Using Up Free Night Certificates

Using Marriott 35k FNCs near Machu Picchu in December 2020 was amazing

Over the years, I’ve made good use of hotel free night certificates from Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt and IHG. I have six of these per year that come from holding credit cards (two IHG, two Marriott, one Hyatt and one Hilton). I’ve also earned additional free night certificates for spending on the Hyatt credit card ($15k per year) and reaching milestones with Marriott (75 nights in 2020 and 2021 thanks to lots of extra night credits) and Hyatt (30 nights for a Cat 1-4 certificate and 60 nights for a Cat 1-7 certificate). All of the hotel chains either extended the expiration dates of their certificates or allowed them to be exchanged for points (Hyatt) during the travel slowdown of 2020 and 2021.

Just this year, I used four IHG certificates (with three of those left over from covid extensions) in Baltimore when I needed to book multiple rooms. I’ve also used three Hilton free night certificates at the Hilton Marco Island Resort on multiple trips. I will use two Hyatt free night certificates for our upcoming trip to Ireland and two Marriott free night certificates for our stay in Nairobi prior to our safari in January. All of these nights would have been at least $200 or higher if we paid cash and some would have been as high as $900 (Marco Island prices are ridiculous!)

I like to make sure I have uses in mind for my free night certificates pretty far in advance, even if the booking is pretty far out. That way, I’m not scrambling to use them at the last minute. As of earlier this week, I still had two certificates expiring at the end of this year, one with Marriott and one with IHG. I had previously booked the Marriott certificate at a country estate Autograph Collection hotel for our Ireland trip, but when I reconfigured the order of our trip, there was no availability for that location on the night I needed.

We just booked a trip to New York to meet our new niece in early November. We will only have one night in Brooklyn before moving on to New Jersey for parents weekend at our younger daughter’s college. I looked at the usual place we stay in Brooklyn (the Hilton), but the prices were high ($350+) or I would have to use 90,000 Hilton points or my one remaining Hilton free night certificate. I then remembered the expiring Marriott free night certificate and looked at the options. Both the Sheraton and Marriott were 38,000 points and my certificate covered up to 40,000 points (as it was the one I got for reaching 75 elite nights last year). The properties were equidistant from my brother’s apartment, but the Marriott seemed to have much better reviews than the Sheraton on Flyertalk. I booked the Marriott and even tried to apply an expiring Suite Night Award as well (we’ll see if that clears).

Just this week, I was invited to a business meeting in Charlotte a week from Monday. As the meeting will start early, I was debating between leaving at 5am to drive the four hours or spending Sunday night nearby. The hotels closest to the meeting were all around $200, and although it’s a business expense, it still comes out of my pocket as I am a sole proprietor. I expanded the search radius and found a newish Holiday Inn Express about two miles from the meeting location. Remembering the expiring free night certificate, I booked the hotel. It was 25,000 points and my certificate covered up to 40,000 points. It’s not the best value of the certificate, but considering the annual fee for the card is $99 and the hotel was about $179 with tax, it easily makes the annual fee worth paying again.

Until the annual renewal of these six credit cards, I only have two free nights left – a Hilton one expires in July and a Hyatt one expires in August – with plenty of time to use them. In fact, I already have a plan for to use the Hyatt night next summer in Ho Chi Minh City. If you are going to keep the credit cards that offer free nights, make sure you have a plan to use them before they expire.

If you enjoyed this post (or have questions), let me know in the comments or send me an email at emptynestermiles@gmail.com. If you are thinking about opening a new credit card, please use one of my links.

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