You can use your Marriott free-night certificates on Points Advance reservations, but there’s a catch

Jan 30, 2020

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Reader Questions are answered twice a week by TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Ethan Steinberg.

Marriott Bonvoy is one of the only loyalty programs that lets you put an award on hold months before you have the points to pay for it, thanks to the “Points Advance” feature. However, this program has been changed and devalued over the last year, especially with the introduction of peak and off-peak award pricing. TPG reader Kati wants to know if she can use her Marriott free-night certificates to pay for a Points Advance reservation …

We want to reserve a hotel for our trip to Spain, and by that time we’ll have our Bonvoy anniversary free-night certificate in our account. Can we use Points Advance now and then apply the free-night certificate to the reservation once it posts, or does that only work for points reservations?

TPG READER KATI

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Before we dive into the specifics of Kati’s question, let’s start with an overview of how Points Advance works:

  • Points Advance allows you lock in award space even if you don’t have enough points to pay for the room yet
  • You’ll need to earn the requisite number of points at least 14 days before your reservation, or it may be cancelled
  • Since Marriott introduced peak and off-peak pricing last fall, Points Advance no longer locks in the room rate, just the award space. This means the price can go up if the hotel switches to peak pricing, and you’ll be responsible for whatever the current price is when you go to pay for your reservation

One of the greatest benefits of the Marriott Bonvoy credit cards (and the reason I’m so happy to have four of them in my wallet) is the anniversary free night certificates they offer. With the exception of the premium Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card (which offers a free night worth up to 50,000 points) and the no-annual-fee Marriott Bonvoy Bold Credit Card (which doesn’t offer a free night certificate), all the other Marriott credit cards (the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card and the Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card) offer an anniversary free night worth up to 35,000 points.

Related: Which Marriott Bonvoy credit card is right for you?

This roughly maps to Category 1 to 5 hotels (though it excludes Category 5 hotels under peak pricing which cost 40,000 points per night), and it means you can redeem these free-night certificates at some of my favorite hotels in the Marriott portfolio, including the Mira Moon Hong Kong, Sheraton Grand Sydney and W Chicago Lakeshore. Of course, you have to wait until your credit card account anniversary, and maybe even a few weeks after for the certificate to post to your account. If you know when that date is, this is a perfect example of when to use Points Advance.

So, If Kati wants to use her free-night certificate to pay for a Points Advance reservation, Marriott’s terms and conditions make it clear that she can, with one huge exception: The value of the free-night certificate must be greater than or equal to the cost of the award night she’s trying to pay for.

This means that if Kati books a Points Advance reservation at a Category 5 property under standard pricing (i.e. 35,000 points per night), and the rate goes up to peak pricing (40,000 points per night) before she pays for it, then she won’t be able to use a 35,000 point free-night certificate. This might seem pretty obvious, and Marriott will force you to check a box acknowledging as much when making a Points Advance reservation, but this could prove to be risky. If Kati doesn’t have enough Marriott points to pay for the night, and she suddenly can’t use her free-night certificate either, this could throw a real wrench in her travel plans.

Related: How to use a Marriott Bonvoy 35,000-point certificate

Bottom line

Marriott’s Points Advance feature is great, and even after a pretty major devaluation last year I appreciate the ability to lock in award space at high-end properties before I have enough points in my account to pay for them. Just be warned that the actual award rate can fluctuate between off-peak, standard and peak even after you make your Points Advance reservation, and depending on how high the rate climbs, the night might end up costing more than the value of your free-night certificate.

Thanks for the question, Kati, and if you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at info@thepointsguy.com.

Featured photo of the St. Regis Maldives by Ethan Steinberg/The Points Guy.

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