Everything You Need To Know About The New SPG Amex Free Night Certificates

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As all of you are probably aware of by now, the Marriott and Starwood loyalty programs will be merged at some point in August 2018. These changes are pretty major, so even just a few weeks before the changes are kicking in, there are still lots of questions.

Both American Express and Chase will be issuing credit cards in the future for Marriott and Starwood, though these cards will also see some major changes.

One of the things I get a lot of questions about is what happens with the co-branded Starwood American Express cards. In April I shared the full details of the changes happening to the SPG Amex cards as of August 1, 2018. Just about everything about the cards is changing, so if you’re not familiar with those changes, check out the previous post.

One aspect of these cards that has caused quite a bit of confusion is the anniversary free night certificates that will be offered by these cards in the future, and in this post I wanted to look at those a bit more closely.

What are the Marriott and Starwood anniversary free night certificates?

Going forward, several Marriott and Starwood credit cards will offer an anniversary free night certificate. This is something that some Marriott cards have offered in the past, though it’s being expanded to Starwood cards as well. Specifically, as of August 1, 2018:

While it’s not a Starwood card, I’d note that the Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus Credit Card also offers an anniversary free night certificate  valid at a hotel costing up to 35,000 points per night.

Can you earn an anniversary free night certificate on multiple Marriott & Starwood credit cards?

This has been a point of confusion, but the answer is yes. If you have multiple cards earning free night certificates, then those certificates are stackable, meaning you can get multiple free nights per year.

Since this hasn’t been too clearly published by Marriott, an email has just been sent out about this benefit, with the subject line “Get a Free Night Award for Each of Your SPG Amex Cards.” Hopefully that puts any confusion to rest.

When do you get your first SPG Amex anniversary free night certificate?

This new benefit kicks in on August 1, 2018, so you would get your first anniversary free night certificate on your first account anniversary on August 1, 2018, or later. An e-certificate for a free night will be deposited into your account within 8-12 weeks of the account anniversary date, though in practice will likely post sooner.

How can you tell when your account anniversary date is?

This is something that’s rather annoying. I went to Amex’s website and looked at a summary of all my transactions over the past year, figuring that would easily tell me when my account anniversary is (based on when I was last billed an annual fee). That’s not the case, apparently, as fees aren’t listed in that summary (someone correct me if I’m wrong please).

So the only way I could see when I was last billed the annual fee was to go to the “Billing Statements” section and download my individual statements.

After going through a few of them, I saw that I was last billed the annual fee for one of my cards on August 18, 2017. That’s fantastic, since it means I should get my first anniversary free night certificate just a couple of weeks after this benefit kicks in.

Do you get to keep your anniversary free night certificate if you cancel your card?

Once your anniversary free night certificate posts it won’t be taken away. So if you pay your annual fee and then the anniversary free night certificate posts, you can cancel the card and keep the certificate, as it’s linked to your loyalty program account rather than your credit card account at that point.

How many hotels will be eligible for these certificates?

Apparently 6,300 hotels will cost 35,000 points per night or less, so you can redeem these certificates at a vast majority of Marriott and Starwood properties.

Can you pay the difference in points to stay at a hotel costing more than 35,000 points per night?

Nope. You need to stay at a hotel that would cost no more than 35,000 points for a standard room for your one night stay. You can’t pay the difference for a more expensive hotel, and you can’t get any points back if your hotel costs less than 35,000 points.

How do they decide which hotel costs less than 35,000 points?

Here’s Marriott’s new award chart as of August 2018:

Here’s a tool that will show you how many points are required for a free night at each of Marriott’s 6,500 hotels.

Starting in 2019, Marriott will have peak and off-peak pricing, as well as Category 8 hotels. However, between August and December 2018, all hotels will price at the standard levels, and there will be no Category 8 hotels. This means that for the rest of the year, you can redeem these certificates at up to a Category 5 hotel any time of year.

Starting in 2019, you wouldn’t be able to redeem at a Category 5 in peak season, though, since that would cost 40,000 points.

Is the anniversary free night certificate worth the $95 annual fee?

There are a lot of redundant benefits across the Marriott and Starwood cards, so a lot of people are in a position where they’re trying to decide whether it’s worth paying the $95 annual fee to get an incremental anniversary free night certificate.

Everyone has to decide for themselves, though personally I think the answer is yes. Marriott claims that this free night certificate will be valid at about 6,300 of Marriott’s 6,500+ hotels around the world, and a majority of those hotels would probably retail for over $95 per night.

Personally I’d pick up as many of these free night certificates as I could for $95 per night, so I think it’s a great deal.

Do these cards have good welcome bonuses?

At the moment the SPG Amex cards don’t have good welcome bonuses at all. I think we might see better ones when the cards formally relaunch, but it’s understandable they’re not offering much since the card is being transitioned at the moment.

If you want to take advantage of a great welcome bonus, consider the Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus Credit Card. This card has many of the same perks, and it’s offering a welcome bonus of 100,000 Marriott Rewards points after spending $5,000 within the first three months. This is a great offer that’s due to expire on July 12, 2018.

You can learn all about the card here.

Bottom line

The changes coming to the SPG Amex are both positive and negative. The cards are no longer lucrative for everyday spend, though on the plus side they will offer anniversary free night certificates, which for many will more than justify the annual fees. If you have multiple cards you can get multiple of these.

Does anyone have any other questions about anniversary free night certificates? Do you plan on keeping one or multiple cards come August 1?

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  1. I also have tried to figure out my anniversary date with the Starwood AMEX and had to do the exact same thing as you. I’ve noticed this with other credit cards as well. For some reason, the credit card companies don’t like to disclose your anniversary date. Makes no sense to me!

  2. Keep in mind too that a points or likely a certificate booking does not have sales and/or TOT tax, that is in many places a 10% tax. Makes getting a night at a $200 hotel work $220. It’s a good deal assuming you travel and use the nights.

  3. I have an SPG Amex Business card and unfortunately my anniversary date was in April. I got charged $95 then but now i won’t get my actual free night until 2019. This really sucks. At the same time, i’m going to lose my free Sheraton Lounge access benefit starting Aug 1. So i’m going to get a reduced benefit since Aug 1 for the rest of the 8 months.

  4. You could search your last year of transactions for “Renewal Membership Fee” to avoid going through statements manually.

  5. How can we tell when the Peak Period is for redemptions? I’m looking at downtown Seattle and they are all Cat. 5 hotels. I’m guessing summer, but wondering if there’s a date range, and if it varies by location?

  6. Lucky – If you look at your list of transactions on Amex for a whole year – you can sort the list by description or amount. Find the $95 charge or, as mine is listed “Renewal Membership Fee” On the top there’s also a search bar where you can type in words. That plus setting a date range for your search would easily give you when you were last charged the annual fee.

    Mine should post in September!

  7. Go to Statement view. Set the date range from July 1, 2017 to July 9, 2018. Let the computer pull up everything — who cares? Look at “fees & adjustments” for your $95 FEE. Check the date. Done.

  8. All of my spg cards (and wife’s post in April). Just paid all of those fees in exchange for the free night that was coming as I was planning on canceling otherwise. Now I need to hold the cards till April next year to get those nights and won’t be able to book under the minimized structure like some others. Feels like I got majorly screwed…again. As a result I just spent my first night outside of Marriott in the last 5 years last week with plans to stay other non-Marriott places coming up.

  9. @Lucky thanks! I’m still recovering from Hyatt lol…it’s so nice that they count.

  10. @ James22 — They haven’t yet published what peak and off-peak periods will be. Those will only be published at some point in 2019, most likely. The peak period will vary by individual hotel. If you do get a free night certificate in 2018, you should be able to redeem it for a stay in 2019 before peak pricing kicks in. Otherwise I would expect summer in Seattle to be peak pricing.

  11. @Lucky – Any idea if you can book with points until you get the certificate and then apply the certificate instead of points? This would be good info to have for those of us that have multiple spg/marriott cards where certificates will post at different times. Thanks.

  12. How does elite credit work? If our card holder anniversary is in October so I know we will get the anniversary night but does the elite night credit post on the cardholder anniversary or first of the year?

  13. I’m assuming you cannot do this. But can you use SPG cert at Marriott property or vice versa?

  14. @ Bonnie — You sure can! As of August you can redeem at 6,500+ properties, including all Marriott and Starwood hotels. Starwood certificates will be redeemable at Marriott properties, and vice versa.

  15. @ Jamie D — The elite credit will post when you make the actual stay, if you’re referring to the one from the anniversary free night certificate. If you’re referring to the 15 elite credits you get just for having the card, those should post around the beginning of the year.

  16. @ Kurt — We don’t know exactly what the technology will look like for Marriott’s new program, but historically Marriott has let people make reservations without actually having the points or certificates, so I would guess that will be possible.

  17. The value proposition is one thing, the actual usage is another.

    The issue of FN is, it has expiration date. Your destinations may not have properties that could use the FN, as the point requirement may be higher than the 35K…

    For example I have had trouble to use Hyatt’s FN because the places I go, the Hyatt, if there is any, all have higher category than the Cat 4 allowed.

    Points on the other hand, are much more flexible.

    I would take 35K pts over a FN anytime.

  18. My anniversary date was in April, you know what I did? Cancelled the card. Why people are paying the fee and then complaining about missing out on the certificate is beyond me. Just apply for the new Amex Marriott card in August.

  19. Got this in an email.

    Your card will have updated benefits
    • Beginning August 1, 2018, the Free Night Award you receive every year after account anniversary, will be valid for a one-night hotel stay at a property with a redemption level up to 25,000 points. This replaces the category 1-5 certificate you previously earned each account anniversary.1

  20. My card anniversary is July 16th, does this email imply that I wont get my free night for a whole year? Seems like a good reason to give up on the card if so (got the Marriott for the 100k offer).

  21. Is there a retention hotline to see what kind of deals AmEx will offer for people to renew their credit cards? Perhaps a deal worth additional points to remain a card member?

  22. Well this sucks. My renewal happened in late June. With the decreased earnings on 8/1 I may be calling AMEX to cancel or wrangle a retention offer.

  23. What happens to the points I am currently earning on my SPG Amex card in July, that don’t get posted till August.

    Am I getting the current value SPG POints or will it be the 1/3 of the current value points?

    Any idea or thoughts on what’s gonna happen to that?

  24. @Lucky – as those of us in this hobby know, a minute fraction of all points earned are ever redeemed.

    What is curious to me is how a chain decides to reward signups/renewals with either points or nights.

    It seems to me that even for a rube, a free night is far more tangible (and therefore useable) than X,000 points. They might never cash in points for Ko Samui, but they’ll use a free night (poorly, but nonetheless) at a Hampton Inn off I-65.

    Points are more abstract and it takes time/interest/knowledge to redeem them at all. It takes much more of all three to do it wisely.

    It seems to me that if the hotel/bank’s aim is to create the perception of value but give as little away as possible, they would choose to dole out points rather than nights.

    For us, I’m sure we’d all prefer the points. But maybe for the annual fee renewal their marketing shows that FNs are a better retainer?

    Do you have any insight into the decision making, Lucky?

  25. Hi Lucky:

    You can go to Statement & Activity, choose Year End Summary and then search $95 and you should see your annual anniversary date much faster!

  26. Are the new Amex cards new products? I currently have the SPG Business Amex and my renewal date is in April (as are a lot of the commenters because April is when Amex used to have the 35k sign-up bonus.

    If I cancel my SPG Business Amex, can I apply for another Marriott card and get a sign-up bonus? I actually may prefer a Chase card over Amex for wider acceptance.

  27. If I get my 35k free night in October, can I use it book my reservation for May even if my 35K hotel turns into a peak priced 40K hotel?

  28. Can one apply the certificate to a multi night stay to get one of the nights for free? Can that be done online, or do you have to call them? Thanks!

  29. @ Eric — If you call them they should be able to make a reservation with different nights paid from different “sources,” though you can also just book the separate nights online, unless you have a reason to have it all under one reservation.

  30. @ PSL — As long as you book before the seasonal pricing kicks in, you should be able to. So booking in 2018 for anytime in 2019 should be fine.

  31. @ Nate Nate — We don’t officially know yet whether these cards will be considered new products, unfortunately. A new SPG Amex Luxury Card will be introduced, and that will certainly be a new product, but the other cards we’re not sure of.

  32. @ Grant — If we were talking about airline miles I’d agree, but I don’t think that’s the case with hotel points. There are no blackout dates for redeeming hotel points, so while not everyone will redeem them ideally, people don’t generally have issues redeeming them. Free night certificates expire within a year, so I suspect a lot of them go unused. Meanwhile if someone has a co-branded credit card, odds are that their points wouldn’t ever expire, so the liability there is much higher. At least that’s my take.

  33. @ AK — You should be earning them at the current rate of one Starpoint per dollar, and then they’ll be converted over at a 1:3 ratio.

  34. @ Jon — That’s correct, if your renewal is in July then you’d get your first certificate next July.

  35. I’m in Canada so not sure if this makes a difference, but I have both the personal and business SPG branded Amex cards. I applied first for the personal SPG at the end of Sept 2017 and just noticed that my annual fee posted on Oct 20. From what I understand, will the annual certificate post 8-12 weeks after Oct 20, or will it post before this date?

    I was hoping to use the certificate for either a late September stay (which I would pre-reserve now) or a mid-October stay, but it doesn’t look like I’ll receive the certificate in time unless there’s any chance of it being delivered early.

    As an alternative, would it be advisable to cancel my cards right now and re-apply so that my anniversary date comes sooner (or could I volunteer to pay the annual fee in advance)?

    Thanks for any suggestions in advance!

  36. Hi, I cancelled my SPG card last year. If I apply for a new one, I think I cannot get sign up bonus again. Can I still get anniversary free night certificate ? Thanks !

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