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Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex Card review: Score a free night and other luxury hotel perks

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Whether you travel frequently for work or for pleasure, a co-branded hotel credit card that rewards you for your loyalty can be a good addition to your wallet.

Consumers looking for premium travel perks at Marriott properties as well as a competitive rewards program should consider the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card.

Marriott offers several loyalty rewards credit cards, but this one makes the list of our top picks for best hotel credit cards because of the generous hotel benefits.

To make sure you're choosing the best hotel card for your needs, CNBC Select analyzed 11 popular hotel credit cards that offer high rewards rates on purchases made with the brand. We compared each card on a range of features, including travel rewards, annual fee, welcome bonus, introductory and standard APR, one-time perks, annual perks, redemption rates, as well as factors such as required credit and customer reviews when available. (See our methodology for more information on how we choose the best cards.)

Below, we break down Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card's rewards, benefits and fees to help you decide if it's the right card for you.

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card review

  • Rewards
  • Additional benefits
  • Fees
  • Bottom line

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card

  • Rewards

    6X Marriott Bonvoy points for each dollar spent on eligible purchases at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels, 3X points at U.S. restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines, 2X points on all other eligible purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    75,000 bonus Marriott Bonvoy points after you spend $3,000 in purchases within your first 3 months of card membership

  • Annual fee

    $450

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    17.24% to 26.24% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    Either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

Pros

  • Annual $300 Marriott Bonvoy hotel credit for expenses at restaurants, spas and other establishments within the hotel property
  • $100 property credit on a two-night minimum stay at the Ritz-Carlton® or St. Regis®
  • One free night award every year after your account anniversary (redemption level at or under 50,000 Marriott Bonvoy points and certain hotels charge additional resort fees)
  • Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status, which can be upgraded to Platinum Elite status after you spend $75,000 in a calendar year
  • Global Entry/TSA PreCheck credit of up to $100 every four years

Cons

  • High $450 annual fee
  • No introductory 0% APR
  • Estimated points earned after 1 year: 125,955
  • Estimated points earned after 5 years: 329,774

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus

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Information about the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card rewards

A card like the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card stands out because of its numerous benefits for hotel guests.

The rewards rate is higher when compared to the other two Marriott Bonvoy cards: Earn 6X Marriott Bonvoy points for every dollar spent on eligible purchases at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels, 3X points per $1 spent at U.S. restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines and 2X points per $1 spent on all other eligible purchases.

The card's generous welcome bonus allows new cardholders to earn 75,000 bonus Marriott Bonvoy points after spending $3,000 within the first three months.

In addition to redeeming points for hotel rooms, airfare and car rentals, cardholders can use points for VIP access to entertainment, lifestyle, sports and culinary events through Marriott Bonvoy Moments.

CNBC Select calculated how many rewards the average American can earn if they optimize the way they use their Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card. We worked with the location intelligence firm Esri, who provided us with a sample annual spending budget of $22,126.

The budget includes six main categories: groceries ($5,174), gas ($2,218), dining out ($3,675), travel ($2,244), utilities ($4,862) and general purchases ($3,953).

Here's how many points you can earn with your Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card in each category:

  • Groceries: 10,349
  • Gas: 4,435
  • Dining out: 11,024
  • Travel: 7,517
  • Utilities: 9,724
  • General purchases: 7,906
  • Total: 50,955

Based on the annual spending budget from Esri, the average American can earn an estimated 125,955 in points the first year of card membership (including the points earned from the welcome bonus) and an estimated 329,774 in points after five years with the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card. Extreme optimizers might be able to achieve more value, and you may earn a higher or lower return depending on your spending habits.

Additional benefits

The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card has a wide variety of premium perks that allow you to travel in luxury and benefit from insurance and purchase protections. Here are some of our favorites.

  • Up to $300 statement credit for Marriott Bonvoy hotels: Receive up to $300 in statement credits annually for incidentals, including charges at restaurants, spas and other establishments within Marriott Bonvoy hotels.
  • Up to $100 property credit: Guests staying two nights or more at the Ritz-Carlton® or St. Regis® properties get an additional $100 property credit.
  • Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status: Without spending anything, cardholders receive Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status — which can be upgraded to Platinum Elite status after spending $75,000 in a year.
  • A complimentary night: No spending required, the free night award is given every year and can be redeemed for hotels worth up to 50,000 Marriott Bonvoy points. Certain hotels may charge additional resort fees.
  • Up to $100 for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee: Receive a statement credit for Global Entry every 4 years or TSA PreCheck every 4.5 years. (Read how to apply for Global Entry.)
  • Priority Pass™ Select membership: Access for you and two guests to over 1,200 airport lounges in more than 130 countries ($429 value).
  • Travel protection: Car rental insurance for theft and damage, as well as insurance for lost, damaged or stolen baggage.
  • ShopRunner free shipping: Complimentary ShopRunner membership, which gets you free two-day shipping at more than 100 online stores.
  • Return Protection: Return eligible items to American Express up to 90 days from the date of purchase, if you made the purchase with your Amex card.
  • Cardmember-only events: Check out Broadway shows and concert tours, family and sporting events, and more.

Terms apply for all benefits.

Fees

The card comes with a steep $450 annual fee, but the benefits help to offset that cost.

There is no introductory 0% APR period, and the regular variable APR is 17.24% to 26.24% on new purchases and balance transfers. Travelers staying overseas can take advantage of no foreign transaction fees, which is a huge plus when venturing abroad. A 3% fee (or $5 minimum) is charged for balance transfers, and when you take out a cash advance, you incur a 5% or $10 per advance fee, whichever is greater.

Bottom line

If you are a frequent traveler and enjoy staying at one of the many properties underneath the Marriott Bonvoy umbrella, the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card is a great choice. The high rewards rate, many luxury perks and statement credits offered help offset the cost of the card. Frequent fliers can take advantage of the Global Entry or TSA PreCheck statement credit.

But if you are looking for a Marriott credit card with no annual fee, the Marriott Bonvoy Bold™ Credit Card from Chase lets you earn 3X Marriott Bonvoy points at participating hotels, 2X points on travel and 1X point on all other eligible purchases.

Our methodology

To determine which cards will put the most money back in your pocket, CNBC Select evaluated popular rewards credit cards offered by major banks, financial companies and credit unions that allow anyone to join and offer bonus rewards on hotel-related purchases. We compared each card on a range of features, including travel rewards (points and miles), annual fee, welcome bonus, introductory and standard APR, one-time perks, annual perks, redemption rates, as well as factors such as required credit and customer reviews when available.

CNBC Select teamed up with location intelligence firm Esri. The company's data development team provided the most up-to-date and comprehensive consumer spending data based on the 2019 Consumer Expenditure Surveys from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can read more about their methodology here.

Esri's data team created a sample annual budget of approximately $22,126 in retail spending. The budget includes six main categories: groceries ($5,174), gas ($2,218), dining out ($3,675), travel ($2,244), utilities ($4,862) and general purchases ($3,953). General purchases include items such as housekeeping supplies, clothing, personal care products, prescription drugs and vitamins, and other vehicle expenses. CNBC Select used this budget to compare cards that reward specific purchases and estimate how many rewards the average consumer might earn.

We then estimated how many points the average consumer could earn over the course of a year, two years and five years, assuming they would attempt to maximize their rewards potential by earning all welcome bonuses offered and using the card for all applicable purchases.

For co-branded hotel cards, we only calculated the estimated number of points you can earn after one and five years. The dollar value of points depends on whether you redeem them for hotel stays, merchandise, gift cards and more.

It's important to note the value of a point or mile varies from card to card and based on how you redeem them, and this is especially true for co-branded hotel rewards cards.

Our final picks are weighted heavily toward the highest five-year returns, since it's generally wise to hold onto a credit card for years. This method also avoids giving an unfair advantage to cards with large welcome bonuses.

While the five-year estimates we've included are derived from a budget similar to the average American's spending, you may earn a higher or lower return depending on your travel habits.

Information about the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the CNBC Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.