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Maximizing RewardsPlus with Marriott and United

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In addition to offering their own programs, a variety of major travel brands run partnerships with each other to cross-promote their businesses and encourage customer loyalty. Below, TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Nick Ewen takes a look at one such partnership: Marriott and United’s RewardsPlus.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen a number of travel providers join forces in unique, yet valuable ways. Uber has been a big part of this, launching partnerships with Starwood Preferred Guest, Capital One and American Airlines, among other brands, but we’ve also seen agreements between Hyatt and M life, United and Hertz and SPG and Emirates. Earlier this month, I profiled the Crossover Rewards program with SPG and Delta, one of the first of its kind. Today, I’m going to shift gears and analyze a similar program launched just a few months later: RewardsPlus with Marriott and United.

The RewardsPlus program is a great way to make the most of stays with Marriott and flights with United.
The RewardsPlus program is a great way to make the most of stays with Marriott and flights with United.

Let’s start with a quick overview of the program, which was also launched back in 2013 but works a bit differently than the Crossover Rewards program. Instead of offering elite members bonus points or miles for doing business with the other program, you’ll enjoy automatic reciprocal status. Here are the details:

  • Marriott Platinum elite members enjoy automatic United Premier Silver status
  • United Global Services, Premier 1K, Premier Platinum and Premier Gold members enjoy automatic Marriott Gold status

In addition, all United elite members (including Premier Silver flyers) can convert up to 50,000 MileagePlus miles each calendar year to Marriott Rewards points at a 1:1 ratio. Unfortunately, this isn’t a spectacular value proposition. TPG pegs United miles at 1.5 cents apiece in his most recent valuations, while Marriott Rewards points come in at just 0.7 cents apiece. You’re thus giving up more than half of the value of your miles if you go this route.

However, you don’t have to have elite status in one of the programs to take advantage of the RewardsPlus program. All members have access to some additional perks:

  • Convert Marriott Rewards points to United MileagePlus miles and save 20%
  • 10% more MileagePlus miles when you redeem Marriott Rewards points for a travel package (up to 12,000 bonus miles)

The nice thing about this partnership is that there are ways to utilize it without elite status, a noticeable difference between RewardsPlus and Crossover Rewards. However, does it really make sense to do so?

Here are my thoughts on how you can maximize the RewardsPlus partnership between Marriott and United:

1. Link Your Accounts

See what it's like to fly United's 747 on a domestic route.
Marriott Platinum members enjoy automatic Silver Premier status with United, which includes complimentary Economy Plus seats at check-in.

If you’re an elite member with United or a Platinum member with Marriott, the first step to take is relatively obvious but essential: Linking your accounts to activate the reciprocal elite benefits. There are two different links to use, depending on whether you are a current United or Marriott elite. Here are the details:

United Elites:

  • Visit United’s RewardsPlus landing page.
  • Click on “Sign up to double your status” (or “Convert your MileagePlus award miles to Marriott Rewards points one-for-one” if you’re only Premier Silver).
  • Enter your MileagePlus number, PIN/password and email address, accept the terms and conditions, then click “Sign in.”

Once United has verified your eligibility, you can link your Marriott Rewards account to earn the upgrade to Gold status. Remember that this match is only available to Premier Gold flyers and higher, though Premier Silvers can sign up to convert United miles to Marriott Rewards points at a 1:1 ratio.

Marriott Platinums:

  • Visit Marriott’s RewardsPlus landing page.
  • Click on “Join RewardsPlus.”
  • Log in to your Marriott Rewards account.

Once Marriott has verified your eligibility as a Platinum member, you can link your MileagePlus account and earn the upgrade to Premier Silver on United.

It’s worth noting that the FAQ page on Marriott’s site and the terms and conditions on United’s site both indicate that it can take 7-10 days for the matched status to appear. You can then expect your elite credentials to arrive via snail mail in 4-6 weeks.

If you’re a Marriott Platinum or United elite, this is hopefully something you’ve already done, but it’s a critical first step. You’d be surprised at how many people miss out on points or miles by not signing up for programs or partnerships like this. In fact, when TPG commissioned a survey from The Princeton Group to find out how people are using their points and miles, he found out that a whopping 33% of travelers don’t even bother collecting them at all! Don’t miss out on these rewards by not signing up.

2. Utilize a Status Match or Challenge

united elite featured
If you can fulfill the status challenge requirements with United, you could enjoy elite benefits when flying and when staying at Marriott properties.

Of course, if you don’t currently have status with either program but want to take advantage of these benefits, you could try to take advantage of a status match or status challenge. However, before you get too excited, it’s important to note that you are not eligible for the reciprocal benefits if you hold temporary status. Here’s the specific language from the program’s terms of use when it comes to United Premier Silver status:

“Members who meet the Criteria as a result of holding trial Elite status in the Marriott Rewards Program (and/or The Ritz-Carlton Rewards program), including without limitation as a result of the Marriott Rewards “Taste of Elite” program (or similar The Ritz-Carlton Rewards Program “Taste of Elite” program) are not eligible for complimentary status offerings through the RewardsPlus Program.”

And here’s the section that addresses Marriott Gold Elite status:

“Members who meet the Criteria as a result of holding trial Premier status in MileagePlus, including without limitation as a result of a MileagePlus Premier status match challenge program also are not eligible for complimentary status offerings through the RewardsPlus Program.”

I just so happen to be in the middle of a status challenge with United, and my temporary Premier Gold status is about to expire (I fell well short of the requirements to maintain it). I tried to register my United account and received the following message:

RewardsPlus registration error

As you can see, the program recognized that I was Premier Gold with United but wasn’t eligible for Marriott Gold due to the temporary nature of my status.

However, one of the main benefits of a status challenge is that it can provide a shortcut to elite status. If I had fulfilled the requirements of my current challenge, my United Gold Premier status would’ve been valid through January 2017. Since that no longer would be categorized as “trial” status, I could then match to Marriott Gold.

United actually makes its current status challenge criteria public, and it’s available for requests received through September 30, 2016 (ignore the US Airways options… clearly the site was copied from an old iteration). Here are the requirements to keep the status beyond the 90-day trial:

  • Premier Silver: Fly 7,000 PQMs or 8 PQSs
  • Premier Gold: Fly 12,500 PQMs or 15 PQSs
  • Premier Platinum: Fly 18,000 PQMs or 22 PQSs

Note that all of these flights need to be on United or United Express, and you must include a copy of your current statement or membership card in the program from which you are matching. However, if you are able to hit these thresholds on or after July 1, 2016, your new status will be valid through January 2018. This gives you over a year and a half of United status and (potentially) Marriott Gold status for the same duration.

Unfortunately, Marriott is much stingier when it comes to status challenges, and there isn’t any consistency to the reports on StatusMatcher. Platinum challenges are very rare, so you’ll likely need top-tier status with another chain to even be considered (and even then that may not be enough). To request the match, call Marriott Rewards at 801-468-4000.

3. Open a Credit Card

Marriott-Edition-Miami-featured
The right credit card can bring you closer to elite status with Marriott (and one step closer to complimentary Silver Premier status with United).

Rather than pursuing status with a match or challenge, you could instead open a credit card. Unfortunately, United no longer offers bonus elite-qualifying miles on its current credit cards, though if you managed to keep your Presidential Plus Card from pre-merger Continental, you could earn 1,000 PQMs for every $5,000 you spend. However, remember that cards like the United MileagePlus Explorer Card can help get you out of the revenue-based requirement for elite status that United imposed back in 2014 (unfortunately this waiver doesn’t apply to Premier 1K).

Marriott, on the other hand, does offer some terrific credit card options to help with earning elite status. The first is the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card, which is currently offering an increased sign-up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in your first three months. The card also awards you 15 elite credits every year (so automatic Silver status) plus another elite credit for every $3,000 you spend on the card. If you don’t stay in a single Marriott property, you can thus “purchase” Platinum status for $180,000 in annual purchases.

Another option is the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card, which is currently offering a sign-up bonus of two complimentary nights at any participating Tier 1-4 Ritz-Carlton hotel after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. The card also comes with automatic Gold status for your first account year, but you can earn an upgrade to Platinum status by spending a much more manageable $75,000 on the card in an account year. Even though Ritz-Carlton Rewards is technically its own program, the RewardsPlus partnership terms and conditions explicitly states that Ritz-Carlton Platinum members are eligible for complimentary United Premier Silver status.

4. Book a Vacation Package with Marriott

RewardsPlus packages
The RewardsPlus packages are a significant step above those offered for other airlines.

Another way to make the most of this partnership is by booking a Hotel + Air vacation package through Marriott. I covered these options in depth back in November, but they allow you to redeem Marriott Rewards points for a seven-night (or five-night) hotel stay plus a set amount of points or miles in your chosen airline currency. The exact number of points you need for the redemption depends on two factors:

  1. The category/tier of the hotel
  2. How many airline points/miles you want

As mentioned above, the RewardsPlus partnership allows all Marriott Rewards and United MileagePlus members to receive a 10% bonus when you select a vacation package that includes a Marriott stay and United miles. This starts at a 5,000-mile bonus (55,000 instead of the “standard” 50,000) and gets up to 12,000 bonus miles (132,000 instead of 120,000). In the above post, I included a link to a spreadsheet I created that calculates which packages make mathematical sense based on TPG’s most recent valuations. In essence, it highlights the specific packages where the total value of the seven-night stay plus the given amount of airline points/miles is more than the total number of points required.

Here’s what the spreadsheet looks like if you select United as your desired carrier in cell B2:

Marriott Hotel + Air package spreadsheet

The green boxes indicate that you come out ahead when booking the package and banking the United miles. For example, if you book a Category 5 package with Option 4, you’d take home 132,000 United miles (worth $1,980) plus enjoy a seven-night hotel stay (worth $1,050 if booked by itself). However, this package only requires 270,000 Marriott points (worth $1,890), so you are thus coming out “ahead” by $1,140.

As you can see, almost every single package with United gives you positive value.

5. Transfer Points to United

united first class featured
You may be able to get more value out of United miles than Marriott points, making the 20% discount on transfers quite intriguing.

The final way to make the most of this partnership is to convert Marriott Rewards points to United MileagePlus miles. As mentioned above, all Marriott and United travelers can take advantage of this option and enjoy a discount of 20%. Once again the number of miles you’d receive depends on the number of points you convert, but there are four different redemption options ranging from 8,000 points to 112,000 points. Here’s a table that breaks down these transfer rates and highlights the overall gain (or loss) you’d get from these transactions:

Redemption Option

Marriott Points Required

Value

United Miles Earned

Value

Gain (Loss)

Option 1

8,000

$56

2,000

$30

($26 or ~46.4%)

Option 2

16,000

$112

5,000

$75

($37 or ~33%)

Option 3

24,000

$168

10,000

$150

($18 or ~10.7%)

Option 4

56,000

$392

25,000

$375

($17 or ~4.3%)

Option 5

112,000

$784

50,000

$750

($34 or ~4.3%)

As you can see, every option is technically a losing proposition, but this assumes that you can only get 1.5 cents apiece from your United award tickets. If you have a specific and more valuable redemption in mind (like Lufthansa first class) and don’t have a need for a bunch of Marriott Rewards points, it could make sense to take advantage of this discount, especially the fourth and fifth options.

Bottom Line

The travel industry has been full of innovation when it comes to partnerships over the past few years, and these alliances have opened up some great ways to double-dip when you hit the road. While the Crossover Rewards program with Delta and SPG kicked off this frenzy, Marriott and United didn’t waste any time in launching a similar program just a few months later. What will be especially interesting to watch is the outcome of the pending Marriott and SPG merger, as one (or both) of these programs will likely be changed significantly (or even canceled). However, that’s still a ways off, and hopefully this post has given you some suggestions on how to maximize the RewardsPlus partnership until then!

How have you taken advantage of the RewardsPlus program?

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Intro APR Regular APR Annual Fee Foreign Transaction Fee Credit Rating
N/A 16.24% - 23.24% Variable $85 0% Excellent Credit