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While premium credit cards like The Platinum Card® from American Express and the Chase Sapphire Reserve can pay for themselves with the long list of perks they offer, it’s often harder to justify paying the annual fee on cobranded airline and hotel credit cards that offer relatively fewer perks. But a notable exception to this rule of thumb are hotel cards that offer an annual free night upon account renewal.

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

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 new Marriott award chart:

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 will cost 40,000 points a night once it goes into effect (expected sometime in 2019).

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. It’s also a relatively easy way to recoup each card’s annual fee. Thankfully, the new 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.

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

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

The St. Regis Bangkok

Photo courtesy of St. Regis Bangkok
The St. Regis Bangkok. (Photo courtesy of the hotel)

Average cash rate: $200

Standard points rate: 35,000 points

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 cancelled 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.

W Chicago Lakeshore

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

Average cash rate: $340

Standard points rate: 35,000 points

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 early last year, 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.

JW Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay Resort & Spa

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

Average cash rate: $320

Standard points rate: 35,000 points

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 are 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.

Castle Hotel, Autograph Collection, Orlando

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

Average cash rate: $130

Standard points rate: 35,000 points

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.

Mira Moon, Design Hotels, Hong Kong

Photo courtesy of Mira Moon hotel
The Mira Moon. (Photo courtesy of the hotel)

Average cash rate: $250

Standard points rate: 35,000 points

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 last year, and location aside, I far preferred the design, service and food at the Mira Moon to that of the Mira.

W Atlanta Downtown, W Midtown and W Buckhead

The W Atlanta Buckhead. (Photo courtesy of the hotel)

Average cash rate: $200-300

Standard points rate: 35,000 points

Atlanta is home to three different W Hotels: one in downtown, one in midtown and one in Buckhead (pictured). All three are category 5 properties, meaning you can use your free night certificates at any of them. Spread in and around Atlanta, these hotels highlight one of the best things about the new 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 any one hidden gem hotel on this list.

How to Book

Fortunately, the actual booking process to use these certificates 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.

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 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 new Marriott award chart. 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! While the introduction of peak pricing may prevent you from redeeming your certificate at these properties year-round, here’s hoping that Marriott makes an ample amount of off-peak and standard award space available at these snazzy hotels so these great options are available on a regular basis for the foreseeable future.

Featured image of the JW Marriott Phu Quoc courtesy of the hotel.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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