Travel Rewards Credit Cards

Sep 20

Earning Elite Status With No Stays Or Flights?

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about elite status, which gives you extra perks and points at hotels and airlines, based on your past business.* Certain benefits, such as extra points, are generally valuable, while others, like a special check-in desk (which is never manned at hotels) or free local phone calls, have almost no value. In fact, some companies as Spirit Airlines, offer an elite program that has virtually no benefits whatsoever, other than a name.

Elite Status with No Loyalty

Naturally, earning elite status can be as much about playing game as much as it is generating the perks. Because really, what fun is spending money. So here are a few ways that you can earn the precious status without ever staying at a hotel or flying on an airline. Note that there is spending involved: Many of these suggestions use a credit card to get you your status. But that spending is at your discretion. And I’m going to leave aside the obvious question, which is why anyone would want status with a company that they never use. This one is just for fun.

Marriott Rewards

marriott rewards

Fortunately, nights aren’t hard to find.

Marriott wins the award for “most possible ways to pull off elite status, even if the top two tiers require a lot of nights spent at the hotel. Platinum status would require spending 20% of the year (including weekends) on the road. If you’re going to spend that much money with a hotel, they’d better give you some sort of benefit. Fortunately, there’s an easier way to do it.

Book A Meeting

Got a meeting to plan? Thinking about planning a meeting? Need some elite nights? Perfect, here’s your shot.

Rewarding Events” gives you points and nights for booking a meeting. You”ll get three points per dollar spent, up to 50,000 points, as well as ten nights credited toward your elite status. In other words, booking even a single meeting will get you Silver Status.

But booking a meeting doesn’t have to be expensive. For the purposes of accumulating the elite nights credit, any meeting will count, whether it’s 1,000 people in a ballroom or two people in a conference room for an hour. The last time I booked a meeting, I was interviewing a candidate in Albuquerque. The room was particularly inexpensive because I booked it on a Saturday morning at 8 am. Sadly, the interviewee cancelled at the last minute, so my $75 was for naught, but the ten elite nights I picked up pushed me into the next tier of status (Silver to Gold), which meant that breakfast during Marriott stays was covered for the next year (a perk of Gold status).

Booking a meeting can be a hassle, and that’s enough to turn many people off to doing so, but it may be worth your while.

Get A Credit Card

Marriott has two cards that give you nights credits toward elite status, the personal Premier Credit Card and the Business version of the card. For the purposes of this exercise, each of those cards has a few features:

  • In addition to the points that you get just for signing up for the card (currently 80,000 for the personal one), you also get 15 nights credits toward your total on your anniversary date. The annual fee is $95. Yes, you can have both.
  • For every $3,000 that you spend, you’ll receive one night credit. To earn Platinum status, you’d have to spend $180,000 annually ($3,000 per credit, plus the 15 elite nights that you get just for having the card), so you may also want to mix in nights from another source, since the points that you earn from the card aren’t worth much. The cards also come with a free night annually.
  • And, for what it’s worth, there’s a Chase Ritz Carlton Platinum card that gives you Gold Status, or Platinum if you spend $75,000 in a year. That card is a measly $450 annually.

Bottom Line: A pair of $95 credit cards and five meetings gets you Platinum Status. Assuming that you book each of those five meetings for $75, you don’t have to spend a penny on your credit card and your $565 will net you top tier status and a couple of free nights each year at a Marriott property.

Hilton Honors

hilton honors

A bit of this and a bit of that at Hilton

It’s all about the credit cards, and it’s pretty straightforward.

Hilton Honors Surpass Card

The Hilton Surpass card comes with a $75 annual fee and automatic Gold Status. That may be enough for you. Gold gets you almost all of the benefits of Platinum, with one key exception: To get the free breakfast, you usually need to be on the Executive Level itself. That differs from Marriott, where all Gold members get breakfast, regardless of where they are in the hotel.

But if you spend $40,000 in a year on the card, Hilton will kick up you to Platinum status. That spending threshold is easier than the one at Marriott, but it’s all or nothing. In other words, Marriott gives you credit toward elite status for every $3,000 that you spend. Hilton gives no partial credit to combine with actual stayed nights.

Still, the card comes with 100,000 points to sign up and spend $3,000 in the first three months, which is at least good enough to get it. The $75 Gold Status is simply a bonus.

Hilton Honors Card

The basic card is even easier. There’s no way to earn Diamond status, but $20,000 in spend will get you bumped up to Gold and the sign-up bonus is either 50,000 or 75,000 points, depending on your spending level.

You’re gifted Silver status, which has little, if any, value, and can earn Gold through spending on the card. Now, here’s something to think about: If you want Gold status with Hilton, how much is it worth to you? In other words, I value Hilton points at about 0.4 cents each and you earn three points per dollar spent, or about 1.2 cents. If you spend $20,000 at the base rate, you get $240 in value. On the other hand, the Surpass card gives you gold status. If you put that $20,000 in spending on a Citi Double Cash card, for instance, and earned 2% on all your purchases, you’d get $400 in cash. In other words, when it comes to Gold Status, the Surpass card is almost always the better value.

Bottom Line: Gold Status can be had for as little as a $75 credit card fee, and Platinum Status requires the least spending of the programs that I am going to discuss today.

Delta Airlines

Delta Airlines

And then there’s Delta, whose highest levels of elite status are among the most valuable, but also the most difficult to obtain. Again, credit card spending is the only way to do it, and the cards’ aren’t cheap.

The Platinum Delta SkyMiles Card

It’s $195 per year and doesn’t give a ton of value, but it is a good option for those who are trying to earn elite status. This card only has the potential to get you status the first year you have it, since it gives 5,000 medallion qualifying miles (MQMs) once you hit your initial $1,000 in spend, as well as 10,000 after you spend $25,000 in that first year and another 10,000 after you spend another $25,000. That’s it, though. You have an opportunity to earn Silver Status the first year at 25,000 MQMs, but that’s it. The second year and thereafter, you can only earn the 20,000 MQMs from $50,000 in spending. In other words, you can earn status just with the card, but it may not be the best way to do so.

The Delta Reserve Credit Card

And finally, there’s the Delta Reserve card. It costs $450 per year and comes with lounge access, so it’s best for hard-core Delta travelers. But if you aren’t, and you feel like laying out the cash, it’s similar to the Platinum Card above. When you hit the initial spend requirements the first year, you’ll pick up 10,000 MQMs. After that, you’ll earn 15,000 miles toward elite status after the first $30,000 in spend, as well as another 15,000 when you hit $60,000. Ouch.

Bottom Line:¬†It’s costly, but technically you could earn Gold Status by spending $645 in annual fees and spending $100,000 on the card. Wow. Gold status doesn’t get you much, and the rewards that you earn by spending that $100,000 elsewhere would be well worth it.

There are a number of programs that have products that help you get to elite status (but can’t get you all the way there), but who wants those? Elite status is fun, and as a Silver Member of the Driscoll’s loyalty program, I can attest to that.


*The basis for these thoughts is actually a sad story. Our family eats a lot of berries, and I recently discovered that Driscoll’s, a berry supplier, actually has a loyalty program based on filling out a quick quality when you finish a pack. Last week, they told me that I had filled out enough surveys to become a Silver Member, meaning that they would ¬†send me a $.75 coupon after each survey, rather than a $.50 one. And if I fill out ten more 2-minute questionnaires, I will become a Gold Member and get $1.00 each time. And, for just a second, I got excited about having elite status with a berry company. Sadly, it does not let me cut to the front of the line at the supermarket.



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