Earlier this year, Marriott Bonvoy started to allow members to add points to free night certificates awarded from having a co-brand credit card issued by American Express or Chase. This update allowed members to book a stay in a room costing up to 15,000 points over the face value of the free night certificate.
This seemed to be a positive change, in the sense you’d be able to use your free nights more easily, as long as you were willing to cough up a few extra points. Anecdotally, I’ve noticed hotels are pricing award nights at 37,000 points or 53,000 points, which means for most places you’re required to pay extra points if you want to use a “free night.”
I found a limitation of the system the first time I tried to book a room with a free night certificate.
We get three free night certificates every year around the same time. One is for a room costing up to 25K points, another for 35K and another for 50K. When I went to book a room for 37,000 points, the system automatically added the 25K point certificate which required paying an additional 12,000 points. Instead, I wanted to use the 35K certificate + 2,000 points.
I tried booking a “dummy” room to use the 25K certificate, but the system defaulted to using the 50K certificate. I chalked it up to Marriott’s buggy IT systems and used the 35K certificate we have on our other account.
It turned out that this isn’t a glitch; it’s how Marriott designed the system. While there’s no official statement, several readers commented that the protocol is to use the free night certificate that’s expiring first. I get that customers would complain about being Bonvoyed if Marriott used a free night expiring in 11 months when you wanted to use the one expiring next week. But I’d really like the system to give me a choice about which certificate I want to use.
For example, I don’t want to use my 50K certificate for a room costing 37,000 points when I have a 35K certificate in my account. I want to use the 50K certificate for a room costing between 50K – 65K.
From what I’ve learned, there are two ways to get Marriott Bonvoy to use the free night certificate you want.
- You can make dummy bookings using the certificates you want to keep. Make these reservations for a date far in the future and make sure the hotel doesn’t have any cancellation restrictions. (I book one of the low-level Marriott properties in Orlando.) Once you’ve done this, you can book a room using the certificate you want. Just remember when you’re finished to go back and cancel the dummy reservation(s) to get your free night(s) back.
- A second option is to call Marriott to book the room. Reports are that the representatives can choose which free night certificate to attach to a reservation.
Which option you pick depends on if you’re more of a do-it-yourself person who wants as little human interaction as possible or if you’d rather talk to someone and have them do the work. To each their own.
I admit that I’m a bit surprised there was thought put into selecting which free night certificate to use when a member has multiple ones on their account. But then I got upset that Marriott didn’t take the time to figure out how to let members pick which certificate they wanted to use.
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