Up until now, free night certificates had been extended until August 1, 2021. But seeing that relatively few Marriott members around the world will be making plans to stay at hotels before then, the deadline will now be extended to January 3, 2022.
That extension will take place – and you’ll see it reflected in your Marriott Bonvoy account – as of May 6, 2021.
Which Free Night Awards Are Being Extended?
Marriott Bonvoy members can earn a variety of Free Night Awards. From most common to least common, these include:
- Free Night Award worth up to 35,000 points as an anniversary perk of the American Express Marriott Bonvoy Card, the American Express Marriott Bonvoy Business Card, or their US-issued equivalents
- Free Night Award worth up to 50,000 points as an anniversary perk of the American Express US Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card, or as part of the “five free nights” signup bonus on the Chase Marriott Boundless Visa
- Free Night Award worth up to 40,000 points as an Annual Choice Benefit upon reaching 75 elite qualifying nights every year
- Free Night Award worth up to 25,000 points as part of an ongoing new member promotion (get a free night’s stay after your first two paid stays)
- Five- or seven-night certificates as part of a Marriott Travel Package
Free Night Awards are typically issued with one year’s validity period, and must be redeemed for a stay within that period, although they can be extended at a phone agent’s discretion.
However, the good news is that most of your certificates with upcoming expiration dates will be extended:
Starting May 6, members who had a FNA with an original expiration date in 2020, or which will expire before January 2, 2022, as part of their Cobrand Credit Card Benefit, Annual Choice Benefit, promotions or travel package will be able to redeem it through January 3, 2022. Please note that FNAs with an original expiration date before 2020 will not be eligible for the additional extension. Members do not need to take any action because the system will automatically update their account with these extensions on May 6, 2021.
So if you earned a Free Night Award through renewing a Marriott Bonvoy co-branded credit card at any time prior to January 2021, then you’ll benefit from the extension of your Free Night Award through to January 2022.
If you only recently got a free night certificate deposited into your account, then it most likely has an expiration date beyond January 2022, in which case you aren’t getting any extension at the moment – Marriott intends to wait and see how the pandemic plays out before potentially offering further extensions.
As a reminder, the optimal use of each free night certificate is obviously to save them for an occasion where you can redeem them for their maximum points value:
- For the 50,000-point certificate, a Category 7 hotel on an off-peak date
- For the 35,000-point certificate, a Category 5 hotel on a standard date – or perhaps if you’re very lucky, a Category 6 hotel on a double-discounted off-peak PointSavers rate
However, I also apply a bit more leniency to this calculation than when I’m redeeming points outright, and that’s because I know the free night certificates have a defined timespan to them, so it makes sense to “burn” them at the first good opportunity, whereas I can always save my points for many years to come.
Which Free Night Awards Are (Supposedly) Not Being Extended?
It’s important to note that Marriott’s announcement today also includes the following language:
Free Night Awards with an original expiration date before 2020 will not be eligible for the additional extension.
At first, this might seem confusing. How would any member still have free night certificates with original expiration dates prior to 2020 sitting in their accounts?
I do believe this is meant to be aimed at something that will pertain to only those of us who’ve been in the game for a few years: the seven-night certificates from the original Travel Packages under the legacy Marriott Rewards program.
If you’ll recall, these Travel Packages were a smoking-hot deal under the old program, especially during the transition period when you could transfer Starpoints from Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) to Marriott Bonvoy at a 1:3 ratio.
As we moved towards the end of the merger and the launch of Marriott Bonvoy as we know it today, many members booked as many Travel Packages as they could, securing 120,000 airline miles in the program of their choosing and a seven-night certificate at Marriott hotels for as little as 270,000 Bonvoy points.
Those seven-night certificates would have been issued in 2018, with an “original expiration date” in 2019. Some of us who held those certificates into 2019, but didn’t get a chance to redeem them (after all, how often do you stay at a hotel for seven nights anyway?) would’ve asked for them to be extended for another year, into 2020.
The same situation might be true for any anniversary Free Night Awards associated with credit cards that were originally issued in 2018, with a 2019 expiration date; members could’ve then called Marriott to ask for these to be extended into 2020.
It seems to me that, in both of these instances, the Free Night Awards would be ineligible for the extension as per the terms and conditions.
However, it’s important to note that the same terms and conditions were also present on Marriott’s last extension of Free Night Awards through to August 2021, and even the Free Night Awards with an original expiry date in 2019 were still extended automatically by the system, even though they weren’t supposed to be eligible!
Knowing Marriott Bonvoy’s IT, that’s perhaps not surprising at all.
I would absolutely expect all Free Night Awards to be similarly extended through to January 2022 this time around, even if it was originally supposed to expire in 2019 – just keep in mind that they aren’t supposed to be extended by the letter of the law, so make sure to redeem those older certificates as a priority over the newer ones if you get the chance.
Personally, I’ve still got one last seven-night certificate from all the way back in 2018 sitting in my account, so this extension would give me an extra five months’ time to get some good value out of it.
Points Expiry Paused Until March 2022
As part of this latest round of pandemic-related updates, Marriott Bonvoy will also be extending the leniency period on points expiry until March 31, 2022 as well.
Normally, Marriott Bonvoy points expire after a 24-month period of inactivity; until today, this policy had been paused until August 1, 2021, and it will now be extended by a seven-month period similar to the free night certificates.
After March 2022, points will expire if your account has been inactive for a rolling 24-month period – unless Marriott implements further extensions, of course.
Both of today’s changes are updates to the previous extensions that Marriott had already offered:
- 50% bonus elite qualifying nights for 2021 have been doled out based on members’ 2020 elite status
- Suite Night Awards with an expiration date of December 31, 2020 have been extended to December 31, 2021
After already having extended them to August 1, 2021, Marriott Bonvoy will be offering members a further extension on Free Night Awards with an original expiration date in 2020 or 2021 through to January 3, 2022.
This extension was definitely necessary in light of the ongoing pandemic, and it’ll give us another five months’ time to plan potential trips in which we can use up the Free Night Award.
Here’s hoping that further extensions will also be granted if they’re necessary, or ideally, that they won’t be necessary because we’ll realistically be able to travel by early 2022.