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7 great uses of Marriott 35,000-point free night certificates

Dec. 30, 2020
11 min read
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Sometimes it's harder to justify paying the annual fee on cobranded hotel credit cards that offer relatively fewer perks. That's especially true during the pandemic, when some benefits offered by premium credit cards have become less useful. A notable exception to this rule of thumb is a hotel card that offers an annual free night upon account renewal. Marriott has extended the validity of its free night awards through Aug. 1, 2021, which is hopefully enough time for most folks to put them to good use after the coronavirus vaccine has been distributed.

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In the Marriott Bonvoy loyalty program, there are four primary co-branded cards offering an annual free night worth up to 35,000 points:

  • Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card
  • Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card
  • Marriott Bonvoy Credit Card from American Express (closed to new applicants)
  • Marriott Bonvoy Premier Plus Visa Signature (closed to new applicants)

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

Let's take a look at six of my favorite redemptions with this certificate -- to help you plan for when travel gets back into high gear.

What the free night reward gets you

The free night on these four cards is roughly equivalent to the old annual certificate that was available on the legacy Marriott Rewards Premier card (which has been closed to new applications). For reference, here's the current Marriott award chart:

(Screenshot courtesy of Marriott)

The free night certificates on these cards are valid at Category 1-5 hotels, but note that they won't apply for peak pricing at Category 5 hotels, which cost 40,000 points a night.

While these four credit cards offer other perks such as complimentary Marriott Silver elite status (courtesy of 15 elite night credits) and the ability to spend your way to Gold, the free night certificate is generally considered to be the most valuable.

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It's also a relatively easy way to recoup each card's annual fee. Thankfully, the Marriott award chart includes a number of incredible Category 5 redemptions, so today we'll take a look at several properties around the globe that give you the most bang for your buck with your free night.

Criteria for selecting these six hotels

In compiling this list, I focused on three main factors:

  • The brand of the hotel
  • Believe it or not, there are several luxury hotel brands — such as Ritz-Carlton and St. Regis — that actually have properties eligible for 35,000-point awards.
  • Average nightly rate, to make sure you're getting solid value
  • Location and other unique amenities that can enhance your stay

The St. Regis Bangkok

(Photo courtesy of Marriott)

Average cash rate: $200 (non-pandemic pricing)

Standard points rate: Category 5 (30,000 or 35,000 points per night – not valid during peak pricing)

As is the norm in Thailand, the St. Regis Bangkok offers high-end luxury at an affordable price. I have incredibly fond memories of my stay at this hotel, when summer storms canceled my flight out of Bangkok (BKK) and my Chase Sapphire Reserve travel insurance picked up the tab for a night at the St. Regis. Even though most hotels in the city were sold out in anticipation of a major trade conference, I was still treated to a Platinum upgrade to the Caroline Astor suite which, at 1,600 square feet, was the largest hotel room I'd ever stayed in.

Our stay started with a delightful check-in experience where we were offered honey-lemon tea, perfect to soothe our throats after the seven hours we'd spent at BKK during the whole flight cancellation fiasco. We ended up ordering another several cups of that tea with our complimentary St. Regis butler service, and greatly enjoyed the views from our suite and the open-air pool.

Related: Why Bangkok is your secret weapon for scoring cheap elite status

W Chicago Lakeshore

The W Chicago Lakeshore. (Photo courtesy of the hotel)

Average cash rate: $300 (non-pandemic pricing)

Standard points rate: Category 5 (30,000 or 35,000 points per night – not valid during peak pricing)

Situated on Chicago's famed Lakeshore Drive, the W Lakeshore combines the noxiously psychedelic lighting that's typical of the W brand with sweeping views of Navy Pier and Lake Michigan. Just a short walk from the food and shopping on the Magnificent Mile, this hotel is perfect for your Chicago getaway.

Keep in mind that Chicago's other W hotel, the W Chicago City Center, is also available for free night redemptions, but when I stayed there in 2018, it was undergoing major renovations and didn't live up to my expectations. Hopefully, the improvements helped and I'd be curious to give it another try. A third luxury hotel in Chicago's decently expensive market, The Gwen Hotel, is also available for free night redemptions. It's a Luxury Collection hotel just a block north of the river, and another great option to consider.

Related: Best Marriott credit cards

JW Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay Resort & Spa

The JW Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay Resort & Spa. (Photo courtesy of the hotel)

Average cash rate: $320 (non-pandemic pricing)

Standard points rate: Category 5 (30,000 or 35,000 points per night – not valid during peak pricing)

After bouncing several times between category 5 and category 6, Marriott ultimately decided to leave the JW Marriott Phu Quoc as a category 5 property, eligible for free night certificate redemptions. This is incredible news for anyone traveling to Southeast Asia.

Set on the island of Phu Quoc off the south coast of Vietnam, this hotel combines French colonial architecture with some vibrant and lively colors. Originally built as a French university in the 1890s, each of the 234 guest rooms and suites is entirely unique, adding to the hotel's charm. With five on-site restaurants and bars and a massive stretch of private beach, the JW Marriott Phu Quoc effortlessly blends comfort and relaxation.

Related: Guide to traveling Vietnam

Castle Hotel, Autograph Collection, Orlando

The Castle Hotel, Autograph Collection. (Photo courtesy of the hotel)

Average cash rate: $130 (non-pandemic pricing)

Standard points rate: Category 4 (20,000-30,000 points per night)

The Castle Hotel is one of the cheapest properties on this list if paying with cash, but it's earned its place thanks to an unbeatable location on International Drive in Orlando, right between the entrances to Universal Studios and Disney World.

If you're paying cash for your park tickets, a free hotel night can really help keep your total vacation costs down, and the stunning design and colorful marble will help you feel like you're in Cinderella's castle long after the day has ended. As an added bonus, the hotel is pet friendly, so your entire family is welcome here.

Related: What it was like at the reopened Disney World (during the pandemic)

Mira Moon, Design Hotels, Hong Kong

Photo by The Points Guy

Average cash rate: $250 (non-pandemic pricing)

Standard points rate: Category 5 (30,000 or 35,000 points per night – not valid during peak pricing)

Legacy SPG Design Hotels often do a great job incorporating local culture into their...well, design, and the Mira Moon Hong Kong is no exception. Dragon motifs and bright auspicious splashes of red are scattered throughout the hotel, which offers easy access to Victoria Peak and some of Hong Kong's best nightlife.

Alternatively, if you'd rather stay across the harbor in Kowloon, another Design Hotel — The Mira Hong Kong — is also eligible for free night redemptions and boasts equally artsy and modern decor. I had the chance to stay at both properties during various trips to Hong Kong in 2018 and location aside, I far preferred the design, service and food at the Mira Moon to that of the Mira.

Related: Guide to Hong Kong

W Atlanta Downtown and W Midtown

W Hotel in Atlanta (Photo by Ethan Steinberg / The Points Guy)

Average cash rate: $200-300 (non-pandemic pricing)

Standard points rate: Category 5 (30,000 or 35,000 points per night – not valid during peak pricing)

Atlanta is home to two different W Hotels: one in downtown and one in midtown. Both are category 5 properties, meaning you can use your free night certificates at any of them as long as it's not during peak pricing.

Spread in and around Atlanta, these hotels highlight one of the best things about the Marriott award chart: multiple options to choose from. You can pick the hotel that best suits your location or style (fair warning, the W Downtown appears to be the most W-esque of them all). That means you can visit a major city like Atlanta and not have to worry about finding a "good value" redemption for your free nights. At the end of the day, that flexibility means more than one hidden gem hotel on this list.

Related: Guide to Atlanta

How to redeem a Marriott free night award

Fortunately, the actual booking process to use these free night awards is very straightforward. Once you reach your card's anniversary, the certificate should be automatically deposited into your Marriott Bonvoy account within eight weeks of that date. You can check whether it's arrived by logging into your account, clicking on "Activity" and finding the "Earned Awards" section.

Related: Marriott bonus elite night credits have begun posting

Once it's there, simply search for an award reservation at an eligible property, and you'll be given the option to use the certificate for one night of your stay. It can also be combined with standard award nights, and if you book a stay of at least six nights, you can even leverage the certificate and Marriott's fifth-night free perk.

For complete details on this process, check out TPG Director of Travel Content Summer Hull's guide to using these free night awards.

Bottom Line

This list doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of all the great Category 4 and 5 options out there in the Marriott award chart. When travel picks up again, you'll have a solid list of hotels to redeem your free night certificate.

Many cities like Chicago and Atlanta have multiple great hotels to choose from, and the hardest part of redeeming your free night might be picking which one to stay at! However, note that the introduction of peak pricing may prevent you from redeeming your certificate at these properties year-round.

Additional reporting by Chris Dong.

Featured image by Photo courtesy of JW Marriott Phu Quoc
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.

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How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
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