Which enhanced Marriott bonus is best? 5 nights vs points & Platinum

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Update: The Chase Marriott Bonvoy Boundless offer for 5 free night certificates is scheduled to end on 10/28/20.

Yesterday, American Express unveiled new enhanced welcome bonuses for their Marriott Bonvoy cards.  Meanwhile, Chase’s Marriott Bonvoy Boundless card continues to offer one of the biggest bonuses we’ve ever seen: 5 free 50K night certificates.  On the surface it seems like the Chase offer is the best of three, but the reality is complicated.  For many, I believe that the Amex offers are better.

This post isn’t meant to be a comparison of which card is best long term.  I previously covered that topic here: Which Marriott Bonvoy card is best?  Instead, in this post I’ll compare the three offers and explain why I think the Amex offers are best for many.

Wasn’t the Boundless 5 Night offer supposed to expire on Oct 15?

Readers had reported receiving the 5 Night offer via email.  Apparently the email said to apply by October 15th.  We took this to mean that the offer was likely to end on the 15th.

I’m writing this post on the evening of October 15th and haven’t yet seen any signs that the offer is really about to end.  My bet is that the offer will continue, at least for several more weeks.  The risk is that readers will see this in the morning and will find that the Chase offer is already dead.  I don’t think that’s likely, but I’m letting you know now just in case.

Three Enhanced Marriott Card Welcome Bonuses

Here are the three current offers:

Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card
100K Points + Platinum Status + up to $150 statement credit
100K points after $5K spend in the first 3 months + Complimentary Platinum Status for 2021 membership year (2/1/21 to 1-31-22) + up to $150 in statement credits for eligible purchases on U.S. Advertising in select media in first 6 months. Terms apply. (Rates & Fees)
(Offer Expires 1/13/2021)

$125 Annual Fee

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card
125K points + Platinum Status
125K points + Platinum Status: 100K points after $5K spend in the first 3 months + Platinum status for 2021 membership year (2/1/21 to 1-31-22) + 25K points after first anniversary. Terms apply.
(Offer Expires 1/13/2021)

$450 Annual Fee

Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card
75K points
75K after $3K in the first 3 months

$95 Annual Fee

This card is subject to Chase's 5/24 rule (click here for details).

See Also: Are you eligible for a new Marriott card?

Recent better offer: Earn 5 50K free night certificates after $5K spend in 3 months [Expired 10/28/20]

Why 5 free nights isn’t as great as it sounds

At first glance, the bonus offering 5 50K free night certificates sounds like it is roughly equivalent to a 250K offer.  But, it’s not.  Not at all.  Consider these factors:

  • Fifth Night Free Awards don’t work with certificates.  Marriott’s “Stay for 5, Pay for 4” awards only work with points-awards.  Thanks to this feature, 200K points can get you 5 nights at a 50K per night property.  This makes the 5 50K free night offer more like a 200K offer (at best) rather than a 250K offer.
  • Certificates expire. Points don’t.  As long as you have activity in your Marriott account at least once every 24 months, your points will never expire.  These free night certificates, though, expire after a year.  Marriott will usually let you extend certificates for another year upon request, but lately they haven’t been willing to extend a second time.  So, at best, these certificates may be valid for two years.
  • Points are much more flexible.  50,000 points can be used to book one 50K night, two 25K nights, four 12.5K nights, etc.  A 50K cert, meanwhile, can only be used to book a single night costing 50K points or less.  Plus, the certificate has no residual value if you use it for a night that costs less than 50K points.
  • Getting the Chase Bonvoy Boundless card makes you ineligible for the other two offers.  Marriott has crazy rules about who can qualify for welcome bonuses with their cards (see: Are you eligible for a new Marriott card?).  If you want to get one of the Amex Marriott cards and you’ve either acquired a Chase Marriott card in the past 90 days or you’ve received a bonus on a Chase Marriott card in the past 24 months, then you won’t be eligible for a welcome bonus with the Amex card.  Meanwhile, if you get either of the Amex Bonvoy cards, you can still qualify for the welcome bonus for the other Bonvoy card.

If you’re very likely to book 5 nights within the next year at a property costing 50K per night, then I think it’s fair for you to compare the offer to a 200K offer.  If you would use the certs at a 35K per night hotel, then you should compare the offer to a 140K offer.  Don’t get me wrong… even 140K is a great offer.  But is it as good as the alternatives?

Why the Amex welcome bonuses are better (for many)

There are several reasons you may prefer the Amex bonuses over the Chase bonus:

  • Platinum Elite Status: Both Amex welcome bonuses include 12 months of Marriott Platinum status.  That’s pretty good because Platinum status includes perks such as 4pm late checkout, 50% point bonus on paid stays, lounge access or free restaurant breakfast at most properties, and free room upgrades including to suites.
  • Points have advantages over certs:  100K or 125K points won’t get you as many free 50K nights as the Chase offer could get you, but those points are way more flexible.  Points can be used for 5th Night Free awards.  Points don’t expire as long as you have activity in your account at least once every 24 months.  And points are much more flexible: you can use points to book a 60K per night property, but you can’t do the same with the 50K free night certificates.
  • You can get both bonuses: If you get the Chase card, you won’t be able to qualify for either Amex offer for the next 24 months.  But if you get one of the Amex cards, you can qualify for the other Amex card immediately (but you should wait a week between applications).  If you qualify and meet the spend requirements, this would result in a massive haul of 225K points.  I’d take that any day over 5 free night certificates.

Long Term Strategy

Elite Status Level Requirements Per Year Key Benefits
Silver Elite 10 Nights Late checkout, 10% point bonus
Gold Elite 25 Nights 2PM late checkout; 25% point bonus; welcome gift (points only); room upgrade; enhanced internet
Platinum Elite 50 Nights 4PM late checkout; 50% point bonus; welcome gift w/ breakfast option; room upgrade includes suites; lounge access; Choice benefit (such as 5 suite night awards) when you achieve 50 nights.
Titanium Elite 75 Nights All of the above, plus: 75% point bonus; United Silver Premier status via RewardsPlus; Ritz-Carlton suite upgrades; Additional Choice Benefit (such as 40K free night certificate) when you achieve 75 nights.
Ambassador Elite 100 Nights + $20K Spend All of the above, plus: Ambassador Service (dedicated Marriott agent); Your24 (Choose the 24 hours of your stay. For example, choose to check in at 9am after an overnight flight).
 

Those interested in Marriott elite status beyond the next year ought to have a plan in place for acquiring both a consumer and business Marriott card.  The reason is that each gives you 15 elite nights per year towards status.  You can’t get more nights by having multiple consumer cards or multiple business cards, but if you have at least one of each, you’ll get a total of 30 elite nights each year without any effort.  Platinum Elite status requires 50 nights and offers a very good combination of perks.  If you get 30 elite nights each year automatically, then you only need 20 nights of actual stays each year to maintain Platinum status.  Considering that free nights booked with points or certificates count towards that total, that’s not a very high bar to cross.

If you’re starting from scratch with Marriott cards, then it’s possible now to sign up for both Amex cards.  Then, if you later decide you don’t want to pay $450 per year for the Bonvoy Brilliant card, you can always call and downgrade to the $95 Amex Bonvoy card.

If you go with the Chase card, though, you’ll have to wait 24 months after receiving the welcome bonus before you can qualify for the Amex Bonvoy Business card.

Conclusion

If you don’t care about elite status and you are confident that you can get good use out of the 5 free nights that Chase offers, then go for it.  That’s a fantastic offer.  If you are interested in elite status, though, the Amex cards offer both a short term fix in the form of 12 months of Platinum status, and a long term fix because they make it easier to secure 30 elite nights per year.

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