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Stay here, not there: Using your Marriott free night certificate in the U.S.

The Points Guy logo The Points Guy 3/2/2021 Summer Hull and Nick Ellis
MSN has partnered with The Points Guy for our coverage of credit card products. MSN and The Points Guy may receive a commission from card issuers.

Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information. 

One of the best perks you can get with a travel credit card is an annual free night at a hotel, as these certificates can often be redeemed for far more than the annual fee of the card. Luckily, there are plenty of credit cards that offer this perk.

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There are a handful of Marriott credit cards, and most offer an annual free-night certificate. Today we’ll be focusing on the ones you can use at Category 5 hotels that can cost 35,000 points per night, as these properties can be booked with any of the cards’ free nights. Fortunately for us, there are more than 1,000 Category 5 Marriott hotels around the world so you have plenty of choices.

But, not all Category 5 properties are created equal. Some have distinct advantages over others, so today we’ll take a look at the options in a number of popular cities and give you our recommendations on which to book — and which you might want to skip.

Related: The award traveler’s guide to Marriott Bonvoy

In This Post

 

Marriott credit cards

First, let’s take a look at which cards earn you free nights. There are actually three different Marriott credit cards that can earn you a free night every year upon renewal and payment of your annual fee:

  • Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card: This card is offering a sign-up bonus of 75,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. You’ll earn a free night certificate valid for up to 35,000 points per night, which covers up to Category 5 properties at standard and off-peak rates. Annual fee: $95
  • Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card: This card is currently offering a welcome bonus of 75,000 bonus Marriott Bonvoy points after you use your new card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first three months. Plus, earn up to $150 back in statement credits on eligible purchases made on your new card within the first three months of card membership. This card grants you one certificate per year upon renewal with the option to gain a second after spending $60,000 in a calendar year — each one is valid for up to 35,000 points. Even if you don’t think you qualify for a business credit card, you might. Annual fee: $125 (see rates and fees)
  • Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card: This premium travel card is currently offering a welcome bonus of 75,000 points after you use your new card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first three months. It confers an array of valuable perks, including an annual free-night certificate worth up to 50,000 points — enough to cover up to Category 6 standard awards (but not at peak rates). Annual fee: $450 (see rates and fees)

Note that there’s also the no-annual-fee Marriott Bonvoy Bold Credit Card, but it doesn’t include an annual free night. For a complete comparison, be sure to check out our guide to choosing the best Marriott credit card.

With that out of the way, here are some places you can use those 35,000 point certificates:

Austin

The state capital of Texas is well known for its live music scene and variety of outdoor activities. It also plays host to a number of large-scale conventions and big events (during normal times), which is how you can sometimes see things like this during major events.

graphical user interface, text, application: $1,500 a night or 35,000 points © The Points Guy $1,500 a night or 35,000 points

Is $1,500 per night absurd? Yes. Is that an incredible use of a free-night certificate? Also yes.

With a happening downtown, a major university and lots more going on, you have lots of hotel options with your 35k certificates in Austin. That said, in recent years many of the hotels in town have hopped from the Category 5 to 6 level which has narrowed the options a bit.

Book this — Moxy Austin University

a living room with a bed and a mirror: Moxy Austin – University. (Photo courtesy of Marriott) © The Points Guy Moxy Austin – University. (Photo courtesy of Marriott)

If you are looking for a hotel stay in a fun, new spot near the University of Texas, go for the Moxy Austin University. Yes, the rooms may be on the smaller side and Moxy most definitely is not a subdued hotel experience, but you can feel like you are a part of this young, vibrant part of the city by staying here with your 35k certificate.

Note that rooms here have either one queen or two queens, if you are looking for a king bed, this won’t be your spot.

If you need a king bed, or just want a little less pizzaz out of your hotel stay, try the nearby AC Hotel Austin-University instead.

Skip that —  Sheraton Austin Hotel at the Capitol

Marriott has announced a push to overhaul the Sheraton brand, and when that happens for this property our opinion may change. However, as things stand now the Sheraton Austin Hotel at the Capitol doesn’t have the best reviews and is far from the most up-to-date hotel option in Austin.

So for now, we’d go to the Moxy, AC or Aloft in downtown Austin with our 35k certificate over the Sheraton.

New York

There are a number of Category 5 hotels in the New York City area, and just about all of them provide a solid certificate value given how expensive the Big Apple can be.

While you won’t be able to use your 35,000-point free-night certificates at places like The St. Regis New York or The Ritz-Carlton, New York Central Park, New York is a city you want to spend time exploring — not sitting in a hotel room. And luckily, with so many Category 5 properties to choose from, you’re sure to be able to find something to suit your needs.

Book this — Moxy NYC Downtown

a store front at night: Moxy NYC Downtown. (Photo courtesy of Marriott) © The Points Guy Moxy NYC Downtown. (Photo courtesy of Marriott)

Conveniently located near major NYC tourist attractions like the World Trade Center and Statue of Liberty as well as the bars and restaurants of SoHo and Tribeca, this Moxy property makes a great home base for exploring New York. Like other Moxy properties, the rooms are on the small side and the hotels themselves are geared toward people who appreciate a “scene,” but that’s all part of the fun of visiting New York.

If you need a little more space to spread out, set your sights on the soon-to-open Residence Inn New York Downtown Manhattan/Financial District which will offer studio-style rooms with either one king bed or two queens.


Gallery: 10 Credit Cards To Consider for Travel Rewards (GOBankingRates)

Skip that — Aloft Manhattan Downtown – Financial District

While this Aloft is located practically next door to the aforementioned Moxy, it’s been around for several years and you’ll feel like you’re at any other Aloft property, which is fine for a night close to the airport before an early flight but is certainly not as fun when staying in the heart of one of the most dynamic cities on earth.

Related: Best free things to do in NYC

Orlando

The best hotel for you in and around Orlando — even if you are limited to what you can book with a Marriott 35k certificate — will really depend on your plans and priorities. For example, those heading to Disney World with little kids may want different things out of their hotel or resort than someone in town for a work conference.

In this case, I’ll assume you have a 35k cert and are looking for a quality vacation stay, but one that preferably won’t add tons of resort and parking fees on top of your award stay. If that’s the case, there are real winners and losers in that race.

Book this — Marriott’s Harbour Lake

If you want to cash in a 35,000 point certificate and be done with it, Marriott’s Harbour Lake is a solid choice. It’s not the newest or flashiest of the bunch, but you can sometimes snag a one-bedroom villa for 35,000 points and the pool complex is pretty solid.

On top of all that, there are no parking and resort fees — a rarity in the Orlando area.

a fountain in front of a building: Marriott Harbour Lake. (Photo courtesy of Marriott) © The Points Guy Marriott Harbour Lake. (Photo courtesy of Marriott)

Skip that — Orlando World Center Marriott

In fairness, the Orlando World Center Marriott looks like a fine stay with solid rooms, a shuttle service to Disney and some pretty sweet-looking waterslides. We have nothing against this property, but you are going to have to budget about $65 additional per day on top of your 35k certificate for self-parking and resort fees.

If that is worth it to you, go and have a blast. If not, skip this one.

Related: Best points hotels near Disney World 

Hawaii

Hawaii is a pretty expensive vacation destination whether you are paying with cash or points. So, anywhere you can use a 35k certificate is a pretty solid choice given that many hotels cost at least double that points cost. However, if you are a person who enjoys a newer hotel room vs. a more ‘classic’ look, then we do have a little advice.

It’s not uncommon for a hotel in Hawaii to not have the latest and greatest decor since most people go to Hawaii to experience the breathtaking beaches, waterfalls, etc. But, if you want to stay in a renovated space, here’s our pick.

Book this — Sheraton Kauai Coconut Beach Resort

a row of palm trees next to a body of water: Sheraton Kauai Coconut Beach Resort. (Photo courtesy of Marriott) © The Points Guy Sheraton Kauai Coconut Beach Resort. (Photo courtesy of Marriott)

In recent years, the Sheraton Kauai Coconut Beach Resort has been extensively renovated. From the rooms, to the lobby and the pools, this hotel is all but new. We still wouldn’t describe this property as a destination resort where you belly-up to the pool bar and never leave, but it is more than sufficient to serve as a home base while exploring this eastern part of Kauai.

(Note — this hotel is changing category effective March 3, so book quickly if you want in on this one!)

Skip that — Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay

Sheraton Kona Resort has a great pool and fun waterslide, but the hotel itself falls into that trap from the “old Sheraton” style. On top of having rooms that are (more than) ready for a refresh, there isn’t a particularly usable beach here, either.

If what you need is simply an overnight or two in Kona while you are off exploring, that may not be a problem for you, but factor those issues in if you like to be able to walk right out to the beach or have your rooms styled in this decade.

Miami

Miami is an ever-popular destination for travelers from around the globe, but especially so for sun-starved residents of the northern parts of the United States.

There are so many hotels in the Miami area — and predictably many are very expensive, even ones that aren’t right on the beach. Applying your free-night certificates in this town can go a long way to saving you a lot of money which can be better spent on the plentiful restaurants and bars the city has to offer. And luckily, Miami has a solid group of Category 5 hotels at which you can use your certificates for free nights.

Book this — Moxy Miami South Beach

a large building: Moxy Miami South Beach. (Photo courtesy of Marriott) © The Points Guy Moxy Miami South Beach. (Photo courtesy of Marriott)

Yes, another Moxy property, but this brand-new hotel is definitely worth your consideration, at least.

This property boasts several options for dining and drinking including a rooftop pool and bar that looks like it’ll become a magnet for locals and tourists alike. While not directly on the beach, you’re just across the street and will have views of the water from many places in the hotel. Plus, you’ll be within walking distance to many of South Beach’s nightlife and dining scene.

If you’re not after the party scene Miami is famous for, there are plenty of other options worth considering, including the Residence Inn Miami Beach South Beach, Marriott’s Villas at Doral (here you can get massive two-bedroom villa-style accommodations, perfect for families or large groups) and the Marriott Miami Biscayne Bay.

Skip that — JW Marriott Miami

While it may sound tempting to book this JW Marriott property, this is a property positioned more for business travelers and while you’ll be close to some of Miami’s great restaurants, you’ll likely want to spend your vacation being closer to the water at a property that at least has a view of the beach.

Chicago

The nation’s third-largest city has so much to offer anyone visiting. The city has some of the nation’s best food, cultural institutions, world-class sports teams (sometimes) and, of course, its prime location on the shores of Lake Michigan. The Windy City has a wide variety of Category 5 properties to choose from, though some are clearly better than the others.

Book this — W Chicago Lakeshore

a bedroom with a bed in a hotel room: W Chicago Lakeshore. (Photo courtesy of Marriott) © The Points Guy W Chicago Lakeshore. (Photo courtesy of Marriott)

Located in Chicago’s tony Gold Coast neighborhood on the iconic Lake Shore Drive, this W offers views that alone are enough to make us want to book a room. It’s close to some of Chicago’s most popular attractions like Navy Pier, Soldier Field and the Museum of Science and Industry and just a short walk away from some of the city’s best restaurants and bars and Ohio Street Beach, if you’re visiting in the summer.

Other strong contenders for your 35,000-point certificate include the Marriott Marquis Chicago, The Westin Michigan Avenue Chicago, W Chicago City Center and The Blackstone, Autograph Collection.

Skip that — Fairfield Inn and Suites Chicago Downtown/River North

With the multitude of other Category 5 options in Chicago, we recommend skipping this property solely on the fact that you can do better with your certificate.

Related: Best road trips to take from Chicago

Earning Marriott points

Of course, these certificates can each only get you a single free night, so you may want to extend your stay with other award nights. If your account balance is a little shy of where you’d like, there are many ways to earn additional Marriott points. Marriott is a transfer partner of both American Express and Chase — in addition to its own branded cards — so consider getting any of these to help build your stash:

American Express

  • The Platinum Card® from American Express ($550, see rates and fees): Earn a welcome bonus of 75,000 Membership Rewards points after you use your new card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first six months of account opening (though you may be targeted for a higher bonus through the CardMatch Tool; offer subject to change at anytime). Plus, earn 5x points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel (up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year) and 5x points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com
  • The Business Platinum Card® from American Express ($595, see rates and fees): Earn a welcome bonus of 85,000 bonus points after you spend $15,000 in eligible purchases within your first three months of card membership. Plus earn 5x points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com.
  • American Express® Gold Card ($250, see rates and fees): Earn a welcome bonus of 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases on your new card in your first six months of card membership (though you may be targeted for a higher bonus through the CardMatch Tool; offer subject to change at anytime). Plus earn 4x points at restaurants worldwide and at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases; then 1x) and 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.

Chase

  • Chase Sapphire Reserve ($550 annual fee): Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. Earn 3x points on all travel and dining purchases.
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred Card ($95 annual fee): Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. Earn 2x points on all travel and dining purchases.
  • Ink Business Preferred Credit Card ($95 annual fee): Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. Earn 3x points on the first $150,000 spent on travel and select business categories each account anniversary year.

Marriott

  • Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card ($95 annual fee): Earn 75,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
  • Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card ($125, see rates and fees): Earn 75,000 bonus Marriott Bonvoy points after you use your new card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening. Plus, earn up to $150 back in statement credits on eligible purchases made on your new card within the first three months of card membership. 
  • Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card ($450, see rates and fees) Earn 75,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. Earn 6x Bonvoy points at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels, 3x points at U.S. restaurants and flights booked directly with airlines, and 2x points on all other eligible purchases.

Bottom line

Marriott’s staggering collection of properties means it can be difficult to find the best properties at which to use your certificate — especially in cities with dozens of options. These hotels are some of the best-value and most highly-rated properties available in that category, making sure you maximize both your certificate and your experience.

For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Business card, click here.

For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card, click here.

For rates and fees of the Amex Gold Card, click here.

For rates and fees of The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, click here. For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, click here.

 

Featured photo of the Moxy Miami South Beach courtesy of Marriott.

SPONSORED: With states reopening, enjoying a meal from a restaurant no longer just means curbside pickup.

And when you do spend on dining, you should use a credit card that will maximize your rewards and potentially even score special discounts. Thanks to temporary card bonuses and changes due to coronavirus, you may even be able to score a meal at your favorite restaurant for free. 

These are the best credit cards for dining out, taking out, and ordering in to maximize every meal purchase.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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