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Lifetime elite status with an airline or a hotel chain can be a mixed bag. On the one hand, it removes the pressure to re-qualify year-in and year-out, allowing you to reap the rewards of your extended loyalty to one program. However, there’s no guarantee that those benefits will be the same throughout your life, and in some cases, the given program may not even be around forever.
This last fear became reality for many Starwood Preferred Guest loyalists with the announcement of the newly combined Marriott and SPG program, which will take effect in August. While I’ve covered the ins and outs of elite status in the new program, we’ve received dozens of questions about the updated lifetime status scheme, so today I want to go through everything you need to know about this aspect of the program: the good, the bad and (unfortunately) the ugly.
Current Lifetime Status Scheme
Before diving into the new Lifetime Elite Status program, let me start with a quick reminder. Even though the new program will be implemented in August, you still have until December 31, 2018 to qualify under the old requirements. This means that both Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest will live on through the end of the year in at least one respect: earning lifetime elite status.
Here’s how you currently qualify for lifetime status with Marriott:
|Status Level||Qualification Criteria|
|Lifetime Silver Elite||250 nights
1.2 million points
|Lifetime Gold Elite||500 nights
1.6 million points
|Lifetime Platinum Elite||750 nights
2 million points
To see how far along you are toward these thresholds, visit Marriott.com, log in to your account at the top right, click your name and then select Overview. The following page will have your current progress toward elite status, but if you click on Details at the right, it’ll display your lifetime status nights:
Note that Marriott recently removed the ability to see your lifetime points online, but a call to customer service should be able to get that information (mine stand at roughly 155,000, so I have a ways to go!).
Here are the current requirements for lifetime status with SPG:
|Status Level||Qualification Criteria|
|Lifetime Gold||250 nights
5 years of elite status
|Lifetime Platinum||500 nights
10 years of Platinum status
You can also check your progress to SPG lifetime status online. Simply pull up your SPG Dashboard and log in with your account credentials. You can then see your SPG stats for the current year or toggle to your lifetime stats, which should look something like this:
As you can see, the two current programs differ significantly in terms of how you earn lifetime elite status. With Marriott you need a certain number of nights and a certain amount of spending, whereas Starwood requires a certain number of nights coupled with several years of elite status.
Remember that both of these lifetime status schemes remain in effect for this year, but here’s the best part: We’ve received confirmation from Marriott that your activity for the rest of the year at both Marriott and SPG hotels will count toward both of the legacy programs’ qualification criteria. As a result, if you’re within striking distance of any of these levels in one of the programs, it could make a lot of sense to grab the remaining nights and/or base points by December 31, and you have the entire combined portfolio of brands.
Confused yet? Well hang on, because it’s about to get much more complicated.
New Lifetime Elite Status Scheme
When the new program officially launches in August, the new lifetime elite status program will take effect. This has a number of implications but can best be broken down into two distinct groups of current members:
- Those with Lifetime Elite status in either program when the new program launches (or who will earn Lifetime Elite status with one of the “old” programs by December 31)
- Those without current Lifetime Elite status in either program when the new one launches
These can then be further split apart into subgroups, so let’s take a deep dive into each of these.
Current Lifetime Elites
If you currently hold lifetime elite status with either Marriott Rewards or Starwood Preferred Guest, you are not going to “lose” that status under the newly combined program. Instead, your lifetime level will map to one of the four tiers in the new program.
Here’s what that looks like for Marriott lifetime elites:
And here’s what that looks like for SPG lifetime elites:
As noted above, since the “old” criteria remains in effect for the rest of 2018, this same mapping will apply if you reach the lifetime elite qualification thresholds by December 31. In other words, if you’ve held SPG Platinum status for 10+ years and have stayed 490 nights as of August, you would simply need to stay 10 additional nights during the rest of the year to earn “old” SPG Lifetime Platinum status which would then map to “new” Lifetime Platinum status.
Likewise, if you have completed 550 nights with Marriott and accrued 1,550,000 points as of August, you simply need to earn an additional 50,000 Marriott points by December 31 to earn “old” Marriott Gold status which would then map to “new” Lifetime Platinum status.
In addition, Marriott just announced an update for those SPG Lifetime Platinums with 750+ nights (who by definition also have 10 or more years of Platinum status). These members will now be grandfathered into Lifetime Platinum Premier Elite, just like existing Marriott Lifetime Platinum Elite members will be. This is a very positive step for the program, as many SPG Lifetime Platinums were quite bothered by the fact that they had no way to reach Lifetime Premier Platinum Elite in the new program.
This update also impacts current Marriott Rewards members with 750+ nights who are short of the 2 million points required to earn Lifetime Platinum. If you fall into this group and have had Platinum status for 10 or more years, you will also earn Lifetime Platinum Premier Elite status.
Finally, this update also has positive implications for those members with combined activity in the two programs that would reach this level. After initially receiving different information, we’ve now received confirmation from a Marriott representative that when you combine your lifetime activity in August, it will count towards this new threshold of Lifetime Platinum Premier Elite status.
Here’s a direct quote with an illustrative example of this:
“If by 12/31/18 a member has five years Platinum with SPG and 250 nights, and five years Platinum with Marriott Rewards and 500 nights, they qualify [for Lifetime Platinum Premier Elite status].”
Note that 2018 is the only year that you can earn Lifetime Platinum Premier Elite. Once the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, only those who fall into the above categories will be upgraded. The rest of you will fall into the next category…
Those Without Lifetime Elite Status
If you do not fall into the above group, what exactly happens in August? Well the first thing that will happen is that your lifetime stats for each program will be combined to determine whether you are worthy of lifetime elite status in the newly combined program. As you’re about to see, there are two key bits of information that will be relevant to this calculation: nights and years of elite status.
That’s because the new lifetime elite status scheme will only use those two metrics in awarding status. Here’s a breakdown of how to earn lifetime status in the new program:
|Status Level||Qualification Criteria|
|Lifetime Silver Elite||250 nights
5 years of elite status
|Lifetime Gold Elite||400 nights
7 years of Gold status or higher
|Lifetime Platinum Elite||600 nights
10 years of Platinum status
In essence, the new program combines the night requirements that currently exist in both programs (with some numerical tweaks) and the elite status tenure requirements that currently exist for Starwood Preferred Guest. Once you have combined your history with both programs, you’ll earn the corresponding level of elite status for the rest of your life. If you’re still short when your accounts are combined, you’ll then continue to work your way towards the above three lifetime status tiers with every stay you make at one of the new program’s 29 brands.
It’s also worth noting that that previous elite status tenure will map to the new elite levels in the program. In other words, a Marriott Rewards member with 5 years of “old” Gold status (earned by staying 50+ nights) would be credited with 5 years of “new” Platinum Elite status in the newly combined program. As detailed on the FAQ page on Marriott’s website, “Only the names of the levels are changing. How we account for tenure is not changing.”
So how will this actually work in reality? Let’s use my lifetime stats from above to illustrate this. Here’s where I currently stand:
155,232 points (irrelevant under the new scheme)
Elite status for 2 years (Silver Elite)
Starwood Preferred Guest:
197 nights with SPG
Elite status for 5+ years (combination of Platinum and Gold)
Once my stats are combined, I will have the following:
New Marriott program:
Elite status for 7+ years
As a result, I should have Lifetime Silver Elite status in the new program.
What Does It All Mean?
With all of those nuts and bolts out of the way, what does all of this actually mean? Who wins with the new program? Who loses? Who gets a giant kick in the rear and starts shopping with other programs like Hilton Honors? There are many different traveler profiles that will be impacted by these changes, so let’s take a closer look at some of the key groups that are either thanking their lucky stars or hurling expletives at the new program.
Current Marriott Lifetime Platinums Are Loving It.
If you are a current Marriott Lifetime Platinum member, you have been incredibly loyal over the years. 750 nights plus 2 million points is a very high threshold, and the new program will reward you handsomely. While the new lifetime elite status scheme has just three tiers (Silver Elite, Gold Elite and Platinum Elite), existing Marriott Lifetime Platinum members will be grandfathered into a fourth tier: Lifetime Platinum Premier Elite. This includes a number of added perks over the “standard” Platinum Elite tier, so this is a nice way to recognize those loyal members.
As noted above, it is not possible to earn this status after this year is over. In other words, as of January 1, 2019, there will be a set number of Lifetime Platinum Premier Elites. No one will join this club in the future, unless the lifetime status scheme changes.
Current SPG Lifetime Platinums Are Angry (Though Probably Shouldn’t Be).
On the other side of the coin are SPG Lifetime Platinum members. I have received a number of emails (and read even more comments on our TPG Lounge Facebook group) from these travelers who are absolutely incensed by the new lifetime elite program. From their perspective, they are being treated as “second class citizens” when compared to Marriott Lifetime Platinums. “Why aren’t we grandfathered into Lifetime Platinum Premier?” has become a common question.
Well Marriott partially addressed these concerns with the changes outlined above. If you’ve spent 750+ nights at Starwood hotels, well above the SPG Lifetime Platinum requirements, you will now also be grandfathered into Lifetime Platinum Premier Elite status. If you’re short of that threshold, you’ll have the rest of the year to get there, and nights across the entire 29-brand portfolio of properties will count toward it.
If you’re not able to get there, I don’t think you can legitimately claim to be slighted by the new program. Here’s the problem: Earning SPG Lifetime Platinum has generally been easier than earning Marriott Lifetime Platinum. Let’s compare how the two programs currently award this status:
- Marriott requires 750 nights for Lifetime Platinum; SPG requires 500.
- Marriott requires 2 million points; SPG requires 10 years of Platinum status.
In addition to these differences, it’s also worth noting that SPG Lifetime Platinum members are not losing any benefits. In fact, I would argue that your lifetime elite status has become more valuable as of August. In the current program, you’re now earning the equivalent of 5 Starpoints per dollar spent and have access to a much wider portfolio of properties. In addition, you’re now able to enjoy complimentary breakfast at more brands, so while it may seem like a slap in the face to “only” receive Lifetime Platinum Elite in the new program, it probably shouldn’t be viewed that way.
Those Who Will Just Miss the Current Thresholds This Year May Be Frustrated.
Another group that may be upset with the new program is those members who are close to reaching the current thresholds but won’t be able to do so by December 31. There are a few different profiles of travelers that fall into this group:
- Longtime Marriott Silver members: The same logic holds for those who have long held Marriott Silver status but haven’t crossed the Gold threshold. For example, let’s say that you’ve had 20 elite-qualifying nights per year for the last 20 years but haven’t been able to reach the 1.6 million points currently required for Lifetime Gold. Since the new lifetime elite status program requires 7+ years at Gold status or higher, you’ll find yourself suddenly looking at a seriously uphill climb to reach Lifetime Gold Elite.
- Almost SPG Lifetime Platinum members: If you’ve had SPG Platinum status for 10+ years and are within striking distance of SPG Lifetime Platinum but won’t be able to reach the 500-night threshold by December 31, you’re looking at an additional 100 nights to reach that level in the new program. This would be dulled a bit if you’ve also had some significant night activity with Marriott, as those lifetime balances will be combined as of August. However, if you’re at 450 nights with Starwood and can’t get another 50 by the end of the year, your qualification threshold jumps from 500 to 600 nights in the new program.
- Almost SPG Lifetime Gold members: This final group is one to which I belong. At the time of writing, I am just 53 nights short of SPG Lifetime Gold status. I’m sure there are many others who are even closer. However, under the new program, the qualification threshold for this level jumps from 250 nights to 400 nights. Even when you combine my Marriott lifetime nights, I’m now looking at an additional 124 nights to get to Lifetime Gold Elite. (Fortunately I carry The Platinum Card from American Express in my wallet, so I’ll at least have Gold as long as I remain a cardholder.)
High-Volume, Low-Spending Marriott Elites Should Be Ecstatic.
A final group that should be loving life under the new program are those members who stay a ton of nights but don’t spend a lot. The previous Marriott lifetime elite status program required a certain number of points to earn lifetime status, and while many types of points count (including transfers from Ultimate Rewards, confirmed as of April 2018), a loyal member visiting inexpensive Marriott properties could be a long way from those thresholds. This is removed under the new program, so these members can now earn lifetime elite status with just number of nights and number of years of status.
What Could Marriott Do?
So given these possible concerns, what could Marriott do to address them? I like to think that it’s never too late for things to shift, and we’ve already seen that with the new options for reaching Lifetime Platinum Premier Elite status. However, I’d love to see one additional change before August 1: allow an extra year to qualify under the current criteria.
One of the nice things about the new program is that August isn’t a hard-and-fast deadline. There is a “grace period” of qualifying for lifetime elite status under the existing criteria. Unfortunately, for those members within striking distance of these thresholds, 5 months may not be enough time to close the gap. I would love to see this extended through December 31, 2019. If, at that point, you’re still not able to reach the legacy criteria, you’re out of luck. Making this change wouldn’t (in my opinion) swell the ranks of lifetime elite members too significantly but would recapture the loyalty of members who feel slighted by the new program.
As noted in our extensive coverage of the the new Marriott program, it’s an exceedingly difficult task to combine two hotel programs with very different loyalty schemes and redemption options. I feel strongly that the majority of the changes are positive, though I’m still waiting to see if the early award rates are indicative of the entire combined portfolio before making a final conclusion. However, there are many members who don’t feel good about the new program, and this includes how it will recognize current lifetime elites and award lifetime elite status moving forward.
I would certainly love to see Marriott tweak one of these items in recognition of the fact that the new program may not reward loyalty proportionately across the two pools of elites. Only time will tell if that will come to fruition, but in the meantime, I hope this analysis has helped frame the new lifetime elite status scheme and helped you understand where you fall within it!
Featured image courtesy of Marriott Frenchman’s Cove.
This story has been updated to note that combined activity across both programs will be used to determine qualification for Lifetime Platinum Premier Elite status through the end of 2018. It has also been updated to clarify that while the new Marriott program will launch in August, a specific start date in August has not been confirmed.
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