The Inn at Bay Harbor is an excellent Marriott Autograph Collection resort in northern Michigan. Even during normal times (i.e. before the current domestic travel boom) it was nearly impossible to book summertime award stays here, but I’ve managed to do so every year by searching early and often. I booked this year’s 5 night stay 11 months in advance. Since then I’ve looked often for additional summer award openings, but with no luck. Usually my approach is to book several stays far in advance and then to cancel most of them once my summer plans firm up. This year, we were fortunate that our one booked stay would actually work for us. In this post I’ll detail my nearly disastrous adventure in trying to convert the point stay into a free night certificate stay…
Deciding on certs despite losing the 5th night free
The Inn at Bay Harbor usually costs 40,000 per night in peak season (that will change in 2023 when Marriott takes the lid off of their dynamic pricing), and that’s what I paid. But since I booked a 5 night stay with points, I was able to take advantage of Marriott’s version of 5th night free awards (Stay for 5, Pay for 4) and paid only 160,000 points for 5 nights. That’s an average of 32,000 points per night, and a great deal on a stay that would normally cost around $600 or $700 per night after taxes and fees.
Marriott’s Stay for 5, Pay for 4 benefit is a great reason to pay for a 5 night stay with points rather than with free night certificates. A stay needs 5 nights paid entirely with points to qualify for 1 night free. So, why would I consider paying with free night certs?
I had quite few 35K free night certs in my Marriott account and two were set to expire June 30th. I reviewed my travel plans and confirmed that there was zero chance that I’d use them in time. I figured that by applying those certs to this stay I’d get at least a little value from them rather than none at all. And once I decided to use any certs for this stay, there was no reason not to pay for every night of the stay with certs. Yes, for the two soon-to-expire certs, I could have called Marriott to try to get them to extend their expiration dates (as they’ve done for me in the past), but I thought it was a bit of a long shot since these have been extended multiple times in the past. Plus, I have a 50K cert expiring soon that I’m more anxious to extend. When expiry gets closer for that 50K cert, I’ll call and try my luck.
I have to admit that having switched to certs, I’m now second guessing the decision. In order to use the 35K certs on this 40K per night stay, I had to add 5K points to all 5 nights. So, I used five 35K certs (175K total value) + 25,000 points for a stay that would have otherwise cost only 160,000 points. That doesn’t sound like a good deal, does it? But, I did get back 135,000 points by doing this and so it’s fair to say that I traded 5 certs for 135,000 points. That averages to 27,000 points value per certificate. That’s not horrible, but with the new ability to add up to 15,000 points to each certificate I think it likely that I would have been able to use three of the certs (the ones not expiring June 30th) at full value in the future. Another way to look at it is that for the trip overall, I lost 40,000 points of potential value, but I also got some use from 2 certs that would have otherwise expired unused, and I erased the mental cost of having to deal with the other certs before they expired in the future.
Switching to certs when awards are unavailable
Now to the adventure…
Normally it’s easy to change how you want to pay for an award stay. Log into your Marriott account, find the trip, click “VIEW/MODIFY”, then click “EDIT ROOM”.
Unfortunately, this didn’t work for me. Instead, I got these error messages:
There were no awards available for my dates of stay and, apparently, the ability to edit the room booking is contingent upon award availability.
I should have called to see if a Marriott rep could change the booking for me. In the past I haven’t had luck with this sort of thing, but sometimes it’s possible to get an agent who knows how to get things like this done.
Instead of calling Marriott, though, I cancelled the award stay.
I knew from past experience that Marriott awards go quickly back into inventory when you cancel an award booking. And indeed, that’s what happened. The same award stay was again bookable immediately after I cancelled. It was reckless because it was possible (unlikely, but possible) that the hotel may have reclassified which rooms were considered base rooms (rooms available for awards) between the time I originally booked and now. If so, I’d be out of luck. It was also possible that someone would snag up all or part of the now available dates before I could do so. I was determined to rebook quickly. Marriott.com was determined to thwart me.
I hurried to rebook the stay, but hit a snag. When I tried to book the stay entirely with certificates, Marriott.com selected three 35 certs and two 50K certs. I didn’t want to use any of my 50K certs. I wanted to pay entirely with 35K certs and I had enough of them in my account. The system let me uncheck the 50K certs but then I had to pay in points for those nights. There didn’t seem to be any way to force Marriott.com to pass by my 50K certs and pick only 35K certs.
I worked around the above issue by tying up the 50K certs in another reservation. I booked a random hotel in Chicago with those 50K certs. After that was done, I went back to try to book the Inn at Bay Harbor entirely with 35K free night certificates. Luckily the award stay was still available and I was now able to select 35K certs for the entire stay. Whew. But when I tried to check out, I got a system error. Ack! I tried again from another browser and the same thing happened: system error. Double Ack! I then tried to book it through the Marriott App on my phone. Now, the award was gone.
I logged out and back into my Marriott account and looked at My Trips. I fervently hoped that one of the errored out bookings actually worked and that I was the one who had booked up the award space. No dice.
I tried again and again. The award was no longer available. I called the hotel directly and was told that the room itself was available and I was put on hold while the hotel employee double-check. While on hold, I tried one more time online. Success! I finally succeeded in rebooking my stay with 35K certs instead of points! I then cancelled the Chicago reservation in order to get back my 50K certs to be used later.
When a Marriott hotel has no award rooms available, it seems to be impossible to change your stay online to book with certs instead of points (or vice versa). Instead, I made the dangerous choice of cancelling and rebooking. That approach ultimately worked, but not without a scare. For future refence, I’m hoping that a reader will chime in with the secret of how to do this online without cancelling the award stay. What secret did I miss? Otherwise, next time I’ll call Marriott to try to get it done. If they don’t succeed, that will be the perfect time to ask them to extend the expiration dates of my certificates.