How to buy elite status with points

Most hotel chains and airlines have loyalty programs that award loyal customers with elite status.  Top tier (or near top tier) status usually comes with many desirable perks such as upgrades, gifts, and more.  To get to top tier status it is usually necessary to spend many nights with a hotel chain or fly frequently with an airline or its partners.  You can also get status by holding certain credit cards, spending a lot on certain credit cards, or by enrolling in status matches or challenges.

In a few rare cases it’s possible to earn and/or keep high level status by exchanging points.  I’m not saying that it’s a good idea to do so.  Sometimes it is, sometimes it’s not.  But, personally, I find it fascinating that it’s possible at all.

This post details some of the ongoing opportunities that I’m aware of for exchanging points for status…

buy-elite-status-with-points

Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG)

Summary of options
  • Buy Intercontinental Ambassador status for 32,000 – 5,000 = 27,000 IHG points
  • Renew Intercontinental Ambassador status for 24,000 – 5,000 = 19,000 IHG points
  • Buy IHG Spire status with 75,000 Virgin Atlantic miles (convert 75,000 VS miles to 100,000 IHG points)
  • Renew IHG Spire status by buying Intercontinental Ambassador status for 32,000 – 5,000 – 25,000 = 2,000 IHG points

Intercontinental Hotel Group offers two distinct loyalty programs (or three if you count their Kimpton acquisition): IHG Rewards Club and InterContinental Ambassador.  The latter is specific to Intercontinental Hotels & Resorts while the former applies to all IHG brands (Holiday Inn, Hotel Indigo, Crowne Plaza, etc.) except Kimpton.

You can buy one year of InterContinental Ambassador status for $200 or 32,000 IHG points.  This will get you guaranteed benefits on paid Intercontinental Hotel stays such as a room upgrade, fresh fruit, in-room water and gift, 4pm late checkout, free pay-TV film per stay, free weekend night certificate (buy one get one free), and 5,000 bonus IHG points.  Thanks to the bonus IHG points, the net point cost = 32,000 – 5,000 = 27,000 IHG points.  Note that this status is not meaningful at other IHG brands such as Holiday Inn, Hotel Indigo, or Crowne Plaza.

You can renew InterContinental Ambassador status each year for around $150 or 24,000 points (I write “around” because members usually receive multiple renewal offers at different price points offering different bonus points in return).  If you renew for 24,000 points and get 5,000 bonus points, then your net cost for renewal = 24,000 – 5,000 = 19,000 IHG points.

You can “buy” top-tier IHG Rewards Club Spire status by earning 75,000 elite qualifying points within a calendar year.  This can be accomplished by transferring 75,000 points to IHG.  Points can be transferred 1 to 1 from Chase Ultimate Rewards or Virgin Atlantic Flying Club.  Or, you can transfer from SPG, Amex Membership Rewards, or Citi ThankYou Rewards to Virgin Atlantic and then to IHG.  Often Amex Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards offer transfer bonuses to Virgin Atlantic, so it can be well worth waiting for the next promotion to do so.  When you transfer 75,000 points (or less if you’ve already earned some IHG elite qualifying points through other means), you’ll get to pick a Choice Benefit of 25,000 IHG points.  So your total “cost” is 75,000 Virgin Atlantic miles, but in addition to Spire status, you get 75,000 + 25,000 = 100,000 IHG points.

Lastly, you may be able to renew Spire status by buying InterContinental Ambassador status for as little as 2,000 IHG points after all is said and done.  LoyaltyLobby has the details here.

Marriott / Starwood

Summary of options

Both Marriott and Starwood let you earn elite qualifying nights and/or stays with award nights.  This means that it is possible to “mattress run” (check into a hotel just for the elite night or stay credits) with points alone.

Marriott award nights start at 6,000 points:

Marriott_Award_Chart.png

And SPG award nights start at 2,000 points:

SPG-award-chart.png

Since SPG and Marriott points can now be freely converted back and forth (1 SPG point = 3 Marriott points), the cheapest award night stays are identical.  2,000 SPG points = 6,000 Marriott points.

That said, SPG offers the cheapest way to get to Platinum status: 25 stays per calendar year.  If you mattress run 1 night at a time at the cheapest possible SPG property (category 1 Starwood hotels, on weekends), then you’ll pay 25 x 2,000 = 50,000 SPG points for near top tier Platinum status.  The point cost can be reduced by holding one or more SPG Amex cards (personal and/or business) which offer 2 elite qualifying stays each.  Plus, after 10 stays (or fewer with the credit cards) you’ll have SPG Gold status.  If you choose the 125 point welcome gift with each stay once you get to Gold status, you’ll get back 15 x 125 = 1,875 points as you finish off your run to Platinum.

Once you earn SPG Platinum status, you’ll automatically get Marriott Platinum status as well (as long as your accounts are linked).

Is it realistic to buy elite status this way?  I wouldn’t recommend it for most people, but if you have many legitimate stays, a handful of mattress fun stays may be worth doing.

Keeping elite status is much easier.  Each year Marriott has offered an Elite Buy Back promotion and hopefully they’ll keep this going into the future.  The promotion lets people buy back the level of status that they had the previous year: 40,000 Marriott Rewards points (13,334 SPG points) to buy back Platinum status, and 25,000 Marriott Rewards points to buy back Gold status.

Southwest

Summary of options
  • Buy a Southwest Companion Pass, 120,000 Southwest points, and a seven night hotel stay with 90,000 SPG points or 270,000 Marriott Rewards points.
  • Buy a Southwest Companion Pass by converting 366,000 Choice points into 109,800 Southwest Rapid Rewards points (you’ll still have to acquire 200 Southwest points some other way)
  • Buy a Southwest Companion Pass by converting 200,000 Hyatt points into 120,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points.

The Southwest Companion Pass isn’t really “elite status”, but it’s a lot more valuable than most elite statuses.  You need to earn 110,000 companion pass qualifying points within a calendar year to get it.  Once you get the companion pass, it is good for an unlimited number of flights for the rest of that year and all of the next.  You can then book yourself on paid or award flights and add your companion for free (plus TSA fees).

While there are many ways to earn the needed 110,000 Southwest points, the best current option is to use points to buy a 7 Night Marriott Travel Package.  In exchange for points, Marriott Travel Packages give you a certain number of airline miles and a certificate for a 7 night Marriott stay.

Marriott_hotelplusAir_SouthwestRapidRewards.png

As you can see in the chart above, you can buy a 7 Night + 120,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards Points package for 270,000 Marriott Rewards points.  One way to get those 270,000 Marriott points is to convert 1 to 3 from 90,000 SPG points.  If you do this, I recommend buying the travel package as early in the calendar year as possible.  That way you’ll get a Southwest Companion Pass that is good for almost two full years.

Many other hotel chains allow members to convert points to Southwest miles, but usually at very poor transfer ratios. The best options I’m aware of are Choice Hotels (6000 Choice Privileges points = 1800 Southwest) and Hyatt (50,000 Hyatt points = 30,000 Southwest).  With the latter, if you have a large stash of Chase Ultimate Rewards points, you could transfer Ultimate Rewards points 1 to 1 to Hyatt and then 50K to 30K to Southwest.  Obviously with this path you would be losing points compared to simply transferring from Ultimate Rewards to Southwest directly, but the direct path does not help you get a Companion Pass.

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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Comments

  1. As always, great post!

    Can you provide a recommendation on how best to “gift”a SWA companion pass ……say using the Marriott hotel and air package?

    I’ve got mine and my husbands SWA companion pass secured through 2017 but would like to secure a companion pass for my son and his fiancé. I was thinking the Marriott route might work and I have a 7 night stay requirement for an upcoming trip.

    • I think that the Marriott route would work. Here’s how I would do it:
      1. Move 50K Marriott points to your son’s Marriott account
      2. On Jan 1 (or soon thereafter), with your son, contact Marriott Rewards and say that the two of you want to book a Travel package and use points from both accounts.
      3. Select the 120K Southwest package and give them your son’s southwest number.

  2. Is there also still the opportunity to return the 7 night feet in echange for points to bring down he cost of the SWCP. If I remeber correctly I believe it was mentioned they’ll give you 45k points back in exchange for the cert, does that sound correct?

  3. I am awash with Virgin Atlantic miles and think I should buy IHG points with some to get this Spire status. When’s the best time to do this – December 2016 or January 2017?

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