This luxury hotel in Madrid costs $350 per night, but I booked it for free thanks to credit card points

Rooms at the Circulo Gran Via regularly go for $US350 a night or more, but I booked it for free on points. Circulo Gran Via Hotel/Facebook

It can seem like a mystical, unattainable feat to be able to stay in a luxury hotel for free, especially if your employer isn’t paying for it. With my stockpile of Marriott Bonvoy points, I had the pleasure of staying at the stunning Circulo Gran Via, an adults-only property located in the heart of Madrid.

Generally, a room at this hotel will set you back about $US350 per night. The Circulo Gran Via is a Category 7 Marriott Autograph Collection property, which means a standard award night costs 60,000 Marriott points. During off-peak season, a night will cost you 50,000 points and during peak season, one night costs 70,000 points – so it’s important to know whether your stay will fall into the standard, peak, or off-peak category.

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My stay

The Circulo Gran Via is probably my favourite accommodation in Madrid. Back in 1924, the building housed The Circle of Trade and Industrial Union of Madrid. It’s been renovated in a way that pays homage to its historical roots but provides comfort and trendy design for today’s guests.

Located in the Gran Via neighbourhood (naturally), this property put me just north of central Madrid. It’s a great location for access to the metro as well as several restaurants, bars, and cafes. It’s worth noting that the property does offer buffet and American breakfast for a fee, and there are two great onsite restaurants: Circulo Mercantil and Champagne Bulle Bar.

From Circulo Gran Via, I was just a 15-minute stroll from the Royal Palace of Madrid and a 30-minute metro ride to the main collection of amusements centered around Parque de Atracciones de Madrid. From there, I could easily get to the zoo or aquarium. In the other direction, I could walk 15 minutes to the Prado museum and then continue on to the incredible Parque de El Retiro. The Palacio de Cristal is incredible on a sunny day!

Hotel Circulo Gran Via
I was upgraded to a beautiful suite thanks my Platinum Marriott status. Caroline Lupini

When I did unfortunately have to leave Madrid, it was simple to get to the airport, as the hotel is just 20 kilometers away, so making my flight was never an issue. It’s an ideal location for exploring Madrid’s main attractions and finding luxury and comfort at the end of the day – all for points.

And, since I have Platinum elite status with Marriott, I was upgraded to a beautiful suite and had access to free breakfast every morning.

How to earn Marriott points for a free stay

If you haven’t started earning Marriott points, now is the time to do so. You can certainly earn points by staying at Marriott properties on qualifying nights, but the quicket route is to sign up for a Marriott rewards credit card if you don’t have a ton of travel in your future.

Keep in mind that we’re focusing on the rewards and perks that make these credit cards great options, not things like interest rates and late fees, which can far outweigh the value of any rewards.

When you’re working to earn credit card rewards, it’s important to practice financial discipline, like paying your balances off in full each month, making payments on time, and not spending more than you can afford to pay back. Basically,

treat your credit card like a debit card


Marriott co-branded credit cards

After a somewhat rocky rebrand rollout, Marriott’s Bonvoy program is the final result of its acquisition of Starwood Preferred Guest and represents the advent of the world’s most comprehensive hotel rewards program. With the new rewards program comes a new spectrum of rewards credit cards including the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card and the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card.

The new line of Bonvoy cards are hitched to two different creditors: Chase and American Express. Each card comes with a pretty sweet welcome bonus, but the best option for you will depend on your specific needs.

Chase Bank features the two Bonvoy cards that are great for beginning and earning: the Marriott Bonvoy Bold Credit Card and Marriott Bonvoy Boundless.

The Bonvoy Bold is great for beginners, as it comes with no annual fee and qualifies the cardholder for Silver elite status with 15 annual elite night credits. With the Bonvoy Bold card, you’ll earn 3x points for qualifying Marriott Bonvoy hotel purchases, 2x points on travel purchases, and 1x points for all other purchases. If you spend $US2,000 within the first three months of your account opening, you’ll earn 50,000 bonus Marriott points.

The Bonvoy Boundless card has a $US95 annual fee but has a few more benefits in tow. Cardholders are automatically entitled to Silver elite status and one free night award (up to 35,000 points). When you spend $US35,000 in each account year, you’ll earn Gold elite status. Additionally, you can earn 6x points at Marriott Bonvoy hotels and 2x points on all other purchases. Spend $US3,000 within your first three months of the account opening, and you can take home 75,000 bonus points.

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American Express also has two Bonvoy cards currently available to new applicants, but these ones are geared more toward premier credit holders and business owners: the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant and Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card.

The Bonvoy Brilliant Amex is the luxury option in the Marriott co-branded card lineup, coming in hot with a $US450 annual fee. In exchange for that fee, cardholders receive up to $US300 in statement credits each account year on spending at Marriott properties, one free night up to 50,000 points, and complimentary Gold elite status. Like with the Bonvoy Boundless, you’ll earn 6x points at Marriott Bonvoy properties and 2x points on all purchases, but you can also earn 3x points on purchases at US restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines. This card comes with the same welcome bonus as the Boundless card: 75,000 bonus points after you $US3,000 in the first three months.

The Bonvoy Business Amex is geared toward business travellers and comes with a $US125 annual fee. You’ll earn one free reward night (up to 35,000 points) on each account anniversary as well as the opportunity to earn one additional free night after spending $US60,000 in a calendar year. Cardholders have complimentary Silver elite status with the opportunity to upgrade to Gold after spending $US35,000 in a calendar year. Additionally, you’ll earn 6x points at Marriott Bonvoy properties and 4x points at US restaurants, US gas stations, US wireless telephone service, and US purchases for shipping. For all other purchases, you’ll earn 2x points – and the welcome bonus is identical to those for Boundless and Brilliant cards.

Transfer points from Amex and Chase

You can also transfer Amex and Chase points over to the Marriott Bonvoy program at a 1:1 ratio, so if you have cards like the Platinum Card® from American Express or the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, your points could help you toward a free Marriott stay as well.

With lots of opportunities to earn points, you could be able to stay at Circulo Gran Via Madrid for free in a matter of months.

Click here to learn more about the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card from our partner The Points Guy.