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Whoever first came up with the idea of “elite status” is a venerable marketing genius – throw together a fancy chart laden with free this and complimentary that, finish it with the names of a few shiny metals, and you have people clamouring to “rise up the ranks” and give you their money for the privilege of doing so.
After all, there are few things that humans crave as much as receiving attention, recognition, and praise from others.
Airlines and hotels were quick to get in on the act, and almost every major loyalty program these days offers elite status and benefits of some kind. But while the perks of airline status can largely be replicated by redeeming points for business class or First Class, hotel elite status tends to be much more useful if you stay with a certain hotel chain frequently.
In this article, we’ll examine the new elite status and benefits within the Marriott loyalty program ever since it merged with Starwood Preferred Guest in August of this year. We’ll take a look at how to maximize your status, which encompasses two objectives: attaining the highest elite status possible and making the most out of your status benefits.
How Does Marriott Elite Status Work?
As a reminder, Marriott’s elite status levels can be summarized as below:
|Status level||Annual qualification requirement|
|Platinum Premier||75 nights|
|Ambassador||100 nights + $20,000 spending|
Status levels are granted based on how many nights you stay during a calendar year. Unlike other loyalty programs (in particular the legacy SPG program), there is no separate qualification criteria for “stays” vs. nights.
Once you earn a certain status level, it will be valid until the February two years later. Essentially, the status begins when you earn the required number of nights during a calendar year, and is valid until 14 months after the end of that calendar year.
An example should help illustrate. Let’s say you have a busy travel period in January 2019 and earn Silver Elite status in the first month of the year. That status would be valid for the rest of 2019, through all of 2020, until February 2021.
If you were to keep staying with Marriott throughout the year, eventually achieving Platinum Elite status in November 2019, then your Platinum status would be valid until February 2021 as well. Remember, it’s 14 months after the end of the calendar year.
And once January 2020 rolls around, a new qualification period has started, meaning that you’d need to achieve 50 nights in 2020 to renew your Platinum status for the subsequent year. Doing so would extend your status validity until February 2022, and so on.
Now that we’re clear on the timelines, let’s get into the details of what each status level entails.
Silver Elite: 10 Nights
Silver Elite is Marriott’s lowest tier of elite status, unlocked once you stay at Marriott properties for 10 nights or simply by holding the American Express SPG Card. If you’ve just qualified for Silver Elite, you’d better savour that tiny drip of dopamine, since you aren’t going to get much more than that out of it.
The only tangible benefits are a small 10% bonus on points earned from paid stays and priority late checkout. For the latter, you aren’t guaranteed late checkout, and it’s completely dependent on room availability and the front desk manager’s mood as to whether your checkout time can be moved a minute past the standard 12pm.
Silver Elite members are supposed to have a dedicated elite reservation line, but when’s the last time you needed to call to make a reservation anyway? Free internet and member exclusive rates are also advertised as benefits, but in reality even the most basic tier of members – those who don’t even make 10 nights – enjoy those as well.
Barring exceptional circumstances, don’t expect room upgrades, complimentary breakfast, or anything of that nature at this level.
Gold Elite: 25 Nights
Things get a little more exciting at Gold Elite, which is bestowed upon you once you complete 25 nights in a calendar year. Alternatively, simply holding either the Amex Platinum or the Amex Business Platinum will confer Gold Elite status, as will spending $30,000 within a calendar year on either the SPG Card or the Business SPG Card.
At Gold Elite, you get a higher 25% bonus on points earned from paid stays, and your priority checkout benefit is upgraded to a 2pm late checkout based on availability. So again, no guarantees, but at least there’s a fixed checkout time to shoot for, and an extra two hours can make a big difference if you’re in the habit (like me) of oversleeping in comfy hotel beds.
More importantly, you receive a couple of new benefits: a welcome gift of either 250 or 500 Marriott points depending on the brand, and room upgrades subject to availability. The former can add up quickly if you’re a frequent guest, while the latter can bump you up from a standard room to a “better” room of some kind – usually a slightly larger room, a room on a higher floor, or a room with better views.
These upgrades remain subject to availability, so if all such rooms have been booked up, you aren’t owed an upgrade.
Some less-generous hotels might hide behind the “no availability” excuse to deny you an upgrade, even though they technically should give it to you. In these situations, you can pull up your Marriott app and see whether the enhanced rooms are indeed unavailable for the night or if the hotel is just being stingy and hoping that someone will pay for the room. In the latter case, it’s your prerogative to insist on your Gold Elite benefits and push for an upgrade at the front desk.
Upgrades to suites remain off-limits to Gold Elite members, although you can get lucky if you ask nicely. I recently scored a very nice St. Regis Suite upgrade at the St. Regis Moscow Nikolskaya simply by emailing the hotel in advance, and I was only an SPG Gold member at the time.
Platinum Elite: 50 Nights
This is where the fun begins. At Platinum Elite, you get access to executive lounges, free breakfast, and suite upgrades – the stuff that everyone wants.
Accordingly, there’s no “easy” way to get to Platinum Elite. You have to work for it, and you’ll need 50 elite qualifying nights one way or another.
If you don’t feel like paying cash (or points) to spend 50 nights in Marriott hotels, there are a few other ways you can get yourself over the line:
Grab one of the US-issued SPG or Marriott credit cards. These will give you 15 elite nights just for holding the card, so only 35 left to go. (Word on the street is that the Canadian Amex SPG cards will offer the same benefit come 2019.)
Grab the US-issued SPG Luxury Card and meet the obscenely high spending threshold of US$75,000 in a calendar year for instant Platinum status.
Call Marriott and sign up for the Platinum Challenge, which grants you Platinum Elite status after staying 16 paid nights in a three-month period. If you have a particularly busy travel period coming up (whether for business or pleasure), this could be your key to fast-tracking your way to Platinum. You can sign up for one Platinum Challenge with Marriott every three years.
Book a meeting or event at a Marriott hotel to get 10 elite qualifying nights. As of August 2018, these 10 nights are only supposed to be granted on your first event booking and not on subsequent bookings – indeed, in the old program, some people leveraged this feature to earn Platinum status (or in same cases Lifetime Platinum status) through a series of cheap $50 event bookings.
Book five nights when you only need four. If you’re planning to book a four-night stay with points, book a five-night stay instead since it’s Fifth Night Free. Upon departure, leave the Do Not Disturb sign on, say nothing to the front desk, and complete Mobile Checkout the next day for a free elite night.
Book hotels for others. Leverage the “second guest trick” to earn elite nights (and confer your elite benefits) when your trusted friends and family members need hotel stays. I know people who earn status just by being “the hotels guy” within their circle of friends. Note that this technically isn’t supposed to work if the hotel is going by the book, but in my experience it works most of the time.
As a Platinum Elite, you get a guaranteed 4pm checkout, which can make a world of difference. For example, instead of frantically completing the checkout process in the morning, you get to go for an action-packed morning of sightseeing, come back for a shower, and then pack up and head to the airport.
You also get a Platinum welcome gift of your choice of bonus points (either 500 or 1,000 depending on the property) or a welcome amenity. Note that you must be offered the choice between the two at check-in; if the front desk staff simply chooses the points or the amenity on your behalf, you can receive up to US$100 in compensation for having been denied the choice.
Lounge and breakfast – the good stuff. In general, most higher-end properties in the legacy Marriott umbrella (such as Marriott, JW Marriott, Renaissance, etc.) have lounges, whereas most legacy SPG properties (like St. Regis, W, Le Méridien, etc.) do not. However, there are always exceptions, and you almost need a Ph.D. to understand the full rulebook on lounge access and breakfast benefits by property.
To put it simply, you can expect to be fed in the mornings at the vast majority of Marriott hotels if you’re a Platinum Elite or above. Ritz-Carlton and EDITION hotels, who think they’re too cool to provide free breakfast to elites, are the major exceptions.
Platinum Elites who do attain 50 nights during the calendar year (i.e., those who haven’t earned status through a spending threshold or a Platinum challenge) get to select an Annual Choice Benefit of one of the following:
Five Suite Night Awards
Five extra elite qualifying nights
Give the gift of Silver Elite status to another member
40% off your favourite hotel mattress
US$100 charity donation
For me, the clear winner among these benefits is the Suite Night Awards, which allow you to guarantee a suite upgrade (availability permitting) up to five days prior to your arrival at a property, rather than seeing if a suite is available upon check-in.
I tend to use my Suite Night Awards on hotel stays where I would really love to secure an awesome suite, such as beachside resorts or fancy luxury hotels. Most of the time I feel it’d be nice to get a suite upgrade, but I’d be perfectly content with a nice regular room, and for these stays I’d choose to save my Suite Night Awards for later.
If you aren’t using Suite Night Awards, you can expect a room upgrade almost every time you stay with Marriott, and a suite upgrade some of the times. Once again, if you’re told there’s no suites available, being proactive and checking for availability on the Marriott app will let you know if it’s merely the hotel’s parsimony at play.
Platinum Premier Elite: 75 Nights
There’s no spending thresholds or challenges for Platinum Premier Elite – you simply have to accumulate 75 elite qualifying nights in a calendar year. In my experience, though, there isn’t too much of a difference between Platinum Elite and Platinum Premier Elite anyway.
You would think that Platinum Premier Elites get higher priority for suite upgrades, but that isn’t actually codified anywhere in the loyalty program. If there’s one suite left and a Platinum member arrives to check-in, but the hotel knows there’s a Platinum Premier arriving later in the day, then who gets the suite? We simply don’t know, and it seems to be up to individual properties to decide.
One thing you do get at Platinum Premier is another Annual Choice Benefit, which translates to another set of five Suite Night Awards. 10 guaranteed suite nights a year is one of those things that truly makes you feel appreciated as an elite member!
Platinum Premier Elite with Ambassador: 100 Nights + US$20,000
US$20,000 in qualifying spend a year? You’re avin’ a laugh.
I’ve somehow managed to accumulate 104 elite qualifying nights in 2018, thanks to a combination of lucrative 7-night Travel Package certificates from the legacy program, booking a few stays for my family members, and earning 10 elite nights for hosting the Vancouver meetup at the Sheraton Wall Centre.
And yet I’m still a million miles away from the US$20,000 spending threshold…
After all, I’m loyal to Marriott because they have a strong loyalty program that allows me to maximize free stays, not because I enjoy giving them money. I suspect most of you feel the same way 😉
So unless you’re one of those “road warrior” types, there’s basically no need to even think about Platinum Premier Elite with Ambassador status. From what I’ve read, having an Ambassador mostly just helps to make your life a little easier. Sure, your Ambassador might be able to secure your desired room type at a moment’s notice, but if you wanted them to help convert your Old Category 6 certificate to a New Category 6? You’re dreaming.
There’s something about “elite status” that riles up the competitive edge within people. I’d say that the new Marriott program has launched with an elite structure that’s mostly fair, but you’ll definitely want to shoot for Platinum Elite as that’s when the rewards start to add up meaningfully. Indeed, on the rare occasions when I’m paying cash rather than points for a hotel stay, I still find myself gravitating to Marriott because I know I’ll be well taken care of during my stay.