As part of the rebranding of the combined Marriott and SPG rewards programs, the refreshed “Marriott Bonvoy” cards launched in the Canadian market last week.
Historically the SPG Amex cards were two of the most popular cards for Canadian travelers, but as with their American counterparts, the earnings options and benefits are very different under the Bonvoy flag.
Features and benefits of the Marriott Bonvoy Cards in Canada
There are two Marriott Bonvoy cards in Canada, both issued by American Express, with one geared towards consumers and one focused on small businesses:
The cards have a significant amount of overlap, so I’ll go through an overview of the benefits and then point out the differences as we go.
Marriott Bonvoy Canada welcome bonus
Both cards are currently offering the opportunity to earn 50,000 Marriott Bonvoy™ points after you charge $1,500 in purchases to your Card in your first three months of Cardmembership.
That’s a significantly lower welcome bonus than the U.S. cards are offering at present, though the spending requirement is lower as well. Despite the changes to the program, 50,000 points can go quite a long ways, as we’ll get into below.
OMAAT values Marriott points at 0.9-1.05 cents (CAD) each, making 50,000 points worth $450-$525 CAD, which is a solid bonus in the Canadian market.
Marriott Bonvoy Canada return on spend
The Marriott Bonvoy™ American Express® Card has the following rewards structure:
- Earn 5 points for every dollar in eligible Card purchases at participating Marriott Bonvoy properties
- Earn 2 points for every $1 in all other Card purchases
Meanwhile, the Marriott Bonvoy™ Business American Express® Card has slightly different bonus categories:
- Earn 5 points for every $1 in Card purchases at participating Marriott Bonvoy properties
- Earn 3 points for every $1 in Card purchases on eligible gas, dining, and travel
- Earn 2 points for every $1 on all other purchases charged to the Card
Both cards offer their best return for spending at Marriott properties, and the 3x points per dollar spent on gas, dining, and travel is actually a very good return for the small business cards. If you value Marriott points similarly to how we do, that’s roughly a 3% return in those categories, which isn’t common in the Canadian card market.
While neither card is as compelling for everyday spending as the SPG cards used to be, at a return of 1.8-2.10 cents (CAD) per point you’re still getting a decent return. If you intend to transfer your points to one of the unique airline partners (more on that below), you’re potentially getting an even better value.
That being said, personal card users who spend a lot at restaurants and don’t mind the high annual fee will get a better return by putting their dining spend on The Platinum Card®. And if your goal is to wrack up as many points as possible, many will earn points more quickly with an Aeroplan-specific card.
But for the flexibility to earn rewards in a variety of airline programs, combined with thousands of potential hotel redemptions, the Marriott Bonvoy™ Business American Express® Card and The Marriott Bonvoy™ American Express® Card are solid options.
So while I’d never consider making non-bonused purchases on any of the U.S. versions of the Bonvoy cards, the Canadian cards are actually worth considering.
The Marriott Bonvoy™ American Express® Card has a $120 CAD annual fee, with no annual fee on additional cards for your authorized users.
Meanwhile, the Marriott Bonvoy™ Business American Express® Card has a $150 CAD annual fee, with supplementary cards available for employees at $50 each. Amex notes that the annual fees on the business cards may be tax deductible, but we’d of course recommend checking with your tax professional on that.
Like the majority of rewards cards in Canada, both Marriott Bonvoy cards levy a 2.5% foreign transaction fee. This is a bit disappointing for the co-branded card of a global hotel chain with 6,500+ properties, as it means Canadian cardholders will pay extra fees when using their Bonvoy card at 96% of the Marriott portfolio.
Marriott Bonvoy Canada Card perks
Both cards come with a variety of potentially useful benefits, including:
- A free night award on your account anniversary every year, valid at a property retailing for up to 35,000 points per night
- Complimentary Silver Elite status for as long as you have the card
- Gold Elite status when you spend $30,000 on eligible purchases on the card in an account year
- 15 elite qualifying nights towards status annually just for having the card (note that if you have multiple cards offering this benefit, it can’t be stacked)
The big win here for Canadians is the potential for 15 elite qualifying nights, which wasn’t previously a feature of the old cards. The annual free night award more than justifies the annual fee, and is a reason to have the card in and of itself.
Great uses of 50,000 Marriott Bonvoy points
Regardless of whether you are looking for a luxury stay, ways to reduce your out-of-pocket on a longer stay, or a great value with an airline transfer, there are still some fantastic ways to redeem Marriott Bonvoy points.
5 free nights at a Category 3 hotel
One of the nice features of the Marriott program is that members always receive the 5th night free on award stays. So if you were to book five nights at one of the 2,000+ Category 3 hotels once off-peak pricing starts, you’d pay 15,000 points per night for four nights, and 0 points for the fifth! The welcome bonus on either of these cards, plus minimal spending would get you there.
While there are plenty of North American properties in this category, international locations (particularly in Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe) can be a great way to stretch your points at a more luxurious property.
Standard pricing at Category 3 properties is 17,500 points a night, so you’d need 70,000 points for the five-night stay.
Splash out on a luxury stay
Check out the OMAAT review of the London EDITION
Standard reward rates are 60,000 points per night, which is still a significant amount, but is a great value compared to the cash you’d otherwise be spending.
Transfer points to an airline
One of the strong points of the Starwood Preferred Guest program was that you could efficiently convert Starpoints into airline miles. They converted into dozens of currencies at a 1:1 ratio, and you even received a 5,000 point bonus for every 20,000 points transferred — the old SPG cards basically earned you 1.25 flexible airline miles per dollar spent.
The good news is that with the new program, it’s still possible to efficiently convert Marriott points into airline miles. Specifically, Marriott points convert into airline miles at a 3:1 ratio with most programs, with a 15,000 point (or 5,000 mile) bonus for every 50,000 Marriott points transferred. In other words, 50,000 Marriott points convert into roughly 20,000 airline miles, so it’s roughly the same on the redemption side as it was for SPG members.
The combined program has more airline partners than either did individually, so even though the earnings rates aren’t quite as strong, the Marriott Bonvoy cards do open up a bunch of programs that Canadians can’t easily earn points in otherwise.
While this has been a frustrating merger, Marriott Bonvoy points are still worth collecting, pretty much regardless of your travel aspirations. The program offers good flexibility with a range of hotel and airline redemptions, and the Canadian cards actually offer a decent return for spending, even on everyday purchases.
The 50k welcome bonuses on the Marriott Bonvoy™ Business American Express® Card and The Marriott Bonvoy™ American Express® Card are very competitive given the relative value of the points earned, and I think both cards are well worth it long term for the annual free night award, which should offer most people outsized value compared to the annual fee.
Canadians — how do you feel about the refreshed Bonvoy cards?
The redemption rates and travel rewards programs described above are current as of March 6, 2019, and may change. It’s always best to review the most current information directly on the loyalty program’s site.