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4 ways to use expiring Marriott Bonvoy nights and perks during the pandemic (and what I decided)

Oct. 01, 2020
15 min read
JW Marriot Cancun
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It's possible to redeem most hotel free night awards for stays worth hundreds of dollars. I've even planned trips around using free nights. For example, this past January, my husband and I traveled to Japan to use two expiring Marriott free night awards at The Ritz-Carlton Osaka and The St. Regis Osaka.

And, we had more trips planned this year to maximize other free nights and perks. But, like many travelers, we've canceled or postponed most of our 2020 trips. So, it's unclear when and how we'll use all of our expiring free nights and perks.

Last week I described my plans for using expiring IHG Rewards Club nights during the pandemic. But, a few days later, I learned that the InterContinential Istanbul wouldn't reopen as planned. So, I had to reconsider where to stay in Istanbul and how to use our expiring IHG anniversary nights. As such, even if you do have plans to use your expiring nights or perks during the coronavirus pandemic, it's essential to remain flexible.

Today I'll focus on Marriott. Like many of you, we have Marriott Bonvoy award night certificates and upgrades that expire on Jan. 31, 2021. And, Marriott hasn't announced any further extensions for these perks. So, today I'll discuss some options we've considered for using our expiring perks. At the end of this article, I'll describe what we plan to do.

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Expiring award nights and upgrades

Ritz-Carlton Osaka (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

Currently, my husband and I have the following Marriott Bonvoy perks to use by the end of January 2021:

Unlike some programs that only require you to book before the expiration date, you must stay before the expiration date when using Marriott free night awards and upgrades. So far, Marriott hasn't announced any further extensions for these perks.

So, now I'll describe some ways to use these perks during the pandemic. I'll focus mostly on the free night awards. But, I'll also shortly discuss some ideas for the Ritz-Carlton club level upgrades.

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Related: Traveling during a pandemic: Why it may be more important than ever to put yourself first

Use these perks on planned travel

There are various appealing Marriott hotels in Singapore, including the JW Marriott Singapore South Beach. (Photo by Ethan Steinberg/The Points Guy)

The most logical way to use expiring free night awards and upgrades is on a currently planned trip. In our case, we only have one trip before the end of January 2021 that I'm confident we'll take: a 6-night trip to Istanbul, Turkey.

The obvious choice for us would be to use both expiring free night awards in Istanbul. But, we have other plans for this trip. In my push to earn Marriott Bonvoy elite status this year, I recently got approved for the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card and the Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card. So, my Marriott Bonvoy account now shows:

  • 15 elite night credits from the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card
  • 15 elite night credits from the Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card
  • 13 bonus elite night credits from earning Gold Elite status in 2019
  • Two nights stayed earlier this year

As such, I only need five more nights in 2020 to earn Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite status and it makes the most sense to get these five nights in Istanbul.

Unfortunately, the two expiring free night awards are in my husband's account. Since our trip is only six nights long and we want to book five nights through my account, we can only use at most one of his expiring free night awards. We're already moving hotels twice in Istanbul to maximize Marriott's 2,500 points-per-stay promotion. So, it isn't all that appealing to use one of his expiring free night awards in Istanbul.

We also have a trip to Singapore and Delhi via Tokyo that we rescheduled from May 2020 to January 2021. But, I don't expect travel restrictions in Singapore, India and Japan to relax enough to let us take this trip in January. So, our chances of actually using these perks in Singapore or India are low. Even if we do get to take this trip, I already have an IHG fourth night reward stay booked for our four-night stay in Singapore. And, I have some low-category Hilton Honors stays and low-category World of Hyatt stays planned for India. So, this isn't an ideal trip for using Marriott free night awards.

Related: 5 ways to maximize free hotel night rewards in the new era of COVID-19

Book a trip to use these perks

JW Marriott Los Cabos Beach Resort & Spa (Photo by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy)

In the past, I've booked a few trips to use hotel free nights or make a spectacular redemption. Of course, times are different now since we're still in the middle of a pandemic. If you're comfortable traveling and staying in a hotel during the pandemic, you may want to book a trip to use your expiring free night awards or upgrades. However, make sure to consider local restrictions when doing so.

For example, I've considered booking a trip to Mexico to use hotel free night certificates and maximize current hotel promotions. In the case of Marriott up to 35,000-point and up to 50,000-point certificates, the following properties in Mexico look appealing:

Granted, you could also book a trip to Mexico to use a Ritz-Carlton club-level upgrade. But, the only Ritz-Carlton with a club level in Mexico is The Ritz-Carlton Cancun and, the club lounge at the property is currently closed. So before booking, check what amenities the property is offering and make sure to book an eligible rate for your club-level upgrade certificates. The easiest way to determine what rates are eligible is to call The Ritz-Carlton reservations line at 1-800-542-8680.

Consider some of TPG's top picks for using Marriott free night certificates if you're looking for inspiration. For example, here are six great uses of Marriott 35,000-point free night certificates. And here are 11 ways to use Marriott 35,000-point certificates for family vacations. It may even be possible to score a Marriott Category 6 hotel for only 35,000 points with PointSavers.

Likewise, if you have a 50,000-point certificate, you can unlock incredible value using your free-night certificate at Category 7 Marriott properties. Specifically, here are 13 great ways to use Marriott 50,000-point free night awards. And here are 11 ways to use Marriott 50,000-point certificates for family vacations.

Related: Summer's not over yet: 'Stretch season' travel is the latest trend spurred by pandemic

Use these perks for a staycation

If you live in New York City, you have many Marriott hotels to choose from for a staycation. One option is the Renaissance Chelsea. (Photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy)

If you can't or don't want to venture far from home, a staycation may be an excellent way to use your expiring Marriott Bonvoy free night awards. After all, a staycation can be a great way to relax, reset and recharge. However, how good of a value and experience you'll get using a free night award for a staycation is dependent on where you live.

For example, if you live in a large city or near a popular vacation destination, you may find some luxurious Marriott Bonvoy brands that you can book. But if you live in the suburbs or a less-populated part of the U.S., you may not have aspirational options nearby. Although TownePlace Suites, Courtyard and Fairfield Inn and Suites are practical, they usually aren't how I'd want to use an expiring free night award.

Related: Use your points and book a staycation at one of these kid-friendly resorts

Hope for an extension or alternate option

I'd love to use a free night award to go back to the Westin Langkawi Resort & Spa. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

A final option is to hold on to your expiring Marriott Bonvoy free night awards and upgrades. After all, as TPG Executive Editorial Director Scott Mayerowitz called for earlier this summer, Marriott may extend the expiration dates again. Marriott could also add alternate redemption options or remove expiration dates entirely, as TPG Senior Editor Nick Ewen proposed.

But I fear Marriott may not provide another extension nor any additional options. Recent data points suggest my fears may be valid. For example, TPG's Loyalty and Engagement Editor Richard Kerr recently tried to get 60,000-point Marriott Bonvoy award night certificates (which Marriott hadn't automatically extended through Jan. 31, 2021) from the Ritz Carlton Rewards Credit Card extended. Marriott refused to extend the free nights or provide any other compensation, even after Kerr made multiple requests and got a supervisor involved.

As such, I can't recommend by-passing opportunities to use your free night awards or upgrades in hopes of an extension or alternate option.

Related: The best hotel credit cards that come with an annual free night

How we're using our expiring award nights and upgrades

Ritz-Carlton Cancun (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

As I discussed earlier in this article, my husband and I have one 35,000-point award night, one 50,000-point award night and three Ritz-Carlton club level upgrades that expire at the end of January 2021. So, here's my current plan for using (or not) these expiring perks.

Award nights

The short answer for how we'll use the expiring Marriott award nights: I'm not sure. But, I suspect that you may be in the same situation. Luckily, we still have a while until these award night certificates expire.

However, my general plan is to wait and see if:

  • Marriott offers any additional extensions or alternate uses
  • We find a natural use for these award nights

But, I'm certainly not going to let these award nights expire. If I don't have a usage plan by the end of December 2020 and Marriott hasn't announced any further extensions, we'll use these certificates in Singapore or India if that trip happens. But, if that trip doesn't happen, I'll plan a trip in its place to use the expiring award nights. My current choice would be Cancun, Mexico. I'd also consider other destinations such as Hawaii or Egypt if entry restrictions and award flight availability allow.

Of course, you don't necessarily have to wait until the end of December to make plans. You could plan a fully-refundable award trip for late January that uses your expiring award nights. Then, if you don't find a better use for your nights, you can use them on the trip you planned. But if Marriott announces further extensions or additional options, you could cancel your trip.

Related: 10 ways coronavirus could forever change the future of travel

Ritz-Carlton club level upgrades

The Ritz Carlton Rewards Credit Card, which is no longer open for applications, provides three Ritz-Carlton club level upgrades each year. Although these upgrades are each valid for up to seven nights, you can only use them on paid stays at Ritz-Carlton properties. And, most Ritz-Carlton properties cost more than I'm willing to spend.

Before the coronavirus pandemic halted travel, we planned to use the Ritz-Carlton club level upgrades at some of the least expensive Ritz-Carleton hotels. For example, you can often find relatively inexpensive Ritz-Carlton nights in Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Haikou and Bangalore. But, none of these destinations currently accept Americans. Assuming entry restrictions don't relax and Marriott doesn't extend these upgrades, we'll likely let these upgrades expire.

Related: Here's why Ritz-Carlton club level rooms remain so exclusive

Bottom line

Hotel free night certificates can be extremely valuable. A Marriott 35,000-point free night award can even get you a night at a St. Regis, JW Marriott or Ritz-Carleton in some parts of the world. So, I usually try to maximize the experience I can get from free night awards.

But, travel restrictions and coronavirus risk mean most people aren't traveling as much. Plus, hotels have slashed many onsite perks. And, Marriott has suspended its brand standards and elite benefits guarantee. For many reasons, now isn't the best time to travel and use free night awards.

As such, I'd love to see Marriott extend all free night award and upgrade expiration dates again. But, another extension may not happen. So, it's best to make a plan now for how you'll use your award nights and upgrades before they expire.

Featured image by Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.