Marriott Bonvoy is the most accessible hotel loyalty program for Canadian travellers, and its elite program can deliver some tremendous benefits across your hotel stays once you reach the higher status tiers.
As a reminder, to summarize the full list of status tiers:
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.)
As someone who’s mostly loyal to Marriott hotels, I’d personally value the benefits of Platinum Elite at $2,700 per year
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
I’d personally value the benefits of Titanium Elite at $3,600 per year, or $900 more than Platinum Elite
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 This Post
- Why Is Platinum Elite Status So Valuable?
- 15 Elite Nights: The Amex Bonvoy Cards
- 15 More Elite Nights: Having a Personal and Business US-Issued Bonvoy Card
- 20 More Elite Nights: Your Normal Stays…
- …Mattress Running…
- …and the “Second Guest Trick”
- Bonus: Birthday Elite Night
- Bonus: Double Elite Nights Promotions
- Bonus: The Platinum Challenge
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.
Suite upgrades can be an awesome surprise and can really make your trip a memorable one, especially if you’re in the habit of asking the front desk proactively over the Marriott chat.
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 are 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… 😉
So, what are the best ways to achieve Platinum Elite? While the traditional way is to spend 50 nights in Marriott hotels, there are a few shortcuts and workarounds to “finesse” your way to that target and bring it into sharper focus.
15 Elite Nights: The Amex Bonvoy Cards
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 Marriott Bonvoy Card or the American Express Marriott Bonvoy Business Card.
New cardholders will see the 15 elite nights posted to their accounts within 60 days of opening the credit card. Meanwhile, if you’re a current cardholder, you’ll most likely see your 15 elite nights credited at the start of every year – this year, the nights were credited almost instantly once 2020 rolled around.
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.
Now, when Marriott Bonvoy was first launched, it was made very clear that the 15-night credit would not stack between multiple credit cards. However, that has now changed…
15 More Elite Nights: Having a Personal and Business US-Issued Bonvoy Card
On March 31, 2020, the US-issued Marriott Bonvoy credit cards updated their terms and conditions, and will now allow you to earn two sets of 15 elite nights, for 30 elite nights in total, if you hold both a personal and a business card:
Personal Bonvoy cards in the US include the Amex US Bonvoy Brilliant, the Chase Bonvoy Boundless, and the Chase Bonvoy Bold. There’s also the regular Amex US Bonvoy Card, which is a legacy product that’s no longer available to new applicants, but still counts as a personal product if you’re a legacy cardholder.
Meanwhile, the only business Bonvoy card in the US is the Amex US Bonvoy Business, although there’s also the legacy Chase Bonvoy Business which has been discontinued for new applicants.
Of all the possible combinations of personal and business cards, the easiest to obtain is probably the Amex US Bonvoy Brilliant and the Amex US Bonvoy Business.
Both cards can be obtained during the early stages of getting into US credit card as a Canadian, since Amex US applications don’t require an SSN or ITIN to complete. And as a proud owner of both cards, you’ll earn the 30 elite qualifying nights every year to get you closer to Platinum Elite status.
Note that, as of now, the Canadian-issued Bonvoy cards have not been updated with the same terms. Instead, they still say:
Therefore, it’s not enough to simply hold one of the US-issued Bonvoy cards. If you had a Canadian-issued personal Bonvoy card and a US-issued business card, that would still only earn you the base-level 15 elite qualifying nights – and it’s the same if you had a Canadian business card with a US personal card.
You do need to have both personal and business cards in the US to double-up on the 15 elite nights for a total of 30. Thankfully, both of the Amex US products come with very tempting signup bonuses, and also offer anniversary free night certificates that justify their $150 and $125 respective net annual fees on an ongoing basis.
So that’s 30 down, 20 to go. What’s next?
20 More Elite Nights: Your Normal Stays…
If you’re looking to hit Platinum the traditional way (i.e., by earning 50 elite qualifying nights), then the shortcuts end with the above 30 elite nights. The remaining 20 elite nights will have to be earned via Marriott hotel stays.
Of course, the ideal scenario is that you’re able to stay 20 nights with Marriott as a result of your natural travel patterns.
But that may not feasible for everyone – after all, if the average Canadian receives three weeks of vacation time at work, they’d need to spend pretty much every single vacation night at Marriott properties to earn 20 elite qualifying nights.
Therefore, this component of the strategy basically boils down to “stay with Marriott as much as you normally would” – and if that’s fewer than 20 nights, then we’ll assess how realistic it is to make up the difference with a little bit of finesse.
As you go about your stays throughout the year, remember that 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.
Indeed, if you primarily redeem Bonvoy points for your stays rather than paying cash, then you’ll earn a lot more nights if you’re the type of traveller who prefers to stay at lower-tier Category 1 or 2 hotels.
Just because these hotels are low in category doesn’t mean they’re low in quality, either – there are plenty of very well-appointed Category 1 or 2 hotels in Asia and Africa, which represent tremendous value for your points, and where Platinum and higher-tier elites are generally treated like royalty as well.
A two-player household that signs up for both the personal and business Amex Bonvoy cards, while also maximizing points transfers from the Cobalt Card, might earn roughly 300,000 Bonvoy points in a given year. If this household also prefers to travel in cheaper parts of the world like Asia or Africa, they could easily cover 20 hotel nights using their Bonvoy points entirely.
(Another tip when redeeming Bonvoy points: if you’re staying at a hotel for four nights, redeem for a five-night stay anyway, as long as it doesn’t cost you anything extra under the “Stay for 5, Pay for 4” benefit. Check out only after the fifth night using the mobile app, and you’ll have earned an extra elite qualifying night for no additional expense.)
If you still have a shortfall to make up after your organic hotel stays, then 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.
There are currently eight Category 1 hotels in Canada, with most of them concentrated in Alberta, but a handful in Winnipeg and the Ottawa suburbs as well.
Ever since Marriott introduced peak and off-peak pricing, these Category 1 hotels can be booked for as low as 5,000 points per night during off-peak dates, or even 4,000 points per night on dates that are designated as both off-peak and PointSavers.
Combine these ultra-low rates with the “Stay for 5, Pay for 4” benefit, and you’re looking at potentially spending as little as 16,000 Bonvoy points to earn five elite qualifying nights.
If you live elsewhere in Canada but happen to pass through one of these places along your travels, it could be worth checking in at a Category 1 hotel for a five-night mattress run if you anticipate that those five elite qualifying nights will come in handy for Platinum qualification this year.
Note that you must physically check-in to the hotel in order for the stay to count. If you simply make a booking but don’t show up, your booking will be forfeited and you may even lose your points or face a no-show penalty.
However, there’s no real requirement that you remain in the room at all times. The generally advised approach is to throw up the Do Not Disturb sign and complete your checkout on the mobile app on the final day of the stay.
Of course, you have to decide whether the five elite nights are worth the points you spend, since those points could also be used towards a free night that you’ll actually need on one of your trips.
All things considered, I’d say that the “mattress running” strategy only comes into the equation if you anticipate that you’ll be within touching distance of Platinum and only need those extra few nights to bring you over the edge.
…and the “Second Guest Trick”
The other angle, which should only be done at one’s own comfort with the practice, 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. If you pull it off, it’s a win-win situation.
Again, though, you’ll have to have some finesse about how you approach this, because Marriott and other hotel loyalty programs technically do not 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”, where you 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.
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, trust is paramount when doing this, and you should also be prepared not to receive the elite nights and benefits that you aren’t technically entitled to.
In theory, you could even combine the above two creative approaches: make cheap five-night bookings at Alberta’s Category 1 hotels, and then find a local friend to check-in on your behalf as your second guest to complete your mattress run. I’m surprised that no enterprising Albertans have started up a service for doing this yet. 😉
Bonus: Birthday Elite Night
Marriott traditionally gives its members one elite qualifying night as a birthday present every year.
In order to be eligible for the birthday night, you had to ensure that you’ve listed your birthday on your Marriott Bonvoy profile, and that you’ve also opted-in to all email communications from the program. Marriott would then send you an email on your birthday with a link to activate your elite qualifying night.
However, at the moment, Marriott’s website states the following:
It remains to be seen whether Marriott will bring back the Birthday Elite Night benefit at some point in the future. If so, it’ll be an easy one extra elite qualifying night for every annual cycle.
Bonus: Double Elite Nights Promotions
Starting in 2019, Marriott Bonvoy has offered targeted Double Elite Nights promotions on a rolling basis, with the most recent round occurring in Spring 2020. Members who were targeted for these promotions would earn two elite qualifying nights for every paid night that they stayed with Marriott.
These promotions are highly lucrative for those who were targeted, so if you happen to be targeted, then you’d be well-advised to shift as many of your paid stays over to Marriott as possible – and potentially even book a few mattress runs at cheap cash rates.
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, and any individual may only register for the challenge once every three years.
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. A savvy business traveller whose hotel expenses are reimbursed by the company can definitely 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.
Platinum Elite status within the Marriott Bonvoy program is certainly a status worth having, and the more you stay with Marriott, the more worthwhile it becomes. Fortunately, with the recent policy changes on the US side, you can get yourself more than halfway to that 50-night mark very easily by obtaining the personal and business US-issued Amex Bonvoy credit cards.
Should you successfully scrape together the remaining 20 nights via a combination of your organic paid or award stays, mattress running, and booking hotels for friends and family, then you’ll soon be enjoying the fruits of your labour along your travels as you savour on a delightful breakfast buffet or Club Lounge cocktail.