One of the questions that I’m frequently asked during my Points Consulting sessions is whether it’s worthwhile for someone who’s currently a Marriott Gold Elite (which is pretty much everyone out there) to expend additional time and effort to attain Platinum Elite status.
After all, Gold Elite is pretty easy to earn – it’s an instant complimentary perk of the Amex Platinum Card or the Amex Business Platinum Card, both of which are mainstays for Canadians looking to maximize their credit cards. Failing that, the Amex Bonvoy Card or Amex Bonvoy Business Card will get you an instant 15 elite nights, and then you can easily book a meeting room with Marriott for 10 elite nights per year to get you to the 25 elite nights you need for Gold Elite.
As I’ve touched upon before, though, Platinum Elite doesn’t come quite as easily, and requires a bit more effort (read: actually staying in hotels) on your part. But how do you decide whether it’s worthwhile to do so? How do you assess the fruits of your labour if you’ve never tasted the nectar?
In this post, I wanted to sit down and think about how much I personally value each of the major perks you get from Marriott Platinum Elite status to help you make a clear-cut decision.
Once you’re a Platinum Elite member, you’re entitled to a complimentary breakfast at most Marriott brands on every morning of your stay.
The major exceptions are Ritz-Carlton and EDITION (which aren’t obliged to give you breakfast, although some hotels still do) and Courtyard by Marriott (where you’re given a US$10 food and beverage voucher instead, which may or may not be enough to cover breakfast). In addition, it could be argued that you aren’t getting incremental value out of this benefit at places like Fairfield Inns and Residence Inns either, since these chains almost always treat all their guests to free breakfast anyway.
The exact breakfast offering will also vary from hotel to hotel: the most impressive breakfast presentations, like the JW Marriott Singapore South Beach or the St. Regis Bali, can truly elevate the hotel experience to a whole new level; meanwhile, other hotels are content to treat their guests to the bare minimum breakfast offering within the terms of the program, which is usually labelled a “continental” breakfast that consists solely of pastries, hard-boiled eggs, and other cold items.
On balance, though, I’d say you can expect to have a pretty tasty and hearty breakfast on most mornings as a Platinum member. Indeed, one of the tried-and-true practical strategies when you’re on the road is to maximize the hotel breakfast and treat it as a brunch instead, effectively covering two meals for the day. The savings here can really add up, especially if you’re travelling as a larger family with more mouths to feed.
Overall, breakfast is probably the Platinum benefit that I value the most highly. There’s something very satisfying about starting your day with free-flowing food and drink that you didn’t need to pay extra for, especially when you make a habit out of sampling the variety at many different hotels around the world. It’s one of the things I look forward to the most when staying someplace new.
My valuation: $800/year
Executive Lounge Access
Some Marriott brands have Executive Lounges, and as a Platinum Elite you’re entitled to unlimited access for yourself and one guest (although in practice, it’s usually acceptable to bring your whole family in with you as well).
The best Executive Lounges tend to be found in JW Marriott hotels, which is a major reason why I’m such a big fan of the brand. Other brands like Marriott, Renaissance, Westin, and Sheraton tend to have lounges as well, although I’d say they’re more cookie-cutter and less well-appointed than those at a JW Marriott.
Many Ritz-Carltons around the world have Ritz-Carlton Club Lounges, which tend to be even more luxurious, although Platinums rarely get complimentary access – you could expect a discounted offer on the daily Club Lounge access rate, at best. Meanwhile, select St. Regises, Ws, and Luxury Collection hotels also have lounges, and you’re usually entitled to access them as a Platinum when they’re available (which is not very often).
At a minimum, lounges will usually provide a breakfast spread and an evening hors d’oeuvres spread. We’ve already talked about the breakfast benefit, although the evening spread can deliver substantial savings for you as well.
There are usually a few hot items on offer together with finger foods like charcuterie, cheese, and vegetable sticks, along with a generous helping of alcohol as well, so the evening spread can function pretty well as a replacement for dinner on some nights, especially if you’re not the type of traveller to go out for dinner every night. Indeed, I’ve often been guilty of indulging in the lounge’s evening spread out of sheer laziness when I probably should’ve headed out to get some authentic local food instead!
Besides the food and drink, Executive Lounges are pretty great spaces for getting work done, especially if you’re fighting jet lag and might just fall asleep if you’re working from your room. With unlimited coffee, tea, and snacks 24/7, they’re also incredibly useful for a quick grab-and-go before you leave the hotel for the day.
All things considered, Executive Lounge access is definitely a very close second in terms of my most highly-valued Platinum benefits.
My valuation: $750/year
Complimentary Suite Upgrades
As a Platinum member you’re entitled to the best available room upgrades, which includes standard suites. Every hotel decides independently which of their suites to make available to Platinums, and even then, some hotels are more generous in proactively upgrading Platinum members than others.
To get the most out of this benefit, you definitely need to be actively speaking to the hotel over the chat function on the Marriott app. This will allow you to get suite upgrades when the hotel doesn’t want to proactively upgrade you, and attain higher-tier suites even when it does.
On the surface, getting upgraded to a nice suite is easily one of the best things about staying at a hotel. There’s nothing quite like walking to your room at the very farthest end of the hallway, opening the door, and stepping into a gorgeously appointed space larger than your own apartment that’s going to be yours and no one else’s for the next few nights.
Having said that, from a functional point of view, I don’t find quite as much value in getting a nice suite once the initial excitement subsides. When I’m travelling solo, I usually have very little use for the dining or living areas of the suite, and I often find myself sitting around in various parts of the room just to “use” them a little.
Even when I’m travelling with Jessy, large parts of the suite often go untouched, particularly as we usually aren’t spending most of the day in the room itself. I imagine that those of you travelling with larger families are likely to get much more out of the Platinum suite upgrades than I do.
So if we look past the fact that many of these suites would retail for $1,000+/night if you purchased them with cash, and if we ignore the fact that impressive hotel suites make for killer Instagram photos that are great for my business, my valuation of suite upgrades isn’t quite so high.
My valuation: $500/year
As a Platinum Elite member, you’re entitled to guaranteed 4pm late checkout at any hotel that’s not a resort or convention centre. You can simply call up the front desk and ask for it at any point during your stay, and they’ll be able to arrange it for you.
I’d say that I invoke the late checkout benefit on about half of my hotel stays, and even then, I only sometimes actually need the room until 4pm – in many cases 1pm or 2pm will do. It’s certainly nice to have the peace of mind of a 4pm checkout, though, especially if my departure isn’t until later in the day and I’d like to go out for some sightseeing in the morning, or if I’d like to have a lazy morning and don’t want to feel rushed to check out by noon.
In practice, you can always store your bags at the hotel even after you’ve checked out, so the late checkout benefit is more of a “nice to have” than an absolute necessity. I’d value it the lowest out of what I’d consider to be the four most significant benefits that I’ve mentioned so far.
My valuation: $250/year
Annual Choice Benefit
One of the most widely advertised benefits of attaining Platinum Elite status every year (i.e., actually earning the required 50 elite qualifying nights, rather than simply maintaining Lifetime Platinum status) is an Annual Choice Benefit of one of the following:
5 Suite Night Awards
5 Elite Night Credits
Give the gift of Silver Elite status
40% off your favourite mattress
$100 charity donation
Alas, none of the choices really deliver much value for me here. In the past, I used to think the Suite Night Awards would be incredibly useful, but now I realize that I’m basically getting the same suites at the same hotels just by asking nicely over the Marriott app.
Meanwhile, the five additional elite qualifying nights will only count for the current qualifying year, so they can’t be used to help you re-qualify for Platinum Elite next year. They’ll only be useful if you want to boost yourself even further up to Titanium Elite this year, which only delivers limited incremental benefits over Platinum Elite (I’ll cover this in more detail in a future post).
As for the other options, I mean, gifting Silver Elite (which is pretty worthless) and 40% off a mattress… really? And you could always make a $100 charity donation of your own, so it doesn’t make sense to choose that as your Annual Choice Benefit either.
All things considered, the Suite Night Awards still end up being the best choice on this list. They’re at least somewhat useful for securing a suite upgrade up to five days before your stay (instead of on the day of arrival), but with suite upgrades being easily within reach over the chat app, I really don’t place too much value on them.
My valuation: $100/year
Other Additional Benefits
Several other Platinum benefits, while less notable in their own right, can also stack up pretty quickly.
You’ll earn 50% more points on top of the base rate of 10 Marriott Bonvoy points per USD spent at Marriott properties – that’s 25% more than the Gold Elite bonus of 25%.
Over the course of the year, this amounts to a slightly higher return on your spending: if you spent US$2,000 with Marriott, you’d earn an additional 5,000 Marriott Bonvoy points as a Platinum instead of a Gold. I’d value that at around $50, so that’s essentially a 2% discount on all your hotel spend.
Then you have the Elite Benefit Guarantee, which is where, if the hotel doesn’t offer you your choice of welcome benefits upon check-in, you’re entitled to claim US$100 in compensation.
Indeed, the hotel has to specifically offer you the choice of your welcome benefit, which is usually between bonus points or daily breakfast – if they simply add the points to your reservation, or assume you want breakfast and forget about offering you the points, you can saunter up to the front desk and call them out on it to claim your US$100 in cash.
In practice, I only end up pursuing these cases a portion of the time. Sometimes I can’t remember for sure whether the hotel offered me the choice or not, and other times I’m simply too busy or tired to get around to confronting the hotel. If you wanted to be vigilant about it, though, you could probably easily squeeze $300–500 out of this guarantee per year – I know many people who actively seek to “catch” hotels off their game on every stay.
Finally there’s the more intangible aspects to being a Platinum Elite member, like the tiny dopamine rush of being recognized as one upon checking in, the ability to throw your weight around when you’re talking to Bonvoy on the phone (“*ahem* as a Platinum member, I’m very disappointed by this…”), and the ability to hobnob with other Platinums on dedicated Facebook groups and complain about poor elite treatment at hotels 😉
My valuation: $300/year
Adding it all up, I arrive at a total valuation of $2,700 for one year of Platinum Elite status, which I think is a pretty fair assessment for my travel patterns. If Marriott were to make Platinum Elite status available for purchase, I could see them pricing it at around that figure.
For context, though, I’d estimate that I spend around 75–100 nights a year at Marriott hotels, so you might scale the value assessment up or down depending on your specific hotel stay patterns. I also tend to travel solo or as a couple, whereas if you’re travelling with a large family then you’d probably get much more value out of the breakfast, Executive Lounge access, suite upgrades, and late checkout, so you’d value the benefits higher accordingly.
Yet another factor to consider is that you tend to get much more out of being a Platinum member if you frequently travel to other continents. Most high-tier elite members are concentrated here in North America, so the benefits tend to be much more diluted at North American hotels (for example, suite upgrades are generally harder to come by, and the breakfast benefits are more likely to consist of stale croissants than a live omelette station).
On the other hand, hotels in the Asia and the Middle East have given me some of the most generous elite treatment I’ve ever experienced, so your Platinum Elite status will likely deliver much more value if you see yourself travelling to those regions.
In deciding whether to pursue status, then, think about your upcoming travel patterns for the rest of this year and all of next year. Do you see yourself travelling enough to maximize the benefits from being a Platinum, and how does your personal valuation of the status align with how much additional time, money, and energy you’d need to spend to earn it?
(Remember, you can now book “mattress runs” at Category 1 hotels for as low as 5,000 Marriott Bonvoy points off-peak, which works out to 20,000 Marriott Bonvoy points for five elite nights thanks to the “Stay 5, Book 4” benefit.)
As a general rule of thumb, I would advise that if your current organic travel patterns are such that you stay with Marriott for 15–20 nights a year (resulting in 40–45 elite qualifying nights once you factor in the 15 nights from the credit cards and the 10 nights from booking a meeting), then it’s probably worth it to make a run for Platinum Elite.
If you stay with Marriott less than that, then I’m not sure it’s quite worthwhile to do so, since you’d need to work harder to earn the status while also not having many opportunities to reap the benefits afterwards.
Finally, one last thing to keep in mind is that you aren’t just thinking about Platinum for this year, but rather for as many years in the future as possible. Indeed, loss aversion is a very real phenomenon, and you’re going to hate losing Platinum much more than you enjoyed earning it, so you’ll be doing everything you can to stay Platinum once you’re there.
After all, it’s much harder to go back to butter croissants and Starbucks in the morning once you’ve sampled the Avruga pearls and lobster omelettes. 😉
Hotel elite status is one of the keys to unlocking a more luxurious style of travel, and Marriott Platinum Elite is one of the most important statuses you can attain in the hotel game, since it gives you many forms of elite treatment at over 7,000 hotels around the world. With a fair bit of work required in attaining Platinum Elite status from the outset, it’s useful to work out exactly how much you’d value the status according to your travel patterns, and I hope my personal valuation process can help you accomplish that.
Having originally attained Platinum Elite in 2018, I’ve since become a Titanium Elite member as well, and I’ll share with you a similar discussion on the incremental benefits of Titanium Elite over Platinum Elite in a follow-up post.