Some quick positive news to start the week: Marriott Bonvoy has announced that it will extend the expiration date of most members’ free night certificates by another six-month period in light of the ongoing pandemic.
Up until now, free night certificates for members based outside of Greater China have been extended until January 31, 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 August 1, 2021.
That extension will take place – and you’ll see it reflected in your Marriott Bonvoy account – as of December 11, 2020.
Which Free Night Certificates Are Being Extended?
Marriott Bonvoy members can earn a variety of free night certificates. From most common to least common, these include:
- Free night certificate 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 certificate 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 certificate worth up to 40,000 points as an Annual Choice Benefit upon reaching 75 elite qualifying nights every year
- Free night certificate 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 certificates 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:
Effective December 11, 2020, members who currently have a Free Night Award (FNA) that had [has] an original expiration date in 2020, or which will expire before July 31, 2021, as part of their cobrand credit card benefit, annual choice benefit, promotions or travel package will be able to redeem it through August 1, 2021. Free Night Awards with an original expiration date prior to 2020 will not be eligible for the additional extension. Members do not need to take any action. The system will automatically update your Account with these extensions on December 11, 2020.
So if you earned a free night certificate through renewing a Marriott Bonvoy co-branded credit card at any time prior to August of this year, then you’ll benefit from the six-month extension of your free night certificate from January 31 to August 1.
If you only recently got a free night certificate deposited into your account, then it most likely has an expiration date beyond August 2021, in which case you aren’t getting any extension at the moment – Marriott clearly 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, that’s a Category 7 hotel on an off-peak date; for the 35,000-point certificate, that’s 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.
Personally, when I’m redeeming my free night certificates, I also try to make sure I get close to the 0.9cpp valuation at which I’d value the equivalent number of Marriott Bonvoy points. 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 Certificates Are 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 prior to 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?
It isn’t entirely clear from the wording, but 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. Then, as part of the last round of pandemic-related relief measures, Marriott would’ve automatically extended these certificates to January 31, 2021.
The same situation might be true for any anniversary free night certificates associated with credit cards that were originally issued in 2018, with a 2019 expiration date. Members could’ve called to ask for these to be extended into 2020, and then they would’ve been automatically extended to January 2021.
It seems to me that these certificates are the ones that Marriott has designated as ineligible for the further extension: if your certificate was meant to expire in 2019, and you asked for it to be extended into 2020 as a one-time gesture which was then parlayed into a January 2021 extension, then the certificate won’t be extended further into August 1, 2021.
(Part of me questions whether this will even be feasible knowing Marriott Bonvoy’s IT. All of my certificates that were extended in 2019 are in fact showing an issuance date in 2019, without reflecting the original issuance date in 2018, so I wonder how Marriott plans to tell them apart.)
Of course, you can still try your hand at asking for a manual extension over the Marriott call centre… and that’s what I’m probably going to have to do, since I still have three of these Category 4 seven-night certificates sitting around in my account. Either that, or it’ll be a glamorous three-week staycation at the Courtyard Toronto Downtown in mid-January…
Points Expiry Paused Until August 2021
As part of this latest round of pandemic-related updates, Marriott Bonvoy will also be extending the leniency period on points expiry until August 1, 2021 as well.
Normally, Marriott Bonvoy points expire after a 24-month period of inactivity; until today, this policy had been paused until February 1, 2021, and it will now be extended by a six-month period similar to the free night certificates.
After August 1, 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:
- Elite status earned in 2019 has been extended to February 1, 2022
- Suite Night Awards with an expiration date of December 31, 2020 have been extended to December 31, 2021
- 50% bonus elite qualifying nights have been doled out based on members’ 2019 elite status
After already having extended them to January 31, 2021, Marriott Bonvoy will be offering members a further extension on free night certificates with an original expiration date in 2020 through to August 1, 2021.
These extensions were definitely necessary in light of the ongoing pandemic, and even though I personally would’ve liked to see Marriott Bonvoy granting an extension throughout all of 2021, I do think August 2021 is a reasonable timeline for Marriott to observe the recovery in travel patterns before deciding whether or not to extend further.
Personally, I find the exclusion of certificates with an original expiration date prior to 2020 a little bit grating, because obviously these would’ve been extended into 2020 with the intention of redeeming them during this year, and we all know how this year played out. Nevertheless, it’s something that will only affect a small portion of Marriott Bonvoy members, who will now instead need to tie up Marriott’s phone lines trying to request a manual extension instead.