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While I generally recommend building your travel rewards strategy around flexible points from cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve® or The Platinum Card® from American Express , co-branded hotel credit cards offer a unique value proposition: Most of them offer an anniversary free night certificate to help offset the annual fee, and few are more valuable than the one offered by Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card.
Shortly after their account anniversary each year, Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card holders (as well as customers who have the legacy Chase Ritz-Carlton Rewards card, which no longer accepts new applicants) will earn a free night certificate worth up to 50,000 Marriott points.
Today we're going to take a look at everything you need to know to redeem this certificate, as well as some of your top options in the US and internationally.
I've been loyal to Marriott for a few years now so admittedly I'm a little biased, but of the four Marriott credit cards I carry, the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card is hands-down the most rewarding. The card charges a $450 annual fee (See Rates), which is relatively standard for premium credit cards these days. In exchange for that, you get a $300 annual Marriott property credit, valid on room rates, food and beverage, spa treatments, and other incidentals, which immediately drops your out-of-pocket cost to just $150 a year.
The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card has an excellent welcome offer: Earn 125,000 bonus Marriott Bonvoy points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months, plus up to $200 in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. Restaurants within the first 6 months of Card membership.
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card holders get automatic Marriott Gold elite status, which comes with perks such as a 25% points bonus, room upgrades, and a welcome gift at select properties. You'll earn 6x Marriott points per dollar on eligible Marriott purchases, 3x at US restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines, and 2x on eligible purchases everywhere else.
You'll also enjoy premium travel benefits including a Priority Pass Select membership for airport lounge access, a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit, and a $100 property credit when booking eligible paid stays of two nights or more at Ritz-Carlton and St. Regis hotels.
That's a ton of value from a single card, and we haven't even touched on the most valuable perk yet: the 50,000-point anniversary free night certificate.
50,000 points are enough to enjoy a free night at a Category 6 Marriott hotel (that's available at standard or off-peak pricing), or if you're flexible with your travel dates you can also redeem it at a Category 7 hotel that's pricing out at the off-peak rate. This gives you an incredible amount of flexibility and opens the door to some of Marriott's most luxurious hotels around the world.
The Amex terms and conditions say that your free night will be deposited to your account within 8 to 12 weeks of your account anniversary, though in my experience it rarely takes longer than a month or so for it to post.
Once the free night appears in your account, Marriott makes it quite easy to redeem. From the Marriott website, simply search for award rates at the hotel you'd like to book. Assuming your stay includes an eligible award night that costs 50,000 points or less, you'll see an option at the bottom of the screen to apply your certificate to the reservation. The process is really quite straightforward, and there are no additional hoops you need to jump through.
Assuming you're able to use the $300 annual Marriott credit (which isn't hard to do given that you can apply it to room rates), you only need to get $150 of value out of your free night certificate to break even on the card. However, it's possible to get triple that or more depending on how you choose to use it. Here are a few of my favorite options for redeeming the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card free night certificate.
I've selected these properties based on a number of factors, including the brand (luxury brands like St. Regis or JW Marriott are likely to offer a better experience), location, and average nightly rate (pre-COVID).
Let's start by looking at Category 6 hotels, since you can book those with your 50,000-point certificate if the hotel is at either standard or off-peak pricing.
W Washington DC
While the W Washington DC has always had a fine parcel of real estate, with views of the White House directly across the street, the property recently completed a $50 million top-to-bottom renovation that makes it one of the most modern hotels in the city.
DC is a walking city so location matters a lot, but at the end of a long day of adventuring around the nation's capital, make sure to check out the views from the stunning new POV lounge and terrace.
The Gwen, A Luxury Collection Hotel, Chicago
Chicago has dozens of great hotels at which to redeem your Marriott free night certificates, but The Gwen is a fan favorite. Located on N. Rush Street, just a block off of Michigan Ave and the Magnificent Mile, the 300+ guest rooms and suites offer stunning views of the Windy City and a modern, luxurious finish.
If you'd prefer a different location in the city, you could also opt to stay at the science-themed Hotel EMC2 (where robot butlers deliver your room service), the JW Marriott, the Ritz-Carlton, and more, all using your Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card free night certificate.
You may find that 50,000 points stretch even farther outside the US, where extravagant hotels that would push the upper limits of the award chart if they were in New York or Miami can be booked for a reasonable 50,000 points. Here are two of my favorite properties in the world, especially if you're able to score a free night courtesy of your Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card.
JW Marriott Singapore South Beach
Never in my life have I been as impressed with a city hotel as I was with the JW Marriott Singapore South Beach. The property has a prime location, with many rooms offering views of the iconic Marina Bay Sands just across the bay. The breakfast spread at the Beach Road Kitchen was simply marvelous, with cuisines from all over Asia as well as the west.
Singapore is one of the best foodie cities in the world, and while we tried to eat as many of our meals at Hawker stalls as possible, we couldn't resist a dinner at the eponymous Akira Back, where Michelin-starred Japanese fusion is served up by the pro-snowboarder turned celebrity chef.
Grosvenor House, A Luxury Collection Hotel, Dubai
The 24 hours my girlfriend and I spent at Grosvenor House on our way back to the US from the Marriott Al Maha resort were enough for me to know that this hotel is worth returning to. We were upgraded to a suite with stunning sunset views out over the Palm Jumeirah, and marina skyline views from the property's lounge.
Service was top notch and catered to our every need, and in the midst of a pandemic, the hygiene kits that the hotel offered at check-in (with masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer) went a long way towards helping us feel safe.
Flexible travelers should keep an eye out for off-peak Category 7 Marriott properties, like the ones mentioned below. While the difference between a Category 6 and 7 hotel might sound minor, it often represents hundreds of dollars difference in the room rate and an equally large change in the quality of the rooms and overall experience.
JW Marriott Marco Island, Florida
Marriott recently released a list of its most popular hotels for award reservations, and it was no surprise to see the JW Marriott Marco Island in the top 10. This luxury escape just an hour or so south of Naples, Florida, is one of the few beach hotels in the US that can justify its exorbitant price.
Guests receive sophisticated luxury service while sampling the resort's 12 different restaurants. While the property is family-friendly, you can also book a room in the stunning Sirene wing, which is restricted to guests age 21 and up.
JW Marriott Savannah Plant Riverside District
One of the most-anticipated hotel openings of 2020 was the $300 million JW Marriott Savannah Plant Riverside District, which completely revitalized Savannah's waterfront. This project is hotelier Richard Kessler's gift to his hometown of Savannah, and when I stayed there less than three weeks after it opened, the property was already running like a well-oiled machine.
Guests can choose to stay in one of several distinct buildings, including one that resembles a natural history museum and another ("Three Muses") that looks like it was lifted from a European art gallery. The attention to detail is impressive, as is the service culture and the commitment to the local community. As if you needed another excuse to visit, the property is dog-friendly.
The Ritz-Carlton Shanghai, Pudong
As one of the five most populous cities in the world, it's no surprise that Shanghai offers two different Ritz-Carltons to choose from on opposite sides of the river. While the west side (Jing'an, the Bund, and the French concession) might be more desirable for tourists, the Ritz-Carlton Pudong on the east side of the river is not to be missed.
Connected to the sprawling IFC mega mall, the Ritz-Carlton Pudong boasts some of the best views of the city skyline from its rooftop bar and tapas restaurant, Flair. Alternatively, you could enjoy a Michelin-starred Cantonese meal at Jin Xuan.
The hotel is connected to metro line 2, which will take you to both of the city's airports as well as the Hongqiao railway station. Whether you're traveling for business or leisure, you won't want to miss these views of Shanghai.
These hotels represent just a tiny fraction of the over 750 Category 6 and 7 properties in the Marriott family. Hopefully, this has given you an idea of just how valuable the 50,000-point free night certificate from the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card can be, and how easy it is to use.
Ethan Steinberg is an award-travel expert who loves helping readers leverage their credit card rewards for luxurious international travel on a budget.