Do I Lose My Annual Free Night Certificate If I Cancel My Credit Card?
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"Reader Questions" are answered twice a week by TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Ethan Steinberg.
Nearly every travel rewards credit card on the market offers some sort of annual benefit to offset the annual fee. Some cards offer these benefits once per calendar year while others are once per cardmember year. This creates a tough decision for people who are looking to close cards they don't use anymore while still maximizing all the possible benefits. TPG reader David wants to know if he'll lose his Marriott free night certificate if he cancels his card...
[pullquote source="TPG READER DAVID"]Will I lose my free night certificate if I cancel my Marriott credit card? The certificate is in my account already.[/pullquote]
All of Marriott's cobranded credit cards include a free night certificate each year at your account anniversary. For mid-tier cards like the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card, the Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card, and the Marriott Bonvoy Amex (closed to new applicants), that free night is worth up to 35,000 points. Meanwhile, the premium Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card as well as the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Card (closed to new applicants) offer a free night certificate worth up to 50,000 points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program (certain hotels have resort fees)
No matter which Marriott card you have, the terms and conditions will read something like this (copied from the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card, emphasis mine):
"The Free Night Award will be automatically deposited into your Marriott Bonvoy member account within 8-12 weeks after your Card Account anniversary date in the form of an e-certificate... To qualify for the Free Night Award, your account must be open and not in default at the time of the Free Night Award e-certificate issuance."
Most people who ask this question are really asking a different question in the subtext: "Can I cancel my card now, not pay the annual fee, and still get the benefit?" The terms and conditions make it pretty clear that the answer to this question is no, and that's probably the reason why you don't receive the certificate until 8-12 weeks after your account anniversary.
David's question is a little different though, as he noted that he already has the free night certificate in his account. In this case, he's free to cancel his card and he won't lose the free night. As the terms and conditions indicate, the account has to be open at the time the free night is issued, not at the time of redemption or travel.
Of course, if David has already paid the annual fee on the card and earned his free night certificate, then he should consider keeping the card open at least through the end of his account year. If he decides that he still wants to close the account, despite the annual free night and other perks on these cards, he should call his issuer (Chase or Amex) first to ask about the possibility of an annual fee waiver or retention offer.
Note that competing chains have similar policies related to their comparable free night certificates:
You'll earn a free weekend night certificate upon opening the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express and every year after account renewal; you can earn another after spending $60,000 in a calendar year on the card. You can also earn one by spending $15,000 in a calendar year on the Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card. The terms and conditions state that these certificates will be sent to the primary email address associated with your Hilton account 8-14 weeks after qualification (either by renewing your card or surpassing the spend threshold). However, it doesn't include any language to indicate that the card must be open at the time of redemption. The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
The World of Hyatt Credit Card offers a free night certificate valid at Category 1-4 hotels each year on your account anniversary. Per the terms and conditions, "your card account must be open and not in default at the time the award is issued. Please allow up to 10 weeks after your cardmember anniversary each year for your Free Night Award to be issued to you." Once again, there's no published requirement that you must keep the account open to use the certificate once it's posted to your account.
The IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card offers a free night certificate every year upon account renewal, valid at properties up to 40,000 points per night. The award "will be available for redemption on your account renewal anniversary date each year" per the terms and conditions, though there's nothing indicating that you must keep your account open past that point.
As you can see, once a free night certificate is issued in your account of a major hotel program, it's generally there until its expiration date, so David should be able to keep his if he cancels his card. Of course, these terms and conditions could always change, and I certainly wouldn't make a habit of canceling credit cards the day after you receive a free night award. And with most of the above certificates coming every year, you may want to rethink you decision to cancel in the first place.