“Forced” to adventure due to free night certs… On my mind


There was a time when I sort-of hated hotel free night certificates.  Often, expiration dates approached and I had no good use for them.  Sometimes I’d use the soon-to-expire free night at a near-airport hotel.  In those cases, I rarely got great value or a memorable stay.  Sometimes I gave away the free night to a family member or friend.  Sometimes, I gave away free nights to readers.

a man wearing sunglasses and a life jacket
Paddleboarding in Grand Cayman. IHG free night certificates “forced” us into this adventure, and we loved it.

Near the end of 2019, I took a different approach.  I had three uncapped IHG free night certificates that were near expiration.  I searched for the best way to use those certificates for a last minute trip, and I picked the Kimpton Seafire resort in Grand Cayman.  We had a fantastic time!  If interested, read about my trip planning here: Assembling a cheap award to paradise, and my review here: Kimpton Seafire Grand Cayman. Bottom Line Review.

That trip to Grand Cayman changed my perspective.  Rather than thinking of expiring free night certificates as a burden, I decided to see them as a kick in the pants towards adventure. Rather than struggling to find an adequate use for my certificates, I now look for opportunities.  Where can we go to really enjoy those free nights?

For now, the pandemic has made international travel difficult, but there is plenty of adventure to be had in the United States.  In April, for example, I used a soon-to-expire Marriott 7 night certificate to stay at the best category 6 Marriott I could find in the United States: the Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain Tucson.  It was great!  See my full review here: Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain Tucson. Bottom Line Review.  If it wasn’t for that expiring certificate, we wouldn’t have gone, and we would have lost out on a fantastic experience.

In addition to the pandemic making international travel difficult, it has led to many of us having far more free night certificates than usual.  Most chains have extended free night certificates a few times and so for those of us who get free night certificates each year from our credit cards, we have two or three sets of these certificates burning holes in our award wallets…

IHG 40K Free Night Certificates

a card with text and numbersa card with text and numbers

My wife and I have four IHG 40K free night certificates.  These come from the old IHG Select card, which is no longer available new, but you can also get these annually from the IHG Premier card.  One of my certificates expires at the end of August.  Both of my wife’s certificates expire at around the end of this year.  What adventures will these certificates force us into?

a bedroom with a bed and a chair
Hotel Indigo Traverse City. Photo courtesy of IHG’s website.

I’ve long been interested in trying out the Hotel Indigo in Traverse City, Michigan.  I’d prefer to go in the summer, but for most of this summer the property is priced at 80K points per night.  My certificates will work only when the hotel is priced at 40K or less.  Fortunately, I found a couple of Sunday nights late in August when the property is available for exactly 40,000 points!  I booked one with my cert which expires end of August.  I also booked Monday night with 46,000 points so that we can have a two night stay up north.

a screenshot of a hotel room

With the short term problem solved adventure booked, I still need to find a great use for my wife’s certificates which expire at the end of this year.  Ideally, we’d stay at one of IHG’s Luxury & Lifestyle brands:

an aerial view of a resort

IHG categorizes the following brands as luxury and lifestyle: Six Senses, Regent, Intercontinental, Kimpton, and Hotel Indigo.  Neither Six Senses nor Regent hotels yet exist in the United States and so, for this year, we’ll probably stick to the other three brands.  Plus, it may be impossible to find those at 40K points per night.

a pool with umbrellas and chairs by a beach
Kimpton Vero Beach, Florida.  Photo courtesy of IHG’s website.

My wife and I like the Kimpton brand and so we’ll seek out good opportunities with Kimpton first.  We’ve been interested in trying the Kimpton Vero Beach Hotel & Spa in Florida, but unfortunately every night from October 1 to December 31 is priced higher than 40K points per night.

a table set for a party
Kimpton Canary Hotel, Santa Barbara, California.  Photo courtesy of IHG’s website.

I’d be even more interested in trying out the Kimpton Canary Hotel in Santa Barbara, California (shown above), but no nights are currently available for 40K points or less on any dates I checked: August 1 to December 31.

I next looked at Portland, OR.  I’ve never been there, but I’d love to go.  There are a couple of nice looking Kimpton hotels there, and it’s not too hard to find availability for 40K points or less:

a screenshot of a hotel

IHG Reader suggestions?

I haven’t yet settled on our IHG 40K adventure.  Are there IHG hotels, preferably within the United States, that you highly recommend?  Please comment below.

Hyatt Category 1-4 Certs

There are a number of ways to get Hyatt Category 1-4 certs.  The World of Hyatt card offers a category 1-4 cert each year upon renewal and again when you spend $15K within a calendar year.  Additionally, Hyatt offers these as a Milestone Reward (when you earn 30 elite qualifying nights within a calendar year); as Brand Explorer rewards (when you’ve stayed at 5 different brands); and sometimes as rewards for miscellaneous promotions.

I currently have six of these certs, with four expiring 12/31/21.  It’s time to plan an adventure!  Here are some of the Hyatt hotels & resorts that I have my eye on and which are bookable with Category 1-4 certs:

Lahaina Shores Beach Resort, Maui, Hawaii (Category 4)

a balcony with a view of the ocean and palm trees

This is a Destination brand resort with full kitchens in every room.  My understanding is that this resort doesn’t provide any elite benefits like breakfast, late checkout, etc., but come on, it’s in Maui and on the beach.  The full kitchen is a big perk in itself.  Other than the fact that I’m not eager to go to Hawaii right now (it sounds like Hawaii is overflowing with tourists, much more than usual), this looks like an incredible use of free night certificates.

Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Golf Resort (Category 4)

Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Golf Resort, Spa and Marina
Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Golf Resort, Spa and Marina.  Hyatt Category 4.

This looks like it would make for a great summer or fall adventure!

Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress, near Orlando, Florida (Category 3)

Hyatt Resort: Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress Sunset
Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress Orlando Florida USA.

This one is only category 3, but we’ve been here many times and really enjoy it for escaping the Michigan winter.  If we choose this one it would be for mid to late December.  Returning to our old stomping ground doesn’t really seem like an adventure, though.

The Confidante Miami Beach (Category 4)

a table and chairs on a balcony overlooking the ocean

This one looks like it would be a great winter escape.

Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and Spa, New Mexico (Category 3)

a group of hot air balloons in the sky

Recent reviews of this one are mixed, with some very negative reviews, so we’ll probably pass on this one.

The Scottsdale Resort at McCormick Ranch (Category 3)

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Given that we just did an Arizona adventure, it’s not too likely that we’ll do this one this year, but I put it on the list for others who may be interested.

Hyatt Reader suggestions?

I haven’t yet settled on our Hyatt category 1-4 adventure.  Are there Hyatt category 1-4 hotels or resorts, preferably within the United States, that you highly recommend?  Please comment below.

Marriott 35K Certs

Marriott offers a number of credit cards that award 35K and 50K free night certificates each year (details here).  Earlier this year, I was absolutely flooded with these certificates thanks to my wife and I having multiple Chase and Amex Marriott cards.  Since then, I’ve already used or applied a bunch of these certificates.  Many will be used at a family event where I booked multiple rooms for multiple nights, all with 35K certificates.  Now, I still have six 35K free night certificates expiring Jan 3, 2022 or within a few months afterwards.

a table with numbers and a few points
Marriott Bonvoy Free Night Award Chart. Awards available for booking with 35K free night certificates are highlighted yellow.

35K Free Night Certificates can be used on up to category 5 properties except when they are peak priced; or up to category 6 in the unusual case where they are off-peak and available at PointSaver rates.

Inn at Bay Harbor, Michigan (Category 5)

a balcony overlooking a beach and a golf course

The Inn at Bay Harbor is a long-time favorite of mine, but I probably won’t use my certificates here.  The best time to visit is in the summer where the hotel is almost always peak priced at 40K per night and therefore cannot be booked with 35K certs.  I imagine the fall would be pretty nice too, and I do see some availability at 35K per night (you have to look 2 nights at a time since they have a 2 night minimum stay), but we’re already planning to go a couple of times this summer using points with fifth night free stays.  Plus, it’s hardly an adventure to return here.

New Marriott Hotels

In order to find exciting new possibilities, I used Marriott’s hotel directory to filter to category 3, 4, and 5 hotels in the United States; luxury and premium brands only; and hotel type = new hotel.  This resulted in a list of 38 hotels.  Scanning through the list, I found the following hotels that look interesting to me. I’ve included Marriott’s one-sentence description of each:

  • The Barfield, Autograph Collection, Category 4. “Brand-new luxury hotel in downtown Amarillo with boutique guest rooms and upscale amenities.”
  • Epicurean Atlanta, Autograph Collection, Category 5. “Awaken Appetites Unknown.”
  • JW Marriott Charlotte, Category 5. “Luxury urban retreat with steakhouse, oyster bar, rooftop bar, pool and spa.”
  • The Industrialist Hotel, Pittsburgh, Autograph Collection, Category 5. “New boutique hotel with bold amenities and prime location near Market Square & Point Park University.”
  • The St. Clair Inn, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel, Category 4
  • Le Méridien St. Louis Downtown, Category 5. “Discover Le Méridien St. Louis Downtown’s modern guest rooms, upscale event space and dining.”
  • ADERO Scottsdale, Autograph Collection. Category 5. “Welcoming guests May 14, 2021 onwards. Brand new Four-Diamond luxury resort & spa.”

Autograph Collection Hotels

Then, because I tend to find Autograph Collection hotels interesting, I filtered to all category 4 and 5 Autograph Collection hotels in the U.S.  Here are the ones I found interesting:

  • Morrison House Old Town Alexandria, Autograph Collection, Category 5. “Charming 45-room hotel with on-site dining and intimate event spaces in Old Town Alexandria.”
  • WATERMARK Baton Rouge, Autograph Collection. Category 4. “High-end hotel with luxury accommodations located near Louisiana State University.”
  • Bohemian Hotel Celebration, Autograph Collection. Category 5. “A lakeside boutique hotel in Celebration, Florida, just moments from Walt Disney World®.”
  • The Siena Hotel, Autograph Collection (Chapel Hill, NC). Category 5. Note: My wife and I stayed here many years ago and loved it.
  • Grand Bohemian Hotel Charlotte, Autograph Collection, Category 5. “Boutique hotel in the heart of Uptown Charlotte with eclectic on-site restaurants and a rooftop bar.”
  • Metropolitan at The 9, Autograph Collection (Cleveland, OH). Category 5. Historic hotel in downtown Cleveland, with boutique rooms, exceptional dining and a rooftop bar.
  • Hotel LeVeque, Autograph Collection (Columbus, OH). Category 5. “Upscale hotel with glamorous rooms in the iconic LeVeque Tower near Palace Theatre and Ohio Theatre.”
  • The Adolphus, Autograph Collection (Dallas, TX). Category 5. “The Adolphus, Autograph Collection features boutique accommodations in the heart of downtown Dallas.”
  • Fenway Hotel, Autograph Collection. Category 5. “Jazz Age-era hotel in Dunedin, with boutique rooms, a rooftop bar, a restaurant and event venues.”
  • westdrift Manhattan Beach, Autograph Collection. Category 5. “4-star luxury hotel with great dining, modern rooms, golf, pool, gym and outstanding event venues.”
  • Glass Light Hotel & Gallery, Autograph Collection (Norfolk, VA). Category 4. “Downtown Norfolk’s Boutique Hotel and Glass Art Gallery – Come See Life in a New Light.”
  • The Camby, Autograph Collection, Category 5. “Luxury hotel with an on-site restaurant and 11 event rooms near Biltmore Fashion Park.”
  • Art Ovation Hotel, Autograph Collection. Category 5. “Enjoy interactive art installations and performances, onsite restaurant, rooftop bar and pool.”
  • The Davenport Lusso, Autograph Collection (Spokane, WA). Category 5. “Upscale, boutique hotel with an on-site Ale House and complimentary Wi-Fi near Riverfront Park.”
  • The Davenport Tower, Autograph Collection (Spokane, WA). Category 4. “Boutique hotel with room service, suite options and on-site restaurant in the Arts District.”
  • The Historic Davenport, Autograph Collection (Spokane, WA). Category 4. “Timeless elegance awaits at The Historic Davenport, Autograph Collection.”
  • Ambassador Hotel Tulsa, Autograph Collection. Category 5. “Luxury hotel in downtown Tulsa, free Wi-Fi and shuttle, pet-friendly rooms & suites, on-site dining.”
  • The Ben, Autograph Collection. Category 5. “Only Waterfront Full-service Hotel downtown. With a rooftop pool & bar. Steps from Clematis Street.”
  • The CURRENT Hotel, Autograph Collection. Category 4. “From business to pleasure and everything in between, the best part of Tampa Bay awaits.”
  • Williamsburg Lodge, Autograph Collection (Virginia). Category 5. “Luxury hotel with three golf courses, 10 event venues and free Wi-Fi near William & Mary College.”

Marriott Reader suggestions?

The list of potential Marriott hotels in the U.S. alone, is huge.  Have you been to any of the hotels listed above?  Do you recommend we go, or stay away?  Do you know of other exciting options that I missed?  Please comment below!

Send us on an adventure!

My wife and I will be doing lots of international travel next year, so we’d like to stay in the U.S. this year (plus, of course, that’s much easier right now due to the pandemic).  But, within the U.S., we’re happy to go anywhere.  Where do you think we should go?  Recommend things to us based on location (e.g. “near this national park”), activity (e.g. “go water rafting here…”), hotel, or really any other factor you think of.  Ideally we’d be able to make good use of some of the free night certificates described above.  Comment below, and tell us where to go!

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We enjoyed the Davenport in Spokane. One of the prettiest lobbies & ballrooms of any hotel I have ever seen. The Doge & Marie Antoinette ballrooms esp beautiful.

The Davenport was the first hotel w a/c & inventor of the Crab Louie, named for the owner Louis Davenport. You can still order the original salad at the Palm Court restaurant. Rich history commemorated throughout the stunning public areas. Bing Crosby performed there. Spend a coupla hrs to walk around & take in all the memorabalia.

Where all the glamor somewhat falls apart are the rooms themselves. I’ll lv it at “historic.” We had a jr suite upgrade, but the Circus Room #708 is the one to book if you’re not creeped out by painted circus animals circling your bed! It is the only surviving original guestroom. The layout is weird with 2 KS beds but ask the front desk to see it if you go, it’s one of a kind.

Nice 4th fl rooftop bar. Soft peanut brittle was invented at the hotel, & you can purchase at the lobby shop for gifts to take home. As for the other Marriott choices, Lussa is boutique and across from the Davenport. It is newer & certainly may be a better room option (though small), just make sure to chk out the Davenport public areas & restaurants/bars.

The Tower is one block over. No idea about its rooms, but its African themed lobby is interesting. The Grand is across town. It was built for the convention crowd with a Las Vegas bent. It’s nice enough but completely different from any of the other Marriotts described.

About 30 min to Coeur d’Alene ID. The resort can be booked with Choice or iPrefer points. Charming town, the lake reminds me of Lake Tahoe. Beautiful in the fall. If you are still feeling adventurous, the northern 4 hr drive to Whitefish MT on 2 thru Libby is not to be missed. One of the best road trips in the US.


I clicked your link to the Kimpton Seafire post and it brought back some wonderful memories! Very much enjoyed reading that and seeing the photos.


For IHG certs, InterContinental Los Angeles ($34.10 amenity fee per day). Another is Intercontinental Monterey ( very very limited availability, no fees, possible free valet parking). Overseas, InterContinental Seoul Parnas and InterContinental COEX.


It’s not quite in the US, but Spirit Ridge in BC looks interesting. It’s a Hyatt Category 3, and all the rooms include a kitchen. https://www.hyatt.com/en-US/hotel/canada/spirit-ridge/ylwub


Hi Greg, I know you love Big Sur, but these are 2 great hotels that I have stayed at many times in Carmel / Monterey:

IHG 40K: InterContinental the Clement Monterey (2 minute walk to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and right on Cannery Row)

Hyatt 15K: Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel And Spa On Del Monte Golf Course (great central location to all things in Monterey)


I found ample 40k avail for the IC Monterey, I am tagging a couple nights on to the end of a Ventana Big Sur stay early next yr & flying out of Monterey, thx!


That sounds like a great trip. Have fun in Big Sur and Monterey 🙂


Greg-totally agree on the Kimpton Seafire. One of our best IHG redemptions for a free night and we were upgraded to a HUGE suite with wraparound balcony for our anniversary plus they sent some treats to the room. HUGE value.

Points Adventure

There have been times when I had so many FNCs that it became a chore to maximize them. But generally I take great joy in putting them to good use – especially the uncapped ones. Coming out of Covid, I’m more excited than ever to use them! Just hope Bora Bora and Maldives will be open 🙂

For the IHG 40k cert, I’m using mine at the IC Los Angeles. It’s the tallest building west of the Mississippi. The lobby on the 71st floor is awesome – reminiscent of the Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur. The Kimpton Everly is pretty good too and often below 40k. The best Kimpton in LA, La Peer, is sadly always above 40k. There’s a zillion things to do in LA, as long as there isn’t a Covid closure.

I second the Hyatt Residence Club in Sedona for the cat4 cert. The whole area is absolutely gorgeous, I could stay for weeks. Sedona Rouge is a better deal at 15k Wyndham, but when you have Hyatt certs, this is a great option. I have the same feeling as you about the Maui beach hotel though.

Enjoy the thrill and the pampering!


Greg, it is always welcome to come to Portland, OR. We stayed 2 nights at RiverPlace for our 10th anniversary (instead of staying at Cancun) couple months ago because we do not want to go somewhere local. I cannot say it is the best hotel, but it was a cozy place to stay.
If you come to Portland in summer time, you should not miss farmers market and grep some fruits (especially cherries) and the rose garden. You may like to have some sandwiches with view of Portland at Pittock Mansion. And don’t forget local beers and wines.
I know you been many great places, but you may enjoy here too. 🙂


I stayed one night at the Camby in Phoenix. I liked the decor and restaurant. It’s located in a cool suburb. But it’s still a suburb. Need a car to visit the Phoenix Cactus Garden, which is awesome.


You have until yr end to use your wife’s 2 IHG certs, so I also recommend the IC Houston for use, post-summer. It is technically in the Medical Center complex (really fringe) but is also very near the museum district. There are parks & some of the leafiest & loveliest parts of Houston in the area.

The IC Houston is 3 years old with a light refined style. We used our own Ambassador/IHG new mbr certs here & were upgraded to an Exec Suite. There is a Club IC on the 18th fl not yet opened cos of Covid but would’ve been otherwise available as Ambassador. Fresh fruit & bottled water were in our suite upon arrival.

The new Cullen Sculpture Garden & Hockney-Van Gogh at the Museum of Fine Arts nearby is interesting to view as is a drive to the NASA Space Center for a tram tour.

We tagged on 2 nights at the St Regis Houston, near the Galleria, to also kill some Marriott FNCs. Property is dated & needs attention, but the suite upgrade & full breakfast were appreciated. Not otherwise any big deal but nice to be close to great shopping & restaurants.

We stopped at the Hyatt Centric Woodlands Cat 3 after to use 2 more FNCs. We’ve stayed here sev times & really like its convenience anchoring an urban shopping village.

You could also drive an hr south from Houston to Galveston but most good redemptions there now are Hilton. My 2 fav Wyndham Rewards props, Tremont House & Hotel Galvez, are currently independent but will be Tribute props, just don’t know when. I am looking forward to an easier booking process with Marriott than Wyndham offered.


I always prefer Autograph Collection hotels when I travel and so I’ll focus my recommendations with what I know.

I just stayed at the Adolphus a few months ago and it is a top notch choice.

I do suggest you consider alternatives to two of your other choices:

1. Instead of the Morrison House, consider The Alexandrian, also a category 5 Autograph Property. It is located right on King Street, just down from the Waterfront. There is great walking, shops and restaurants all around downtown Alexandria and you are close enough to walk to the George Washington Masonic Memorial. As a bonus, since you seem to be a Kimpton fan, the Alexandrian was a Kimpton hotel called the Hotel Monaco, Alexandria until about 2015. I stayed there both before and since the changeover and the hotel retains the Kimpton vibe and a solid breakfast at the restaurant as well as an afternoon complimentary wine hour in the lobby, although I don’t know if COVID cancelled that.

2. Instead if the Art Ovation, which is less impressive than the website would make you think, stay at The Sarasota Modern, which is Tribute Portfolio vice Autograph, but still a category 5. My wife and I like it much better. As a Titanium, you’ll get free breakfast off the menu and can probably get an upgrade to one of those great large suites on the top floor with a Tub and Shower out on the balcony (you still have an indoor shower if you prefer). It’s a great hotel with a nice relaxing pool and you can still walk a couple blocks over to view the artwork in the lobby and “gallery” at Art Ovation.


If you stay in dt Dallas, I would combine an Adolphus historical stay with either the Hall Arts Hotel (stunning & new build, bookable with HH points – Curio) or the new Kimpton Pittman in a new entertainment area just outside dt & butting up to Deep Ellum (easily bookable with IHG FNCs).


I’d be especially interested to know what Nick plans to do with his free night certs now that he has young kids. For me with two young kids, getting a suite with some kind of real separation is basically a necessity (i.e., not “junior suites”), but free night certs can’t be upgraded to suites at booking time (at least for Hyatt). Taking an adult only trip is the only real solution I can think of, but I’d rather not do that just to use up the certs.


I burned 4 Hyatt FNCs back in the fall in Missouri. Not sure I would go there in the stifling hot & humid summer, but def worth a trip when it cools off.

The Hotel Kansas City is dt and a completely renovated gem. It is beautiful with a colorful history as a social club with famous & notorious members. If you stay, ask for a tour. As they say, they don’t make em like they used to and you will never see fixtures and detail quite like you will here. Cat 4. Plenty to do in the nearby entertainment district or take a short drive north to the cute town of Weston, I recommend Green Dirt Farm to eat. Is also a creamery & their cheese is to die for.

From there you can drive 30 min NE to The Elms Hotel & Spa in Excelsior Springs. I have been wanting to check it out because of its recent reno, impressive exterior, & history (Truman found out he won prez election night there). It is a Cat 2, and I am certain you would want all the upgrades available as a Globalist. The Suites look pretty good, though, but mainly about the grounds and the hot springs in the area. And for Wabash BBQ in an old train depot, specialty is burnt ends. Maybe only 1 night there, but I am still really curious and plan to make it there sometime this year, would love if someone has been there and can report. Previously was a Hilton, and they had already dumped a ton of money into the reno before Hyatt took over.

Or drive sev hours from KC (like we did) to St Louis. The Last Hotel is a Cat 3 dt but again is steeped in history as a previous shoe mfg facility! Newly renovated and so pretty & cool, reminded me a lot of the Eliza Jane in NO – both are Unbound Coll with identical floor plans from what I could tell. That brand reminds me a lot of the 21c hotel brand in that there are touches all over the property with a nod to their former use (OK City was an auto plant, and the faucets are steering wheels for instance). The City Museum is just around the corner and there really are no words for that place! One of a kind, and you could spend sev days there. Icing on the cake was 5k points awarded for not having valet during covid!


Also in St. Louis is an Autograph Collection Marriott Cat. 5… the Hotel St. Louis gets great reviews and is in a bit nicer location than the Last Hotel. Have reservations for later this summer.


Thanks for the tip! Looked it up, Magnolia looks interesting, too


Just used two of our IHG chase free night certificates at Kimpton Shorebreak in Huntington beach and had a great experience.