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Marriott loyalists received unwelcome news in late 2021 when it was revealed that the Bonvoy program would be dropping its award chart in March of 2022. This follows the trend of several other hotel programs, whose moves toward dynamic pricing mean that predicting reward redemptions may become much more difficult.
Marriott maintains that despite the change, 97% of its hotels will match current pricing through the end of 2022. This means 35,000-point free night certificates will be much more useful through the end of the year, allowing certificate holders to redeem at very high-end properties during off-peak dates.
Take a look at how you can use the Marriott free night certificate to book (former) Category 7 hotels.
Earning Marriott’s free night certificates
Marriott’s free night certificates are easy to earn. You simply need to hold one of Marriott’s co-branded credit cards. These cards are issued by either American Express or Chase, and feature both consumer and small-business versions:
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card ($95 annual fee): Earn 3 Free Nights (each night valued up to 50,000 points) after spending $3,000 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening with the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card! Terms apply.
Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card ($125 annual fee): Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Marriott Bonvoy bonus points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 of eligible purchases within the first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer ends 5/18/22. Terms Apply.
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card ($125 annual fee): Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Marriott Bonvoy bonus points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 of eligible purchases within the first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer ends 5/18/22. Terms Apply.
Of these cards, both the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card and the Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card will award you with a 35,000-point free night certificate each year. The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card, meanwhile, will give you a certificate worth up to 50,000 points. Terms apply.
It’s important to keep in mind that you won’t receive these free night certificates during your first year. Instead, they’ll be deposited once after your card renewal month and every year thereafter.
Marriott’s Titanium elite members can also choose a free night award as their annual choice benefit. This certificate is worth up to 40,000 points.
» Learn more: How to use a Marriott free night certificate
Topping up your Marriott certificates
Marriott used to operate a semi-fixed award chart. This means that you paid a specific price depending on whether your night was during peak, off-peak or standard travel times.
Remember, this award chart was dropped in March in favor of dynamic pricing. However, Marriott has also announced that for the 14 months following, it expects that nearly all of its hotels will remain within the bounds of peak, off-peak and standard pricing for award bookings.
This is important for those wanting to redeem their 35,000-point free night certificates. Why? Because Marriott will soon allow you to top up your free night certificates with up to 15,000 more points from your account. This allows you to bump the value of your certificate up to 50,000 points, which is great news.
Based on the former award chart, a standard Category 5 hotel runs 35,000 points. You can redeem your 50,000 points for a standard night at a Category 6 hotel. However, the chart also showed that the off-peak rate for a Category 7 hotel is 50,000 points. This means that now, you're effectively able to bump your free night certificate up two category levels.
By taking advantage of the new top-up feature, you’ll be able to redeem your annual free night certificate at all but 123 of Marriott’s most premium hotels.
Unlocking high-end hotels
Since Marriott’s now-retired award chart only extended to eight categories, we can somewhat assume that hotels in the former Category 7 level are still some of Marriott’s best.
The annual 35,000-point free night certificate already provides excellent value for cardholders. Redeeming your existing certificate at a former Category 5 hotel could save you hundreds of dollars per year, as can be seen at the JW Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay Resort and Spa, a 5-star resort in Vietnam.
The nightly rate at this property translates to about $345, which far outstrips the annual fee you may pay for a Marriott credit card.
However, there’s a large gap between the cash rate of a former Category 5 and former Category 7 hotel. NerdWallet values Marriott Bonvoy points at 0.7 cent each, which means that topping up your certificate with 15,000 points will cost you roughly $105 worth of points — this is what you can calculate as an additional cost you're paying out of pocket as you shop around for deals.
For example, look at the Paris Marriott Champs Elysees Hotel, a once Category 7 hotel. Redeeming your certificate for this hotel will require a top-up, but it’s well worth it. You’re spending an additional $105 in Marriott Bonvoy points to net a hotel room that would cost roughly $564.
Another prior Category 7 hotel example includes the Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Khaimah, Al Wadi Desert, which is located in the United Arab Emirates. With this all-suite property, you’d be able to redeem your 35,000-point annual free night certificate with a top-up for a villa with a private pool. A night here during an off-peak rate would run you about $1,390, though the cash rate does include breakfast. But paying for your own breakfast is a small price to pay for the money you save with that 15,000-point top-up.
While the savings here are eye-catching, there’s always room for uncertainty with Marriott award redemptions as it transitions away from its award chart. It’s possible that some of these more extreme examples, like the Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Khaimah, Al Wadi Desert, will fall into the 3% that will price out your annual free night certificate — though dynamic pricing may still mean it’s affordable on occasion.
If you want to use your 35,000-point Marriott free night certificate at Category 7 properties
While it’s always a bummer when a loyalty program makes customer-unfriendly choices, Marriott has at least softened the blow with the ability to top up your annual free night certificates. By taking advantage of this new option, members can unlock additional value on the free night certificates offered by their co-branded credit cards.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2022, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card