Marriott Has a Secret "Cobalt Elite" Program — TPG Has the Details
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You may think Ambassador Elite is the highest tier status in the Marriott Bonvoy program — but there is another, higher, secret level.
The Cobalt Program is an unpublished level of elite status that is only available through invitation from Marriott International's President and CEO. Like American's invitation-only Concierge Key, Delta's 360 or United Global Services, entry isn't really defined and Marriott isn't exactly rushing to share the details.
In fact, Marriott warns those who are briefed that: "There are NO external Public Relations or communications about this program and associates should not discuss outside of work."
But, TPG got the details.
Cobalt Program Membership and Benefits
Joining the existing published Marriott Bonvoy tiers of Silver, Gold, Platinum and Titanium, the Cobalt program sits at the very top of the metal-tinged benefits pyramid. It formerly existed within the Ritz-Carlton Rewards program as an invitation-only elite level. Marriott Rewards had "Platinum Five Star" status which was rumored to be by invitation-only from Bill Marriott himself. My source tells me the Cobalt program has been a planned part of Marriott Bonvoy since inception of the post-merger loyalty program, but officially rolling out the program was pushed back three times.
On August 4th, Marriott sent properties a slide deck outlining the program and its benefits. I got a copy.
There are no published criteria for earning Cobalt status, only that Marriott employees can nominate members and those nominations must be directed to Marriott International's President and CEO prior to any communication with the nominee. If you are one of the lucky few nominated to the status, here is a chart outlining Cobalt member benefits by Marriott brand:
From what I gather after reading the slide deck, Cobalt members are basically Ambassador Elites who also receive on-property benefits delineated by brand within the Marriott portfolio — plus an added level of extra attention throughout their stay. At the more budget-focused brands, Cobalt members will get the best room available and a personalized note or meet-and-greet with the property General Manager. At full-service properties, you'll meet the GM plus get a personalized amenity. At luxury brands, you get an added experience and club lounge access at Ritz-Carlton hotels. Here is a slide describing suggested Cobalt member experiences by luxury brand:
As you can see from the above slide, guests staying with the Cobalt member also receive the added benefits, including immediate family members who are specifically called out in the published information.
The 32-slide deck covering the Cobalt program goes into impressive detail, even delineating each hotel staff's responsibility when a Cobalt guest makes a reservation. The slide deck starts with the GM's duties and goes all the way down to housekeeping. Here are a GM's responsibilities for a Cobalt member starting with pre-arrival and carrying through departure:
The final bit of interesting information in the deck is a brand-by-brand description of different scenarios a hotel may use when hosting a Cobalt guest. Take for example the five different scenarios a Cobalt guest may encounter when visiting a JW Marriott property:
TPG reached out to Marriott for comment on the new program asking how many Cobalt members there are, who can nominate guests to the President and CEO and if Ambassador Elite status is required for nomination. We didn't quite get all the answers we hoped for, but here's what we were told:
"Cobalt operates outside the Marriott Bonvoy program. It is offered to select travelers globally by invitation."
Fast-Track Yourself to Marriott Elite Status
While the vast majority of us will likely never hold a Cobalt Program card (yes, they mail you a card), that doesn't mean you shouldn't fast-track your way to Marriott status and associated perks. You can earn Marriott Gold Elite Status by holding The Platinum Card® from American Express (enrollment required), the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card, the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Card or by spending $35,000 in a calendar year on the Chase Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card or the Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card.
You can earn Platinum Elite status by spending $75,000 in a calendar year on the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card or the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Card. You'll also receive 15 qualifying elite night credits each year by holding any co-branded Marriott Bonvoy card to help you reach the next tier faster.
Your other option for a fast track to Marriott elite status is to undertake a status challenge with Bonvoy. You don’t need to currently hold status in a competing program to qualify. In fact, you could actually be a current Gold member and undertake a Platinum challenge to shortcut your way to higher status. To initiate, simply call Marriott Bonvoy customer service at 801-468-4000 and select whether you’d like to challenge for Gold or Platinum (which must be done at the time of registration). You then have 90 days to complete:
- 8 nights for Gold
- 16 nights for Platinum
Note that many reports indicate that the 90-day window doesn’t begin until the first day of the month following your enrollment. As a result, if you enroll on August 6, 2019, you’ll likely have until November 30 to complete the night requirements — though be sure to verify this with the agent when you call. There is no cost to undertake the challenge, and you generally will not receive status until your challenge is complete. In addition, only paid nights count for the challenge.
I imagine the largest benefit of Cobalt Program membership is the added attention during a stay which should ensure you avoid any service hiccups or bad experiences. On top of Ambassador Elite benefits, the majority of Cobalt published benefits seem to include a meet-and-greet with and letter from the GM. Building relationships with property GMs can be fruitful and educational.
The experiences required for Cobalt members at luxury properties could be top of the line, depending on how each property implements the Cobalt Program requirements and would probably be the benefit I would be most excited to experience. If you're a Cobalt Program member, we'd love to hear from you about your experience with the program and experiences you have had during your Marriott stays.
Featured Image courtesy of the JW Marriott Hotel Rio de Janeiro.