Four months Platinum with Marriott

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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.”

Why Marriott

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

     
2012-08-11 10.58.27-1   We arrived at the hotel at about 9 in the morning.  At the desk I was immediately told that they were not yet checking in guests, but after looking up my name in the system the story changed.  As a valued Platinum member they had a room ready for us!  Plus, they had upgraded us to a harbor view room.  For the Platinum arrival gift we chose cheese & crackers and a bottle of beer.  The club lounge was closed for the weekend so the arrival gift was the only free food for us.  This photo shows the view from our room.
     

 

The Inn at Bay Harbor (Renaissance)

     
2012-08-19 17.23.29   We used points for two separate award stays here (near Petoskey, MI).  Both times we were upgraded to rooms with balconies that overlooked Lake Michigan.  On our second stay, due to a booking snafu, we were upgraded to a beautiful two room suite.  This resort does not have a club lounge, but does offer their very extensive and excellent buffet breakfast free for elite members. For both stays we took wine & cheese as our arrival gift which we enjoyed while sitting on the balcony watching the view.
     

Courtyard X 2

     
image   I didn’t have enough real paid stays to complete the challenge so I checked into a couple of Courtyard motels at a low rate. Thankfully, my wife qualifies for government rates. One of the two motels did ask for ID upon check-in. We were offered a choice of 250 points or one free item from their food pantry.  I took the points.
     

 

Dearborn Inn

     
image   My family had a mini “staycation” here in order to knock off another night of the challenge.  This hotel surprised us with a terrific evening spread in the club lounge.  We had planned to go out for dinner, but instead we feasted for free on Roast Beef & Gnocchi and various delicious noodle dishes. Later, we stuffed our faces with cake.  Breakfast was decent, but unremarkable.
     

Springhill Suites, Detroit Airport

     
image   The primary purpose of this was to get another stay closer to completing the challenge, but I also used this as a convenient way to show up on time for my morning Global Entry interview at the airport (which went well, thanks for asking).  The hotel was fine, but unremarkable.  As with the Courtyard stays, there were no particular Platinum benefits other than the choice of 250 points or a pantry item.
     

St. Pancras Renaissance London Hotel

     
2012-11-18 15.49.25   We spent four nights at this very impressive hotel.  Thanks to my Platinum status we were able to check in at around 1 PM. We were “upgraded” to an executive room which, while nice, is most likely pretty much exactly like every other room in the new section of the hotel.  Prior to this stay, I had filled out requests via Marriott’s Virtual Concierge service. I had asked for an upgrade to the more elegant “Chambers” section of the hotel.  Their response was to offer an upgrade for a fee. No thank you. I also asked for travel information, but never heard back.  Overall, the Virtual Concierge service was a bust. On the other hand, thanks to my Platinum status we had unlimited access to their wonderful club room which provided breakfast, afternoon tea, evening appetizers, and amazing service.  We twice tried their restaurant for breakfast (also free for us) but found the service to be spectacularly bad.  On the plus side, we asked for and were granted 4PM late checkout on our final day of the stay.
     

London Heathrow Marriott Hotel

     
image   For our last night in London, we stayed near the airport in preparation for our morning return flight.  This hotel had a very nice central atrium and large bedrooms.  The lounge had a very nice food selection in the morning and evening.  This and the Dearborn Inn were the only lounges we visited in which the evening spread made for a decent free dinner.
     

Ann Arbor Marriott Ypsilanti at Eagle Crest

     
image   This was another “mattress run” and the final stay needed to complete the challenge. I was put into an ordinary room with a very nice lake view.  This resort is beautifully decorated and I imagine it would make for a very nice staycation in the summer.  The lounge was nice, but the food wasn’t. 
     

Benefits Summarized

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:

Free Breakfast

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!

Suite Upgrades

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.

Summary

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.

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