- Benefits of Staying with the largest Global Hotel Operator
- Earning Elite Status
- Status Challenge Resources
- Matches vs. Challenges
- Requesting a Status Challenge
- Gold Challenge – 6 Stays
- Platinum Challenge – 9 Stays
- Shortcut to Starwood Platinum Status?
- Should you Pursue a Marriott Status Challenge?
Marriott’s Rewards program is one of the most well known and popular rewards programs in the world. Marriott’s brand awareness is primarily due to its size and scale as the largest hotel operator in the world. Normally Marriott’s program requires 75 nights in a calendar year to earn top level, platinum status. I’m going to discuss an alternative option to earning top level platinum status without staying the full 75 nights normally required.
Benefits of Staying with the largest Global Hotel Operator
In 2015, Marriott operated 4,424 hotels globally (759,330 rooms). When Marriott’s acquisition of Starwood closes in mid 2016, Marriott’s global footprint will increase to 5,700 hotels (1.1 million rooms) globally. The Starwood acquisition will significantly increase Marriott’s footprint and will create the largest hotel operator in the world (with Hilton as the number 2).
Marriott’s rewards program has two major selling points to customers. As the largest hotel operator in the world, you can be sure that you will be able to find a Marriott hotel no matter where you happen to be traveling. The other major selling point is Marriott’s strong positioning within the corporate travel market.
If you’re already staying at Marriott branded hotels as part of your day job, why not stay with Marriott during your personal travel and utilize some of those Marriott points from work towards free hotel stays? This is a pretty compelling argument which has resulted in very high membership rates in Marriott’s rewards program. In fact, this argument convinced me to join Marriott’s program many years ago due to my own work travel.
Earning Elite Status
So if you’ve taken the first step of joining Marriott’s program, the next question is whether it makes sense to earn elite status in the program. The question is most relevant if your work travel only gets you part of the way to elite status with Marriott.
Marriott’s top level platinum status requires 75 qualifying nights in one calendar year period. Mid-level gold status requires 50 qualifying nights in one year. The lowest level, silver, requires 10 qualifying nights in one calendar year.
In comparison to Marriott, Hyatt’s top level diamond status only requires 25 eligible stays or 50 eligible nights in a calendar year. This means that if you spent 25 nights at different hotels in one year, you would achieve top tier status at Hyatt, but would still need to spend another 50 nights at different hotels to earn the same status level at Marriott.
The high number of required nights is the main reason some people choose not to pursue platinum status unless they have a heavy travel schedule. This is also the main reason why I haven’t pursued platinum status with Marriott even though I frequently stay at Marriott’s when traveling for work.
However, there is an alternative method for earning mid-level and top-tier status with Marriott that doesn’t require staying 50 or 75 nights a year in different hotels. Marriott periodically offers status matches and status challenges. These promotions offer Marriott Rewards members with the ability to earn elite status with significantly lower stays than what is normally required. Marriott does not publicly advertise status matches or status challenges so the details are not widely known by most members.
Status Challenge Resources
I use 3 main resources for finding out about current status matches and status challenges. The first source is Statusmatcher.com. Statusmatcher relies on user submitted feedback from their individual experiences requesting status matches and / or status challenges from the Marriott Rewards program. Statusmatcher is regularly updated and provides good information on status challenges and matches for all major airline and hotel programs.
Another source of timely information on status matches and challenges is the Marriott forum on Flyertalk.com. The Flyertalk forums are a great source of current information. The only downside of the Flyertalk forums is that it can take a little bit of time to sort through the information to find the answer to your question. Also, be aware that most users on Flyertalk are advanced and they can get annoyed if new users ask questions that have already been answered.
The final source of current information would be Loyalty Lobby. John Ollila does a really good job keeping track of all the current hotel and airline promotions. He also specifically writes about status matches and status challenges for the major loyalty programs. I actually used information from his site to earn gold status with Hilton many years ago through a status challenge. Loyalty Lobby is a good site for beginners that aren’t ready to jump into Flyertalk just yet.
For additional information on maximizing airline and hotel loyalty programs see the following resources:
- Travel Free: 2014 Second Edition
- The Travel Hacking Pocket Guide: Work the Airlines’ System, Save Money, and Travel the World
- How To Fly For Free: Practical Tips The Airlines Don’t Want You To Know
Matches vs. Challenges
Status matches are typically preferable to status challenges. With a status match, Marriott will give you the requested status benefits upfront. You get to keep the status for the current year and the next full year if you meet the requirements of the status match. With a status challenge, you only earn the requested status after completing the requirements.
I expect to travel more frequently at work over the next six months. Since I will most likely be staying at Marriott’s, I thought it would be worthwhile to see if I’m eligible for a status match or a status challenge with Marriott. When requesting a status match with Marriott you can either contact Marriott Member Rewards customer service by phone or by email.
Requesting a Status Challenge
I chose to call Marriott Rewards directly. Since I will be traveling very soon, I wanted an answer right away. The chances of receiving a status match may be slightly better by email than by phone, but the downside of email is waiting a day or two for a response.
When requesting a status match, the best approach is to use common sense with a bit of charm and persuasion. Put yourself in the phone representative’s shoes and consider what type of person you would most likely grant a status match. I wouldn’t give it to anyone who called with an obnoxious or arrogant attitude. Also be aware that the ability for any Marriott representative to grant a status match changes frequently based on the competitive landscape, but it never hurts to ask.
I currently have gold elite status with Marriott. My diamond status with Hyatt expires at the end of this year and I don’t expect to reach the full 25 stays or 50 nights necessary to earn it again in 2017. In my case it makes sense to leverage my current status with Hyatt to see if I can earn a status match with Marriott.
Unfortunately, the Marriott representative I spoke to informed me that they couldn’t offer a direct status match with Hyatt at the current time. However, they were able to offer me a status challenge. Currently Marriott has both a gold and platinum status challenge available. These are not public offers, but they are available to most customers that have recently stayed with Marriott if you are willing to contact Marriott Rewards customer service and ask for it.
Gold Challenge – 6 Stays
The gold status challenge requires 6 qualified stays in three months. The offer is only available to members that are silver elite and have not received a status challenge from Marriott in the last 12 months. Only stays that are paid for in cash are eligible. Stays paid for with points or with points and cash are not eligible towards the challenge.
Platinum Challenge – 9 Stays
The platinum challenge requires 9 qualified stays in three months. The challenge requires members to have gold status to participate. Members are not eligible if they received a status challenge from Marriott in the last 12 months. The platinum challenge has the same stay requirements as the gold challenge.
I signed up for the Platinum challenge. Based on the requirements, I have until 11/30 to complete the 9 stays required for platinum status. Because of my travel schedule, I have the ability to meet the requirements without paying out of pocket. The only real inconvenience is that I have to stay in a different hotel on multi-day trips. Changing hotel rooms on multiple days is somewhat annoying, but not hard to do when traveling for work.
Shortcut to Starwood Platinum Status?
One of the benefits of Marriott’s recent acquisition of Starwood is the ability to request a status match with Starwood (See: SPG Platinum Shortcuts for Marriott Rewards Members). In essence, the acquisition provides two high level hotel status matches in return for one Marriott Platinum Challenge. I don’t stay at Starwood properties frequently enough to earn high level status. By taking the Marriott Platinum Challenge, its a great opportunity for me to try out Starwood Platinum status.
Should you Pursue a Marriott Status Challenge?
The major question for readers is whether it makes sense to pursue a Marriott status challenge. For readers that have scheduled work travel to meet the 9 stay requirements, it makes sense to pursue a challenge. Status challenges are a great way to earn elite status without meeting the very high annual stay requirements.
For readers without enough scheduled work travel to meet the challenge requirements, I don’t recommend pursuing a Marriott platinum status challenge. If you only stay at Marriott’s sporadically and you still would like to pursue elite status, I recommend aiming for gold status. Marriott gold status is easier to achieve and to maintain. The benefits of Marriott gold status are strong and in many cases are very similar to platinum.
A larger question is whether it makes sense to maintain Marriott status after earning it from a status challenge. I’ll provide my thoughts to that question after I earn platinum status from this challenge and make my own decision about whether I want to keep the status beyond 2017.
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