What are Marriott 35K certificates worth?

The St. Anthony Luxury Collection Hotel in San Antonio is a Category 5 Marriott.  I found prices as high as $450 per night even when the hotel was available at standard (35K) rates.


With news of the latest Marriott devaluation, Nick and I wondered if Marriott credit cards were still worth keeping (see: Is Marriott dead to us? Should it be to you?).  Most Marriott credit cards come with annual free night certificates valid at any property charging 35,000 points or less.  And, starting March 4th, many of the hotels that previously charged 35K will then charge more.

In a recent Frequent Miler on the Air discussion, I asserted that even after March 4th, our 35K certificates will still be good for hotels costing around $200 per night.  Nick didn’t believe me.  You can find our conversation on the Feb 7 2020 Frequent Miler on the Air episode at around the 13 minute 50 second mark.  You can find Frequent Miler on the Air, in audio format, on your favorite Podcast platform, or subscribe to our YouTube channel.  The following embedded video is already setup to play at the point where Nick and I discuss this:

At the time of our discussion, I didn’t have data to go on, but now I do.  Let’s see who was right…

The value of Marriott 35K certificates

Even after March 4th, I found that 35K certificates are worth slightly more than $200…

Marriott 35K Free Night Certificate Value Recorded Feb 12 2020

Across a number of locations, I found that 35K certificates were worth an average (mean) of $224.  The median (central) value was $208.

Where did these numbers come from?

I picked a number of locations and dates to find the best hotels bookable with 35K certificates and recorded the cash prices of each…

Locations

I used Marriott’s “Browse by Destination” page to find which locations in the United States and Europe had the most category 5 hotels.  I did this because category 5 hotels cost 35K points standard.  So, theoretically, category 5 hotels most often offer the best value for your 35K certificates.

Even though the current list represents hotels that are category 5 prior to March 4th, I figured that this still gave me a good idea of where the most category 5 hotels will be even after March 4th.  If I’m wrong about that, it doesn’t really matter.  The purpose was just to pick a smattering of locations from which to gather data.

Here are the locations I selected:

State or Country Cat 5 Property Count
California 149
Florida 84
New York (NYC) 60
Texas 35
Massachusetts 29
Germany 25
United Kingdom 21

Note that I messed up a bit with collecting data for New York, and collected data for the New York City area instead.  The property count is for the state of New York, so please disregard that number.  Whoops.

Dates

I somewhat randomly picked the following dates for check-in and I looked only at one night stays:

  • Friday May 1st (shoulder season weekend)
  • Saturday July 4th (high season US holiday weekend)
  • Wednesday October 14th (ordinary business day in the US)

Procedure

For each location, I searched Marriott’s website for category 5 hotels and recorded the point price and cash price of the three best user-rated hotels bookable with a 35K certificate.  I didn’t include hotels that will increase a category on March 4th, but I did include hotels that will decrease a category.

Here are the steps I followed on Marriott’s booking page:

  • Enter location, date, and select “Use Points / Certificates.”
  • Sort results by Guest Rating
  • Find first three hotels that match this criteria:
    • Point price is 35K or less
    • Hotel is not increasing in category on March 4th

Random Notes

  • Most (but not all) of the valid New York City area hotels that I found were in New Jersey.
  • In Florida and California I frequently had to scroll way down the results since most of the highly rated hotels were peak priced (40K).  35K certificates won’t work on those 40K nights, so I skipped those.
  • In Germany, all of the category 5 hotels were peak price (40K) on October 14th.  This was the only location and date in which I was unable to find 3 data points.  I found zero.

Methodology Issues

There’s no perfect way to calculate things like this.  Here are some issues with the way I did it…

  • Limited locations and dates:  More data is always better.
  • Rough approximation of hotel cost:
    • I didn’t use any special rates (AAA, senior discount, etc.)
    • I didn’t factor in the extra cost of taxes and fees which aren’t shown in the initial search results
    • I didn’t factor in that you would earn Marriott points on paid stays (I like to think that this issue and the one above offset each other)
    • I didn’t factor in rebates from credit card rewards or shopping portals
  • Missing hotels that drop to category 5 from category 6 on March 4th:  On March 4th, 15 hotels will drop from category 6 to category 5.  Of these, four may have met my criteria if they hadn’t been filtered out based on current category assignments.  They are:
    • The Westin San Diego Gaslamp Quarter
    • The Westin San Diego
    • Hotel Republic San Diego, Autograph Collection
    • Roomers Munich, Autograph Collection

Despite the issues indicated above, I think that the results are good enough to base decisions on them.

Conclusion: Marriott cards offering 35K certs are still a good deal

As you can see in the chart above, both Chase and Amex have $95 annual fee consumer cards that offer annual 35K certificates.  Both also have business cards that cost either $99 (Chase) or $125 (Amex).  Based on the above results, I’d argue that all of these cards are worth keeping since it appears to be easy to get at least double the annual fee value from the free night certificates.

Note that not all of the Marriott cards are still available to apply for new.  Please see our Marriott Bonvoy Complete Guide for information about all of the Marriott credit cards and anything else you might want to know about Bonvoy.

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

More articles by Greg The Frequent Miler »

Regarding comments: Comments posted at the bottom of Frequent Miler pages and posts are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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Carl WV
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Carl WV

When I check around I see of lot of category 5 hotels where the points required are conveniently above 35K (often 40K). I also see ones not available for points. I would not be able to use the cert at either – correct? Any idea how many of the hotels you use in you group would fall into these areas?

IRL I just often find the certs hard to actually use in places I want to be, I have one 25 cert and two 35K certs that I had to get extended to not lose. If I have to work hard at finding value for these, or finding places to use these, by the next AF I’m dropping the card (Chase).

losingtrader
Guest
losingtrader

+1 and the cards are nearly useless for regular spend. Unless you need a few 1000 points with an airline that isn’t a transfer partner, I’d rather just get that airline’s card. Prime example: Korean Air, where they give 2x on hotel stays.
Oops, I have given away my secret airline find, now that everyone wants to travel to Asia.

Alex
Guest
Alex

So if you can find a cat 5 Marriott hotel that’s in a convenient location for your personal travels, which has standard bed availability, which isn’t peak, then yes – the 35k certificate is usually good deal moneywise. But that’s some significant caveats. Also if your stay is longer than your number of certificates, it maybe locking you into that hotel for additional cash rates days. If you travel a lot, it’s probably not a big deal to meet those conditions, but for many more people, it may not work out so well with these new devaluations.

mememe
Guest
mememe

The recent category adjustment changes my credit card strategy completely. 35k worth ~$100 to me due to the loss of almost all Manhattan hotels. On the other hand I can constantly get ~$100 value from the 12.5k and 15k properties on my road trips. Therefore the best strategy now is to churn the Amex Business, Chase $95 and Chase $0. It indeed really depends on your travel pattern.

Bond
Guest
Bond

I used my last certificate on a Category 4 hotel (Renaisaance Phoenix downtown over MLK weekend) for a $300 room and got upgraded for free to a $400 suite. In the past, I’ve found the cash value of some Cat 4s to be higher than some Cat 5’s cash value.

Josh SoCal
Guest
Josh SoCal

Good analysis Greg. The certificates feel like a good, not great value. I listen to the podcast and like the informal format. Keep up the fun. The question about value of 35k certificate is a perfect example of questions that I wonder but do not have time to research. Thankfully you and Nick and Stephan do much of the heavy work for me.

PoorChurner
Guest
PoorChurner

I’m using my 35k CC night at Sheraton Gateway LAX which shows over $200. Of course it is peak priced at 30k. Got it now before the category goes up next month.

Dima
Guest
Dima

Thank you for the detailed analysis. While it’s true and you can get more value from the cert than you pay in AF it’s becoming more and more challenging to use them. I used to use the certs for weekend trips around New England in late spring / summer / early fall, and at this point pretty much all hotels we’re interested in are showing peak pricing for the dates we’d consider. Going out of my way just to use the cert in not exactly a benefit to me, so will be closing my Chase / Amex Marriott bis cards this year. Worst case, I can usually buy Marriott 35k free night cert for the price comparable to the AF on the AMEX Marriott business card.

Jessica
Guest
Jessica

We canceled three of our cards that came with a 35K Marriott certificate because all of our favorite locations (NYC, DC, Hawaii) were devalued and don’t have 35K availability when we need to travel. We used these certificates and got great value out of them in the past few years, but paying $95 for a cert that takes heaven and earth to use doesn’t seem worth the stress for us anymore.

Eu Tom
Guest
Eu Tom

I initially was feeling frustrated with my certificates, but I was just able to get $350+ value out of 3 of them at a hotel I wanted to be at anyway. The base room was about $270, but the hotel just agreed to complimentarily upgrade us to a suite as soon as I made the booking… without using my suite upgrade certificates.

T. Jones
Guest
T. Jones

I can’t say that I’ve always been able to get $200+ value from a 35K certificate, but I’ve always managed to get at least $150. Ok. So I’m not knocking it out of the park, but for a credit card that costs $95/year… I still count that as a win. Thanks for the analysis and explanation of your methodology. I think I’ll use your methodology to figure out an appropriate value for my 50K certificates.

Rob
Guest
Rob

As oppose to trying to get value of the 35K cert, why not get the AMEX Brilliant ($450 AF) for the 50K cert? This card also offers $300 statement credit which (I believe) can be applied to room rates.. With the $300 credit, the 50K cert is basically $150 cost. With the statement credit ($300) and the 50K cert, one can get at least two nights stay at higher end Marriott categories (more hotel options of category 6 standard and below); pay a night for a room worth $300 and pay the other night with 50K cert. One might be able to stretch for 3-nights or close there of ($300 credit covers 1-1/2 to 2 nights).

For those that currently hold AMEX Bonvoy and AMEX Business Bonvoy; total AF is $220. With the strategy above, one has more options (hotels to choose from).

Mary Jane's
Guest
Mary Jane's

good idea

Carol
Guest
Carol

I use my award certs for hotels in Europe so the value is good for me. I’ll have to see for this year’s trips if I can still get value.

Kelly
Guest
Kelly

I am sure you’re right, and last year I was able to get $350 for a 35K cert. Despite that, the devaluation last week prompted us to cancel both our Chase Business cards whose AFs had just posted – both of which I had originally planned to keep. Between deval and off peak, paying the same for less optionality just doesn’t make sense for me. I do plan to keep the Brilliant and the Ritz as the 50K still seems possible.

GoSavorLa
Guest
GoSavorLa

The downside really boils down to the expiration. Why doesn’t Marriott just give us 35k points annually for holding the credit card?
A: Because the breakage allows for more customers to lose track and eventually waste the free night certificate. Rebuttal: I know. Yes, it’s possible to extend or maybe even convert them. But with each hurdle, Marriott is banking on narrowing the demographic who will actually go through with it.
Example, I recently booked 3 nights at a Cat 5 with one 35k cert from P1, one from P2, and one with 35k points. Out of boredom, I revisited the booking a few months later and discover that the weekend night was actually off peak at 30k. I msg’ed Marriott to see if they can switch one certificate night into the 35k night and refund me 5k for the 30k night. Bonvoy IT lazily asked me to cancel and rebook. So I started with 3 reservation number, cancel 2, and rebook each night in the appropriate order and got 2 more reservation numbers, not exactly rocket science but I can’t see too many of my friends being as meticulous as I did to squeeze as much as possible out of the program… definitely won’t be keeping the cards for more than another 2 years at this rate.