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How my brother went from no status to top-tier Marriott elite with one reminder

Dec. 09, 2020
10 min read
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My brother, Richard, and I share many common interests and hobbies: brown liquor, the rap group Three Six Mafia -- and travel.

As a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, work took him around the world to places like Japan. Now back stateside, he works a job that requires frequent travel even during the pandemic.

We have a ton of shared interests, but one thing I couldn’t get him to care about: earning points and miles. However, after completing a two-month stay for work at a Marriott Bonvoy property in Virginia, his perception has changed.

“[With the extended stay], I just thought I’d give [earning points] a shot,” he said. “There’s not much to do anyway, so I might as well build something during COVID.”

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Photo by Victoria M. Walker

During that time, we frequently spoke about what it was like to live in a hotel for an extended period, especially during the pandemic. He wasn’t too familiar with the world of points and miles before the trip. Before this stay, he was a Marriott Bonvoy member, which you become just for signing up for the program. This tier doesn’t offer many perks, just free standard Wi-Fi, access to member rates, mobile check-in and the ability to earn points.

But I made sure he took care of a simple but important task before checking out: adding his Marriott Bonvoy loyalty number to his reservation. He linked his account and didn’t think much about it until a few days later, when he excitedly FaceTimed me with great news.

“I’m a Platinum Elite member!” he said – and he’d earned over 60,000 points from the stay.

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Honeymoon at the Ritz with Platinum Elite status

Richard put his new status to use immediately by booking a cash stay at the Ritz-Carlton in Atlanta for his honeymoon. As a Platinum elite member (which requires completing 50 nights), he took advantage of priority late checkout, a 50% point bonus and a nice welcome gift of champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries.

Photo by Richard Settles

When he becomes a Titanium Elite member after completing his most recent Marriott stay in a few days, he’ll unlock a slew of new perks.

Titanium Elite is typically earned after 75 nights and comes with a 75% point bonus, a room upgrade benefit that includes suites at Ritz-Carlton properties. He’ll also have access to annual choice benefits, like gifting Gold elite status to his wife and one free night award (valid at properties costing up to 40,000 points). Titanium members can also book rooms at just about any property with 48 hours of notice. Finally, he’ll also receive United Premier Silver status.

And even better: there’s a chance that he might hit Marriott’s elusive top-tier Ambassador Elite. To qualify for this tier, you must reach 100 elite-qualifying nights and $20,000 in qualifying spend. He’ll hit the 100-night threshold, as he has another long-term Marriott stay coming up, and he’s getting closer to the $20,000 mark.

If he hits Ambassador, he’ll have access to ambassador service. This entails a single point-of-contact service to handle anything, from reservations to off-the-wall requests and the Your24 benefit allows you to choose your check-in and check-out time.

For someone who, just a few months ago, didn’t even have a Marriott rewards account -- going from no status to top-tier is incredible. Now he’s all-in on the Marriott Bonvoy program. And he’ll also keep Marriott status through February 2022.

He’s now become something of a points and miles ambassador: encouraging colleagues he travels with to sign up for rewards programs. And we’re already planning his 2021 (and beyond) credit card strategy, which might include opening a Marriott Bonvoy-branded credit card to enhance his hotel experience.

Related: What is Marriott Bonvoy elite status worth in 2020?

Best Marriott credit cards

There are four cards he can use to earn Marriott Bonvoy points, two from American Express and two from Chase:

  • Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card – Best for Marriott loyalists looking for perks
  • Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card – Best for Marriott business travelers
  • Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card – Best for Marriott loyalists looking for a modest annual fee
  • Marriott Bonvoy Bold Credit Card – Best for Marriott loyalists looking for a no annual fee option

The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card is a personal Marriott co-branded card available through Amex, where you can earn 150,000 Marriott Bonvoy bonus points after you use your new card to make $5,000 in eligible purchases within the first three months of card membership.

This card has a hefty $650 annual fee (see rates and fees) but comes packed with benefits, including:

  • Up to $300 in statement credits per calendar year (up to $25 per month) for eligible purchases at restaurants worldwide.
  • One free night every year after your card account anniversary for us at a redemption level of up to 85,000 points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program (certain hotels have resort fees).
  • Up to $100 Global Entry/TSA PreCheck credit (once every four years for Global Entry or every 4.5 years for TSA PreCheck)
  • Priority Pass Select membership*
  • Automatic Platinum Elite status
  • 25 elite qualifying nights to help you toward the next level of Marriott Bonvoy Elite status
  • 6x points on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program; 3x points for purchases at restaurants worldwide and on flights booked directly with airlines and 2x points per dollar spent on all other eligible purchases
  • Terms apply.

*Enrollment required for select benefits.

Related reading: Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card review

Because he incurs a ton of business expenses, Richard can apply for the Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express Card — which is currently offering a welcome bonus where you can earn 100,000 Marriott Bonvoy bonus points after you use your new card to make $4,000 in eligible purchases within the first three months of card membership. This card has a $125 annual fee (see rates and fees), but it makes up for that fee with an up to 35,000-point certificate that’s awarded each year after your card renewal month.

Related reading: Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex credit card review

Chase’s Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card is currently offering 100,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases in your first three months from account opening.

The card also earns up to 17x Bonvoy points per dollar spent at over 7,000 participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels, 3 points per dollar on the first $6,000 spent in combined purchases each year on gas stations, grocery stores and dining 2 points per dollar on all other spending. And, you’ll get one free night award every year after your account anniversary that’s valid for a one-night hotel stay at a property with a redemption value up to 35,000 points. You can also earn one credit towards elite status for every $5,000 you spend.

Related reading: Marriott Bonvoy Boundless credit card review

And finally, if he’s looking for a no annual fee credit card, Chase offers the Marriott Bonvoy Bold Credit Card. You’ll earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 on purchases in your first three months from account opening. This card also offers 15 elite night credits — which grants the cardholder Silver Elite status and a nice start towards higher elite status.

This card earns 3x points at participating Marriott hotels, 2x points on travel purchases and 1x points on everything else.

Related reading: Marriott Bonvoy Bold credit card review

Bottom line

My brother's experience shows how possible it is to get status with a hotel or airline, even if you're not a points and miles expert.

Our daily phone conversations now start with updates on elite status and friendly ribbing (I'm only a Gold Elite member). I asked Richard if he had any advice for someone just getting interested in points.

“Leave no points on the table,” he said. “I brought three people up here to Philly (for work) and made them sign up for their rewards program.”

For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card, please click here

For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express Card, please click here

Featured image by (Photo by JHVEPhoto/Getty Images)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.