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