How to protect your Marriott free night certificates from dynamic pricing
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Marriott recently announced that it would eliminate its award chart on March 29, 2022.
This is tough news — award charts are helpful to get outsized value for your hotel points because they put a ceiling on the amount of points a hotel can charge for your room. With its new dynamic pricing model, we could see Marriott award prices more closely reflect cash prices.
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In the same breath Marriott drew to announce this negative change, it also revealed that you’ll be able to “upgrade” your Free Night Award certificates with up to 15,000 Marriott points. This new benefit will be available before the end of April 2022.
That’s really bad timing. The ability to upgrade your Free Night Awards is extra sweet with Marriott’s current award chart — but the award chart will be long gone before this benefit arrives.
There may be a way to “dynamic price-proof” your current Free Night Awards — and even free night certificates you haven’t earned yet — against this switch to dynamic pricing. Here’s how to do it.
The different kinds of Free Night Awards
Marriott Free Night Awards come in various denominations depending on which card you hold. Before we jump in, here’s a reminder of what the Marriott award chart looks like (which will be dismantled on March 29, 2022).
Generally, the higher the award category, the fancier the hotel. Now here’s what you can do with each flavor of Free Night Award thanks to Marriott’s upcoming 15,000-point “top-up” benefit.
25,000-point Free Night Award
If you’ve got the legacy Chase Marriott Bonvoy credit card (not available to new applicants), you’ll get an annual 25,000-point Free Night Award after renewing your card. You can use this for a standard-rate Category 4 hotel and below — most of which are unremarkable.
With a 15,000-point top-up, the certificate will be valuable enough to reserve a Category 6 hotel during off-peak dates. Category 6 hotels are significantly better than Category 4 hotels — you can even find 50+ luxury hotel brands such as Ritz-Carlton, St. Regis, EDITION, and W hotels in Category 6.
35,000-point Free Night Award
If you hold the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card, Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express Card, or Legacy Amex Marriott Bonvoy credit card (no longer open to new applicants), you’ll receive a 35,000-point free night certificate each year after renewing your card. You can use this for a standard-rate Category 5 hotel and below.
With a 15,000-point top-up, you can redeem this award at an off-peak Category 7 hotel. These are some of the best Marriott hotels in the world, with rates often costing several hundred dollars per night. You can find five-star hotels in the Maldives, Bora Bora, Venice, or just about any other luxury destination.
40,000-point Free Night Award
If you stay 75 nights with Marriott in a calendar year, you’ll achieve Titanium elite status. This comes with a “choice benefit,” with one of the options being a 40,000-point Free Night Award. You can use this benefit to stay at a Category 5 hotel during peak travel dates (and everything below).
But with a 10,000-point top-up, you can stay at an off-peak Category 7 hotel — which, again, includes some of the best Marriott hotels in the world.
50,0000-point Free Night Award
If you have either the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card or the The Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card (not available to new applicants), you’ll receive a Free Night Award valid for Category 6 hotels during standard pricing (and everything below).
With a 50,000-point free night certificate, you can stay at a Category 7 hotel during off-peak travel dates. You can also add 10,000 points to the certificate to stay at a Category 7 hotel with standard rates, which will open up many more dates.
85,000-point Free Night Award
85,000-point Free Night Awards were issued to anyone lucky enough to jump on the recent Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant welcome bonus which offered 150,000 points plus an 85,000-point free night certificate after meeting minimum spending requirements. This bonus is no longer available.
For 85,000 points, you can stay at a top-tier Category 8 hotel during standard award dates — the absolute best hotels Marriott has to offer.
With a 15,000-point top-off, you can stay at any Marriott hotel, even if it’s peak travel season, as long as there are award nights available. That means five-star ski resorts in Colorado, tropical destinations during Christmas week, and anything else you can possibly think of.
The ol’ switcheroo: How to beat the upcoming dynamic award chart (for now)
Watch how this works.
Below is the price for three nights at the Westin Resort & Spa Ubud, Bali, a hotel that costs 30,000 points per night.
In my account, I’ve currently got:
- 2 Free Night Awards that can be redeemed for nights costing 35,000 points or less
- 1 Free Night Award that can be redeemed for a night costing 40,000 points or less
That means I can book this hotel either with points or with Free Night Awards.
At the checkout screen, I can choose whether I want to use three Free Night Awards or 90,000 points. I’ll choose 90,000 points.
Examine the confirmation page: 90,0000 points spent and confirmation #83260577. Remember that number, it’s important for later.
Now let’s say I’ve changed my mind and I want to change my payment method from points to Free Night Awards. I simply head to “My Trips” and find the reservation. I click “View/Modify,” and then “Edit room.”
You’ll now see your current booking, presented with the points price for the stay. Click “Update” on the points redemption rate (again, 90,000 in this case).
You’ll be brought back to the payment screen where you again have the opportunity to choose between spending points or free night certificates. This time, choose the certificates and confirm the changes.
You’ll now be taken to another confirmation page stipulating your reservation has been updated. And take a look at the reservation number: #83260577. That’s the same number as the previous reservation — indicating that Marriott did not have to cancel and rebook your reservation to change the payment method!
A very important note
Marriott lets you reserve an award stay even if you don’t have enough points. You must simply earn sufficient points within 14 days of your stay.
However, Marriott will not “lock-in” your award rate until you’ve actually paid for it with points. The rate is subject to change until you’ve actually redeemed points for the stay.
In other words, you’ll need enough points in your account to cover all the nights you want to book with certificates in order to use this strategy. Otherwise, you risk a change in price when the dynamic award chart activates in March.
How to use this in your free night strategy
Remember, we’re trying to safeguard our current Free Night Awards from Marriott’s impending dynamic award chart.
Find a hotel you want to book with a suite night certificate plus up to 15,000 points. The sweet spot here is Category 7, because these properties cost 50,000 points per night during off-peak dates. So it’s possible to reserve this hotel with the following certificates:
- 35,000 points (potential upgrade to a Category 7 off-peak rate hotel for 15,000 points)
- 40,000 points (potential upgrade to a Category 7 off-peak rate hotel for 10,000 points)
- 50,000 points (potential upgrade to a Category 7 standard rate hotel for 10,000 points)
- 85,000 points (potential upgrade to a Category 8 peak rate hotel for 15,000 points (stay anywhere any time)
Step 1. Find a hotel you want to book
Examine your Free Night Awards and decide which hotels you’d book if the option to combine them with 15,000 points was already available.
My choice is the Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay just south of San Francisco. It frequently costs $900+ per night, but goes for just 50,000 points during off-peak dates.
I could use my three Free Night Awards plus 40,000 points to reserve three nights at this hotel — and achieve a value of nearly $3,000.
Step 2. Book it with points
Use your points to book the dates you want. You’ll receive a confirmation email, and your points will be deducted. By doing this, you’ll secure the current (pre-dynamic) award price.
Step 3. Switch your points reservation to certificates + points.
You can now leisurely wait for Marriott to introduce the Free Night Award top-ups. Once available, simply go back into your account, modify your stay (as we covered earlier), and choose to pay with a Free Night Award and points. We don’t know what that will look like yet, but as of now, there’s no reason this shouldn’t work.
I’ve booked the above stay. When Marriott rolls out the certificate upgrades, I should get 110,000 points back in exchange for my three certificates.
You can use this strategy for as many stays as you can reserve with points. And because you can book Marriott stays up to 350 days in advance, you can effectively protect future Free Night Awards from the potential dynamic price increase, as well.
Again, there’s no way to actually test this out, but the dummy bookings I’ve made all indicate this should work with zero issues. As with anything in the points and miles world, though: your mileage may vary.
Feature photo courtesy of the Orlando World Center Marriott.
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