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Earning free nights in hotels for spending unrelated money is a great perk of most travel credit cards. Earning free nights just for having the card is even better. The Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card is one of a few cards that offers cardholders a free night every year, just for paying the annual fee. In exchange for your $85, your account will be credited with a certificate good for a free night at any Marriott Category 1-5 property.

I signed up for this card to earn its 80,000-point bonus (no longer available), and I was able to use my account anniversary certificate for a free night at Hotel Stripes in Kuala Lumpur. That redemption didn’t provide a great value as the cash price was less than $100 per night. I used it because my certificate was about to expire and I had no hotel plans before the expiration date.

How could I have gotten more value from the free night certificate? I’ve researched some ideas for some fantastic Marriott properties around the world that can be had for free, and highlighted six of them below.

How It Works

First, let’s quickly review some facts about the certificate.

Marriott divides its properties into nine categories, with Category 1 costing 7,500 Marriott Rewards points per night and Category 9 costing 45,000 points per night. Once you have your certificate, you can book any available room in a Category 1-5 property. As of this writing, that covers 3,602 hotels on six continents. And there are no blackout dates (though properties do often limit availability of award rooms).

Once you log in to your account at Marriott.com, find and select a room at a Category 1-5 hotel. Marriott lets you search all of its hotels by category and from there, you can search for a location. Once you choose your room, a note on the booking page will automatically show that “You have unused e-Certificate(s) that match your reservation.” Click to attach the certificate and complete the booking. You’ve now got yourself a free room!

If you need to stay more than one night (as I did in Kuala Lumpur), I recommend calling Marriott to combine reservations into one stay. This proved to be no problem and I was able to enjoy the benefits of my Gold status even on the night I booked with my certificate.

JW Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay Resort & Spa in Vietnam.
The JW Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay Resort & Spa in Vietnam.

Where to Stay

Most Category 1-5 hotels are part of mid-scale or lower brands, but there are some gems. You’re likely to find that many can be paid in cash for less than the $85 you’ll pay for your annual fee, but some can go for more than thrice that price — and that’s where some real value can be had.

Please note: Even though Marriott, Ritz-Carlton and Starwood have merged and you can now link and transfer points between your accounts, you cannot use your anniversary award certificate to book Starwood or Ritz-Carlton properties.

Here are some properties where you can maximize the value of your credit card anniversary certificate. All sample prices are for a refundable weeknight stay in September, 2017.

The arty lobby of The Henry, Autograph Collection.
The arty lobby of The Henry, Autograph Collection.

The Henry, Autograph Collection (Dearborn, Michigan)

Remember how I said you can’t use your certificate for a Ritz-Carlton hotel? Well, how about one that used to be a Ritz-Carlton? This former Ritz still has the luxury, the art collection, the honors (among them, a AAA Four-Diamond award) and some of the original employees that travelers have come to experience since its original opening in 1989. $195/night.

The indoor/outdoor pool at the JW Marriott Houston.
The indoor/outdoor pool at the JW Marriott Houston.

JW Marriott Houston (Houston, Texas)

While not the greatest value compared to the cash price (though at peak times it’s more expensive), this property offers a chance to try a taste of Marriott’s luxury brand for free. This is the only JW Marriott in the USA that can be had with your anniversary certificate. It’s got an indoor/outdoor pool and if you love shopping, it’s across the street from the biggest shopping mall in Texas. $159/night.

A standard room at the JW Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay Resort & Spa.
A standard room at the JW Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay Resort & Spa.

JW Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay Resort & Spa (An Thoi Town, Vietnam)

For a more international taste of the JW Treatment, Vietnam’s south coast offers this brand new hotel with rooms that feature floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the sea. Built in the spirit of a fictional university, the property offers classes for various physical activities as well as pastry-making. With a beach bar and four restaurants, you may never want to leave the grounds of this 5-star resort. $388/night.

The spa and whirlpool at the Sao Paolo
The spa and whirlpool at the Renaissance Sao Paolo.

Renaissance Sao Paolo Hotel (Sao Paolo, Brazil)

A year ago, you couldn’t get this hotel for free this way. Formerly a Category 6 property, it moved down to Category 5 in March. What didn’t change is its 5-star amenities, its near-unanimous positive reviews or its convenient location in the Jardins district. $233/night.

The striking exterior of the Sochi Marriott Krasnaya Polyana.
The striking exterior of the Sochi Marriott Krasnaya Polyana.

Sochi Marriott Krasnaya Polyana Hotel (Sochi, Russia)

Though only a Category 3 property, this hotel becomes a stone cold deal in the winter, when skiers flock to the city that hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics. Part of the Gorky Gorod resort in the Caucasus Mountains, this Marriott is in walking distance to the ski lifts. Daily rates in December can climb past $350, so book early with your certificate. $100/night

Paris Disneyland Marriott Vacation Club exterior
The outside of Marriott’s Village d’lle-de-France.

Marriott’s Village d’lle-de-France (Bailly-Romainvilliers, France)

A Marriott Vacation Club property, this place is already well-positioned to host a family. And the kids will be even more pleased when they learn it’s right near Disneyland Paris! Each townhome has a full kitchen and washer/dryer. If Disneyland Paris isn’t enough to keep the kids busy, the resort offers all sorts of activities — even French lessons. Formidable! $400/night.

Bottom Line

Sportswriters aren’t the only one who love Marriotts. With an enormous variety of locations and brands, there are many ways to maximize your Marriott Rewards. And with over 3,600 properties in Category 1-5, you can find great value from your free anniversary night certificate.

And if you decide not to keep your card for another year, don’t panic. You can still use an earned anniversary certificate until the expiration date — even if you close your account.

Where would you use the card’s free night certificates?

All images (including featured image of Marriott’s Village d’lle-de-France) courtesy of Marriott.

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