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With many of us still staying close to home due to COVID-19, it's become more challenging to justify keeping rewards credit cards that offer travel-related perks in exchange for a high annual fee. Although issuers have introduced new ways to earn and redeem rewards in light of the pandemic, it's important to weigh your credit card's benefits and earning potential against the cost of keeping it for another year when it's time to renew.
That's the situation I found myself in when the annual fee recently posted on my Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card. I've had the card for several years and originally applied for it because I was traveling frequently for work, and earning bonus points at Marriott hotels (and for other work-related purchases) meant I was able to rack up a nice stash of rewards. But in the past year — like most people — I've barely traveled at all.
The card charges a $125 annual fee, which is higher than most of the cards I have in my wallet. At first glance, it probably seems ridiculous to keep paying a hefty annual fee for a card that I'm barely using right now, but the Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card comes with two specific benefits that actually make it worth every penny for me.
Here's why I'm happy to pay the annual fee on my Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card again this year, even though I don't have any immediate travel plans.
Why the Amex Marriott Bonvoy Business annual fee is worth it
Back when I originally applied for the Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card, it had a decent welcome bonus — though not quite as eye-popping as its current, limited-time offer: Earn 100,000 bonus Marriott Bonvoy points, plus up to $150 back in statement credits, after you use your new Card to make $5,000 of eligible purchases within the first 3 months of Card membership.
The value of the welcome bonus I earned was more than enough to offset the card's annual fee several times over in the first year, but beyond that, the benefits are what have made it worth keeping for the long term.
Annual free night certificate
The Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card comes with a perk that can be quite lucrative if you play it right. Each year on your card anniversary, you'll receive a free night certificate valid at Marriott Bonvoy hotels that cost up to 35,000 points (as high as a standard night in a Category 5 hotel). This is the same type of certificate you'll get with another Marriott co-branded card — the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card — and it functions in the exact same way.
Paid rates at Marriott Category 5 hotels can be expensive — depending on the destination and time of year, some properties can cost in excess of $300 per night. I've consistently been able to redeem the free night certificate at hotels that would have otherwise cost $200 or more, effectively negating the annual fee (and then some).
For example, last summer I packed up my kids for a quick, socially distant road trip to Presque Isle State Park in Erie, Pennsylvania. I redeemed the free night certificate from my Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card at the Courtyard Erie Bayfront — a Category 5 hotel — and had I paid cash, the rate would have been around $225 with tax.
Courtyard hotels aren't normally anything to get excited about, but this location surprised us. The hotel is right on the water and has an infinity pool overlooking Lake Erie — and, while small, it was enough to give us the feeling of being on a "real" vacation somewhere a little more exotic. The kids were positively thrilled, and our stay didn't cost a thing.
Marriott has been great about adjusting points expiration and the validity of free night certificates, too. Most recently, the chain paused points expiration until March 31, 2022, and free night certificate expiration to January 3, 2022. Normally, Marriott points expire after 24 months of inactivity in your account, and free night certificates are usually valid for one year from the date of issue.
American Express cards, including the Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card, get you access to a program called Amex Offers**. These are targeted discounts or bonus points you can earn at participating merchants when you enroll your card and make an eligible purchase.
I've got several Amex cards in my wallet and have saved hundreds of dollars on purchases I would have made anyway — from household essentials to gas and even cell phone bill payments. I've done very well with Amex Offers on my Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card, particularly this year with targeted deals specific to Amex's co-branded cards.
American Express lets you view your total savings with Amex Offers since you've opened the card, and in just a few years I've saved about $438. Between the anniversary free night certificates and Amex Offers, I've gotten a value worth much more than the annual fee on my Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card.
Other Amex Marriott Bonvoy Business perks
The Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card comes with other benefits that can save you even more money and make your travel experience better. These perks don't really factor into my decision to keep the card, but if you can use them, they might help you decide if the card is a good long-term fit.
- Automatic Marriott Bonvoy Silver elite status: This is Marriott's lowest elite tier, and comes with benefits like a 10% points bonus on paid stays and priority late checkout. I've got Marriott Gold status from having The Platinum Card® from American Express , so this isn't useful to me.
- 15 elite night credits each calendar year: Again, I already have Gold status (and won't travel enough to qualify for higher status based on stays), but if you're close to qualifying for the next level of status this can be a helpful boost.
- Secondary car rental insurance: I use my Chase Sapphire Reserve® for car rentals because it comes with primary car rental insurance, but if you don't have a similar card, this perk can save you money at the rental counter.
- Baggage insurance plan: I usually pay for airfare with my Chase Sapphire Reserve® or The Platinum Card® from American Express. However, this is a nice feature if you decide to pay for flights with your card.
- Purchase protection and extended warranty: These benefits come standard with many other cards I carry, so I'll usually just use the card that earns the most bonus rewards.
Jasmin Baron is an associate editor at Personal Finance Insider, where she helps readers maximize rewards and find the best credit cards to fit their lifestyles. She has covered credit cards, points and miles, and loyalty programs for over seven years, and she's a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF).