Stay Here, Not There: Using Your Marriott Free Night Certificate in the US
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One of the best perks you can get with a credit card is an annual free night at a hotel, as these certificates can often be redeemed for far more than the annual fee of the card. Luckily, there are plenty of credit cards that offer this benefit. We’ve just finished breaking down the best use of your Hyatt free night certificate in the US, and now we’re moving on to Marriott Bonvoy.
There are a handful of Marriott credit cards, and most offer a free night certificate. Today we’ll be focusing on Category 5 hotels, as these properties can be booked with any of the cards’ free nights. Fortunately for us, there are a whopping 743 Category 5 hotels in the US, so you have plenty of choices. As before, we’ll be comparing and contrasting options in five large cities to make sure that you get the best value for your certificate.
Marriott Credit Card Details
First, let’s take a look at which cards earn you free nights. Unlike Hyatt, there are actually three different Marriott credit cards that can earn you a free night every year upon renewal and payment of your annual fee:
- Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card: Earn 100,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. You’ll earn a free night certificate valid at hotels up to 35,000 points per night, which covers Category 5 properties at standard and off-peak rates — though not new peak rates as of September 14, 2019. Annual fee: $95
- Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card: This card is currently offering a welcome bonus of 75,000 bonus Marriott Bonvoy points after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months. This card grants you one certificate per year upon renewal with the option to gain a second after spending $60,000 in a calendar year — each one is valid up to 35,000 points. And even if you don’t think you qualify for a business credit card, you might. Annual fee: $125 (see rates and fees)
- Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card: This premium travel card is currently offering a welcome bonus of 75,000 after spending $3,000 in the first three months of account opening. It confers an array of valuable perks, including an annual free-night certificate worth up to 50,000 points — enough to cover Category 6 standard awards (but again not peak rates). Annual fee: $450 (see rates and fees)
Note that there’s also the no-annual-fee Marriott Bonvoy Bold Credit Card, but it doesn’t include a free night.
For a complete comparison of the two, be sure to check out our guide to choosing the best Marriott credit card.
The state capitol of Texas, Austin is well known for its lively music scene and variety of outdoor activities. It also plays host to a number of large-scale conventions, which is how we see things like this:
Is that absurd? Yes. Is that an incredible use of a free-night certificate? Also yes. However, not all of us are traveling for conventions, so we’ll stick to some more realistic propositions.
Element Austin Downtown: For a home at a hotel
Technically two hotels combined in one, the Element (and Aloft) is comprised of a low-level building and connected tower — set dead in the center of the city — with a rooftop bar and pet-friendly suites.
The best part about this hotel is that it’s an extended-stay property, which means that your room includes such niceties as a kitchenette — complete with a fridge, microwave and utensils. The hotel also includes a complimentary hot breakfast, so you can get your day started off right.
Rates for this hotel vary pretty dramatically according to the season, but a pretty standard range falls right around $350/night, well above that $95 annual fee you’re paying.
The Otis Hotel: For long-range planners
Though the hotel doesn’t open until February 2020, The Otis is already accepting reservations. As part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, the hotel will be situated in Austin’s campus district and will feature its own rooftop pool and bar. Fashioning itself as a boutique property with eclectic taste, the hotel will offer amenities such as in-room record players.
And pedicabs through the city:
It doesn’t get much more hip(ster) than that.
Like the Element, rates can vary, but a rate of over $350 is more the norm than the exception.
There are 65 Category 5 hotels in New York City. That’s an absurd number of hotels from which to choose, and truth be told, pretty much all of them provide a solid value (given how expensive the Big Apple can be).
So which one do you pick?
Residence Inn New York Manhattan/Midtown East: For a hotel room larger than your apartment
Near everything you’d want to do in Manhattan, the Residence Inn may not look like much from the outside, but it boasts large rooms equipped with fully-stocked kitchens (including a stove!) and pull out sofabeds.
While these base-level accommodations are already great rooms for your free-night award, there’s another option at this hotel that’s worth considering. A one-bedroom suite, which would ordinarily run you nearly $1000/night …
Can instead be booked with a free-night certificate and cash upgrade of just $300:
These rooms are a whopping 625 square feet, which is larger than the average New York studio apartment.
If you’re needing room to spread out — or are traveling with your family — these rooms could be an excellent choice for you.
The Ritz-Carlton New York, Westchester: For High-End Luxury
Located 25 miles from Manhattan, the Ritz-Carlton Westchester is one of only three Ritz hotels in the US bookable with your free-night certificate. Don’t let its location fool you, however. Room rates for a weeknight in April start at $549 before taxes, which means redeeming your free night here will grant you exceptional value.
Like virtually all Ritz-Carlton properties, the Westchester location is absolutely gorgeous, with carefully-crafted detail and a ridiculously-luxurious-looking spa:
Don’t fret about missing out on the sights and sounds of New York City, however. The hotel is a short, 10-minute walk from the White Plains Metro North train station, putting you into Grand Central Terminal in less than an hour.
Home to the Western Hemisphere’s largest indoor aquarium (in which you can dive with whale sharks), Atlanta is one of the fastest-growing cities in the US, and it shows — with award winning restaurants, music and shows popping up all over. There are plenty of options for Marriott properties here as well, but two stand out above the rest.
Twelve Downtown, Autograph Collection: For all-suites action downtown
With a nearly unparalleled location in the city, this newly renovated Autograph Collection property is sleek and sophisticated.
It’s also got some of the highest reviews on Marriott’s website, with accolades for the hotel along these lines:
“Simply fabulous. This place is a true gem, nested in Downton Atlanta. Look no further if you plan to stay in downtown Atlanta. This is the place to be. Warm and very inviting.”
That’s a pretty compelling recommendation. While rates can drop to the $200 range, a more common occurrence is double that amount.
JW Marriott Atlanta Buckhead: For shopaholics
JW Marriott is one of Marriott’s flagship luxury brands — and happens to be one of my favorite hotels in which to stay due to their often excellent executive lounges and dedication to detail. The location in Buckhead is no exception, with the added benefit that it’s attached to the Lenox Square Mall, an upscale shopping center for all your high-end needs.
Buckhead is also known as one of the nicest neighborhoods in Atlanta (and happens to be a previous home of Justin Bieber), so if you’re looking for somewhere to stay, it should be your top priority.
At this rate, you’re getting a redemption value of 0.8 cents/point — which matches TPG’s valuation of Marriott points but far exceeds the annual fee for the above credit cards.
Ah, Miami. Famous for its sparkling sand and 50 miles of beaches, the city is both massive and lively, which can make figuring out where to stay confusing. North Beach? Downtown? South Beach? Little Cuba?
There are a plethora of options, and while you can’t go wrong with most of them, these two are a cut above the rest:
Residence Inn Miami Beach South Beach: For classic Miami
One of three Category 5 Marriott hotels in South Beach, this one has the best reviews by far — despite its not-quite-beachfront location (it’s about a half mile away). It is, however, incredibly close to Miami’s famous Art Deco Historic District, the largest collection of Art Deco buildings in the country, and it features a rooftop pool overlooking downtown.
And because it’s a Residence Inn, the rooms are larger, meaning you can sleep five and still have room for breakfast in your included kitchen.
Rates for hotels in Miami are typically high, and this hotel is no exception — with a $349 room rate before taxes a common occurrence. This nets you an excellent redemption value of 1.2 cents per point.
Marriott’s Villas at Doral: For you and all your friends
One of the few condo properties available to book with your free-night certificate, Marriott’s Villas are absolutely enormous, clocking in at a whopping 1,325 square feet — or roughly three New York City apartments strung together.
The villas offer a true resort-style experience, with the added bonus of offering full kitchens, dining rooms and living rooms in each of their two-bedroom condos.
These units will sleep eight adults and a crib, which makes it perfect for either families or very popular people.
Even better, this property is currently on Marriott’s PointSavers list, meaning the amount of points it’ll cost to stay here is discounted. While this won’t help you with your certificate, it does mean that you can stack your free night with Marriott’s fifth-night-free policy to snag a full six nights at this resort for only 130k points (and a free night certificate).
This is a fantastic option for a room that would otherwise set you back nearly $2,400.
Home to big business and coffee aficionados alike, Seattle is the gem of the Pacific Northwest (sorry, Portland) and a wonderful place to kick up your heels. You can catch a baseball game, cycle along the Puget Sound and finish up your evening overlooking the city on the Space Needle, the iconic Seattle landmark first built for the 1962 World’s Fair. What else could you want?
Thankfully, there are a couple of fantastic options for your Marriott certificates.
Courtyard Seattle Downtown/Pioneer Square: For the history buff
Situated inside the historic Alaska Building, the Courtyard is phenomenally located. Sitting in Pioneer Square — the oldest neighborhood in Seattle (first settled by, you guessed it, pioneers, in 1862) — the hotel is walking distance from all the major tourist sites.
It has also recently undergone a renovation, sprucing up the lobby, guest rooms and common access spaces:
Due to its location, room rates at this Courtyard are high, meaning you’ll be getting great value if you redeem your free night here:
The Westin Bellevue: For nature near the city
The Westin is Marriott’s wellness brand, offering signature Heavenly® beds, workout gear lending and in-room essential oils. While I may doubt the effectiveness of rubbing oil on my face, there’s no mistaking the quality of this hotel:
Best of all, it’s only six miles outside of the city center, so while your view looks like this:
You’re just a short, twenty-minute commute from the heart of the city, and with rates that regularly top $400 per night, you’re virtually guaranteed to get incredible value from your certificate.
Earning Marriott Points
Of course, these certificates can only get you a single free night, so you may want to extend your stay with other award nights. If your account balance is a little shy, there are many ways to earn additional Marriott points. Marriott is a transfer partner of both American Express and Chase — in addition to its own branded cards — so consider getting any of these to help build your stash:
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: Earn a welcome bonus of 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you use your new card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first three months (though you may be targeted for a higher bonus through the CardMatch Tool; offer subject to change at anytime). Plus, earn 5x points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel and prepaid hotels booked on
- The Business Platinum Card® from American Express: Earn 75,000 points after you spend $15,000 on qualifying purchases within the first 3 months of account opening. Plus earn 5x points on flights and prepaid hotels on
- American Express® Gold Card: Earn a welcome bonus of 35,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases on your new card in your first 3 months of card membership (though you may be targeted for a higher bonus through the CardMatch Tool; offer subject to change at anytime). Plus earn 4x points on dining worldwide and at US supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases; then 1x) and 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or on .
- Chase Sapphire Reserve: Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. Earn 3x points on all travel and dining purchases.
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. Earn 2x points on all travel and dining purchases.
- Ink Business Preferred Credit Card: 100,000 bonus points after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Earn 3x points on the first $150,000 spent on travel and select business categories each account anniversary year.
- Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card : Earn 100,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
- Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card: Earn 75,000 bonus Marriott Bonvoy points after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.
- Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card: Earn 75,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first three months of account opening. Earn 6x Bonvoy points at participating Marriott Bonvoy Hotels, 3x points at US restaurants and flights booked directly with airlines, and 2x points on everything else. Terms apply.
Marriott’s staggering collection of properties means it can be difficult to find the best properties at which to use your certificate — especially in cities with dozens of options. These hotels are some of the best-value and most highly-rated properties available, making sure you maximize both your certificate and your experience.
Featured photo courtesy of Marriott
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