I wrote a few weeks ago regarding Marriott’s unpublished Platinum elite status challenge. I referred a contact to the process and he didn’t have the same luck. I assumed it was a case of a misinformed phone rep (as I initially encountered myself) but we all know what happens when you assume…
There Is A Catch
While I had trouble when I called into Reservations to sign up for the challenge, the Marriott Rewards staff seemed to be in the know. Status challenges can be granted for just one level from where you are currently. In a previous post regarding the unpublished Platinum status challenge, I went from one stay for the year to top-tier with just 9 stays in 90 days.
This information was all true, but a detail that worked in my favor was not made aware to me at the time. This made the challenge available to me but not necessarily to others. As a result of my American Express Platinum card (we don’t sell credit cards, this is not a sales pitch), I had exercised one of the member benefits, automatic SPG Gold status. That status was then matched to Marriott many months ago and I had simply not realized that there was a one-level restriction.
The greater concern at the time of sign-up was that the phone representatives were unaware that it existed in the first place. Naturally, their limited knowledge of the program feature meant that this detail was also left out of their explanation (and frankly an unnecessary detail).
Remaining Viable/Unviable Options for Marriott Platinum Challengers
The following two ways remain viable to start your challenge for Marriott Platinum status (achieved in just 9 stays in a 90-day period).
- The easiest way to get the challenge to Platinum from zero stays is to utilize automatic Gold status to SPG from an American Express Platinum Business card matched over Marriott. Just call in (to the Membership Rewards line) and ask – you may need a supervisor if the rep isn’t immediately familiar. If they say it doesn’t exist, HUCA (hang up, call again).
- Take advantage of the SPG Platinum challenge (18 nights in 90 days) that seems to be permanently available and then match that over to Marriott once completed – you do need to be SPG preferred but this doesn’t take much.
- At least one person I personally know was offered a Gold status challenge from zero stays for the year which would be good through 2018. As status challenges are limited to one per 12 month period, one could challenge from zero to Gold in October of 2017 (for example), complete the challenge and with zero stays in 2018, could still challenge to Platinum before their status expires at the end of the year. I was offered this too initially, so pressing the matter will help get you to Gold at minimum.
The others are either unproven or unavailable for challenge seekers.
- United Airlines cross-over status purportedly will not work. Marriott reps indicated that though matched cross-over guests will have status with the chain, that status is limited in scope in that it does not allow challenges even to Gold from Silver if the status is a result of United cross-over status.
- Any movements beyond one status level barring the aforementioned options.
- Any status challenges within a 12 month period of a previous challenge.
Why This Is Counterintuitive
This is a problem for lots of new joiners to Marriott. If you are looking to switch brands where you already hold top-tier status, have shown tremendous loyalty and a high volume of business why would you have any status with other brands at all? I’d assume that Marriott would prefer to have 100% of their customer’s stays if possible. By only upgrading one level they think that they are protecting their current elite benefits, but instead they are only attracting those that are either unwilling or unable to be completely loyal to one brand.
The point, the very purpose of offering status matches and challenges to proven frequent travelers is to steal the business from competitors. The best targets are those that have achieved a top-tier elsewhere and have zero stays with your brand, they are the ones that have been so loyal that they don’t stay away from their brand at all.
Some business leaders control where others stay. My colleague that I had encouraged to try for the challenge is a Hilton Diamond – he earned it the hard way – and has exactly zero stays with any other brand. When we talked about why he might want to challenge, he mentioned that his team has another dozen or more nights this year, mostly one-night stays. They won’t all be staying at another property for those trips while he completes his challenge. This example is more or less a package deal for Marriott, if they win one challenger for a dozen nights, they are really selling 60 when he books the rest of his guys into the same property. Should he then re-qualify next year with Marriott at 75 nights the chain stands to gain at minimum 375 nights (75 nights @ five colleagues) or about $50,000 at an average nightly rate of $150.
He’s not a travel manager and he doesn’t directly book the rooms for his co-workers. Rather he is a leader of a team that generally stays wherever he does. That’s a lot of free business to decide you aren’t interested in and of course, he is just one of dozens (maybe a hundred) such team leaders. I’m not saying that this will directly earn or cost Marriott the extrapolation of that math ($50,000 per team at 100 teams) – but I’m also not saying it won’t.
Marriott reps suggested that the protection of their elite tiers for those that have qualified the hard way as the motivation for not allowing zero-to-hero type status challenges. That’s fair too and as an elite I appreciate their protection from those that might want the benefits but have no ambition to stay with the brand.
How much is Marriott really giving away though? Many limited service properties already offer some sort of free breakfast for all paying guests and these are the hotels that comprise the majority of Marriott, Hilton and IHG properties anyway. Upgrades at those properties are hard to come by as well since these smaller properties typically don’t offer large suites with exceptional amenities – there’s no Presidential suite at the Fairfield Inn. Late checkout is offered to all elite levels (though not terribly specific for silvers: “Call the front desk the morning of your check out, and let us know your planned departure time.”)
Perhaps the most costly benefit that Marriott may incur is the 50% increase in point accrual, but even that is less than one might perceive. After all, Marriott has unilateral control over the point cost of their nights and the value of those points. Hotel nights are also perishable – once the night passes, any unsold inventory is lost, giving more of those away doesn’t necessarily add to costs, but could increase ancillary revenue if guests occupy those rooms.
So What Is The Answer?
As I stated in my previous post on the challenge, I wasn’t required to show any verification of my status with another hotel chain – they took my word for it. Validation of status or proven business is key to ensuring that the valuable status they offer is limited to those who really will contribute to growing their business and winning customers away from competitors. I don’t mind showing proof of my activity to any company from which I am requesting equivalent status.
While I may not like it, perhaps Marriott should only give some perks and benefits upon completion of the status challenge. American and United Airlines, for example, want you to like flying with them and will offer the same upgrades based on availability, free baggage, and other status associated benefits. But the most valuable benefits such as confirmed Systemwide Upgrades are unavailable to challengers until they complete the challenge and in the case of United, a truncated quantity of those upgrades are given in the first year. That seems fair to me.
A final recommendation could close on of the loopholes listed above. One challenge per three-year period would make the ability to challenge to Gold and then challenge to Platinum within a twelve month and one day period from obtaining top-tier status for a couple of handfuls of stays. Alaska Airlines once offered a single status match once per lifetime. I happened to have matched to Alaska awhile ago and this restriction (though it may no longer be enforced) has kept me away from pursuing them again as I look for airline partners. United offers just one challenge per five-year period. A lot can happen in five years: American and US Airways were still separate carriers in that period, Marriott and SPG were still bitter enemies, Britain was still in Europe, Barack Obama was re-elected and we were all walking around with the archaic iPhone 5 (now we prepare for the iPhone [ten]). It makes sense that once every five years you may want to switch carriers and by choosing three years, that gives guests long enough to realize they want to come back to an old favorite hotel chain or carrier.
What do you think of the one-category challenge limitation? Is Marriott protecting their elite tiers or keeping good customers out?