Savvy Saturday: Earn Marriott Platinum using credit card elite nights and points from a welcome bonus
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Editor’s note: Some travel cards come with perplexing benefits that are tricky to maximize. This article is part of a series that shows you unique, fun and unintended ways to use your credit card benefits. If you’ve got any questions or have an example of a surprising way to maximize a credit card perk, tweet us @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at email@example.com.
Would you open a credit card if you could leverage its welcome bonus and ongoing benefits for two full years of Marriott Platinum status right off the bat?
After all, TPG values Marriott Platinum status at $2,655 per year. And while the true value of Bonvoy status will vary based on your travel patterns, if you stay at Marriott properties frequently, you could be looking at serious value over a year or two.
Here's how you can use the points from the intro bonus on a new Marriott Bonvoy cobranded credit card, combined with its annual elite night credits, to rack up all the elite-qualifying nights you need to attain Marriott Platinum status quickly.
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Marriott Bonvoy Platinum elite status
First, a primer on Marriott Bonvoy Platinum status. Achieving it usually requires staying 50 eligible nights in a Marriott each calendar year. Once you get there, here are the main perks you can expect:
- When you arrive at the hotel, the front desk should check to see if there are available enhanced rooms or standard suites and offer you upgrade options if there are. I've had Platinum status for years and can report moderate success.
- You will earn at least 15 Marriott points per dollar spent at most Marriott hotels (a 50% bonus). TPG valuations peg Marriott points as worth 0.8 cents each, meaning you’re getting an effective return of 12% in rewards on every stay. (Though of course, the future valuation could change as the program begins to phase out award charts in March 2022.)
- You are guaranteed a 4 p.m. late check out, though it's subject to availability at resorts and convention hotels.
- You'll get a welcome gift of points or an amenity like a fruit plate or chocolates, depending on the hotel (sometimes breakfast counts as the amenity). Breakfast at higher-end hotels can easily top $50 per person, so this represents a significant savings.
- You will receive access to the lounge at most JW Marriott, Marriott, Delta Hotels (not resorts), Autograph Collection, Renaissance, Sheraton, Le Meridien and Westin properties that have a lounge.
As a Marriott Platinum, you'll also receive an annual Choice Benefit. You can choose five elite night credits, 40% off a Marriott-brand mattress, or five Suite Night Awards, among other options. I've chosen five Suite Night Awards as my benefit for years. They're certificates that you can attach to your reservation to give you a significantly better chance of being upgraded to a suite.
The success rate of having those upgrades clear into a suite varies, though my own personal success rate has been relatively high.
Marriott Bonvoy elite status is valid for the calendar year in which you earn it, the next year, and through the end of February of the following one. So if you managed to earn it in January, you could conceivably enjoy the benefits for almost 26 months. Here's how that might be possible by leveraging credit card bonuses and elite credits.
The secret: Rack up a lot of inexpensive stays using points
As mentioned, to reach Marriott Platinum status, you must earn 50 elite night credits in a calendar year. But contrary to what you might think, you don't necessarily have to earn all those nights by staying in hotels. Marriott's cobranded credit cards offer elite night bundles as part of their ongoing benefits that can get you part of the way there.
In addition to Marriott credit card elite nights, you will have to travel some in order to earn the rest. Because award nights count toward status with Marriott, the best way to do that might be by simply booking a lot of award nights at some of the least expensive Marriott Bonvoy properties. Considering award nights start at just 5,000 points on off-peak dates at Category 1 hotels, you could rack up a lot of elite nights without laying out too many points.
I'll cover two strategies to earn Platinum status with a combination of credit card elite nights and award stays. The first is much more practical, though it involves holding two Marriott credit cards. Then I'll talk about the way to earn Platinum by opening just a single card.
Keep in mind that, to stay within the bounds of most hotel programs, you should plan to use the room for the duration you're booked, so don't think you can just check in and then leave or you might find yourself out the points and the status.
With all that said, here's a possible plan for your Platinum status conquest.
Step 1. Have two Marriott cards – one personal, one for a small business
For the first part of the plan, you get a head start on earning Platinum status if you already carry Marriott cards. But which cards you have matters.
The following Marriott cards are offering welcome bonuses significantly higher than ever before:
- The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card comes with a 100,000 welcome bonus and one free night award after you use your new card to make $5,000 in eligible purchases within the first three months of card membership. Certain hotels have resort fees.
- The Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card comes with 125,000 points plus two free night certificates worth up to 50,000 points each after you spend $5,000 on eligible purchases within the first three months of account opening.
Just note that the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card from Chase is currently offering 125,000 points plus one free night certificate worth up to 50,000 points after you spend $5,000 on eligible purchases within the first three months of account opening and the Marriott Bonvoy Bold Credit Card is currently offering 60,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.
These card bonuses are only available through Nov. 3, 2021, and you might want to apply because these cards' previous offers were less than half this value. The reason you may want to concentrate on the Amex options, in particular, is because the business card specifically excludes folks from earning its welcome bonus who have acquired either of those two Chase cards (but not the Brilliant) in the last 90 days or earned their intro bonuses in the past 24 months.
So focus your strategy around the two Amex cards if you don't already have other Marriott cards in your wallet.
Step 2. Confirm your annual elite nights
All of these cards offer 15 elite night credits each year just for being a cardmember. This is not part of the welcome bonus, it's an ongoing benefit that resets year after year.
The key strategy here is, if you have both a personal and small business Marriott card, these credits stack to give you 30 elite night credits per year. This is not the case with two personal Marriott cards. It only works with a personal and a small business one.
So if you carry the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant and Marriott Bonvoy Business card, you'll have 30 elite nights deposited in your account once 2022 rolls around. In other words, you'll already be 60% of the way to Platinum status without doing much at all.
Step 3. Earn the intro bonus
If you decide to open a card in order to carry out this plan, you'll want to earn the bonus as fast as you can to move to the next phase of the plan. If you need ideas on how to achieve your minimum spending requirements, read this post for some creative suggestions.
Step 4. Search for low category Marriott hotels
Marriott Category 1 hotels cost between 4,000-10,000 points per night, and that range includes discounted PointSavers nights all the way up to peak nights.
Just beware that Marriott will be dropping its award charts and introducing dynamic pricing starting in March 2022. Still, the vast majority of properties are expected to continue pricing their award rates within the current category bands for 2022 at least, so these numbers shouldn't change much in the short term.
If you really want to stretch your points, know that there are 62 Category 1 Marriott hotels in North America. Click here to get to the page where you can filter Marriott's hotel directory by category.
Step 5. Book 20 nights at a Category 1 hotel in early 2022
Stay with me – these are big numbers. But even if this plan doesn't work for you, the theory behind it may work with some tweaks for your situation.
If you end up with both a personal and small business Marriott card, you would earn 30 elite night credits from both and be just 20 nights short of achieving Platinum status in 2022. This is assuming you didn't already have some level of Marriott elite status and that Marriott doesn't announce a similar elite boost to the one it extended in 2021 by crediting members with half the elite nights they'd need to requalify for their previous tier.
If you're starting from scratch, though, and will still need those 20 nights for Platinum, you could book one 20-night stay at a hotel, or you could book multiple stays at various hotels totaling 20 nights.
Just looking at standard award pricing, Marriott Category 1 hotels cost the following number of points per night:
- Off-peak: 5,000 points
- Standard: 7,500 points
- Peak: 10,000 points
In a perfect world, you'd find 20 consecutive off-peak nights for 5,000 points each. That's not super likely, though it's certainly possible early in the year once folks are back from their holiday trips.
I searched for award prices in early January and found plenty of off-peak prices for most of these Category 1 hotels. Many of these properties are bookable for 20 nights in January for as few as 87,500 points due to a mix of standard and off-peak nights and Marriott's fifth-night-free benefit (more on that below).
As an example, here's the Fairfield Inn & Suites Cotulla in Texas.
If you're set on using the fewest points possible, you can quite easily book 20 nights for 80,000 points as long as you're willing to book in five-night increments. As an example, here's the Fairfield Inn & Suites Decatur at Decatur Conference Center, also in Texas.
If there's a Category 1 hotel near you with several different five-night blocks pricing at off-peak rates, it might be worth booking multiple stays to save a few thousand points.
Keep in mind, you'll need the points in your Marriott account ready to go in order to book awards like this. But that might not be so hard given the current credit card intro bonuses available. However, there's one more quirk to Marriott Bonvoy that makes this even less expensive to achieve using points.
Step 6. Leverage Marriott's 5th-night free perk
Remember, Marriott offers a fifth night free on award stays of five nights or more. Typically, you receive the lowest-priced night for free, but if all the nights are priced equally, it's a 20% discount. What's more, if you book an extended stay like this, every fifth night will automatically be discounted from the total.
So if you booked four stays of five nights each at the off-peak 5,000-point level, instead of paying a total of 100,000 points, you'd only be paying 80,000 points. And after the check out for your last stay, you'll be a newly minted Marriott Bonvoy Platinum elite.
Should you trade points for two years of Platinum status?
While this plan sounds a little crazy and won't be right for everyone, I'm offering it up because I've done it myself and found it to be worthwhile. The points I've traded away for inexpensive stays to earn status have resulted in thousands of dollars in value from room upgrades, complimentary breakfast, lounge access and more at luxury hotels within the Marriott portfolio.
Again, we estimate Marriott Platinum status to be worth $2,655 per year (though that number is partially calculated by how often you'll use it). Considering Marriott points are worth 0.8 cents each, earning Platinum status by booking inexpensive award stays with points costs:
- $1,200 in Marriott points if using 150,000 points
- $640 in Marriott points if using 80,000 points
Math tells us that's a heck of a deal in the right situations. If you've got the points to spare, you might find this approach worthy of consideration, especially if you're planning on staying at Marriotts more often in the future (including stays booked before the award chart disappears).
Hotel elite status isn't always worth it, period. Doing "crazy" things to earn it is worth it even less frequently. But infrequent isn't the same as never.
If you have Marriott resorts like the St. Regis Maldives or St. Regis Bora Bora on your 2022 or 2023 travel agenda, Marriott Platinum status could save you thousands of dollars thanks to the expense of various amenities at properties like those. It can also make your Marriott travel that much more comfortable beyond the free breakfast and other perks.
It does take a lot of effort to cash in Marriott points on cheap stays that might not be convenient, along with leveraging credit card elite nights. But if you can do so quickly in 2022 and have a plan to maximize Marriott Platinum status through the end of 2023, you might want to consider it.