When the coronavirus pandemic started to shut down travel worldwide, hotel loyalty programs slowly announced that they would extend the expiration dates on the free night certificates earned through credit cards (either by hitting a spending requirement or just for having the card.)
At this moment, I have nine free nights sitting in our IHG, Marriott and Hyatt accounts. Under normal circumstances, that would be more than enough. However, when we’re not traveling except for road trips and we’re renting Airbnb cabins more than staying in hotels, that’s way too many free nights.
Back when I used to spend way too much time researching hotels, I’d evaluate the price of the room against the value of the points needed for a free night (or the annual fee if it was a free night certificate). However, something else has now risen to the top of the list – which free night certificate is expiring first, and am I able to use it for this upcoming trip?
Back in July, when our trip to Japan was already not going to happen, I started looking at alternate plans and came up with four possible alternates. One of those itineraries looks like it might happen and now I have to book some hotel rooms for us for stops on the way to our cabin.
While the details of the trip are still in flux, I needed to book hotels in Asheville, NC, where we’ll visit the Biltmore Estate and a room around Savannah, GA, for a stop on the drive home.
My first search was for hotels near Asheville. The free night I had that was expiring first was the one I get from having the discontinued IHG Rewards Club Select card. I’ve gladly paid the $49 annual fee to get a free night certificate. However, this year I let my free night expire. That was until IHG replaced it with one that was good until the end of 2020. I wasn’t sure, but I thought this might be my last uncapped IHG certificate as ones issued now are only good at hotels costing up to 40,000 points a night.
For the heck of it, I looked at IHG hotels in the Asheville area that I could book with my IHG free night.
Sure, I could stay at the Holiday Inn Express or even the Hotel Indigo but I was intrigued by the last entry. The Kimpton Hotel Arras was on the list, which usually goes for 50,000 points a night. Needless to say, I went for the Kimpton even if we need to pay for parking because the hotel is located in a former bank building and we like oddball places like that.
We’re staying there for two nights, so I tried to use my other IHG free night to book a room but no such luck. The currently issued free nights are capped at 40K. To pay for a room would have cost over $250, so I used 50,000 IHG points to book a second night, which we received as a sign-up bonus for the IHG Rewards Club Premier card. I value IHG points at 0.5 cents each so this was a worthwhile redemption.
The second hotel I needed to book was for a quick overnight on the way home. While my first choice would have been to use up one of my Hyatt category 1-4 certificates, there was only one Hyatt Place that might have fit our needs and it didn’t get great reviews. My next choice was to try and use up one the most challenging free nights I have, a 25K Marriott certificate from our discontinued Chase Marriott Bonvoy Premier card.
I did some looking and I found a Fairfield Inn right off the highway that only cost 17,500 Marriott Bonvoy points per night.
If I were to pay for a room with an AAA discount, it would have only cost $109 after taxes.
Usually, I wouldn’t use a free night certificate at a room that only costs a little over $100 but these are not normal times. Any chance to burn a free night is a good one. If I’m able to break even at least, or do even a little better, on a redemption than I’m going to take it. Who knows how many other chances I’m going to get before May 2021.
I’m feeling great right now. I was able to use up two free night certificates and 50,000 IHG points. I have one more hotel night to book for this trip and I’m going to try again to use that Hyatt free night or maybe one of our Marriott 35K certs that are sitting in our accounts.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary