December 21, 2012
From August 2nd to the end of November, I participated in Marriott’s “Taste of Platinum Challenge.” The idea of the challenge is that you get granted temporary top-level Platinum status for a few months. If you complete 9 stays during that time, you get to keep your status for the rest of the current calendar year, all of the following year, and through February of the next year. For complete details about the challenge, please see my post “Marriott’s Taste of Platinum Challenge.”
I chose the Marriott challenge simply because the stars aligned in the following ways:
- As a family, we had two planned paid Marriott stays for August and two more for November. So, I knew that by starting the challenge in August I would be almost half way to completing it without changing any plans.
- Marriott’s MegaBonus promotion (stay two nights, get one free) ran until the end of August and then a new one was scheduled to start mid September. Between those two promotions I knew that my paid stays would pay off not just towards completing the Platinum Challenge, but also towards many free nights.
- Last April I had bought $1000 worth of Marriott gift cards for 20% off. With that burning a hole in my pocket, I knew that I would effectively get a 20% discount off my paid stays!
For full details of how I planned to benefit from the challenge, please see “Pursuing Platinum @ Marriott.”
The Joys of Platinum
Following is a quick rundown of each of my stays, with a focus on Platinum benefits received (or not). In all stays, thanks to Platinum status, we enjoyed free internet access and a 50% bonus in points earned (with the paid stays). Most rooms were nice and exactly what you would expect from a Marriott, so I’ll only mention the rooms if they seemed special in some way.
Anchorage Downtown Marriott
|We were upgraded to the club floor. The club lounge was ordinary with decent fishcakes as the evening appetizer. Our plans called for us to leave too early the next morning to try breakfast. Overall my impression was that this hotel was fine, but a bit run down.|
Renaissance Vancouver Harbourside
The Inn at Bay Harbor (Renaissance)
Courtyard X 2
Springhill Suites, Detroit Airport
St. Pancras Renaissance London Hotel
London Heathrow Marriott Hotel
Ann Arbor Marriott Ypsilanti at Eagle Crest
Here is a rundown of the benefits we enjoyed:
- The most valuable benefit of all may have been the two occasions where we needed early check in. Coming off a cruise in one case, and an overnight flight in the other, it was awesome to be able to go right to our room to settle in. Note that they do not guarantee this (or even mention it) as a benefit.
- Similarly, late checkout made the tail end of our London stay much nicer.
- Where the lounge was available and open, this was also a great benefit. When traveling, I like to eat first thing in the morning before going out to explore and so a high quality free breakfast is terrific. Similarly, there are times where I prefer to stay put in the evening and so a lounge with a good evening spread is great. Marriott lounges are usually available to both Gold and Platinum members, but the one at the St.Pancras is only free to Platinum elites.
- Free internet for Gold and Platinum members is a huge plus especially if you have a gazillion internet accessible devices like we do (yes, I counted).
- The Platinum Arrival gift was really nice, especially when we chose the combination of a bottle of wine and a cheese & cracker tray. On stays in which there was no lounge or where the lounge was closed for the weekend, this perk was hugely appreciated!
Perks compared to other chains
Sure, the perks I enjoyed in the past four months were great, but the truth is that Marriott’s elite program is missing two essential benefits:
Hilton sets the bar here by guaranteeing free breakfast to anyone with Gold or Diamond status. Marriott offers free breakfast most of the time, but punishes us if we decide to stay on a weekend in the U.S. or Canada. In fact, if free breakfast is important to you, I’d recommend simply getting the Citi Hilton Reserve card (which offers automatic Hilton Gold status) and spend your weekends with Hilton. Note that as I wrote this I realized an irony: the Citi Hilton Reserve card gives two free weekend nights as a sign-up bonus. Clearly Hilton wants to see us on the weekend!
Through mid-tier status with Hilton, I’ve received suite upgrades many times. Marriott, though, explicitly excludes suite upgrades from the elite benefits! I’m sure that individual properties can choose to do so anyway, but that wasn’t my experience. [Correction: As Gary Leff points out in the comments, Marriott has changed their policy to allow suite upgrades at each hotel's discretion]
In the past four months I checked into Marriott hotels 11 times (9 paid stays and two award stays). Only once was I upgraded to a suite and in that case it was due to a booking error (on their part) and the suite was the only room available. Starwood and Hyatt set the bar here by providing mechanisms for their top elites to get confirmed suite upgrades. With most hotels, you won’t know about your suite upgrade until you’re handed the room key, but with SPG and Hyatt you can secure your upgrade ahead of time for those stays in which it is most important.
I’ve really enjoyed having Platinum status with Marriott. Lounges, early check-in, late check-out, free internet, and even Platinum arrival gifts all contributed to nicer stays. That being said, Marriott’s elite program has serious catching up to do with Hilton, Starwood, and Hyatt. Here’s to hoping that they do.