A popular perk of certain Marriott credit cards is the free night certificate that cardholders earn every year by renewing their card membership. But using those certificates can be a challenge — especially during the pandemic.
Holders of the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card and the Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card get an annual certificate for an award night worth up to 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy points. Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card holders get a certificate for a free night worth up to 50,000 points. Terms apply.
Certificates usually expire in a year, but in response to the pandemic, Marriott extended the expiration date on certain certificates. If you have a free night certificate with an original expiration date in 2020 or that will expire before July 31, 2021, you will get the expiration date pushed back to Aug. 1, 2021. You don’t have to do anything to get the extension. It kicks in automatically on Dec. 11, 2020.
But even with the extension, some cardholders — like me — could still have trouble putting their certificates to use before they go to waste. Learn how to use a Marriott certificate before it's too late even if you've run into roadblocks trying to redeem them before.
» Learn more: Which Marriott Bonvoy credit card should I choose?
Repeated (failed) attempts to use free night certificates
Germany: My first pair of free night awards posted in June 2019. I had been waiting to redeem them toward a stay in Munich during Oktoberfest, but by the time I got the certificates, standard award nights at my preferred property were already gone.
Israel: The next opportunity to use my two free nights came while I was planning a trip to Tel Aviv, Israel, for March 2020. Lodging in Israel is expensive, and the free night certificates would have gotten me a good value. Unfortunately, Israel closed its borders before I went on that trip. I had to cancel my hotel stay, and the free night awards were returned to my Bonvoy account.
Around this time, my certificates were extended through Jan. 31, 2021, which meant I had another eight months to find a way to use them. In June, at this year’s card anniversary, two more certificates were posted to my account, so by then I had four free nights to work with.
Turkey: Fast forward to September. When some countries began opening up to U.S. passport holders, I planned a trip to Turkey. I toyed with the idea of redeeming my Marriott certificates for a fancy stay at The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul, a Category 5 property. Unfortunately, only two of the three nights on my dates were available at a standard rate of 35,000 points, and the other was listed at a peak redemption rate of 40,000 points. Discouraging, to say the least. I didn’t want to move hotels or pay cash for a night at The Ritz, so I booked my stay elsewhere.
Mexico: Tired of the games, I booked a trip to Los Cabos, Mexico, around my mom’s birthday. Luckily, four nights in a row at standard redemption rates were available at the Sheraton Grand Los Cabos Hacienda del Mar in December, so I pulled the trigger and added a paid night to extend our vacation to five nights. But as of Nov. 1, 2020, this property is no longer affiliated with Marriott. The hotel canceled my reservation and redeposited the certificates back into my Bonvoy account, where they remain unused. Because it’s a birthday trip, my mom and I chose not to cancel the flights and booked a stay at a different hotel instead.
Ways to use your expiring free night awards
If you’re as frustrated as I was trying to redeem Marriott free night certificates, all is not lost. You can still find ways to use them before they expire. Here are some strategies.
1. Go on a road trip
Not everyone is ready to hop on a plane, but getting behind the wheel might be an alternative. Whether you have a national park or a ski resort on your must-see list, you could use a certificate or two for a road trip within the United States.
You can find plenty of outdoor activities across the U.S., which puts a safe adventure within reach. Navigate to Marriott’s hotel directory map, select the United States region, and zoom in on areas you might want to visit. You’ll see properties in different categories, including some where your certificate should work.
» Learn more: How to save on road trips
2. Plan a trip to Mexico or the Caribbean
If you feel ready to face an airport, an island resort could be an option. Mexico and several other countries in the Caribbean are open to tourism with certain precautions, and it’s not a bad way to use your expiring certificates. Select the Caribbean region to browse Marriott Bonvoy properties on different islands, then check local restrictions before booking a stay.
3. Book a staycation
If you don’t want to fly or take a road trip, you can trade your certificates for a staycation. Look for unique properties in your city or a short drive away — fun, unusual accommodations will enhance your experience.
The bottom line
It’s not always easy, especially in the pandemic, to use free night certificates from Marriott. If you can, plan sooner rather than later — that will help you make use of the certificates before they expire and before the standard rooms are snapped up by other travelers.
As for me, I still have no plans for when I'll figure out how to use my Marriott free night perks.
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 2021, including those best for:
Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card