Marriott Bonvoy has had a rather short but eventful existence so far in 2019, and the program has reserved one final #Bonvoying of its members for the end: in 2020, it will no longer be possible to earn 10 elite qualifying nights within the program by booking a meeting at a Marriott hotel.
The following is a screenshot from Marriott’s internal systems, and as I understand, the program terms and conditions will soon be updated to reflect this:
What Is the Meetings Trick?
As part of Marriott Bonvoy’s Rewarding Events benefit, members are able to earn 10 elite qualifying nights towards the Marriott Bonvoy elite program for booking their first meeting of the year at a Marriott hotel.
The cost of a meeting can often be as low as $100 or even less, and as long as the hotel processes the meeting correctly on their end, one doesn’t even need to physically show up at the hotel for it to count.
This is a great way to pad your elite night count for the year, getting you closer to the 50 nights required for Platinum Elite status, which is where you start to enjoy the most meaningful elite perks such as suite upgrades, free breakfast, lounge access, and guaranteed 4pm late checkout.
Indeed, I value Platinum Elite status at $2,700 per year, so spending around $100 to get you one-fifths of the way there is a spectacular deal.
Combined with the easy 15 elite nights from holding one of the Canadian- or US-issued Amex Bonvoy credit cards, and you’d already have 25 elite nights for the year, meaning you’d only need to stay an additional 25 nights to earn that coveted Platinum Elite status.
(The elite night benefit from booking a meeting, in its current state, is in fact already a scaled-down version of the benefit from the legacy Marriott Rewards program, in which you’d earn 10 elite nights for every meeting you booked. Many people were able to earn Platinum status year after year this way, some even using it to score Lifetime Platinum or Lifetime Titanium status within the new Bonvoy program.)
Clearly, even the restricted version of the meetings benefit has resulted in far too many members using it to earn Platinum Elite status for Marriott’s liking, because the benefit will be phased out for the 2020 qualification year.
Members can still earn elite qualifying nights for booking events under the Rewarding Events benefit, but these events will need to come with room nights booked at the hotel as well, and members will earn one elite qualifying night for every 20 room nights associated with the event. The days of booking “ghost meetings” for the elite nights will therefore be consigned to no further than 2019.
What’s the Plan for Platinum Elite Status in 2020?
First off, if you’re within touching distance of Platinum Elite status for 2019, and you haven’t booked your first meeting of the year at a Marriott hotel yet, then you may as well take action now to earn these 10 elite qualifying nights while you still can.
Let’s say you’re sitting at 38 elite qualifying nights for the year. A meeting would get you to 48 nights, and depending on your travel plans in 2020, there’s a strong case for “mattress running” those remaining two elite nights so that you may enjoy Platinum Elite benefits throughout next year, bearing in mind that it’ll be more difficult to qualify for Platinum next year instead of this year.
Now, whether you’ve already earned Platinum for this year and will be looking to re-qualify next year, or you’ll be missing out this year but were hoping to aim for Platinum next year, the unfortunate reality is that the task of finessing your way to that 50-night threshold has just gotten much tougher.
After the easy 15 nights from one of the co-branded credit cards, that leaves 35 elite qualifying nights that must be earned via Marriott hotel stays.
For the average Canadian traveller with three weeks’ time off, that’s a pretty tall order: it would take staying with Marriott every single night of those three weeks, plus quite a few long weekend trips, to make it happen.
As I’ve mentioned before, a few other angles are also available that might make this task easier:
Redeeming points for five-night stays when staying somewhere for four nights, using the “Stay 5, Pay for 4” benefit, thus earning an extra elite night for no additional cost
“Mattress running” at Category 1 hotels during off-peak dates, which are available for only 5,000 Bonvoy points per night (and thus earning you five elite nights for only 20,000 Bonvoy points)
If you can find a Category 1 hotel that’s both off-peak and PointSavers, those are available for 4,000 Bonvoy points per night (and thus earning you five elite nights for only 16,000 Bonvoy points)
Participating in a Platinum Challenge, which earns you Platinum Elite status after staying 16 paid nights within a 90-day period after registration
Participating in a targeted Double Elite Nights promotion, which gives you 2x elite qualifying nights on paid stays (although given this negative change to the elite program, who knows if Marriott Bonvoy will be offering this promotion again)
None of those alternatives are quite as good as being able to rack up 10 elite nights for only about $100 in out-of-pocket costs, but they are nonetheless available if you do see yourself travelling enough to extract high value out of the Platinum Elite benefits.
Looking at the bigger picture, I do feel that the value in Marriott Bonvoy, which has been in consistent decline ever since its launch, has indeed slipped far enough that there is very little reason for the casual Canadian traveller to be loyal to Marriott at all.
Sure, the signup bonuses on the Amex Bonvoy Card and Amex Bonvoy Business Card remain enticing. But once you’ve earned those bonuses for the year and redeemed them for some satisfying free nights, the strategy may well be play “free agent” and diversify into other hotel chains as well.
One method of doing so may be via the US credit cards, where the Amex US Hilton cards offer a very easy route into the Hilton Honors program, and Chase’s co-branded cards offer inroads to Hyatt and IHG beyond that.
Indeed, the Amex US Hilton Aspire Card gives you instant top-tier Diamond status within the program – a stark contrast from Marriott’s tightfistedness in this regard. And while the resultant swelled ranks of Diamond members might entail a lower chance of suite upgrades along your Hilton stays compared to Marriott, you’re still going to get the free breakfast and lounge access as a Diamond member, which I’d say are the two most valuable perks of hotel status anyway.
In addition, remember to leverage third-party hotel booking services like Amex FHR and Virtuoso, which allow you to enjoy elite treatment at a higher-end hotel even if you don’t have status, all while continuing to earn points and elite nights in your program of choice. After all, not reaching Marriott Platinum Elite in 2020 isn’t really a big deal when you’re getting treated like an elite member at virtually any property anyway.
I can of course understand Marriott’s motivation behind scrapping the 10 elite qualifying nights on the first meeting of the year, as it allows next year’s elite ranks to more accurately reflect how much each member actually stayed at Marriott hotels, and thus allows Marriott to do a better job of actually rewarding its most loyal customers.
Nevertheless, there’s no denying that this news comes as a blow to the many travellers who relied on the meetings trick to achieve Platinum in 2019 – who must now achieve 35 elite nights, rather than 25, through stays alone in order to reattain Platinum for 2020.
If you were planning to stay with Marriott frequently next year anyway, then this news likely won’t impact you materially, but for the more casual traveller, the need for diversification in one’s hotel game has never been more pressing.