Credit cards can be an incredible way to earn miles and points for vacations. In many cases, people earn more miles and points from credit card spending than actual travel. But, the ability to earn miles and points comes with some caveats. Those credit cards can carry higher annual fees than a cash back credit card. That’s why you’ll hear me say frequently that you should be evaluating the credit cards you carry. Are they paying for themselves? If not, they need to go. We talk about this all the time on my podcast.
Just a quick side note, I don’t earn any commissions from any credit card offers you see on my site. These are just my opinions, not influenced by any financial upside.
Mike, a friend of mine, who’s a listener of the podcast, brought this topic up recently. He’s heard me say plenty of times that those cards should be earning you money (or free travel) versus the other way around. Mike sent me this picture and said, “I’ve been meaning to ask you about this for a while now. I feel like I need to get rid of the AMEX now that I have two cards earning Marriott Bonvoy points. Am I right to do that?
It’s worth noting that Marriott has way too many credit cards in the mix. I’m pretty sure I got all the names correct, but it really is an overweight stable of cards.
For those not intimately familiar with the artwork of hundreds of credit cards (yes, I’m that nerdy) the two credit cards are:
- AMEX Bonvoy Card
- Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Card from Chase
In many ways, these are exactly the same card. You can’t apply for the AMEX Bonvoy Card any longer. If you still have it in your wallet it’s because you held the Starwood Preferred American Express Card prior to Marriott acquiring Starwood.
Essentially, Chase was given the opportunity to offer an entry level credit card for Marriott Bonvoy members. Both cards, as far as I can tell (since I can’t commit all the benefits to memory anymore) offer:
- 6 points per dollar on Marriott stays
- 2 points per dollar on all other spending
- A free night each year you hold the card, worth up to 35,000 points
- Marriott Bonvoy Silver Elite status
- Earn Marriott Bonvoy Gold status (spend $35,000 on the card each year)
- A shortcut to elite status, 15 elite night credits per year
- Premium internet access on Marriott stays
- No foreign transaction fees
Both cards come with some other soft benefits. They’re something of a mixed bag of value. I lean towards the AMEX benefits if you don’t have another American Express card that offers the same benefits. These include:
- AMEX Offers (these are targeted offers you can add to AMEX cards to save money or earn bonus points)
- Free Shoprunner membership (2-day shipping from a bunch of popular retail sites)
- Purchase protection
- Car rental coverage
Mike is asking at an interesting time, in that I think right now his decision is super easy. Through the end of 2021, American Express is offering a $10 dining credit every month to AMEX Bonvoy cardholders. It’s valid at pretty much any restaurant. Since both credit cards have a $95 annual fee, Mike can cover his entire annual fee just by taking advantage of that dining credit for the rest of the year. While Chase has offered some limited-time benefits during the pandemic on travel credit cards, they don’t currently have anything for Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card.
Why Not Both?
In this situation, I believe the correct argument is to keep both. As long as Mike plans to continue traveling (which he does) there’s a solid argument that both cards will pay for themselves in 2021. Now, if Mike had asked this question early in 2020 and I had the foresight to see how long the pandemic would stretch, I might have had a different answer. But, now that vaccines are going into people’s arms and travel is ramping up a bit, it’s going to be pretty easy to get $95 in value out of this card using only one benefit.
The free night certificate, worth up to 35,000 points, can easily be worth more than $95. With a quick glance, I found two properties that cost 35,000 points for a “standard” night (Marriott has both standard awards and peak/off-peak award nights).
The Sheraton Kauai Coconut Beach Resort looks pretty lovely for a trip to Hawaii, and came up at about $300 per night on some sample nights that I pulled up. It’s also 35,000 points per night if you can find standard award availability.
The St. Kitts Marriott Beach Resort looks perfect if the Caribbean is on your list. And, it’s also available for 35,000 points per night instead of paying $200+ a night.
35,000 point rooms aren’t available every day at these properties. But, I did manage to find more than one instance at both properties where you could redeem a 35,000 point certificate for a free night.
In both cases, and many others, you can get more than $95 in value out of the free night certificate that comes from holding both of these cards in your wallet. You may not use any other benefit on the card and still get your money’s worth if you can redeem the certificate.
The Final Two Pennies
If it’s just which card Mike should keep now, the answer is the AMEX Bonvoy Card. For starters, he can’t apply for it again if he cancels it. Secondly, it’s essentially paying for itself with the current dining credit through the rest of 2021. As I laid out above, holding both cards for those free night certificates is what makes the most sense to me right now.
There are other questions, such as whether Mike should put his monthly spending on either of these credit cards. That’s a question for another day.
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And, I hope you’ll check out my podcast, Miles To Go. We cover the latest travel news, tips and tricks every week so you can save money while you travel better. From Disney to Dubai, San Francisco to Sydney, American Airlines to WestJet, we’ve got you covered!