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Gold status, Titanium treatment: A surprise upgrade in Thailand reminded me travel’s still not back to normal

July 24, 2021
4 min read
Gold status, Titanium treatment: A surprise upgrade in Thailand reminded me travel’s still not back to normal
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I’m a Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite; however, I rarely stay at the properties in favor of my World of Hyatt Globalist status. Still, it’s good to have status with a few chains, and I received automatic Marriott Gold Elite status after opening The Platinum Card® from American Express. Enrollment required for select benefits.

Gold Elite status is the second tier in the Marriott Bonvoy program and comes with a few perks such as priority late checkout, a 25% point bonus and a welcome gift. Gold members are also eligible for space-available upgrades to enhanced rooms at check-in, including rooms on higher floors, rooms with special amenities or rooms on the Executive Floor.

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Upgrades as a Gold are possible but certainly not guaranteed — especially not suites, which are only available to upper-tier Bonvoy members.

Put it this way: In the three years I’ve been a Gold member, I’ve never been upgraded during any Marriott stay, whether it was the W or the Residence Inn. Upgrades aren’t a perk I’ve ever come to expect, and, as an infrequent Bonvoy member, I am not put out about it.

This is why I was surprised when I was upgraded from a deluxe king room with a balcony to a one-bedroom king villa with a plunge pool during a recent stay at Renaissance Phuket Resort & Spa. I’d paid just $88 a night for my five-night stay, and villas can easily top $150 per night, even during the rainy season.

Photo by Victoria M. Walker/The Points Guy

I wrote about my stay in Phuket -- and how the villa left me momentarily speechless. There are a handful of villas at the property, some with oceanfront views. The entire villa, including the outdoor space, was probably the largest hotel room I’ve ever stayed in. A massive soaking tub, outdoor shower and private plunge room complimented the villa, and I briefly wondered if I’d been mistakenly upgraded. These perks seemed more suited for a Titanium or Ambassador member -- not a lowly Gold member like me.

And then it hit me: the upgrade likely cleared because the resort was empty. I saw few tourists during check-in and just a handful during my stay. In fact, I felt like I had much of the resort to myself. I ate in mostly empty resort restaurants, strolled the beach alone and didn't have to wait to use amenities like the pool or gym.

Travel in the U.S. has surged back, with domestic demand reaching pre-pandemic levels and the TSA now regularly screening over 2 million passengers a day. The U.S. hotel industry is also similarly recovering, with hotel occupancy at 66% in June, spurred by leisure travel.

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But in other parts of the world, it’s a different story entirely.

I recently visited Thailand through the nation’s “Phuket Sandbox” initiative, a model that allows vaccinated international travelers to visit without having to quarantine. But Thailand is experiencing a worrying surge in positive cases, even as Phuket opens to vaccinated travelers. More than 12,000 new infections are reported a day, according to Reuters. The increase in positive cases, distance and complex application process may be keeping travelers away: just 5,000 travelers have visited the island since the program started on July 1, according to reports.

The dearth of foreign travelers was apparent when I arrived on the island on a rainy afternoon in early July. There were no cab drivers at the airport hustling for rides. Bars and many restaurants were shuttered. And, during some stretches of the drive to my resort, only essential services like drugstores and gasoline stations were open. Tourism makes up 20% of Thailand’s GDP, and 20% of Thais work in the industry. It's clear that Phuket depends on tourism, and it'll be a long road back to a pre-pandemic normal.

So, while I enjoyed my swanky pool villa (and feeling like a top-tier Bonvoy member), the stay did make me think about how travel isn’t back to pre-pandemic levels yet -- and won’t be for some time.

Featured image by Photo by Victoria M. Walker/The Points Guy
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.

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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
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Recommended Credit

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Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

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If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

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  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more
Best premium travel card for value
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3xEarn 3x points on other travel and dining.
1xEarn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

    80,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $550
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more