Marriott removes meeting perk some used as fast track to elite status
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Marriott Bonvoy elite status can unlock a variety of perks and there have long been ways to shortcut your path to the upper tiers. As an example, anyone with a Marriott co-branded credit card — like the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card — will earn 15 elite night credits simply for having the card. This means that just 35 nights in Marriott hotels would earn you Platinum status, effectively slashing the qualification requirement by 30%.
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For a further boost, Marriott for a long time awarded 10 elite night credits for hosting a qualifying event in one of its properties. However, as of Jan. 1, 2020, that option is gone. The Bonvoy terms and conditions were just updated and per section 5.3.d (emphasis mine):
"Members who hold Qualifying Events at Participating Properties receive one (1) Elite Night Credit for every twenty (20) room nights booked and actualized, up to a maximum of twenty (20) Elite Night Credits per contract. The earning of ten (10) Elite Night Credits per calendar year for the first Qualifying Event will end on December 31, 2019."
Note that you can still earn elite credits by booking an event that includes at least 20 room nights. (There are also no changes to the ability to earn points on these events -- 2 points per $1 spent on qualifying charges, up to 60,000 base points per event.)
It's only the policy of awarding 10 nights after a single meeting that's going away.
This change is obviously frustrating for those who plan at least one meeting every year, but it's clear that this option was being abused. In fact, some local Marriott hotel sales managers made a good side business out of this elite-qualifying trick.
One sales manager would send out an email that — in part — read like this:
"Thank you for reaching out. I can accommodate your meeting anytime this/next week. Ghost meetings are $50 plus tax and service charge ($65.08). Points are posted the same day. Meetings held on weekends will be posted the following business day. If you have NOT had a meeting yet this year, you will also earn 10 elite nights. You DO NOT need to show up for this meeting.
If you’d like to book a meeting, please fill out the attached CC form and let me know what day you’d prefer. Otherwise, if you have a CC attached to your Marriott Bonvoy number, I can use that as well. Please let me know if you have any questions for me."
So it was possible for some people to request and hold a meeting in the same day with the elite-qualifying night posting that day or the next.
Doing this was within the bounds of the previous terms and conditions, but it was a loophole that pretty clearly violated the spirit of the qualifying event policy.
It also may have contributed to inflated ranks of Platinum members.
Think of it this way: By opening the Marriott Bonvoy Bold Credit Card (with no annual fee) and booking a "ghost meeting" with the above manager, you already would have Marriott Gold status by spending just $65.08. If you then picked up 15 paid nights at $100/night and booked the remaining 10 nights using points, you would have unlocked perks like complimentary breakfast and a Choice Benefit selection by spending just $1,565.08 and redeeming some Marriott points. (Nights booked on points started to count toward Marriott elite status a few years ago.)
When you consider that a cardholder could enjoy the same benefits this way as someone who qualified the hard way, it's easy to understand why Marriott would want to close this loophole.
At the same time, I'm surprised that Marriott didn't simply add a stipulation to separate the abusers from the legitimate event planners. Even a modest, minimum spending threshold for a meeting ($1,000 or $2,000) would likely deter the gamers yet still offer rewards for someone who actually holds an event at a Marriott property.
It's worth noting that Marriott was unique in offering these 10 nights of elite status for hosting a first meeting. Hilton Honors and IHG Rewards simply provide points on eligible charges, while Hyatt requires three meetings before receiving low-tier (Discoverist) status.
We reached out to Marriott for additional details on this official policy change but haven't received any statement by the time of publication. We'll be sure to update this post if we receive more information.