How to Finesse Your Way to Marriott Platinum Elite

Last month, I posted a guide to the new elite status levels in the new Marriott loyalty program (which is about to become Marriott Bonvoy).

To recap…

  • Silver Elite and Gold Elite are easy to obtain, with possession of the American Express Platinum Card or American Express Business Platinum Card representing a shortcut to instant Gold Elite status 

  • Platinum Elite is reached at 50 elite qualifying nights in a calendar year, and this is where you start to receive major loyalty benefits (free breakfast, lounge access, suite upgrades, 4pm late checkout, etc.)

  • Platinum Premier Elite (soon to be renamed Titanium Elite) is reached at 75 elite qualifying nights in a calendar year, and offers a few relatively minor benefits on top of Platinum Elite

  • Platinum Premier Elite with Ambassador (soon to be renamed Ambassador Elite) is achieved at 100 elite qualifying nights plus US$20,000 in qualifying spend in a calendar year; the spend requirement makes this status level pretty much an afterthought for most of us looking to maximize the program while spending as little money as possible

In that article, I had offered a few pointers on creative ways to meet the lofty 50-night threshold for Platinum Elite. Of course, the traditional way is to spend 50 nights in Marriott hotels, but there are a few shortcuts and workarounds to “finesse” your way to that target and bring it into sharper focus.

Several readers asked me to expand on those tips a bit, so that’s exactly what I’ll do today.


Why Is Platinum Elite Status So Valuable?

The Platinum Elite level is where the loyalty benefits truly start to do their work for you. The most significant benefit is likely the free breakfast offering, which many travellers seek to maximize by loading up on food in the morning, thus saving themselves the time and expense of eating lunch while they’re out and about for the day.

Lobster omelette for breakfast, St. Regis Bali

Lobster omelette for breakfast, St. Regis Bali

Suite upgrades can be an awesome surprise and can really make your trip a memorable one – just look at my recent round-the-world luxury hotel trip. Moreover, 4pm late checkout is an invaluable benefit that really allows you to make the most of your time at the hotel when you plan to depart later in the day.

Then there’s the discretionary benefits that a hotel might offer if they have exceptionally good elite recognition. Across my travels, I’ve seen things like a complimentary food amenity, drink at the bar, garment pressing, or laundry – all given to you for free simply out of gratitude for your loyalty.

And at hotels with Club Lounges or Executive Lounges, these intimate spaces provide the perfect place to meet a friend, catch up on some work, or just unwind at the end of the day. Moreover, the evening cocktail spread can often serve as a dinner replacement, which can be a life-saver if you’re travelling on a budget. It’s usually advertised as “evening canapés” or “light bites”, but you can keep going back for more portions, so I mean… 😉

Executive Lounge, JW Marriott Singapore South Beach

Executive Lounge, JW Marriott Singapore South Beach


15 Elite Nights: The Amex SPG Cards

Okay, let’s start with the easy stuff. The goal is 50 elite qualifying nights, and right off the bat we can earn 15 of those by holding either the American Express SPG Card or the American Express Business SPG Card.

 
 

It was recently confirmed that cardholders would be receiving 15 actual elite qualifying nights credited to their account, which would qualify them instantly for Silver Elite status, but would also count towards the qualifying night thresholds for higher statuses as well.

If you’re a current cardholder, you should be seeing your 15-night credit post to your Marriott Bonvoy account sometime in March. Indeed, if you have any interest in maximizing the Marriott Bonvoy program for free hotel stays, then having one of these credit cards is basically a prerequisite, so I imagine most of you will be receiving this 15-night boost almost by default. 

With this elite night bonus benefit being pretty much uniform across all Canadian and US co-branded credit cards (including all of the Amex-issued SPG cards and the Chase-issued Marriott cards in the US), it was made very clear that the 15-night credit would not stack between multiple credit cards – you can only earn a maximum of 15 elite nights no matter how many of the co-branded credit cards you hold.

Great, 15 nights down, 35 to go. What’s next?


10 Elite Nights: Booking a Meeting

If you need to book meeting space every now and then, you should know that the many hotels out there are competing fiercely for your business, so you can often get perks and benefits by booking a meeting with the hotel chain to whom you’re most loyal. Marriott is of course no exception, and under the Rewarding Events program, you can earn 10 elite qualifying nights for the first meeting you book every calendar year. 

(In the old program, the 10 elite qualifying nights used to be awarded for every meeting you booked. Needless to say, a whole bunch of people earned Lifetime Platinum Elite for cheap this way, so they plugged the gap…)

Meanwhile, if you don’t have a need to book meeting space, you can still take advantage. That’s because pretty much anything can be a “meeting”, really.

Your meeting could be a full-blown Miles & Points Meetup. It could be you and a friend sitting down and having a chat over some complimentary bottled water. Or it could even be you sitting down with a laptop for a “conference call” over Skype, Hangouts, or Fortnite.  

Of course, you want to acquire your 10 elite nights for as little out-of-pocket spend as possible, so you’ll likely have to do some negotiating on the room rental price. Most hotels’ event management teams will quote you an initial price but will be pretty flexible if you come back with a counter-offer, and hotels that otherwise see little event-planning action will naturally be more receptive. 

I know people have successfully gotten these meeting rooms for as low as US$50 plus taxes, and if you can get it down to the $100 region, I’d say you’re doing well. So look up some hotels in your area, request a few quotes, and play some hardball, and you should see those 10 elite nights come through. 25 nights down, then, and 25 to go…


25 More Elite Nights: Redeeming Points…

If you’re looking to hit Platinum the traditional way (i.e., by earning 50 elite qualifying nights), then the shortcuts end with the credit cards and the meeting rooms.

The remaining 25 elite nights will have to be earned via Marriott hotel stays – and just as well, because if you aren’t planning to stay with Marriott, then what’s the point of earning status? 

This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to spend money for those 25 nights, though. You see, with most major hotel programs, award stays do count towards elite night qualification. This is in contrast to airline loyalty programs, in which redeeming miles for a flight means that you won’t then earn miles from taking that flight. 

Of course, the ideal scenario is as follows: as a result of your natural travel patterns, you’ll be staying at Marriott hotels for 25 nights throughout the year, and you have enough points to cover all of these stays. Basically, this strategy for earning Platinum Elite basically boils down to “earn enough points for enough free stays”.

JW Marriott Parq Vancouver

JW Marriott Parq Vancouver

How feasible is that? It might seem like a tall order, but let’s crunch the numbers a bit. Assume that, on average, you stay at Category 4 hotels, which cost 25,000 Marriott Bonvoy points a night. Then assume (generously) that you’re able to maximize the Fifth Night Free benefit on all your stays, meaning that you’d only need enough points for 20 nights in order to get 25 nights. 

That comes out to 500,000 Marriott Bonvoy points. Can you earn that amount in one year? You could get 200,000 points from opening each of the Amex SPG Card and Amex Business SPG Card twice in the year. You could get a further 100,000 points by having a partner do the same and transfer the points to you (100,000 points being the limit for inter-account transfers during a calendar year). Top it off with a US-issued SPG Card or two, plus your earnings from the 5x bonus on the Cobalt Card… it’s ambitious, but certainly not impossible.

If you can pull off those points earnings, then you can stay at hotels virtually for free throughout the year whilst earning Platinum status. Repeat the feat successfully year after year, and you’ll be enjoying all those sweet benefits while you renew your status on an annual basis.

Le Méridien Munich

Le Méridien Munich


...“Mattress Running”…

Now, maybe that ideal scenario isn’t attainable. Perhaps you don’t even plan to spend 25 nights a year in hotels, but you’d just like to earn Platinum status so that the less-than-25 nights you spend next year will be much more comfortable. What then? 

Well, here’s where you can start getting a little creative. The term “mattress running” refers to the practice of checking into hotels solely for the purpose of earning points or elite credits, and Category 1 or Category 2 hotels are particularly conducive.

Alberta residents have it easy, since they have all of Canada’s Category 1 hotels within their borders; the rest of us will likely have to look for potential mattress-running opportunities along our travels – there seems to be a particular concentration of Category 1 hotels in China, India, Spain, and the United States. 

If you can find a suitable Category 1 hotel, you can make a five-night reservation for only 30,000 points. Check-in to the hotel, hang out in the room for a bit, move the sheets around, put the Do Not Disturb sign on, and get out of there.

Of course, you have to decide whether the five elite nights are worth 30,000 points, so I’d say that the “mattress running” strategy only comes into the equation if you’re within touching distance of Platinum and trying to get those extra few nights to bring you over the edge.


…and the “Second Guest Trick”

The other angle, which I find works really well for me, is to make hotel bookings for others. Position yourself as the “go-to” person within your circle of friends and family for all their hotel needs – offer them your elite benefits in exchange for their elite night credits. It’s a win-win situation if you pull it off! 

Again, though, you’ll have to have some finesse about how you approach this, because technically, Marriott doesn’t grant elite benefits nor qualifying nights when the member isn’t physically staying at the hotel.

The workaround is known as the “second guest trick” – make the reservation, then contact the hotel to add your friend or family member as the second guest, and say that they’ll be arriving first. 

I recently treated my dad to seven nights at the  JW Marriott Hong Kong

I recently treated my dad to seven nights at the JW Marriott Hong Kong

When your friend or family member arrives, they can provide a credit card of their own to secure the reservation (and access the room), but if asked, make sure they say that you will be arriving later.

Otherwise, it’ll all be much ado about nothing, because no one gets the elite benefits and no one gets the elite qualifying nights. Needless to say, when doing this, trust is paramount!


Bonus: The Platinum Challenge

Lastly, if you want to skip the 50-night requirement entirely, there’s always the option of taking the Platinum Challenge, which will grant you instant Platinum status if you stay 16 paid nights within a 90-day period. You can contact Marriott to request the Platinum Challenge.

There was a brief period last year when it seemed that award stays would count towards the Platinum Challenge as well, but that’s no longer the case – only cash stays will count. This also means that the 15 nights from the credit cards and the 10 nights from the meetings also will not count towards the Platinum Challenge – that’d be far too easy!

To be honest, with the requirement for paid stays, I don’t see the Challenge being too useful for those of you looking to achieve Platinum on the cheap. Certainly, a savvy business traveller whose hotel expenses are reimbursed by the company can easily take advantage of the Platinum Challenge with a bit of careful planning. But if your hotel strategy mainly consists of maximizing credit cards and award nights, then you’ll be best off sticking with the strategies outlined above to hit that aspirational 50-night target. 


Conclusion

Platinum Elite status within the new Marriott Bonvoy program is certainly a status worth having, and the more you stay with Marriott, the more worthwhile it becomes. Fortunately, you can get yourself halfway there relatively easily by holding onto one of the Amex co-branded credit cards and booking a cheap meeting room.

Scrape together the remaining 25 nights via a combination of your organic paid or award stays, mattress running, and booking hotels for friends and family, and you’ll be enjoying the fruits of your labour along your travels as you gorge on a delightful breakfast buffet or sip on Club Lounge cocktails.