Hacking your way to Marriott Platinum and United Silver status

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Here’s how to go from no status to top-tier elite with Marriott and first-level elite with United…

Recently United Airlines and Marriott announced that they have teamed up to offer “RewardsPlus”.  With RewardsPlus, you can link your Marriott Rewards account to your United MileagePlus account in order to gain elite benefits:

  • United elite members (Premier Gold or higher) receive complimentary Marriott Gold Elite status (which is great because it gets you free internet and free lounge access at most Marriott hotels).
  • Marriott Platinum elite members receive complimentary United MileagePlus Premier Silver status (which provides access to Economy Plus seating, complimentary upgrades, free checked bag, etc.)

Linking the accounts will also give you these point transfer benefits:

  • Convert Marriott Rewards points to MileagePlus miles at a 20% discount.
  • Receive 10% more MileagePlus miles when you book the trip of a lifetime and redeem for a Marriott Rewards Travel Package–up to 12,000 more miles
  • All MileagePlus Premier members can convert their MileagePlus miles into Marriott Rewards points at a 1:1 ratio, up to 50,000 miles per year.  (Editor’s note: don’t do this!  United miles are worth much more than Marriott points!)

The benefit I’ll focus on today is the ability to get United Silver status if you have Marriott Platinum status.

Going from nothing to elite

The trick here is to fast track your way to Marriott Platinum status, then make use of the new RewardsPlus program to get United Silver status.  Here’s how…

Step 1: Signup for Marriott’s Taste of Platinum Challenge

Marriott offers two ways to fast track to elite status: the Gold Challenge and the Platinum Challenge.  The Gold challenge confers temporary Gold status and requires 6 stays to keep the status for the rest of the year and the year following.  The Platinum challenge confers temporary Platinum status and requires 9 stays to keep the status for the rest of the year and the year following. 

Of course, since the RewardsPlus program confers United Silver status to Marriott Platinum elites, it is the Platinum Challenge we’re interested in here.  Call Marriott Rewards to ask for the Platinum challenge.  If you are only offered the Gold challenge, tell them you’ll think about it and call back later.  Call back later and try again. 

Lately, Marriott has been reticent to give out Platinum challenges to just anyone.  They prefer to see some recent Marriott stays in your account.  If you’ve stayed recently at a Marriott property, wait until the stay shows up on your account before calling to request the challenge.  Anecdotally, it may also help to have the Marriott Rewards Premier credit card, but I haven’t seen evidence about that one way or another.

If you sign up for the challenge mid-month, the challenge will last for the rest of the month plus three full months afterwards.  If you signup on the first day of the month, then the challenge will last just 3 months.  So, the way to have the longest possible challenge is to signup on the second day of a month.

Step 2: Get United Silver status (maybe)

Once you are enrolled in Marriott’s Platinum Challenge, your account will show that you have Platinum status.  So, it should be possible at that point to get free Silver status from United!  Sign up here.

Step 3: Fulfill the Platinum Challenge

If you want to keep your Platinum status beyond the timeframe of the challenge, then you need to complete 9 paid stays (Note that two or more consecutive nights in the same hotel counts as only 1 stay).  If you have that much travel planned anyway, then that’s great!  If not, consider doing “mattress runs”.  This is where you find the cheapest Marriott property available and check in one night at a time just for the stay credit.  If you do it right, it can actually be pretty lucrative:

  • Sign up for Marriott’s latest 2 for 1 promotion.  Marriott regularly runs promotions in which you get one free night stay for every two paid stays.  It varies whether you’ll be offered free stays in category 1 through 4 hotels, or 1 through 5 hotels.  Either way, this is a valuable benefit.  Usually the promotion is limited to earning 3 free nights, but the promotions tend to run each quarter and if you straddle two promotions just right, it’s possible to earn more than 3 free nights.
  • Save money by buying discount Marriott gift cards (search GiftCardGranny.com, for example).  Note that you can’t use gift cards for prepaid rates, though.
  • Save money by booking through a cash back portal.  I recommend searching Cashbackholic.com to find the best options for Marriott.
  • Remember that, as a Marriott Platinum member, you’ll earn 15 points per dollar for all of your stays (instead of the usual 10 points per dollar).

Keep in mind that pursing Platinum status might not make sense for you.  It can be a lot of work to find the best hotel rates and to actually go check into each hotel just for purpose of meeting the challenge.  And, of course, regardless of the benefits you get, it costs money.

For a complete overview of the Platinum Challenge, please see this post:

For details about how (and why) I fulfilled the Platinum Challenge, see the following posts:

 

Step 4: Get United Silver status

In the unlikely event that step 2 didn’t work, you can be sure that once you’ve fulfilled the Platinum Challenge, you are unquestionably entitled to United Silver status.  Sign up here.

Easy Alternatives

You can get many of the same benefits as Marriott Platinum status and United Silver status just by signing up for a couple of credit cards:

  • With the United MileagePlus card ($95 annual fee), you get a free checked bag and priority boarding (but you won’t get complimentary upgrades or Economy Plus seating).
  • With the Ritz Carlton Rewards card ($395 annual fee), among many other benefits, you get Gold status which gives you free internet and lounge access at most Marriott hotels (but after the first year you have to spend $10K or more each year to keep Gold status).

If you’re not tied to United and/or Marriott, consider these alternatives as well:

  • The Priority Club Visa card gives you automatic Platinum status with IHG hotels (Holiday Inn, Intercontinental, etc.)
  • The Hilton Reserve card gives you automatic Hilton Gold status.  Free internet & breakfast!
  • It is possible to earn high level Delta elite status through spend with a few Delta credit cards.  See, for example: Mileage running, from home.
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