Bonvoyology: Mastering Marriott's Mysteries (2022)

Marriott Bonvoy is a maddeningly complex program which promises the world, but often delivers disappointment. Want to sign up for a second Bonvoy card? Good luck figuring out if you’re eligible. Think your elite status guarantees free breakfast? Think again. Looking forward to a suite upgrade with your Suite Night Awards? LOL. This post is the “cheat sheet” that will may help you get past the obstacles that make Bonvoy so hard to love…

Bonvoyology: Mastering Marriott's Mysteries (1)

Table of Contents

It rhymes with chariot

Most people pronounce Marriott with the first part sounding like “marry” and the second part rhyming with “got” or “lot”. But the correct pronunciation for “Marriott” rhymes with “chariot.” Sort of like “marry-et.” Huh.

Dating Tip: I don’t recommend finding a way to slip this nerdy “fun fact” into a first date conversation unless you’re hoping to avoid a second date.

The best Bonvoy card starts with R

Since Marriott adopted “Bonvoy” as their bodacious rewards program name, they’ve gone all-in and named all but one of their cards with the first letter “B”: Bevy, Bold, Boundless, Bountiful, Brilliant…

The one exception is also the very best Bonvoy card: The Ritz-Carlton Credit Card. You can’t get the card new, but you can get another Bonvoy consumer card from Chase (Bold, Boundless, or Bountiful) and, after a year, product change to the Ritz card. For details, see: Yes, the Ritz card is now the best value Marriott card.

Get it, but don’t spend it

Bonvoy cards (even those that start with B) can make sense to have for their perks and free night awards, but after earning the card’s welcome bonus, it rarely makes sense to use the card for spend outside of Marriott properties.Most Bonvoy cards earn 6 points per dollar at Marriott properties and 2 points per dollar everywhere else (with a few exceptions). Since Marriott Bonvoy points are usually worth less than 1 cent each, you’ll do better putting your spend on cards that earn 2% back in rewards, or more. For examples, see: Best cards for everyday spend. However, most Bonvoy cards also come with annual free nights (and sometimes other perks) which can be worth significantly more than the card’s annual fee. So, keep a Bonvoy card, but use other cards for your everyday spend. See also: Which Marriott Bonvoy card is best?

Bevy? Bountiful? Fuggetaboutit

Unlike every other current Bonvoy card that has an annual fee, neither the new Bonvoy Bevy Card nor the new Bonvoy Bountiful Card offers an automatic free night each year upon renewal. Instead, to earn the 50K free night with either card, you need to spend $15K per year. And since Bonvoy cards are usually a poor choice for your spend, I don’t recommend either card.

A second card requires a second degree

With both Amex and Chase issuing Marriott cards, someone at the helm decided that it would be wise to make the signup rules completely incomprehensible. Can you get the Chase Boundless card? Sure, as long as you haven’t had the Bonvoy Amex card in the past 30 days, and as long as you weren’t approved in the past 90 days or earned a welcome or upgrade bonus in the past 24 months on a bevy of Amex Bonvoy cards (not counting the card named only “Bonvoy” by Amex, which, as I already wrote, will prevent you from getting the Chase card if you’ve had it in the past 30 days). Learning and understanding these rules is way beyond this Marriott masterclass. We’ll develop a Phd program in the near future. In the meantime, suffice to say that the easiest path to two cards is to get both the Amex Bonvoy Business and Amex Bonvoy Brilliant. Boom.

What if you really want one of your cards to be a Chase card so that you can later upgrade to the Ritz card? Enjoy studying the treasure map here: Are you eligible for a new Marriott card?

Pick your perfect free night certificate

Many forms of Marriott free night certificates exist: 25K (from an old no-longer-available card), 35K, 40K (available as a Titanium Elite Choice Benefit), 50K, and 85K. Each can be used to book a night worth up to the face value of the certificate and you can top-off the certificate with up to 15,000 additional points. For example, if an award night costs 45,000 points, you could pay for it with a 35K certificate + 10K points, or a 40K certificate + 5K points, or a 50K certificate (and the extra 5K value of the cert will be lost), or a 85K certificate (and the extra 40K value of the cert will be lost).

When you go to use a certificate, Marriott.com will pick one out for you. I believe it chooses the cert that is closest to expiration. That’s a great choice when all of your certs are the same value, but it often makes sense to use a lower value cert instead. For example, it would be a waste to use a 85K cert for a 35K night. Luckily, Marriott has made it “easy” to pick the cert you want:

  1. Before booking the stay you want, book an additional stay to use up the certs that you don’t want Marriott to assign to your desired stay. We’ll call this the “dummy” stay.
  2. Book your real stay with the cert you want.
  3. Cancel your dummy stay.
  4. Check your account to make sure that the cert(s) applied to your dummy stay have come back
  5. Call Marriott to ask them to find the certs that failed to get put back into your account.

Enjoy your Platinum Elite Bonvoy breakfast (or not)

If you have Platinum Elite status or higher with Marriott, you are eligible for free breakfast except when you’re not. Platinum Elite status offers free breakfast in the lounge (when available) or in the hotel restaurant except under the following conditions… (roll out giant scroll…)

  • No breakfast for you if you booked your stay at a Design Hotel, EDITION, Gaylord, Vacation Club, Marriott Executive Apartment, or Ritz-Carlton.
  • No breakfast for you if you visit one of these properties when their lounge is closed (which is typical on weekends or during or after pandemics): The Algonquin Hotel Times Square, Autograph Collection; Boston Marriott Copley Place; Boston Marriott Long Wharf; Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile; JW Marriott Essex House New York City; JW Marriott New Orleans; JW Marriott San Francisco Union Square; JW Marriott Washington, DC; The Lexington Hotel, Autograph Collection; Monterey Marriott; New York Marriott Marquis®; Philadelphia Marriott Downtown; Renaissance Boston Waterfront Hotel; Renaissance Chicago Downtown Hotel; Renaissance Los Angeles Airport Hotel; Renaissance New York Midtown Hotel; Renaissance New York Times Square Hotel; Renaissance Washington, DC Downtown Hotel; Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina
  • Partial breakfast for you (i.e. you’ll get $10 towards breakfast) at AC Hotels; Courtyard (except those with a lounge); and Moxy Hotels.

Ah the joys of elite status! For more, see: Marriott Platinum Elite Free Breakfast Simplified.

Semi-sweet Suite Night Awards

Bonvoyology: Mastering Marriott's Mysteries (2)

When you earn 50 elite qualifying nights in a calendar year, and again at 75 nights, you get to pick a Choice Benefit. One of those choices is to select “5 Suite Night Awards.” The idea is that you can book a standard room and apply these Suite Night Awards to upgrade to a suite. That sounds great, but the reality is worse than Marriott’s Platinum breakfast benefit. Like the breakfast benefit, many brands simply don’t participate. Staying at the Ritz? Yeah, you’ll be staying in a base room because you can’t apply a Suite Night Award. Worse, many (or maybe most) individual hotels simply opt out. Worse than worse, there’s no way to know whether a hotel participates until you’ve booked a room. Worse than worse than worse, the system may tell you that the hotel doesn’t participate even when it does (see: Marriott Suite Night Awards Shenanigans). And, finally, even if you succeed in applying your Suite Night Awards to a stay, that doesn’t come close to guaranteeing your upgrade. They won’t even check for upgrade availability until 5 days before your stay and then there seems to be a mysterious lottery system where you have a chance of an upgrade each day until your stay. Still, despite all of that, these things sometimes work. Do you like your chances?

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