How I’m Going To Qualify for Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite For Free(ish)
In this article, we’ll look at how to qualify for Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite at a significant discount. We’ll cover my plan for 2020 to earn Platinum Elite status for 2021, as well as what Platinum Elite is worth, comparing its perks compared to Gold. I intend to spend $0 extra of my own money to earn Platinum Elite status next year. There will be some credit card annual fees that I would normally pay anyway but nothing extra.
What is Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite Worth?
I’m aware that sticking with Marriott is not popular in this hobby. I bet a lot of people are reading my question “what’s it worth?” and saying “nothing”. After their merger with SPG and the numerous issues it’s caused, “Bonvoy”, the name of their new rewards program, has become a pejorative. Despite that, I am still getting value from it. 2020 will be my last year pursuing Platinum Elite status (which will then apply for 2021), and that’s because of these issues.
The reason I haven’t jumped ship is because we still have points and free night certificates to use for stays. When the points are gone, we’ll join the crowd of people who only stay at Marriott when the credit card Annual Free Night Certificate posts to the account. Until then, it’s worth earning the status for extra perks.
Perks from Platinum Elite Status
The best way to look at what this is worth is to compare it against Gold (the level below it) and see the differences. Here are the differences between Gold and Platinum in the Marriott Bonvoy program:
- Points Bonus On Stays: Gold: 25% / Platinum: 50%
- Late Check-Out: Gold: 2pm / Platinum: 4pm
- Welcome Gift at Check-In: Gold: 500 points / Platinum: 500 points PLUS another item
- Room Upgrades: Gold: Yes — but not suites / Platinum: Yes, including suites
- Lounge Access: Gold:No / Platinum: Yes
- Guaranteed Room Type: Gold: No / Platinum: Yes
- Annual Choice Benefit: Gold: No / Platinum: Yes
Items Without Value
I assign $0 value to the late check-out difference of 2 hours. I also see $0 tangible value to the “guaranteed room type” item. The room upgrades are a perk if you can get upgraded into a suite, but I wouldn’t pursue Platinum for this. It’s a low figure in my eyes. The most I could assign this would be $50 annual if I had to make up a number.
Items With Value
The other areas are where the value comes in. Lounge access gives free drinks and meals during the day, which saves money on your trip. Not all hotels have lounges, so I’ll assume 10% of my stays next year x $30/day savings = $3. With 25 days in my plan (more on that later), we’ll get $75 theoretically. People who only stay at higher-end Marriott brands could massively inflate the value of this.
The points bonus earning and the welcome gifts also add value. Members earn 2.5 points / $1 on room stays. Platinum members get 50%, but this isn’t significant in itself. While Gold members get 500 welcome points at check-in, Platinum members get to choose another welcome gift in addition. There’s massive value opportunity here. Free breakfast, 1000 points, credit vouchers for the snack shop – all of these are valuable. On our trip to the Maldives, breakfast was $35 per person, plus 12% tax. That was a savings of $78.40 per day x 5 days = $392 by getting free breakfast.
These are very situational, depending on where you’re staying, which brand, number of nights per stay, etc. (The full terms of welcome gifts and benefits by brand are here) However, Platinum Elite status can help you save money and earn points faster if you’re going to stay at Marriott hotels. The faster the points add up, the sooner you can use them for another free night.
My Plan to Qualify for Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite At A Big Discount
I will qualify for Platinum Elite status for next year, and that will add some benefits during my stays in 2019. However, I’m not going to use any of those benefits in the math for this. That way, it’s simple for others to follow and see how they could do the same. My plan involves a combination of my points, my wife’s points, credit card perks, and a lesser-known chunk of 10 nights for cheap.
Platinum Elite status requires earning 50 nights of credits in a year. Here’s how I’ll add up to 50:
- 15 – Credits from having any Marriott credit card
- 10 – Credits from Marriott meeting program
- 3 – Annual Free Night Certificates
- 2 – Nights using Marriott reimbursement credit
- 3 – Nights using wife’s Marriott reimbursement credit
- 17 – Stays using points
15 Nights – Have A Marriott Credit Card
You automatically get 15 nights of credit for having a Marriott credit card. Any one of the following works:
- Marriott Bonvoy Boundless card from Chase
- Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card from American Express
- The Marriott Bonvoy Business from American Express
- Marriott Bonvoy Bold from Chase
Note that you don’t get 30 credits by having 2 cards. Also, while the American Express Platinum and American Express Business Platinum do offer you complimentary Gold status, you don’t get elite night credits with the status though.
10 Nights – Host A Meeting
The Marriott Rewarding Events program offers points and stay credits for hosting meetings at Marriott. This doesn’t get a ton of attention (and several of the sales reps don’t know much about it, so make sure you get this written in the contract if doing one). Being a freelancer and running my own business, I can use this once a year for a meeting with someone I don’t want to invite to my house or when needing a professional-looking space during a video chat. Prices vary, but I’m able to host a meeting at a hotel near me for $100, and I also earn points – but not much. I will pay this with my American Express Bonvoy Brilliant card and get reimbursed because of the $300 annual perk. I have $200 more in credit and only need 25 nights now. I’m halfway there and haven’t spent an extra dime outside of annual fees.
3 Nights – Annual Free Night Certificates
Every Marriott credit card comes with an annual free night certificate. I have the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless card, The Marriott Bonvoy Business, and American Express Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant. I’ll get 3 free nights to stay in 2020. 22 nights to go. These cards do come with a total in annual fees of $670.
2 Nights – Marriott Reimbursement Credit
Since I have $200 remaining in reimbursement credits from the Bonvoy Brilliant card, I’ll use this on stays at properties under $100/night. (Yes, this is possible. Marriott even lets you filter for hotels under $100/night during your search). That will allow me to get 2 nights out of this. 20 nights to go.
3 Nights – Marriott Reimbursement Credit On Wife’s Credit Card
My wife will become eligible for the Amex Bonvoy Brilliant card in the middle of 2020. I’ll refer her for the card (and get a referral bonus of 15,000 points). She’ll immediately have this $300 credit. We can pay with her card but make a reservation in my name so I get the stay credits. Used on hotels under $100/night this gives 3 more nights. 17 nights to go. (note: this does add an annual fee of $450 for the card)
17 Nights – Stays Using Points
Currently, I have 33,600 points in my account. If I refer my wife for the Bonvoy Brilliant card in the middle of 2020, I’ll get 15,000 points. She can transfer up to 100,000 points to me next year (50,000 at a time). By transferring the points to me, we can make reservations in my name for me to get credit on my account. Between what she has now and the welcome bonus from opening a card, she’ll have more than enough to transfer 100,000 to me.
We’ll also get 6x points on the $300 each from our reimbursed spend on the credit cards. Members earn 2.5 points per dollar on room rate, but I’ll get 50% more. That $500 of room rates (which are covered by the credit cards’ reimbursement) will yield me 1875 points. That gives me 150,475 points to play with if I don’t count any other perks.
So, how does 150,475 points yield 17 nights? Marriott has a perk for a 5th night free after booking 4 nights on points. That stretches the points. I also tend to choose the option needing the least points when using my own points. I choose the fancy places only when using the free night certificate. I’ll stretch my points here, because I know that the countries I haven’t visited yet include large parts of Central Asia and Africa, where it’s not hard to find Marriott hotels for 7,500 points per night. 150,475 divided by 17 nights is 8,8571 average, and that’s if I never use the 5th night free. This is easily doable in my travel plans.
What Doesn’t Count?
It’s important to note that you can’t get credit from stays in someone else’s name. My wife has free night certificates, but I can’t get credit from those. There’s no way to transfer them to my name so I can get credit. If the reservation is made from someone else’s account, you can’t get the stay credit. Otherwise, this would be even easier to qualify for Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite for free(ish).
Annual Choice Benefit at 50 Nights – Which to Choose?
After earning 50 nights, you’ll qualify for Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite for free. Platinum members can choose a gift at this point:
- 5 nights of credit
- Give Silver Elite status to someone
- Buy a Marriott mattress at 40% off
- 5 suite night requests
- $100 charity donation
Silver Elite status just isn’t worth gifting to someone – neither for value or for how easy it is to get. I’m guessing no one wants to buy the mattress, and the charity donation is probably a rare choice. The real options become the suite night credits or 5 nights of credits. Here are the pros and cons:
- 5 nights credits: if you’re passing Platinum and going to be close to Titanium (the next level), this would drop the requirement from 75 to 70. The credit applies this year, so it can’t help you earn Platinum next year. Only choose this if you’ll be close but not all the way to Titanium.
- 5 suite night requests: these are not guaranteed, and when staying at a popular spot during high season or most times in the U.S. means these might not get approved. The upgrade to a suite is a request, not a guarantee. However, I’ve never had any of mine get denied, as long as the hotel participates. Also, note that you can’t use these if you did the advanced discounted rate on a cash stay. Cash value on this varies greatly but was over $400 for our night at the St. Regis Doha in Qatar. This is likely the most common choice of benefit for people hitting Platinum and not Titanium-bound.
This hobby is about maximizing value where possible. For me, there is still value to be maximized at Marriott, because I can earn Platinum Elite status for $0 extra out of pocket. This does include $1,120 in annual fees but I get way more value then that out of the cards. This way, I’ll enjoy extra benefits during my stays, like the Mercedes S-Class that picked me up at the airport in Kuwait. If it would cost me extra money, I’d take a hard look at the cost-benefit ratio and decide if this status is worth it. Probably not. Since it’s not costing me anything extra than what I would normally pay, it’s definitely worth it.
I’m aware others are on the “never Marriott” boat. I wasn’t an SPG loyalist before the merger, so that probably factors in. There’s value to be had in getting elite status this way IF AND ONLY IF you’re going to use it. Once our points run out, we won’t pursue Platinum Elite status. There’s no point if you’re not staying enough nights to enjoy the benefits. I have enough points and free nights to earn it and use it. I’ll enjoy it for some free nights in 2021 using my free night certificates and some free nights booked with whatever points we have remaining from 2020 activities. Once those points are gone, I’ll only stay at Marriott with my free night certificates. I’ll also downgrade our Bonvoy Brilliant cards to reduce annual fees after the status is no longer a goal.
I’m not loyal to any brand, only to which account has points in it. That’s how to maximize value. When possible, I’ll get status for maximizing those free stays even further. Now you know how to qualify for Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite at a big discount next year. Does anyone do something similar?
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