How expiring credit card free night certificates led me to book a points and miles trip to Japan

Feb 18, 2020

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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.

Related reading: Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card vs. the Ritz-Carlton card: Which is better?

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.

In-depth: Analyzing Marriott’s 2020 award category changes

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.

I didn’t get screenshots at the time, so these images show a sample search.

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.

Osaka has both a Ritz-Carlton and a St. Regis, and they’re located just 1.5 miles apart.

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.

(Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)
We stayed at The St. Regis Osaka one night. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)
And, we stayed at The Ritz-Carlton Osaka the next night. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

Related reading: Unlock incredible value by using your free-night certificate at Category 7 Marriott properties

With the trans-Pacific flights and luxury hotel nights booked, we filled in the trip to include:

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):

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.

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