable perk overall.
On top of that, each renewal year, cardholders are awarded with a Free Night certificate that can be redeemed for a night valued at up to 85,000 Marriott Bonvoy points. Of course, the obvious downside here is that this benefit only kicks in after you renew — meaning you’ll have to pony up another $650 (assuming it doesn’t go up again) before you can take advantage. Still, between these two aspects of the card, the $650 doesn’t look as bad.
Also helping to offset that first-year fee is the welcome bonus. As of this writing, the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant is offering a bonus worth up to 200,000 points. First, new cardholders can earn 150,000 points after they make $6,000 in purchases with the card within their first six months from account opening. Then, they can earn an additional 50,000 bonus points when they stay at least six paid nights at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels before January 31st, 2024. This particular offer is currently set to end on August 9th, 2023.
Rewards: The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant vs. the MGM Rewards Mastercard
Another aspect of the MGM-Marriott Bonvoy partnership announcement was that customers of the two brands would be able to turn their MGM Rewards points into Bonvoy points and vice versa. Thus, in addition to the loyalty status benefit of the Brilliant card, I was also curious how the rewards stacked up to the no-annual-fee MGM Rewards Mastercard that currently exists.
In the past, I’ve mentioned how I was somewhat interested in the MGM Rewards Mastercard given my affinity for the brand’s Strip properties and Las Vegas in general. Unfortunately, while the card does have some benefits, it’s a bit lackluster — starting with the welcome bonus. At this time, cardholders can earn 10,000 bonus points when they spend $1,000 on the card within the first 3 billing cycles. Considering this only amounts to a $100 bonus, it’s really nothing to write home about. But how do the other rewards compare?
The MGM Rewards card includes 3x points and tier credits on MGM Rewards destinations, 2x points and tier credits on gas, 2x points and tier credits on groceries, and 1x points and tier credits on all other purchases. Presuming we’re already able to attain Gold status, then the tier credit part of the equation would be moot here, leaving only some so-so rewards. But, again, there’s no annual fee.
As for the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant, it earns 6x points on eligible purchases at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy, 3x points at restaurants worldwide, 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines, and 2x points on all other purchases. Assuming that the 6x category will also apply to MGM locations once the partnership kicks in come October, that’s really the star reward category here. And while the Brilliant has the MGM Rewards Mastercard beat across the board, unfortunately, the other categories aren’t winners for me as the 3x on dining is topped by my Amex Gold card’s 4x and the 3x on flights is bested by the American Express Platinum. Depending on how you value Bonvoy points, the 2x on everything else might be an acceptable route, but there are better options for non-category spending overall.
Speaking of value, just because we know that MGM and Bonvoy points will be convertible doesn’t necessarily mean it will be a 1:1 swap. Therefore, it’s too early to say whether the Brilliant’s 6x is really that much better than the MGM Rewards card’s 3x.
Will the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant be worth it for MGM fans?
Given all of the unknowns, it’s hard to definitively say whether or not the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant will be a smart play for those like me who enjoy staying at MGM properties. However, I do definitely think it’s worth keeping an eye on. Assuming that the Bonvoy Platinum status that the card provides is enough to earn MGM Rewards Gold status, that would mean that cardholders could take advantage of waived resort fees at MGM property stays. With these fees typically coming in at $35 to $45 a night, these savings could add up quickly. Between that, the welcome bonus, the $300 in annual credits toward dining purchases, and the Free Night certificates upon renewal, perhaps the math will make this a favorable option come October.
While I’m not anywhere near ready to say that it’ll be worth it for me to add the $650 annual fee Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant to my rewards credit card portfolio, I am admittedly a bit excited about the potential prospects. Because of this, as we get more information about the MGM and Marriott Bonvoy partnership in the coming months, I may be taking a more serious look at the card to see if it makes sense. Either way, I’ll be sure to keep you updated.
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