Does Earning Marriott Elite Status Through Credit Cards Count Toward Lifetime Status?
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"Reader Questions" are answered twice a week by TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Ethan Steinberg.
As award travel has continued to gain in popularity over the years, one trend we're seeing is the commoditization and marketing of exclusive perks like lounge access, elite status and other hard-to-obtain benefits. The most recent example would be Southwest deciding to offer its elusive Companion Pass as a limited-time welcome bonus on the personal Chase Southwest credit cards, but it's long been possible to earn some type of hotel elite status with the right credit cards. TPG reader Jimmy wants to know how this "free" status would affect his aspirations for lifetime status...
[pullquote source="TPG READER JIMMY"]Does earning Marriott Platinum status by spending on the SPG Luxury Amex count towards the 10 years of Platinum status needed to earn lifetime Platinum?[/pullquote]
As a reminder, here are the qualification thresholds for Marriott lifetime elite status, which — as the name implies — grants you status for life. No matter what tier you're after, you'll need a combination of lifetime nights and years of holding elite status.
The fine print on the Marriott website doesn't answer this question explicitly, saying the following about lifetime elite years (emphasis mine):
An “Eligible Status Year” is a calendar year during which a Member obtained Elite membership status (Silver Elite, Gold Elite, Platinum Elite or Platinum Premier Elite) by achieving the Silver Elite, Gold Elite, Platinum Elite or Platinum Premier Elite Minimum Requirement during such Eligible Status Year.
There's no explanation of what the "elite minimum requirement" refers to in the terms and conditions, but thanks to some data points we can paint a clear picture of how the rules play out. I spoke to a number of friends who had earned Marriott Gold status, either by holding The Platinum Card® from American Express or by spending on the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express. In both cases, they hadn't earned any sort of Marriott elite status by actually staying in a hotel, only through their credit cards. Their Marriott accounts all indicated one or more years toward lifetime elite status, which tell us that yes, elite status earned through credit cards does count.
If you have a large number of lifetime nights under your belt from pre-merger activity (around the merger the requirements for earning lifetime status changed) or are targeting a middle tier like Gold, this is great news. However, Jimmy asked specifically about earning lifetime Platinum by spending $75,000 or more each year on his Starwood Preferred Guest® American Express Luxury Card. But that much spending carries a huge opportunity cost — just think of all the bonus points you'd miss out on by putting all your restaurant spending on this card!
It's now relatively easy to earn Marriott Platinum status. After accounting for the 15 elite night credits you earn from holding any Marriott credit card (limited to one set of credits per Marriott account), you only need 35 nights in a hotel to reach Platinum. If you aren't traveling that much, you'll have a tough time getting a decent value out of the status anyway.
If you're starting from scratch, lifetime Platinum sounds alluring. If you're able to qualify for Platinum status organically, all the better. 10 years of earning Platinum status through hotel nights would leave you with 500 lifetime nights, and if you can find a way to manage 60 nights a year (45 actual nights+15 from a credit card), you'll end up with lifetime Platinum status after exactly 10 years.
As the name implies, lifetime elite status is a serious long-term commitment. It's not something you can sneak your way into with a one-time challenge or a single extended vacation. Even if you can fulfill the lifetime elite years requirement through your credit card, there's no shortcut to the lifetime nights requirement. Jimmy's Platinum status will count toward his lifetime requirements, but before he spends $75,000 on his SPG Luxury Amex he should seriously consider the opportunity cost of doing so.