Last year, I wrote about the various hotel elite programs and the benefits that you get with each status. Specifically, I asked the question, “What status level do I need to achieve to get the majority of the best benefits, even if I can’t reach the top tier?” Well, throw out that chart for Marriott Rewards (MR) and Starwood (SPG), since the new program starts in August. Here’s what to look for.
The New Best Value: Platinum
Five status levels, not including the base level? C’mon, you’ve gotta be kidding me. But yeah, that’s where we’re going. But how many of those levels are actually worth something? Just for being a member, you get:
- Free internet access
- Member rates
- Mobile check-in
And for a lot of people, they really don’t need much more than that. Sure, the last two aren’t worth much, but not everyone cares, either.
Still, if you’re looking to pick up a few extras, where does it stop? At what level do you say, “I’ve probably got most of what I need and don’t have to worry about accumulating through meetings and credit cards?” Obviously, the answer is different for everyone but, for the majority of heavy users, you can get the maximum value at Platinum, equivalent to the old MR gold.
Silver status (10-24 nights) picks up almost nothing extra. You’ll get priority late checkout, based on availability (It won’t be available.), a special phone number to call and a 10% points bonus on top of your base points. Yawn.
Gold status (25-49 nights) gives you what I consider to be the first of the worthy hard benefits: free enhanced internet access. Slow internet access at hotels is a constant annoyance to me, so getting the good stuff (sometimes good, anyway) for free is a start. Your point bonus is now 25%, you’ll get a few points at check-in as a welcome gift and you may get an upgrade, but not to a suite.
Now It Gets Interesting…
As far as I’m concerned, the move from Gold to Platinum is the biggest breakpoint, where things start to get interesting. It takes a lot more of your time, requiring 50-74 nights per year, but the benefits are noticeably better than Gold. Among the benefits that you’ll now get…
- A choice of welcome gifts, one of which is breakfast (which is getting expanded to almost all brands).
- Room upgrades that include select suites. Suite upgrades were a big benefit of the Starwood program but were almost non-existent at Marriott.
- Lounge access. The lounges provide breakfast, evening appetizers and are often open throughout the day to grab drinks and snacks. If you’re lucky, your favorite hotel will offer little boxes of cereal instead of big canisters that you just pour into a bowl.
- An annual choice benefit, which is a gift option or five “suite nights.” A suite night lets you request an upgrade in advance. It’s not guaranteed, but you have some sort of priority for five nights per year.
So, is it worth going higher? Platinum Premier, 75-99 nights per year, gets you an additional five suite nights or gift option each year. It also gets you a 48-hour room guarantee, although you’ll be paying through the nose for that room if you force one open. But that’s it. How much are those additional suite nights worth? Well, if it’s easy for you to get to 75, sure, go for it. But if you’re struggling to hit 50 nights per year, I don’t see the additional value.
And then there’s Ambassador status, which is sure to be the most controversial one (if there is such a thing as a controversial elite status).
Ambassador can be earned not only by staying at least 100 nights but also spending at least $20,000. Ouch. And what do you pick up? In addition to a higher bonus rate, you get your own ambassador, who serves as a sort of concierge. An ambassador’s powers are mixed. I’ve had good ones in the past and also poor ones. Some will fight for upgrades and benefits for you, others are simply order takers. It can be the luck of the draw, but if you give Marriott enough business to earn Ambassador status, be sure to call and request a change if you’re not happy with your chosen person.
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