In addition to collecting large quantities of points & miles, I enjoy finding shortcuts for obtaining and keeping elite status. Over the course of the past three years, or so, I’ve used shortcuts to get and keep status with many loyalty programs, including:
- American Airlines: Given that the merger of loyalty programs was imminent, I took advantage of the US Airways Preferred Trial to get top tier AA status. See: 30,000 miles to nowhere: Mission accomplished.
- Delta: I’ve used manufactured spend techniques year after year to keep myself at Platinum status and my wife at Diamond status. See: How to manufacture Delta elite status
- United: By keeping Marriott Platinum status (see below), I’m able to keep United Silver status for free thanks to United and Marriott’s RewardsPlus partnership. See: How to manufacture United elite status.
- Hilton: I currently have Gold status simply by being an American Express Hilton Surpass card member. If I ever want to get to Diamond status, it would be easy enough to do so through manufactured spend. See: How to manufacture Hilton Diamond status.
- Hyatt: In 2013, I signed up for and completed the Hyatt Diamond Trial. See Chasing Diamond Success! Note, though, that Hyatt no longer gives you Diamond status during the challenge.
- Marriott: Several years ago, I signed up for and completed Marriott’s Taste of Platinum Challenge. Since then, I’ve used points each year to keep Platinum status. Marriott is unique in that they allow elites to buy back their status each year, with points.
- Starwood: I have SPG Gold status thanks to having an American Express Platinum card. See: Maximizing value from Amex Platinum cards.
As far as top tier hotel status goes, I’ve loved having Hyatt diamond status. Hyatt diamond elites get guaranteed club lounge access, free hot breakfast in hotels without lounges (or when the lounge is closed), and four suite upgrade certificates per year that can be used on any paid stay, including cash & point stays. Unfortunately, keeping Hyatt Diamond status can be tough.
While Hyatt Diamond requirements are reasonable (complete 25 stays or 50 nights per year), there are few easy shortcuts:
- Unlike Marriott, you cannot buy back status with points.
- Unlike SPG, extra rooms booked for the same stay do not count towards status.
- Unlike SPG and Hilton, points stays do not count towards status.
- Unlike Hilton, it’s not easy to manufacture top tier status through spend. Hilton lets you get top tier Diamond status with $40,000 spend on either of two credit cards. For that same amount of spend, the Hyatt credit card gives you a total of 5 stay credits and 10 night credits. In other words, $40,000 spend gets you only 20% of the way to the goal.
It’s not impossible to find shortcuts for maintaining Hyatt Diamond status. In fact, we posted a few ideas just last month: Bet You Didn’t Know: Two tricks for chasing Hyatt Diamond status (and 1 that won’t work). That said, its definitely easier to maintain Starwood status…
Getting top tier Starwood status is harder; maintaining it is easier
If you want to fast track to Hyatt Diamond status, you can do so by signing up for their Diamond challenge. Complete 12 qualifying nights at Hyatt hotels within 60 days and you’re good to go. Starwood offers a similar challenge, but to get Platinum status you’ll have to complete 18 qualifying nights within 90 days. Sure, compared to Hyatt, Starwood gives you an extra month to complete their challenge, but they also require 6 additional qualifying nights. And, with their challenge, award nights don’t count.
Once you have top tier status with either chain, you’ll have to meet their status requirements each year in order to keep that status. Both Hyatt and Starwood require either 25 stays or 50 nights. However, Starwood makes it easier:
- Award stays count towards status
- Up to 3 rooms booked for the same stay each count towards status. For example, if you book 3 rooms for a 4 night stay, you’ll earn elite credit for 3 stays and 12 nights.
- The personal Amex Starwood card automatically gives the cardholder credit for 2 stays and 5 nights per year, with no spend requirement.
- The business Amex Starwood card also automatically gives the cardholder credit for 2 stays and 5 nights per year, with no spend requirement. With both cards, you can get about 20% of the way to Platinum status simply by paying the annual fees.
- Starwood has far more properties worldwide than Hyatt.
Nights vs. Stays
If you regularly stay just 1 night at a time at hotels, then you would probably prefer to earn Starwood Platinum status by completing 25 stays within a calendar year. If you often stay longer than 1 night at a time, then the Platinum challenge may be more attractive since it is based on nights rather than stays.
Personally, I don’t like to frequently check in and out of hotels for the sake of earning status. So, I prefer requirements based on nights rather than stays. In the long run, this preference favors Starwood as well since Starwood gives additional benefits to those who complete 50 nights in a calendar year.
The idea of a “mattress run” is to check into a hotel solely for the purpose of earning points and status. While its rare, there are times where a stay can pay for itself thanks to hotel promotions or other factors. Recently, Money Metagame looked at two concurrent Starwood summer promotions and analyzed their mattress running potential.
The two promos in question are:
- SPG Make It Count – Extra 1,000 SPG points per weekend stay (through August 31)
- SPG Sheraton Free Weekends – Free Weekend Night (at any Sheraton property) after 5 nights. You must complete the qualifying nights between July 9th and September 30 in order to earn free weekend nights. Each person can earn at most 3 free weekend nights. Unfortunately, your free stay must be completed by December 13, 2015.
Money Metagame argued that there are scenarios in which it makes sense to mattress run to earn points and free nights from these promotions. The key, though, is that you have to have plans for an otherwise expensive Sheraton weekend stay that would be concluded on or before December 13, 2015. In my opinion, that’s a huge constraint. That said, Money Metagame provides a calculator to help you decide if the numbers make sense for you (check it out here).
You may be able to make the numbers come out a bit more in your favor if you sign up for the Platinum challenge and go for 3 SPG Sheraton Free Weekend nights by completing 15 qualifying nights between July 9th and September 30th. That way, those 15 qualifying nights will not only give you 3 free Sheraton weekend nights, but will also get you within spitting distance of Platinum status.
Saving money at the expense of earning points
I can think of a couple of ways to reduce the cost of Starwood mattress runs. Both require multi-night stays, though. One problem with multi-night stays is that they do not maximize the value of the SPG Make It Count promotion. With that promotion you get an extra 1,000 SPG points per stay – not, per night. Still, if you’re willing to forgo those extra points, there are a couple of good options:
Citi Prestige 4th Night Free: If you have a Citi Prestige card, take advantage of its 4th Night Free benefit. Book stays in 4 night increments. Ideally, you’ll setup your stays so that the 4th night is more expensive than the rest. That way, you’ll earn points based on that higher dollar amount, but you’ll be fully reimbursed for that extra expense. Complete details can be found here: The Complete Guide to Citi Prestige 4th Night Free.
One hotel in my area offers AAA rates of $105 per night. If I were able to book that rate and get the fourth night free, my total cost for a four night stay would be $315. That averages to just $79 per night.
Starwood America’s Book Your Birth Year: This ongoing promotion bases your second night (and often third night too) on the year of your birth. For example, if you were born in 1955, the second night of your stay would be just $55. Some pricier hotels will charge an additional $100 (i.e. $155 rather than $55). Many hotels allow the birth year rate to apply to both the 2nd and 3rd night. To find and book these rates, click here. You must be 18 or older, so forget about bringing along that kid that was born in the year 2000 in order to get the 2nd and 3rd night free. On the other hand, if you’ve been looking for an excuse to travel more often with your grandparent, this might be it.
In my case, if I don’t bring a parent along, the 2nd and 3rd nights would cost $67 each. One hotel in my area that allows 2nd and 3rd night Pay Your Age rates has regular rates of $123 per night, so I would pay a total of $257 for a three night stay. That comes to $86 per night.
Is it worth doing?
Let’s put together the pieces shown above… Suppose our goal is to earn Platinum status and get a free 3 night stay at an expensive Sheraton property by December 13, 2015. In that case, I could do the following:
- Signup for the Starwood Platinum Challenge
- Enroll in each of the promotions described above.
- Use the Prestige 4th Night Free benefit to book four separate four night stays.
- Book a two night Book Your Birth Year stay.
- Ideally, each stay would be at least partly over a weekend in order to earn the 1000 bonus points from the Make It Count promotion.
Using Money Metagame’s calculator, it looks like I would earn over 14,000 Starwood points. And, if I paid with my Prestige card (which earns 3 points per dollar), I’d earn a lot of Citi ThankYou Rewards points too.
The total cost of the above plan would be around $1450.
Not worth it
Even if I really wanted to stay at a very expensive Sheraton property for three weekend nights before December 13th, I wouldn’t do this. I already have a large stash of SPG points, so I’d rather use those for a free stay. Even without Platinum status, if the property has a club lounge, I could get the Amex SPG business card and get into the lounge for free. More importantly, even though the stay might cost more than $1450 to book with cash, I wouldn’t do so, so it doesn’t make sense to pre-pay $1450 for that benefit. Worse, I don’t know if I would really use the free nights before they expired, so they would have almost no value to me.
How about the value of Platinum status? With Platinum status, I would be guaranteed free breakfast during my SPG stays, I would be more likely to receive room upgrades, and I would earn more points from my stays. Those are all great things, but I would have to be planning a huge number of stays to get $1450 worth of benefits! And, if I were planning that many stays, I would work on earning status from those stays rather than wasting money on mattress runs beforehand.
I can imagine that some readers may have unique circumstances that would make this all worth it. That would most likely be true if the mattress runs were, themselves, useful trips and/or vacations. Or, even better, if you already have a bunch of paid Sheraton stays on the calendar, then you might as well earn the extra rewards from the summer promotions and earn Platinum status through the challenge. For most people, though, I don’t think there’s enough here to justify going for it.