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How and When to Use Marriott Upgrade Certificates

Jan. 08, 2019
9 min read
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Suite upgrades typically fall near the top of the list of "unnecessary but extremely fun perks" that come with frequent travel. Unless you're traveling with a family, a separate living room, second bedroom or more spacious bathroom may not make a difference in your stay, but it sure feels good having 1,000+ square feet to spread out and relax.

Most hotel loyalty programs offer complimentary, space-available upgrades at check-in to many elite members, but Marriott is one of the few programs that offers select travelers the ability to confirm suite upgrades in advance. Today we'll take a look at the different types of upgrades available to Marriott elites and talk about strategies for maximizing them.

Types of Upgrade Certificates

Let's start with the two different types of upgrade certificates. Note that all Marriott Platinum and Platinum Premier Elites (earned after staying 50 and 75 nights a year, respectively), are eligible for space-available upgrades to a standard suite at check-in across most brands, though this perk is restricted to Platinum Premiers at Ritz-Carlton properties. Since these upgrades are granted at check-in and generally can't be confirmed in advance, we won't deal with them here and will instead focus on upgrade certificates.

Suite Night Awards (SNAs)

After completing 50 elite-qualifying nights in a year, Marriott members are eligible to select a Choice Benefit. These members can then select another benefit from a similar (though slightly different) list after reaching 75 nights. Note the 15 elite-qualifying nights you'd earn from various SPG and Marriott credit cards do count towards these levels, but these benefits are not granted to Lifetime Platinum or Platinum Premier Elites. You must actually reach the 50- and 75-night thresholds to be eligible for Choice Benefits.

As noted above, the options are slightly different at the two qualification thresholds, but for many travelers, selecting five Suite Night Awards (SNAs) will be the best option. SNAs are valid on cash and award stays, and you'll need to redeem one SNA for each night of your stay. You can request these online (and through the Marriott app for some reservations), and once requested, the hotel will begin looking for upgradeable suite inventory five days before your arrival. If they're unable to confirm your upgrade before 2pm the day before arrival, the SNAs will return to your account and you'll still be eligible for an upgrade at check-in.

It's worth noting here that SNAs were part of the legacy SPG program, so top-tier Marriott elites likely welcomed their arrival. However, many SPG loyalists were undoubtedly upset by the fact that you used to earn all ten by reaching 50 elite-qualifying nights, just one aspect of the integration where SPG members lost value.

Deluxe terrace suite at the Sheraton Grand Sydney

It's up to each hotel to decide what individual suite categories to make eligible for SNAs. In some cases, it might just be a standard suite, but in some cases hotels will make higher category suites available. I recently stayed at the Sheraton Grand in Sydney and was able to use three SNAs to upgrade to a 1,200 square foot terrace suite with a balcony.

While SNAs are the most common type of upgrade certificates, there is another category that's leftover from one of the legacy programs.

Ritz Carlton Club Level Upgrades

One of the perks of the now discontinued Ritz Carlton Rewards Credit Card is three annual upgrades to the Ritz-Carlton Club Level. Each upgrade is valid on paid stays of up to seven nights, depending on availability, and you can't use one on corporate or promotional rates. Ritz-Carlton clubs can be a great experience, offering multiple food and beverage services throughout the day, although the quality certainly varies by property.

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Given the limited scope of these upgrades (they come from a discontinued card and are only valid on paid stays at one of Marriott's 29 brands), today we'll be focusing on maximizing the value of your much more versatile SNAs.

How to Use SNAs

As mentioned above, Platinum and Platinum Premier Elites can select five SNAs as their first choice benefit after reaching 50 elite-qualifying nights in a calendar year, and they can choose another five after reaching the 75-night mark. At this level, you'll take home a total of ten for the year. It's also worth noting that if you haven't selected a choice benefit by January 14th, the SNAs will be automatically selected for you. While you can't transfer SNAs, you can apply them to multiple rooms on your reservation, whether you pay with cash, points or a combination of the two.

There are some exclusions to where you can use your SNAs. Specifically, they aren't valid at the following brands: Ritz-Carlton, Edition, Protea, Aloft, Element, Design Hotels, all-suite hotels and Marriott Vacation Clubs. In addition, if you don't have enough SNAs to cover your entire stay, you can't redeem them.

You can apply your SNA by calling Marriott, online or through the mobile app. If your reservation is eligible, you'll see the option to start your upgrade request.

In this case, the W Atlanta Buckhead only has one category of suite available for me to pick from: the WOW Suite. I decided not to use my upgrades for this stay, for reasons we'll talk about below.

However, if you have a reservation at a property with multiple eligible suites, you can check the boxes for more than one room type, assuming you're willing to accept an upgrade into all of them.

Finally, it's important to note that once your upgrade has been confirmed, the only way to cancel the upgrade and get your SNA(s) back is to cancel the entire reservation. Don't think, "Oh, I'll request upgrades using my SNAs but then cancel them if it's looking like I'll get a free suite upgrade at check-in." You could (in theory) do this, but you'd have to cancel and then rebook the entire reservation once your suite upgrade is confirmed. And if you cancel a reservation after 2pm local time the day before arrival? You'll forfeit your SNAs entirely.

Maximizing Your SNAs

There's one important thing to remember when deciding when to use your SNAs: as a Platinum or Platinum Premier Elite, you're eligible for an upgrade to a standard suite at check-in if one is available. As a result, you should save your SNAs for trips where you really want a suite. Maybe you're traveling for a birthday, anniversary or other special occasion. Maybe you're traveling with a number of family and friends, and staying in a suite would actually change your experience. By requesting an upgrade using SNAs, you could get confirmed ahead of your stay rather than risking another Platinum member arriving before you and scoring the last available upgrade.

You can also decide when to use these based on the brand of the hotel. Many travelers stay 50+ nights a year, but they're mostly in Courtyards, Alofts or other limited-service properties. If you decide to splurge and use some points to stay at a St. Regis or JW Marriott, you might want to guarantee a suite at a fancier hotel.

It's also worth considering the length of your stay. I have a one-night reservation booked at the St. Regis New York in January, and I know it's going to be one of the nicest hotels I've ever visited. That being said, I'll be in the city for less than 24 hours, and I plan to minimize my time in the actual hotel. I'd rather save my SNAs for a trip where I'll have more time to enjoy an upgraded room.

A final strategy to consider is peak travel season. As I mentioned above, I recently used three SNAs to jump several rungs to one of the nicest suites in the Sheraton Grand Sydney, complete with two separate terraces overlooking Hyde Park. Even though this was only a Category 5 hotel, one of the reasons I opted to use my SNAs was because I was traveling during December, peak summer time in Sydney. I figured my odds of an upgrade at check-in were low given that I was traveling during high season, so I used my SNAs to get around that.

Bottom Line

Suite Night Awards (SNAs) were originally part of the legacy SPG program, and it's nice to see Marriott hanging on to one of the perks that kept SPG elites so fiercely loyal to the program (even though you now need an extra 25 nights to earn the same number you previously earned). While it would be great for the program to provide a longer window than five days for confirmation, it's still nice to know in advance that you'll be enjoying upgraded accommodations.

That being said, you have to walk a fine line here. You don't want to use your SNAs for a stay where you would have been upgraded anyways, but you also don't want to waste a chance at an upgrade because you hesitated and didn't use them. At the end of the day, you can't go wrong with confirmable suite upgrades, but there's a huge difference in value between a suite at the St. Regis New York and a suite at a Courtyard in a smaller city. Hopefully this post has given you some tips to make the most of these upgrades on your next trip.

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