Keeping status

I like to think of this “miles and points stuff” as a game.  Your points balance is your score.  And, nearly free awesome trips are your prize for winning.  But there’s another aspect to the game: elite status.  Getting airline and hotel elite status is a way to get extra perks: occasional free upgrades, waived fees of various kinds, expedited security or check-in, hotel lounge access and/or free breakfast, and so on.  Some people go to great lengths to secure high level elite status.  With airlines, they’ll do “mileage runs” where they fly around the country (or around the world) on cheap fares just to earn elite status.  With hotels, they’ll switch hotels every night on a trip in order to earn multiple stays with one chain rather than a single stay of multiple nights.  Or, they’ll do “mattress runs” where they check into a hotel just for the points and elite stay credits.  I think it is very rare for elite benefits to be worth going to these extremes unless you are already close to the next level of status, but the perks are certainly nice to have.

Photo (above) shows my room at the Renaissance Bangkok Ratchaprasong Hotel. I was upgraded to a suite thanks to my Platinum status.

Luckily, getting mid-tier status with most hotel chains is extremely easy.  Usually it’s as simple as having the right credit card.  Please see my post “Maintaining mid-tier hotel status” for details of how to maintain mid-level status with Marriott, Hilton, SPG, Hyatt, and more.  Yep, mid-tier status is easy.  Top-tier status, though, can be tough…

In late 2012 I obtained Marriott Platinum status through a now discontinued program called the Taste of Platinum Challenge.  Thanks to this status, I’ve enjoyed lounge access, welcome gifts, early check in and late check out, and more perks at Marriott hotels.  And, my Platinum status has lasted all the way through February of this year.  If your interested in seeing the perks I’ve enjoyed as a Platinum member, please see these posts:

As you can see in the above linked posts, it was nice having Platinum status as a result of the Platinum challenge, but in 2013, I didn’t come anywhere near being able to re-qualify for meaningful status going forward.  Keeping Platinum status requires a whopping 75 paid nights per calendar year.  Gold status, which is almost as good, requires a whopping 50 nights.  No thank you.  Silver status requires only 10 nights (or a Marriott Premier credit card), but it doesn’t offer any meaningful benefits.  Silver status won’t even get you free internet.

It wouldn’t have been the end of the world to give up elite status with Marriott.  After all, thanks to my credit cards and other resources I have mid tier status in almost all of the other major chains.  I was resigned to becoming a Marriott nobody once again until I came across this post by Loyalty Lobby:

Marriott Elite Buy Back Promotion 2014 – Buy Back Your 2013 Elite Status

It turns out that Marriott will let elites use points to buy back elite status.  Interesting!  Here are the prices:

  • Points required to buy back Platinum status – 40,000
  • Points required to buy back Gold status – 25,000
  • Points required to buy back Silver status – 7,500

In my Fair Trading Prices chart, I list Marriott points at half a cent each.  So, we can use that number to estimate the dollar cost of keeping status:

  • Platinum: $200
  • Gold: $125
  • Silver: $37.50

If you stay often enough at Marriott properties, the cost to keep Gold or Platinum status may be well worth it for the free internet and lounge access and/or free breakfasts.  Do note though Marriott has a sizable list of exceptions to the lounge / free breakfast benefit.  The only brands that guarantee lounge access and/or free breakfast are: JW Marriott®, Autograph Collection®, Renaissance® and Marriott Hotels®.  And, note that all resorts are excluded (that is, they might provide benefits on their own, but they don’t have to).

Anyway…  I’ve had a sizable number of Marriott points collecting dust so I figured that it couldn’t hurt to use the points to keep status.  The real question I had was whether to buy Platinum or Gold.  My first thought was that Gold is nearly as good as Platinum so I might as well save some points.  Then, I remembered that last year I had United Silver status thanks to my Marriott Platinum status.  Marriott and United had teamed up with a new program called RewardsPlus.  One of the benefits of RewardsPlus was that Marriott Platinum elites were given United Silver status (and the program appears to be coming back on February 24th).  Assuming the terms of the Rewards Plus program will be the same this year as they were last year, that’s a nice perk for Platinum members!  So, I decided to go with the buy back Platinum offer.

Then, I read the buyback details

This offer is valid through April 1, 2014 and allows only one level of buyback, which must match the Elite level you enjoyed in 2013.

The part that said “allows only one level of buyback” worried me.  In 2013 I had only achieved Silver status for the 2014 elite year.  So, wouldn’t buying Platinum status mean 2 levels of buyback?  Maybe Gold would be as high as I could go?

Rather than call to ask for clarification, I gave the Platinum buyback a shot.  The directions said to simply email Marriott Rewards with my account info and one of the following bullets:

  • Buy Back my Elite status from Gold to Platinum status: 40,000 points
  • Buy Back my Elite status from Silver to Gold status: 25,000 points
  • Buy Back my Elite status from Basic to Silver status: 7,500 points

So, I shot off the email with the Platinum bullet (which sounds like something one would use to kill a high level elite werewolf. …Never mind).

And, on the same day I got the following response from Marriott:

Thank you for contacting Marriott Rewards regarding our Elite status buy back offer.

A total of 40,000 points have been used to buy back the Platinum Elite level until February 2015.

A new Platinum membership card has been requested for you.  Please allow four to five weeks for delivery…

So, that answers that question.  Apparently I didn’t have to achieve Gold status to buy back Platinum.  Nice!

Recommendation

Buying elite status in this way is not for everyone.  First, you would need to secure Gold or Platinum status before it could work for you and that’s not an easy task in itself.  Second, other chains offer easier to get elite status and/or better elite benefits.  And, finally, it only makes sense if you’ll actually stay at Marriott properties and enjoy the benefits.

On the other hand, since Marriott Platinum status is hard to get, maybe 40,000 points is a cheap price to pay for one more bragging rights badge in the miles and points game Smile

Anyway, you have until April 1, 2014 to decide.


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Comments

    • I should add… rarely worth it unless you are already close to achieving the next level of status. It takes a huge amount of time and money to “buy” high level status entirely through mileage runs / mattress runs. I stand by my statement that its not worth it unless your close to that status level anyway. Now, getting status through credit card spend and other means is a different story…

  1. Well I will disagree with Gene :-) I am with you Frequent Miler – I don’t think that status is worth it, at least for me and my family. The situations where it would be worth it would be someone who already travels a lot and/or someone who often travels to aspirational locales.

    For me (and others with larger families), neither of those things are particularly true. The list of hotel things that kids care about typically include 1) Swimming Pool and 2) Breakfast and that’s about it :-).

    So for me and my family, we’ll continue to follow the Milenomics plan of “Being your own elite”

  2. While I can understand how you value Marriott points, the fact remains that 40k points can easily be redeemed for rooms that cost $400+. Does that not affect your calculus?

    FWIW, my gold status was extended until 2015 even though I only stayed 20 nights last year, I think it’s referred to as a ‘soft landing’.

    • I think of points as being like coupons. They have the potential to give great value, but they themselves are not worth as much as that potential value. For example, if you had a coupon for $400 off any Marriott property (booked at standard rate, when standard rooms are available), no one would buy it from you for $400. As a piece of paper, it’s worth something substantially less than $400. When you successfully redeem it, you may then get $400 value from it (unless you had to forgo better booking options in order to use it).

  3. Yeah, I think everyone who plays the loyalty game with their own money knows that it doesn’t pay to earn hotel status by “traditional” means — like actually staying a lot of nights with a chain. Fortunately, like you found with Marriott, there are lots of tricks to get status. My favorite this year has been with Accor Hotels which has fairly frequent free email sign ups for a year of platinum. In Asia, I just got free lounge access and breakfast for basically doing nothing.

    While it doesn’t pay to EARN hotel status, it can certainly sometimes pay to use it if you have it. Like I probably book more full service Hiltons than Starwoods because midlevel HHonors status gets you more stuff than midlevel SPG status. But if you primarily travel in the USA, even that can be marginal. Like a Residence Inn is usually more comfortable than a Marriott regardless of your status. Same for Homewood over Hiltons. So, overall, status isn’t worth a heck of a lot. Except when it is!

  4. Hey there,
    I love listening to audio books when I’m on they go or even folding laundry. Have you ever thought about making an audio download or podcast. I know things are constantly changing in the points world, but you could have things that aren’t likely to change much like elite status, selling kohls items on Amazon, ect. Just a thought!

  5. Hmmm — It must have worked because you had platinum by virtue of the taste of challenge. I was gold last year and I’m gold again this year. I wonder what would happen if I e-mailed them to buy to Plat; that is, if I actually tried to buy up to Plat. It would be worth it to me to get UA silver. Anyone ever try?

    • Larry:

      I am on the same boat and thinking the same thing; upgrade to plantinum to get the silver status at United. Anyone has success?

      Also, I am looking for some discounted Marriott gift cards. Anyone knows any promotion out there (ie 10% off)?
      Thanks for the information!!!

  6. Great post. I am staying currently in Residence Inn for over a month now. I will be here for another month on biz. Can anybody point me if I am eligible for anything for such a long stay? It will be my first time accruing points from a hotel stay. Thoughts?

  7. I am a little surprised you did not bring the Ritz Carlton credit card into the discussion as it is the way to credit card up to Gold status with Marriott. So is 40,000 points and Platinum worth more than 70,000 points at Ritz Carlton and Gold….granted second year is $395 but you will also get 6 Club upgrades during that time……I’m no fan of that credit card but it seems an unusually cheap way to get Gold if you are married to Marriott!

    • Yes, good point. The Ritz card was one of the things I had considered, but the post was already long enough without going into the weeds on that one. I think of that card as my long term backup plan if I want to keep Gold and have run out of other good options.

  8. how long is your upgrade good for and do you go back to the original status you had before? I did the Gold Challenge and received gold status for a year and a half. (started in April 2013). This is sounding more and more like a no brainer for me and the family. Lots of business travel and cheerleader events out of town :)

    • My Platinum status will now last through February of 2015. I’d recommend waiting until March 1 to see if your Gold status disappears before doing this. Then, yes, might as well go for it to restore your Gold status for another year if you find it helpful.

  9. Hey Miler, I’m a bit confused. I know from my own experience that Marriott sometimes allows people to keep their status even if they do not requalify. I made Marriott Gold for 2012, and I was allowed to keep Gold in 2013 even though I did not hit 50 nights. I did not hit 50 nights in 2013 either, but so far this year my account is still showing Gold (and my fingers are crossed that it’ll last). Also, I’ve heard that Marriott will usually provide a soft landing. So the Plat member who does not requalify for Plat is likely to be downgraded to Gold in the following year.

    So, you were Plat in 2013. Before you used points for the Plat buyback, did you check your Marriott account? Are you sure that you had been downgraded to Silver or no status? If so, I’m surprised, since I would have expected you to get the soft landing to Gold (or perhaps that soft landing does not apply to people who got Plat via a challenge?). I’m asking because if you really were only Silver or no status, then I’m impressed with your Plat buyback. Also, I’m wondering if your Plat buyback will last you 2 years (ie, 1 year at Plat and the following year a soft landing to Gold). If it were to get you 2 years of status, then 40K points doesn’t seem too bad IMHO.

    • Ed L: Good point about soft landings. My Platinum status was scheduled to go away by March 1. I assumed that it would, but I didn’t do anything to verify that. Yes, it would have been smarter to wait to see what happened on March 1 before doing this. Honestly, I didn’t think the Platinum buy back would work so I thought of it as just an experiment!

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