How expiring credit card free night certificates led me to book a points and miles trip to Japan
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
Before the Ritz-Carlton credit card stopped accepting applications in July 2018, my husband JT signed up. At the time, the card offered two Tier 1-4 free night certificates as a welcome bonus, which became two free-night award certificates worth up to 60,000 points each when Starwood and Marriott combined to become Marriott Bonvoy.
Although this conversion was certainly fair, like many new cardholders, we had hoped that the two certificates would convert to 120,000 Marriott points instead of two 60,000-point Marriott award night certificates. After all, since we live on the road, we usually opt to stretch our points as far as possible at low-category properties. It’s disappointing to effectively lose some value if you end up booking a 50,000-point night with a 60,000-point certificate.
I’d figured we’d organically find the right time to use these 60,000-point certificates, and I assumed we’d use the opportunity to experience a new luxury hotel brand or two. However, as the January 2020 expiration date approached, the certificates remained unused in his account. In December 2019, I started actively searching for opportunities to use the certificates.
We’d been considering a trip to Japan, as Delta One Suites on Delta’s A350 were bookable from Atlanta (ATL) to Tokyo-Narita (NRT) before New Year’s Eve for just 47,000 American Express Membership Rewards points and $5.60 one-way, thanks to a transfer bonus to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club. American Airlines also was offering flights on a couple of days from Tokyo to Steamboat Springs (HDN) via Las Vegas (LAS) and Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) for just 20,000 miles and $62 per person, thanks to an economy web special.
Related reading: Tokyo Narita vs. Haneda: Which airport should I fly into?
With all that in mind, I used Marriott’s search feature to find all the Marriott properties in Japan.
Then, I limited the search to properties in Category 6 (costing 40,000 to 60,000 points per night) and Category 7 (costing 50,000 to 70,000 points per night).
There were some very appealing properties, including The Ritz-Carlton Okinawa and the Autograph Collection’s Prince Sakura Tower Tokyo. But, what stood out the most was a Ritz-Carlton and a St. Regis just 1.5 miles apart in Osaka, Japan.
Once I noticed these two Category 7 properties, there was no going back. We booked the flights and built a trip around using the free-night certificates for a night at The Ritz-Carlton Osaka and a night at The St. Regis Osaka.
With the trans-Pacific flights and luxury hotel nights booked, we filled in the trip to include:
- A five-night stay in Tokyo over New Year’s Eve at the Comfort Hotel Tokyo Higashi Nihombashi for 8,000 Choice points per night (worth $48 per night based on TPG’s valuations)
- JAL flights booked with 7,500 American Airlines miles plus $0 taxes and fees each to fly from Tokyo Hanada (HND) to Sapporo (CTS) to ski at Niseko United using our Ikon ski passes
- JAL flights booked with 7,500 American Airlines miles plus $0 taxes and fees each to fly from Sapporo (CTS) to Osaka (ITM) for our luxury hotel nights
- One night in Osaka on each side of our luxury hotel nights at the Comfort Hotel Osaka Shinsaibashi for 8,000 Choice points per night
- ANA flights booked with 8,500 United miles plus $0 taxes and fees each to fly from Osaka (ITM) to Tokyo Narita (NRT)
- One night stay at the ANA Crowne Plaza Narita for 20,000 IHG points (worth $100 based on TPG’s valuations)
Usually we have a mix of paid and award stays and flights, but Japan was relatively expensive during our visit since we were traveling during the New Year’s holiday season. We booked all of our flights and most of our hotels using points and miles on this trip and were able to get much better than TPG’s valuation on each redemption.
If you’re looking for a card that provides an annual reward night certificate to encourage you to try out a new hotel or brand, the following cards may fit the bill (terms apply):
- World Of Hyatt Credit Card: Free night at Category 1-4 Hyatt hotel or resort every year after cardmember anniversary; one additional free night with $15,000 annual spending during the cardmember anniversary year
- Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express: Free weekend night reward valid at most Hilton properties with the welcome bonus and again every year after renewal, plus an additional weekend night after you make $60,000 in card purchases in a calendar year.
- Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card: Free night award valid up to 50,000 Marriott Bonvoy points after each card account anniversary.
- Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card: Free night award valid up to 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy points after each card account anniversary
- Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card: Free night award valid up to 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy points after each card account anniversary
- IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card: One anniversary night valid up to 40,000 points at each account anniversary
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.
Related reading: The best ways to travel to Japan with points and miles
Featured image by Katie Genter/The Points Guy.
Welcome to The Points Guy!
Earn 90,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021.
With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.
- Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
- Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
- Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
- Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
- Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
- Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
- Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
- Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
- Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- $250 Annual Fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees