How expiring credit card free night certificates led me to book a points and miles trip to Japan
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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.
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 at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program (certain hotels have resort fees) and 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.
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