There’s A Issue With Marriott Free Night Certificates That I Haven’t Seen Mentioned

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There have been a lot of changes taking place with Marriott’s loyalty program over the past few months (not least the merger of Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest) and, among those changes, we’ve seen the complete overhaul of the Marriott award chart and the introduction of some new credit cards.

A lot of the important changes have been discussed over and over again so most people are pretty familiar with what to expect going forward….but there’s one little issue that I haven’t yet seen addressed.

The Issue With Marriott Credit Card Free Night Certificates

Before Marriott and Starwood merged Chase was the only issuer of Marriott Rewards co-branded credit cards and there were two main credit cards in play – the Marriott Rewards personal Signature Visa card and the Marriott Rewards Business Visa card.

One benefit that both cards offered was a free night certificate (issued on your credit card anniversary) that was redeemable at all properties ranked in Category 5 or below.

As you can see from the old Marriott award Chart (below), Category 5 properties cost no more than 25,000 points/night so the effective value of the free night certificate was 25,000 Marriott Rewards Points. It was pretty straightforward – whatever time of year you wanted to use your certificate you could use it at a Category 5 or lower property.

a table with numbers and a few points
Old Marriott Rewards Chart (pre SPG merger)

Since the Marriott/Starwood merger things have changed.

Now we have a situation where both Chase and American Express have the right to issue Marriott/SPG credit cards and we’ve seen the credit cards on offer  change slightly and the free night benefit tweaked.

The free night certificates earned though holding Marriott/SPG cards are no longer attached to a specific hotel reward category (as they were in the past), instead they’ve been given a points value.

Here’s what this looks like:

  • Chase Marriott Rewards Signature Visa (no longer open for applications – Free night at properties costing 25,000 points or less
  • Chase Marriott Rewards Business Visa (no longer open for applications) – Free night at properties costing 25,000 points or less
  • Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Plus VisaFree night at properties costing 35,000 points or less
  • Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Business Visa – Free night at properties costing 35,000 points or less

a screenshot of a credit card

  • The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card – Free night at properties costing 35,000 points or less
  • The Starwood Preferred Guest Luxury Card Free night at properties costing 50,000 points or less
  • The Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card – Free night at properties costing 35,000 points or less

This may not seem all that important at first glance (especially as I’ve already said that the old certificates essentially had a fixed points value) but, once you take in the new Marriott award chart, things look less favorable.

Here’s the new Marriott award chart as it stands right now:

a chart with numbers and text

Through the end of 2018 there really isn’t any issue but there will be an issue once seasons are introduced in 2019.

Marriott has yet to tell us what the seasons will look like but, regardless of how things pan out, they will result in a devaluation in the free night certificates.

Because the free night certificates are no longer tied to a specific hotel category there will be times of the year when they cannot be used to book properties that are bookable with the certificate at other times of the year.

Let’s take the 50,000 point free night certificate that comes with the The Starwood Preferred Guest Luxury Card from American Express as an example:

During off-peak and standard seasons this certificate will be able to book a night at Category 6 properties like the Aruba Marriott Resort….

a white building on a beach
Image – Marriott

….but come a time of year when most people would like to visit Aruba (peak season) the hotel will cost 60,000 points/night and the free night certificate will no longer be of any use here.

The Luxury credit card’s free night certificate will not be usable at a Category 6 property during its peak season and, as “peak season” is defined as the time of year when most would like to visit, this is a notable devaluation in the value of the free night certificate. 

The same issue will be true for the free night certificates valid at 25,000 and 35,000 point properties. During off-peak and standard seasons the certificates will work at Category 4 and Category 5 properties respectively but, once peak season comes around at these properties the certificates will be of little use.

Marriott has been quite clever with how it has worked things here.

The number of points needed to book a property in peak season always increases to a level that moves it out of range of one or more of the free night certificates but the number of points needed to book properties in off-peak season never drops low enough to make higher category properties bookable by the lower value certificates.

Bottom Line

Until we see how Marriott splits out the seasons and how many weeks are categorised as “peak season” weeks we won’t know just how bad the situation is but I don’t expect the news to be good.

Because it’s highly unlikely that all Marriott/SPG properties worldwide will share the same seasons there will always be Category 4, 5 & 6 properties at which the three types of free night certificates can be used….but that doesn’t make up for the fact that we’ll only be able to use our free night certificates at the higher end of their value outside of peak season.


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