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Middle Age Miles

Marriott Rewards – Problems with Free Night Certificates, and a Nice Customer Service Recovery

We’ve recently had some problematic issues related to Marriott Rewards free night certificates. I thought it would be informative to Middle Age Miles readers to review the problems, provide a tip on how to avoid one of them, and relay what Marriott Rewards did to make a nice customer service recovery that turns out to be extremely helpful to us.

Problem #1: Free Night Certificates Not Returned to Our Account After Reservation Was Canceled

We hope you enjoyed our recent article, “Planning Two Fully Cancelable Trips During High-Demand Times – A Case Study in Trip Planning.” There, I described how we planned two trips around this year’s College Football Playoff, each of which we ended up canceling as Philly’s beloved Fighting Irish played their semi-final game in Dallas rather than Miami and then failed to advance to the National Championship game.

Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, California

To get ready for the Championship game in Santa Clara, California, we first made reservations for 2 nights at a Residence Inn in the South Bay area (we’ll call this one Residence Inn #1). We were delighted to find a room available for 25,000 Marriott Rewards points per night, on the night of the game and the night immediately before. In addition, we had 2 Free Night Certificates good for rooms up to 25,000 points that were set to expire in March 2019, so this was an absolutely perfect spot to use them.

We made the reservation using the Free Night Certificates and thought we were set. Unfortunately, after we got the confirmation, we checked the terms closely and realized that the cancellation deadline for this reservation was before the semi-final game. That was a problem – we’d need a cancellation deadline that fell after the semi-final games, so we could still cancel and get our Certificates back if Notre Dame made the semi-final but lost (which ended up being exactly what happened). I believe this was probably my mistake, that the cancellation deadline was probably displayed but I missed it when I made the reservation.

I canceled this reservation at Residence Inn #1 and waited for my certificates to re-appear so I could book a new reservation. I can’t recall whether I canceled this reservation online or by calling in to Marriott Rewards. I definitely recall that I spoke to a rep at Marriott Rewards, either when I canceled or within a day afterwards. This rep told me that he could not manually re-deposit the certificates into my account. But he said that they would be automatically re-deposited into my account within a day or two. Needless to say, I was anxious to get the certificates back and use them for a new reservation.

10 days passed, and the certificates still had not been re-deposited into my account. I called again to Marriott Rewards, and at that point a helpful rep manually re-deposited the certificates for me. At that point, they still bore their original expiration date in March.

In the meantime, I had missed a short window of availability at a hotel that would have been within long-walking distance of Levi’s Stadium. I wasn’t terribly pleased with that. However, there were still at least a couple of Marriott hotels in the South Bay area showing award availability at the 25,000-point level.

With the certificates back in hand, we made a new reservation at Residence Inn #2. We were happy with this reservation as the hotel was within 10 miles of the Stadium and we could still use our near-expiration certificates. And critically, it had a cancellation deadline a few days after the semi-final game.

Residence Inn Palo Alto Mountain View
(Residence Inn #2 in our story)

Unfortunately, Notre Dame lost to Clemson in its semi-final game, and the reservation at Residence Inn #2 needed to be canceled. In the midst of our post-game disappointment, we immediately went into the Marriott Rewards app and canceled the reservation.

Once again, the Free Night Certificates did not automatically re-appear in our account. Last week, 5-6 days after the cancellation, I called in to Marriott Rewards. At that time, the rep couldn’t even find the Certificates in the Marriott system and couldn’t do a thing to help. I was frustrated, and the situation seemed bleak.

A Nice Customer Service Recovery by Marriott Rewards

This morning (now 11 days post-cancellation), the Certificates still had not re-appeared in our account. On the first reservation, I’d been able to get the Certificates re-deposited about 10 days after cancellation, so it seemed like a good time to call Marriott Rewards again about this second reservation.

Somewhat to my surprise and much to my good fortune, I was connected to a rep who seemed to easily understand my issue. Once I gave him my confirmation number and other relevant details, he was able to find the canceled reservation in the Marriott system and see the Certificates. Within a couple of minutes, he was able to confirm that he had re-deposited the Certificates into our account.

And here’s where I received the nice customer service recovery by Marriott that surprised and delighted me – the rep told me that he had extended both Certificates so that they would now be valid until 1 year from today!

PRO TIP (from the very helpful Marriott rep): When you need to cancel Marriott award reservations made with Free Night Certificates, or even with points, be sure to call in to Marriott customer service to cancel. Even in the best case scenario, the Marriott systems may take a few weeks to re-deposit Certificates, and perhaps even to re-deposit points. If you call, the Marriott rep should be able to ensure that your Certificates or points are promptly and correctly re-deposited.

I thanked him profusely and we concluded the call. Within a couple of minutes, I had logged in to our Marriott Rewards account and confirmed that the Certificates were both there, with shiny new expiration dates. Hooray!

And even better, we now have a perfect use for these Certificates, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the extension. In fact, at this point we were going to have a tough time finding a good use for the Certificates before their original expiration dates in March.

Which leads us to Part 2 of this story …

Problem #2: Marriott Rewards Automatically Applies High-Value Certificates to Lower-Points Award Reservations

The lead-in to this part of the story is the college graduation of Middle Age Miles son Andrew, which is coming up in May. Needless to say, we’re quite proud of him. He’s finishing up a degree in chemical engineering, and he’s already lined up an awesome entry-level job in his field.

[Thanks for letting me be a proud Dad for a moment.]

Anyway, for Andrew’s graduation, many months ago we’d made a 2-night award reservation at a Courtyard near his school, for 25,000 points per night. Paid rates for graduation weekend were high, even making our reservations many months in advance. Our cents-per-point value for these reservations, even at the best paid rates available then, exceeded 1 cent per Marriott Rewards point. This was a good time to use points, as we would be getting a value well above our baseline value of 0.75 cents per Marriott Rewards point.

Courtyard hotel for Andrew’s graduation weekend

We actually made this reservation back in August, right after we’d cleaned out our Marriott Rewards account for a 5-night reservation at a nice-looking SPG Luxury Collection property in London. Given that our Marriott Rewards balance was low, the reservation at the Courtyard was made as a “Points Advance” reservation. Under this convenient “Points Advance” feature, Marriott lets you make an award reservation even if you don’t have enough points in your account at the time. In short, as long as you have the necessary points in your account within 14 days of your arrival date, you’re good to go.

But here’s where Problem #2 arose …

At some point last week, Marriott’s systems auto-applied two Free Night Certificates from my account to my Courtyard reservation. I didn’t ask for this to happen. And the reservation had been made as a “points” award, not a “certificate” award.

If these had been 25,000-point Free Night Certificates, this might have been ok (notwithstanding that I didn’t ask for it). But they weren’t. These Certificates were much more valuable:

  • One was a 40,000-point Free Night Certificate (earned as a 75-night Choice award)
  • The other was a 50,000-point Certificate! (our anniversary certificate from the Chase Ritz-Carlton Visa)

Needless to say, we have much better (and more fun) uses for 40,000- and 50,000-point Certificates than a Courtyard hotel for Andrew’s graduation!

Based on our situation and other reports I read, I think the problem with Marriott auto-applying Certificates to Points Advance reservations was widespread, maybe even universal. The Marriott system may have also been taking points from people’s accounts to fulfill Points Advance reservations, far in advance of the usual 14-days-before-the-reservation date. This could be a serious problem for many people in terms of their travel planning. I haven’t seen any reaction from Marriott about this issue, and we certainly haven’t seen any “fix” to our own reservations.

To Marriott: Please fix this issue for all of your members that are impacted. And please fix your IT issues overall. Your IT systems have been an absolute disaster since the SPG integration back in August.

And Here’s Where Our Two “Problem” Stories Come Back Together for a Happy Ending

Now, with Marriott’s very kind extension of the deadline on our 25,000-point Free Night Certificates, it looks like we have a perfect situation. We should be able to make one more call to Marriott Rewards, to have them remove the 40,000- and 50,000-point Certificates from our Courtyard reservation in May, and replace them with our newly-extended 25,000-point Certificates. Assuming this falls into place as expected, this story has a happy ending.

We hope this article on Marriott Rewards problems has been interesting and helpful to you. We hope you’re not experiencing these issues, but if so, we hope you get as nice of a customer service recovery and outcome as we did. Good luck!

Have you had problems with Marriott Rewards Free Night Certificates or premature application of Certificates or points to Points Advance reservations? Please share with us what happened and how Marriott recovered (if at all) in the Comments!


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