Taking advantage of free night certificates is one of the essential ways to maximize value from a hotel loyalty program.
While these certificates are “free” in the sense that you aren’t paying cash for your stay, they almost always come with an acquisition cost, whether it’s through credit cards, stay activity, or special promotions.
That’s why it’s important to pay attention to how you redeem the certificates and ensure you’re coming out ahead.
In this article, let’s go over how to earn, redeem, and maximize Marriott Bonvoy’s Free Night Awards.
How to Earn Marriott Free Night Awards
1. Amex Bonvoy Credit Cards: Anniversary Free Night Award Worth 35,000 Points
The easiest way for Canadians to earn annual Free Night Awards is through the Canadian-issued Amex Bonvoy credit cards:
- Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card: Anniversary Free Night Award worth 35,000 Bonvoy points
- Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express Card: Anniversary Free Night Award worth 35,000 Bonvoy points
You won’t earn the free night during your first year of holding the card; instead, it’ll be deposited to your Marriott Bonvoy account within 6–8 weeks of renewing the card for a second year, and every year after that in which you continue to hold the card.
In both instances, it should be relatively easy to recoup the value of the $120 or $150 annual fee you’re paying on the Bonvoy cards.
|Credit Card||Best Offer||Value|
|80,000 Bonvoy points||$555||Apply Now|
|55,000 Bonvoy points||$399||Apply Now|
2. Amex US & Chase Bonvoy Credit Cards: Anniversary Free Night Award Worth 35,000–50,000 Points
Getting involved with Marriott Bonvoy co-branded credit cards in the US opens up many more opportunities to rack up the free nights.
In particular, you’ll earn anniversary Free Night Awards on the following US credit cards which are open to new applications:
- American Express US Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card: Anniversary Free Night Award worth 50,000 Bonvoy points
- American Express US Marriott Bonvoy Business Card: Anniversary Free Night Award worth 35,000 Bonvoy points
- Chase Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Card: Anniversary Free Night Award worth 35,000 Bonvoy points
Furthermore, the following two products are no longer open to new applications, but can still be added to your portfolio through product-switches:
- American Express US Marriott Bonvoy Card (available as a downgrade option from the Bonvoy Brilliant): Anniversary Free Night Award worth 35,000 Bonvoy points
- Chase Ritz-Carlton Credit Card (available as an upgrade option from the Bonvoy Boundless or Bonvoy Bold): Anniversary Free Night Award worth 50,000 Bonvoy points
As with the Canadian side, these Free Night Awards are deposited to your account within 6–8 weeks of renewing the card for a second year, and every year after that in which you continue to hold the card.
(In addition, sometimes the US credit cards get creative with their limited-time signup offers, and may include Free Night Awards in lieu of Bonvoy points.)
As with the Canadian cards, the optimal redemptions at the 35,000-point level should easily outweigh the US$95–125 annual fees on their respective cards.
3. Titanium Elite Annual Choice Benefit: Free Night Award Worth 40,000 Points
Outside of credit cards, another Free Night Award that you can reliably earn year after year is through the Annual Choice Benefit upon reaching 75 elite qualifying nights each year.
You’ll be entitled to select one of six benefits upon achieving this threshold, and the Free Night Award worth 40,000 points is generally considered the most valuable choice.
4. Special Promotions: Various Free Night Awards
Sometimes, Free Night Awards are also distributed as part of a seasonal promotion or a targeted promotion. These are always nice when they come around, but they aren’t necessarily Free Night Awards that you can reliably earn every year.
For example, Marriott Bonvoy’s recent targeted promotions had given a few lucky members the chance to earn two Free Night Awards at the 35,000-point level.
If you had been targeted for this promotion, you would’ve done well to maximize it with a few cheap mattress runs even if you aren’t planning any organic stay activity.
5. New Member Promotion: Free Night Award Worth 25,000 Points
Every now and then, Marriott Bonvoy also puts on a promotion to incentivize new members to sign up for the program. Typically, you’ll earn a Free Night Award worth up to 25,000 points upon completing two paid stays with Marriott.
This happens to be the lowest-value Free Night Award out there. Still, if you’re a new Marriott Bonvoy member, it’s a nice incentive to start participating in the program.
How to Redeem Marriott Free Night Awards
You’ll see your active Free Night Award certificates under the “Activity” tab of your Marriott Bonvoy account on desktop, and on the “Certificates” page of the “Account” tab on the app.
Each certificate will display an expiration date, which is the date you must stay by, not just book by.
Which rooms can you book?
In order to redeem a Free Night Award, there must be standard award availability for your desired night (i.e., the underlying night must be bookable on Marriott Bonvoy points).
Note that premium award redemptions (i.e., those marked with “Redemption and Points Upgrade”) are not eligible for Free Night Award redemptions.
Redeem your Free Night Award
Applying Free Night Awards to an upcoming reservation can be done on both the Marriott website and the app.
If you’re about to make a booking for which you have eligible Free Night Awards, you’ll be offered the choice of applying them to the booking (although you can always choose to book with points instead and save your certificates for later):
You can even apply multiple Free Night Awards to the same stay:
Top-up your Free Night Award with up to 15,000 points
As of April 2022, it’s now possible to “top-up” the face value of a Free Night Award with up to 15,000 points.
For example, you could book a hotel worth 39,000 points using a 35,000-point certificate, and then pay an extra 4,000 points on top.
Marriott will automatically detect if you have any certificates with a face value within 15,000 points of your proposed redemption, and show you the option to apply the certificate plus any difference in points:
Strategies for Maximizing Marriott Free Night Awards
Let’s think about some of the best strategies for maximizing your Free Night Awards as a Marriott loyalist.
On the earning side, the most basic strategy for earning Free Night Awards is by picking up the two Canadian-issued Amex co-branded cards, resulting in two certificates every year for a net $270 outlay.
If you stay frequently enough with Marriott to reach 75 elite qualifying nights, you’ll also earn a third Free Night Award worth 40,000 points without having to pick up another credit card.
Then, it’ll be all about the US credit card game: picking up the Amex Bonvoy Brilliant and Amex US Bonvoy Business will give you two more Free Night Awards, worth 50,000 and 35,000 points respectively.
Furthermore, this combination of cards will also stack their respective 15 elite qualifying nights into a total of 30, giving you a leg up towards 75 elite qualifying nights per year and the 40,000-point certificate there too.
On the redemption side, the ideal scenario is to redeem your free nights as per the following criteria:
- Book a hotel whose underlying points price matches or exceeds the face value of the certificate, topping-up with points if necessary
- Book a hotel whose underlying cash cost is as high as possible
Indeed, an easy way to evaluate the value of a potential redemption is to apply Points Valuations to the face value of the Free Night Awards.
For example, we currently value Bonvoy points at 0.9 cents/point (CAD), so you should be looking to get at least $315 (CAD) of value out of a Free Night Award worth 35,000 points.
However, it may not always possible to tailor these optimal redemptions exactly to your upcoming travel plans, especially if you’re earning several of them year after year. And keep in mind that these certificates do have expiration dates attached, whereas Bonvoy points can always be saved for future redemptions.
Thus, if your Free Night Award is coming close to its expiration date (and you aren’t able to get it extended further), I’d argue that it’s okay to redeem them for slightly less than optimal value too, as long as you’re recouping their original acquisition cost in the form of any credit card annual fees.
Marriott Bonvoy’s Free Night Awards are an excellent vehicle for unlocking outsized value in the program.
Even though you’ll be putting in a relatively small upfront amount in the form of credit card annual fees, you’re often able to earn double or triple that value at the time of redemption.
You can also fine-tune exactly how many credit cards to hold (and how many Free Night Awards to earn) based on how frequently you stay with Marriott.
I’ve gotten consistent value from the Free Night Awards year after year at the 35,000-point, 40,000-point, and 50,000-point levels, and I’d love to see Marriott Bonvoy and their co-branded credit card issuers continuing to spruce up these rewards even more in the future.