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These past couple of years have been light on travel, obviously. All of our best laid plans had to be postponed or cancelled.

Even though the travel industry has had to deal with a lot of adversity, some of the big players did try to do right by their customers. For example, extending status, extending point expiration, and the best of all, extending the expiration date on the hotel free night certificates offered to holders of certain credit cards.

Which is how we found ourselves with 7 free nights that had to be redeemed in the near future.

7 11 Free Nights

Between the 2 of us we had 7 free night certificates that had to be redeemed before the end of 2021 plus a few that expire in early 2022. After cancelling our summer travel plans I mentally wrote them off as another covid-related loss / inconvenience. But then we somehow ended up back in the US… and I managed to used them all, plus 4.

First up we visited family in Santa Cruz, CA, staying 2 nights at the Holiday Inn Express. A stay at the HIE is never a memorable experience, but the beds were comfortable and we were only there to sleep anyway. Plus it includes “breakfast.”

It was a bit cold and windy but we did catch a sunset at the beach and explored the redwood forests.

Beach action and a wee sunset

Big trees

More big trees

Next we spent a weekend in Truckee, CA to check out the fall colors around Lake Tahoe. It snowed like crazy our final night so we also got a sample for ski season.

Emerald Bay

Hi!

Fall Colors

Ski Season!

For Thanksgiving we are flying to Minnesota to visit family, probably. I booked fully-refundable tickets and we will make the call in a few weeks (I was hoping proof of vaccination would be required for domestic flights…)

My brother plans to grill a turkey and my grandmother will get to see great-grandkid number 25(?) in person for the first time.

In total we will spend 2 nights each at 2 different hotels.

Upon return we will once again visit Santa Cruz, CA, for 2 nights, but this time staying at a slightly nicer place (Marriott property.)

And then finally during Christmas break we will visit San Francisco for 2 nights to visit friends and do Christmasy things.

Blown Away in San Francisco

In total we will be away from home twelve nights and will pay for just one.

Costs

In total, for 12 hotel nights we will pay about $160 plus some credit card annual fees and parking.

For 2 nights at the Holiday Inn Express in Santa Cruz we paid $0 for the room and $20 for parking, using 2 free night certificates from my IHG Select card (no longer available.) This card has an annual fee of $49/year which is much nicer than the $250/night that this room would have cost otherwise.

In Tahoe we stayed 2 nights at the Springhill Suites in Truckee, CA. One night was free with a certificate from Winnie’s Marriott Bonvoy Boundless card ($95 annual fee) and parking was $10. This night otherwise was ~$230. The 2nd night we paid cash of $159 inclusive, reservation in my name.

In Minnesota we booked 4 free nights using points from the welcome bonus on Winnie’s IHG(R) Rewards Club Premier Credit Card (annual fee $89.) The redemption value on these stays is off the charts, e.g. 39,000 points for 2 nights vs paying $179/night+tax or roughly 1.1cpp.

Back in Santa Cruz again we are using 2 free night certificates again with Winnie’s Boundless card instead of $199/night or $448.96 total with taxes and fees.

And in SF we are again using 2 free night certificates, 1 from my Marriott Bonvoy Boundless card and another from my Marriot Bonvoy(TM) Business Card from American Express ($125 annual fee, Rates and Fees.) These free night certificates are worth up to 35,000 points each, which is generally good for a Cat 5 hotel. Alas, there are zero Cat 5 or below Marriott hotels in core San Francisco. But during off-peak booking Cat 6 hotels can be booked for 35k points, and I booked the only 2 such nights at the 1 hotel that has off-peak pricing before Christmas. The only downside here is I think parking is going to be $60/night unless I find an alternative (haven’t looked yet.)

Fuel was these driving trips is free since we get free charging for our EV.

Total costs:
2 nights parking in Santa Cruz: $20
1 night in Truckee: $160
1 night parking in Truckee: $10
4 nights in Minnesota: $0
2 nights in Santa Cruz: $0
2 nights parking in Santa Cruz: $20? TBD
2 nights in San Francisco: $0
2 nights parking in San Francisco: $120 TBD
Annual fee on Winnie’s Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Visa Signature card: $95
Annual fee on my Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Visa Signature card: $95
Annual fee on my Marriot Bonvoy(TM) Business Card from American Express: $125
Annual fee on Winnie’s IHG(R) Rewards Club Premier card: $89
Annual fee on my IHG Select card: $49

Total cost for 12 hotel nights: $783 or ~$65/night
(Alternative cash price: ~$2,665 or $222/night.)

Remaining free night certificates, expiring in 2022:
IHG – 1 (Winnie.)
Marriott: 3 (Winnie: 1, Me: 2)

Status

A funny side thing that happened this year, by staying 1 night at a Marriott hotel in 2021 I ended up with Platinum elite status for 2022. Normally this requires staying 50 nights, something I did regularly during my old work travel days.

For 2021, this is how those nights added up:

15 – for having a Marriott Bonvoy Boundless card
15 – for having a Marriot Bonvoy(TM) Business Card from American Express
15 – Marriott deposited 50% of 2020 elite nights credits as a loyalty bonus due to the pandemic (due to having 2 credit cards)
4 – nights credits due to spending on Marriott Bonvoy Boundless card
1 – 1 stay at a Marriott hotel

So anyway, now I have Platinum status for the next 14 months or so which hopefully gets us some upgrades on 2022 travel (e.g. suites.) I’ll be trying to spend about 450,000 points in the near future ($3000+ value, but devaluation in progress), and probably have some stays for Tahoe skiing this winter.

Summary

Due to the pandemic, many hotel rewards programs and related credit cards extended expiration dates on points and free night certificates. We had 7 certificates that were going to expire at end of 2021 and managed to use them all (plus some points.)

This bought us $2,665 worth of hotel stays for about $783.

I also got a Platinum status bonus with Marriott which should get us some upgrades for a big point spending blitz this winter and coming spring.

Photos by Winnie (more on Instagram)


Cards and points programs mentioned in this post for those interested:

To learn more: Award Travel Series: Hotel Credit Cards with Free Night Certificates



Chase Sapphire Preferred(R) Card -
Intro bonus worth $750+ plus double points on all travel. $95 annual fee.
This is a great card for beginning travel hackers!
Points can be transferred to Marriott Bonvoy program.
IHG(R) Rewards Club Premier Credit Card -
150,000 IHG Points welcome bonus after $3k spend in 3 months.
Free night certificate on card anniversary. $89 annual fee.
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Visa Signature Credit Card -
125,000 Bonvoy Points welcome bonus PLUS a free night (50k point value), after $5k spend in 3 months.
Free night certificate on card anniversary.
$95 annual fee.
Marriott Bonvoy(TM) Business Card from American Express. -
Earn 75,000 Marriott Bonvoy points PLUS 1 free night after spending $3k in 3 months.
$125 annual fee.Rates and Fees
$150 statement credit in 1st 3 months.
Free night certificate on card anniversary.
Learn more here.
Terms Apply.

Editorial Note – Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.