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Elite status can make travel more comfortable and rewarding with perks like bonus points, upgrades and lounge access. Generally, the qualification requirements are pretty steep, requiring tens of thousands of flight miles with one airline or dozens of nights at the same hotel chain — or even spending thousands of dollars. Thankfully, many loyalty programs also offer “status challenges” that are better suited to less frequent travelers, and the recent Marriott-Starwood merger has made one of these challenges even more lucrative than before.
The terms are pretty simple: Stay nine paid nights in a three-month rolling period and get SPG Gold status, or stay 18 and get Platinum.
This is much more doable for non-business travelers, as the normal requirements are 25 nights in a year for Gold and 50 for Platinum. You’re eligible for the challenge if you’ve never completed an SPG status challenge before, and have not held the status you’re challenging for in the last five years. Only paid nights count toward the challenge, not SPG award nights. Registering is free and easy; simply call SPG customer service (1-888-625-4988) or email firstname.lastname@example.org to request the challenge.
Now, 18 (or even nine) paid nights are a lot, and this challenge isn’t ideal for everyone. When the SPG-Marriott merger is finalized, this particular opportunity will likely go away for good, so if there’s any way you can meet the requirements, either by switching upcoming travel over to SPG or just taking a spontaneous vacation, it could be worth it. Platinum elites enjoy a generous list of benefits, including room upgrades, welcome gifts and significant point bonuses. Alternatively, you can get free SPG Gold status from the Platinum Card® from American Express and avoid the challenge altogether.
Once you complete the challenge, make sure you link your SPG and Marriott accounts for a free status match — two for the price of one! Some unexpected travel early this year led to me staying ~20 nights at an SPG property in Houston, so I went ahead and registered myself for the Platinum challenge. Within a day of completing my last stay, my SPG account already reflected my new elevated status. I quickly logged in to Marriott and took advantage of the free status match, netting me top-tier status with both programs. I was almost done, until I remembered a unique benefit Marriott extends to its Platinum elites…
Marriott and United have a very close relationship that leads to some great perks for members, including a 10% mileage bonus when selecting United MileagePlus for your Hotel + Air package. One lesser-known benefit is that Marriott Platinum members get free United MileagePlus Premier Silver status.
The benefit isn’t applied automatically, but after requesting my RewardsPlus match at www.mrrewardsplus.com, my United status was awarded within two days.
So, altogether, from a free status challenge, here’s what I was able to earn:
- SPG Platinum status, worth $3,085 according to TPG
- Marriott Platinum status, worth $3,760 according to TPG
- United Premier Silver status, worth $920 according to TPG
The exact dollar benefit will obviously vary from person to person depending on your travel habits, but it shouldn’t be hard for most people to get several thousand dollars of value out of this strategy. Hopefully this post has made it clear that there are workarounds for earning status and receiving significant perks even if you can’t qualify through the usual requirements.
Have you leveraged a status challenge to match across loyalty programs?
Know before you go.
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