How to Earn Marriott Elite Status

As with airline frequent flyer programs, hotel companies offer their own loyalty programs with elite membership levels to reward their most frequent guests. Among such programs, Marriott Rewards offers several elite membership levels: Silver, Gold, Platinum, Platinum Premier, and Platinum Premier with Ambassador. Each elite level comes with additional benefits during hotel stays at Marriott (including SPG and Ritz Carlton) properties. These benefits may include bonus points, guaranteed rooms, upgrades, welcome gifts, free breakfast, lounge access, early checking and late checkout. To earn Marriott elite status, you earn the required number of elite night credits during a calendar year. Elite night credits are earned for each night stayed at a Marriott hotel, whether for a paid or an award stay.

Silver elite

Silver Elite Benefits

Stay 10 or more nights at Marriott hotels in a calendar year and you will earn Silver Elite status. Elite Night Credits can be a combination of paid and award stays. Elite status is good for the rest of the year you earn it and the following year. Silver Elite is a card membership benefit with American Express Starwood Preferred Guest and Chase Marriott credit cards (personal or business). Silver Elite benefits include 10% bonus points on eligible spending during stays and priority late checkout.

gold elite

Gold Elite Benefits

You earn Gold Elite status after staying 25 nights, including award stays, in a calendar year. In my post, Earning Points for Free Hotel Stays, I mention 15 elite night credits added to your account each year for being a cardmember of an American Express Starwood Preferred Guest or Chase Marriott credit card. In this case, you only need 10 more Elite Night Credits. You receive one set of Elite Night Credits per year even with multiple cards. Another way to earn Gold Elite status is by spending $35,000 with one of these cards in a calendar year. Gold Elite status is also a benefit of the premium Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Luxury Card.

Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Luxury Card
Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Luxury Card

Gold Elite benefits include 25% bonus points (for a total of 12.5 per dollar), enhanced room upgrade (higher floor, club level, improved view, larger room), 2PM late checkout and a welcome gift of points (250 or 500 depending on the hotel brand).

platinum elite

Platinum Elite Benefits

You earn Platinum Elite status after staying 50 nights, including award stays, in a calendar year. If you have an American Express Starwood Preferred Guest or Chase Marriott credit card, you only need 35 more Elite Night Credits. Some of the benefits of Platinum Elite benefits include 50% more points (for a total of 15 per dollar), room upgrades (including select suites), welcome gift (points, breakfast, or other amenity), 4PM late checkout and lounge access. When you reach 50 nights, you can choose from five Suite Night Award certificates, five Elite Night Credits (for the current year), or several other options. For 2018, I chose Suite Night Award certificates that I will use for our trips to Hawaii or Europe. Certificates are applied to specific room bookings – one per night. They do not guarantee a suite upgrade but in my experience from the original SPG Platinum benefit they work most of the time.

As a Platinum Elite member, room upgrades and late checkout benefits are very useful for vacation stays. I have been fortunate to be upgraded to some amazing suites, such as Wow Suite at W Paris Opéra.

W Paris Suite
Wow Suite at W Paris Opéra

Platinum Premier Elite

You earn Platinum Premier Elite status after staying 75 nights, including award stays, in a calendar year. If you a Marriott (or SPG) co-branded credit cards, you need 60 more Elite Night Credits. Some of the benefits of Platinum Premier Elite include 75% more points (for a total of 17.5 per dollar), room upgrades (including select suites), welcome gift (points, breakfast, or other amenity), 4PM late checkout and lounge access. When you reach 75 nights, you choose from an additional five Suite Night Award certificates, five Elite Night Credits (for the current year), or several other options.

With the recent introduction of a partnership with Hertz, Marriott Platinum Premier members who register wtih Hertz Gold Plus Rewards receive Five Star or President’s Circle status. Benefits include car upgrades and bonus points.

Marriott-Hertz Partnership Benefits
Marriott-Hertz Partnership Benefits

platinum premier elite with ambassador

Platinum Premier Elite with Ambassador

When you stay 100 nights you earn Platinum Premier Elite with Ambassador status. In addition to receiving Platinum Premier Elite benefits you are assigned a Marriott ambassador to assist you with reservations, award bookings, and provide help during stays. Another amazing benefit (Your24) allows you to select your check-in and check-out times – useful if you arrive early morning after a red-eye flight, or to extend your stay into the evening of your departure.

Lifetime ELITE

Marriott Lifetime Elite

You earn Lifetime Silver Elite, Lifetime Gold Elite or Lifetime Platinum Elite by staying a total of 250, 400 or 600 nights combined as a member of Marriott Rewards, Ritz-Carlton Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG). There are also requirements for the number of years of elite status. For example, to earn Lifetime Platinum Elite you would need to have stayed 600 nights and been a Platinum Elite member for at least 10 years. You check your personal Lifetime Status within the Marriott app on your smartphone.

Summary

Hotel elite status benefits may include room upgrades, free breakfast, and more, plus faster points earning. One of my favorite hotel companies is Marriott, from my original membership in the Sheraton loyalty program that eventually became part of the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG). I am fortunate to have earned lifetime Gold Elite status, and Platinum Premier Elite for 2019 by owning an American Express SPG card and staying more than 75 nights with a combination of paid and award stays during 2018. When we stay at Marriott/SPG hotels we enjoy the benefits of upgraded rooms, free breakfast and late check-out. If you have a favorite hotel company, I’d love hearing how you earn elite status and the benefits you enjoy.

Earning Points for Free Hotel Stays

UPDATED 12/30/2018: Marriott’s previously announced plans to combine their three loyalty programs (Marriott Rewards, The Ritz-Carlton Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest) into one (name to be announced)  have now been implemented.

In the early 1990’s, I signed up for Sheraton’s loyalty program. At the time, I paid $20 per year to upgrade my membership to their Gold level. As a result, I often received free upgrades and access to the Sheraton Club lounges for free food and drinks. Sheraton was one of the first hotel chains acquired by Starwood. In addition to Sheraton, Starwood brands included Westin, The Luxury Collection, Four Points, W Hotels, St. Regis, Le Méridien, Aloft and more. Since 2016, Starwood merged into Marriott International. Starwood’s loyalty program was called Starwood Preferred Guest, or SPG as it is commonly known. As an SPG member, you earned Starpoints on hotels stays and related spending. While many hotel chains offer similar loyalty programs, most of my personal experience has been with Starwood so that’s the primary basis of this post. I updated this post recently to include updates to the newly combined Marriott Rewards loyalty program but check the Marriott site for up to date information.

Earning points WITH HOTEL STAYS

To begin earning Marriott points, sign up for Marriott loyalty program membership. As a basic member, you earn ten points per dollar spent at Marriott’s 29-brand hotels and resorts worldwide. It’s worth noting that not all dollars spent at the hotels will earn you points – some exclusions includes taxes and fees, including resort fees, but there are others. You earn more points as an elite member, Silver (+10%), Gold (+50%), or Platinum (+75%) (see my post on Earning Marriott Elite status for details). Whenever you book a room, and at check-in, give your Marriott loyalty membership number to make sure you earn points for your stay. You also earn points for most restaurant, bar and activities charged to your room (some hotels have exclusions so be sure to ask). When you charge your hotel stay to a Chase Marriott or American Express SPG card, you also earn six additional points per dollar. As you can see, if you are a high elite member of Marriott’s loyalty program and you use one of their partner credit cards to pay for your stay, you can earn over 20 points per dollar. I value one Marriott point at just under one cent so that’s around 20% return on your spending.

Tip #1: I prefer to book my Marriott hotel rooms using the Marriott website (www.marriott.com) or one of there phone apps. I check available hotels, room rates and award pricing quickly as I plan for trips. I give more information to the hotel via notes in the reservation to improve the chance of upgrades to a room with a better view or bigger size, or to specify a request for early check-in or late check-out. Be aware that, although you may find lower prices at third party online travel agents (OTA),  you may not earn points or elite benefits. One exception I use several times a year is the Citi Prestige “4th Night Free” benefit by contacting their “concierge” to book four or more nights. I give my Marriott number to the concierge and they contact the hotel to add it to the reservation. In this way, I earn points for my stay and also get the elite benefits provided by the hotel.

Tip #2: I often choose Marriott’s Your Choice program to skip housekeeping services during short stays. You earn up to 500 points for each day you opt out of housekeeping services. The hotels typically offer door hangers to show you are opting out of housekeeping services the following day. You can also “opt out” for your entire stay by setting a preference in online reservation, or ask at the hotel during check-in.

Earning POINTS WITH Credit Cards

American Express

Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Luxury Card

Charge your restaurant, bar and spa bills to your room and pay with a Marriott or SPG branded credit card to earn six points per dollar. American Express offers three versions of their co-branded card, two personal cards and one business card:

American Express currently offers 75,000 bonus points for spending $3,000 in the first three months. I value the bonus at around $700. American Express waives the $95 annual fee in the first year for their basic personal and business cards. While the Luxury card comes with a hefty $450 annual fee it has several travel benefits that help to reduce the impact:

  • $300 statement credit for spending at Marriott hotels each cardmember year
  • $100 Global Entry or $85 TSA PreCheck fee credit
  • Priority Pass Select membership for airport lounge access (for cardmember plus two guests)
  • Annual free night award up to 50,000 points
  • Marriott Gold elite status
  • Ability to earn Platinum elite status after spending $75,000 in a calendar year
  • 15 elite night credits towards earning higher elite status during a calendar year

For details of each card, I suggest reading the terms of each offer at the American Express site.

TIP #3: You earn an annual credit of 15 nights towards Marriott elite status with an open American Express SPG or Chase Marriott credit card. The credits appear in your Marriott account at the beginning of each year. Therefore, to achieve Marriott Gold you need to earn 10 more nights for a total of 25 in a calendar year, or 35 more nights for Platinum (50 nights total). You cannot earn more than 15 nights from owning more than one American Express or Chase credit cards.

Amex Membership Rewards Logo

In addition to their SPG credit cards, American Express offers its own Membership Rewards cards. Membership Rewards points transfer to many airline and hotel loyalty programs, including Marriott. Membership Rewards points transfer to Marriott at a 1:1 ratio.

American Express offers several credit and charge cards that earn Membership Rewards points. Charge card balances are paid off every month, but otherwise are similar to credit cards. Some examples are:

  • American Express Platinum Card – 60,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $5,000 in the first three months. If you transfer the Membership Rewards bonus points to Marriott, you have enough points for a couple of free nights at category 4 hotels (25,000 points per night). The annual fee is $550 but the card comes with many benefits to reduce the real cost, including annual $200 airline fee credits, monthly Uber credits, airport lounge access and more.
  • American Express Gold Card – a recently relaunched version of this classic card. New cardmembers earn 50,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $2,000 in the first three months. By transferring bonus Membership Rewards points to Marriott you have enough points to book one free night at a category 5 hotel (50,000 points per night). Annual fee is $250 but the card includes a $100 annual airline fee statement credit that is available on a calendar year basis.
Chase

Chase offers two Marriott co-branded credit cards

Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Card

Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Plus – 75,000 bonus Marriott points with $3,000 spending in the first three months. You earn six points per dollar spent at Marriott hotels, and two points per dollar on other spending. The annual fee is $95.

Chase Marriott Premier Business Card

Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Business – 75,000 bonus Marriott points with $3,000 spending in the first three months. You earn six points per dollar spent at Marriott hotels, four points per dollar spent on gas station, restaurant, shipping, internet, cable and phone service purchases, and two points per dollar on everything else. The annual fee is $99.

Both cards come with a Free Night Award certificate worth up to 35,000 points (category 1-4 hotel) after each account anniversary.

Chase Ultimate Rewards

You earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points using the following cards:

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred – 50,000 bonus points with $4,000 spending in first three months, $0 introductory annual fee, after that $95. This is a great starter credit card for anyone wishing to earn points for free travel with a variety of airlines and hotels. You earn two Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on travel and dining at restaurants, and one point for everything else.
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve – 50,000 bonus points with $4,000 spending in first three months. This is the premium Chase Sapphire card and comes with an annual fee of $450. However, there are many ways to cut the real annual cost of this card, including the annual $300 annual travel credit, Priority Pass Select airport lounge access and more. You earn three Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on travel and dining worldwide and one point for everything else.
  • Chase Ink Business Preferred Card – 80,000 bonus points with $5,000 spending in first three months, $95 annual fee. Earn three Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on travel and select business categories, and one point for everything else. You can apply for Chase business cards even if you are a sole proprietor, operating from your home, with no IRS EIN.

Ultimate Rewards points transfer to Marriott points at a 1:1 ratio.

Earning points with Airline Flights

United Airlines

You earn bonus Marriott points when you register with Marriott’s airline partners and buy flights. However, you must have Marriott elite status to receive these bonuses.

  • China Eastern – earn three Marriott points for every four China Eastern Miles on China Eastern flights. Marriott Platinum elite members enjoy priority check-in, boarding and luggage handling; and access to China Eastern business-class lounges and an excess-luggage allowance. This partnership is not currently open for new registrations. If you linked account prior to July 15, 2018, you’ll continue to earn points and receive priority benefits.
  • Emirates – earn three Marriott points per dollar spent on all eligible Emirates flights in addition to Emirates Skywards Miles. Marriott Platinum elite meambers enjoy priority check-in and priority boarding. This partnership is not currently open for new registrations. If you linked account prior to July 15, 2018, you’ll continue to earn points and receive priority benefits.
  • United – United and Marriott offer reciprocal benefits to their members via the RewardsPlus program. United’s MileagePlus elite members (Premier Gold and above) receive complimentary Marriott Gold status. Marriott Platinum elite members receive United Premier Silver status. The partnership also enables transfers up to 50,000 MileagePlus miles per calendar year to a linked Marriott Rewards account at a 1:1 ratio. Marriott members get 10% more miles, in addition to the bonus of 5,000 miles for every 60,000 points when transferring points to MileagePlus miles. Thus, 60,000 points convert to 27,000 miles.

Earning starpoints with Car Rentals

Hertz

Hertz – earn 2,000 Marriott points on rentals of two to four days, and 3,000 points on rentals of five days or more. In addition, Marriott Platinum Premier and Platinum Premier with Ambassador status can register with Hertz for complimentary Hertz Gold Plus Rewards Five Star or President’s Circle respectively.

Hertz Marriott-SPG Partnership

Hertz Gold Plus Rewards Five Star and President’s Circle status offers upgrades and bonus points.

Hertz Gold Plus Rewards Benefits

Sixt Logo

Sixt – earn 750 Marriott points for every rental with Sixt worldwide. Members also earn 1,000 points for Sixt Limousine Service and three points per dollar spent with Sixt mydriver.

Earning points by Hosting MeetingS

Meeting Modern Conference Room

When you host a business meeting or other event, including a wedding, at a Marriott hotel, you earn up to 60,000 points per event on eligible room, food, beverages and A/V charges at a rate of two points per dollar. Platinum members earn up to 105,000 points per event. In addition, you earn 10 elite nights credit for your first meeting and one elite night credit for each additional 20 room nights you book, up to 20 credits per contract.

MARRIOTT Promotions

Marriott MegaBonus Promotion 2018
Marriott MegaBonus Promotion 2018

Marriott occasionally offers promotions to earn bonus points via challenges throughout the year. Check for the most up-to-date offers on their website. The current promotion is called MegaBonus. You earn 2,000 bonus points on all stays of two or more nights and 1,000 points per brand, starting with your second brand. Stay at all 29 Marriott brands to earn an additional 29,000 points, stay at 10 brands to earn 10,000 points. Register for the promotion by January 7, 2019. The promotion runs until January 31, 2019.

Buying MARRIOTT points

Buy Marriott Points
Buy Marriott Points

Members may buy up to 50,000 Marriott points per calendar year. The price is $12.50 per 1,000 points, so 50,000 points costs $625. This may be useful to top up your Marriott account for specific hotel award redemptions, but otherwise is an expensive way to accumulate points.

Summary

There are many ways to earn Marriott points. I recommend registering for Marriott Rewards and apply for one of the American Express or Chase co-branded SPG or Marriott credit cards to earn points from your hotel stays and regular spending. If needed, top up your account using airline mile transfers and earn bonus points from Marriott car rental partners. You’ll be amazed how quickly you can earn tens of thousands of Marriott points to book free hotel rooms at Marriott’s 6,700+ hotels. Next: Check out my post on how to book free hotel rooms.

Booking Free Hotel Rooms

Redeeming points for a well-earned vacation gives you a nice warm feeling and keeps dollars in your wallet. Cash you save on hotel rooms is useful for spending on meals, drinks and other activities. I also love booking free hotel rooms with points since it gives me more flexibility than paying with cash. Unlike free flight awards, hotel reservations made with points can be canceled or changed without penalty before your arrival. When you book with cash, especially via third-party sites or prepaid rates, you may be stuck should your plans change.

Starwood have some great opportunities for saving money with their SPG Starpoints. Hotels are grouped into seven categories ranging from basic Category 1 hotels (e.g. Four Points Kansas City Airport) to Category 7 luxury hotels and resorts (e.g. The Gritti Palace, Venice). The categories are based on multiple factors, including location, amenities, average rate, time of year (high/low seasons) and nearby hotels. One free night at a Category 1 hotels costs 2,000 – 3,000 Starpoints per room, for a standard room. At the other end of the spectrum, a free night at a Category 7 hotel costs 30,000 – 35,000 Starpoints. Specialty resorts, such as those offering only suite or villas, cost more and must be booked via Starwood’s service centers. For a complete list of SPG hotel categories click here

TIP #1: An added benefit of booking rooms with Starpoints is you do not pay any taxes. However, you still pay resort fees direct to the hotel or resort, if applicable.

I try to get the best value from my points by researching room rates for the dates I want to visit a destination and comparing them to award rates for free stays. Firstly, I log into my SPG account or SPG smartphone app on my smartphone. In either case, I enter my desired destination – city, airport, or hotel name – along with arrival and departure dates. Also, I make sure to add the number of guests who will be staying in the room, including children. This is especially important if I am booking a hotel at an international destination since the maximum number of guests per room is often lower compared to U.S. hotel. This avoids potential issues and extra costs at check-in time.

Booking Free Hotel rooms with points

Here’s an example of a hotel search I made for a visit to San Francisco in December:

SPG Search

Clicking on SEARCH, displays a list of available hotels along with the lowest rates and the cost in Starpoints per free night.

SPG Search Results

For example, in this display I see The Westin St. Francis on Union Square, a property I’ve stayed at many times, is offered at $265, or 20,000 Starpoints, per night. This hotel is an SPG Category 6 hotel. Occasionally, an SPG Cash & Points rate is shown, but this is not always offered for all selected dates. SPG Cash & Points provides a way to stretch Starpoints over more nights by combining a lower Starpoints rate with cash. For example, in this search, an SPG Cash & Points rate is offered for 10,000 Starpoints plus $180 per night plus taxes. Further down the list, I also see The Park Central hotel, a more reasonably priced hotel located near the Moscone Convention Center – it is an SPG Category 5 hotel. This hotel is offered at a rate of $163 or 12,000 Starpoints per night. Based on my experience, these hotels are offering relatively low cash rates for the selected dates, so if I were to book these I would likely pay cash rates with my Amex SPG card, and earn more Starpoints. When researching free hotel stays, I use a Starpoint value of 2.5 cents. Thus, if I can snag a free stay with a value of over 2.5 cents I am happy. However, for this example I select the SPG Free Nights rate, and check the Bed Type I want to reserve, usually a King Bed. I click on Book Now and check my personal information, such as name, address, SPG Number and email address are correct. As a Platinum elite member, I can select my room upgrade options, such as Largest Room, Best View or Highest Floor and more. I can also request early check-in and late check-out times and more. Finally, I click on COMPLETE RESERVATION and look for an email confirmation of my reservation. On the SPG smartphone app, I also check the reservation details under My Stays and Reservation Details.

Platinum Preferences
Platinum Stay Preferences

TIP #2: Reservations made with Starpoints may be cancelled without penalty before the date specified in the Cancellation Policy section of your reservation confirmation. In this case, Starpoints are returned to your account.

Westin Maui
Westin Maui Resort and Spa

TIP #3: Book five nights or more with Starpoints and get the fifth night free at Category 3-7 hotels! For example, if the SPG Free Nights rate is 12,000 Starpoints per night, you can book a one week stay for 72,000 Starpoints. I often use this benefit to stay at the Westin Maui Resort & Spa. For a recent stay in January, I booked seven nights for 120,000 Starpoints (one night is typically 20,000 Starpoints) with one night free. If I had paid cash, the lowest total price was around $3,500. As an SPG Platinum elite member I also received an upgraded ocean view room and daily full buffet breakfast for two (regularly over $30 per person per day), saving hundreds more dollars during our stay.

upgrading your free hotel room

After you earn SPG Gold or Platinum elite status, you often receive an upgraded room at check-in. I review my reservation, using the SPG app on my iPhone, a couple of days before I am due to check into a hotel to see if they have pre-assigned an upgraded room, or even a suite. Within the Room Features section of the Reservation Details I often find the room type is upgraded from my original reservation. If you aren’t too bothered knowing in advance it can be a nice surprise to hear that wonderful news “we thank you for being an SPG elite member and your continued loyalty and we have upgraded your room to a suite…”! Believe me, it does happen more often than you might think.

Vienna Imperial Suite
Hotel Imperial, Vienna

The SPG program states a benefit of being Gold or Platinum elite is an upgraded room (Platinum upgrades may include standard suites), subject to availability at check-in. However, this is far from a guarantee, especially if you are visiting a popular destination at a busy time. If you prefer to book into an upgraded room, you can call SPG at 1-888-625-4988 and ask about the rates. If you prefer to redeem Starpoints for an upgraded room, including suites, you may call Starwood Reservations. Ask the customer service agent for the Starpoint (or Cash & Points) rate for upgraded rooms at your selected hotel.

Here are the point rates per hotel category for upgraded rooms and suites:

SPG Upgrade Chart

These points are in addition to those required for standard award redemptions. Typically, booking a suite with points costs double the standard rate. However, you can also use these rates to upgrade a room you booked with a cash rate. In order to use points in this way, you must book a flexible rate that’s eligible to earn points and is also eligible for elite nights/stay credit – make sure to book rooms via the Starwood site since rooms booked via third-party sites aren’t upgradable.

If you have earned SPG Platinum elite status by staying a minimum of 50 nights in a calendar year, you’ll receive the option to select an added benefit of Suite Night Awards. These are used for both cash and award stays to upgrade to request an upgrade to a suite. This includes:

  • Award reservations using Starpoints
  • SPG Cash & Points reservations
  • Flexible and prepaid rates
  • AAA/AARP rates

Each Suite Night Award is used for one night, but you can use multiple awards for a longer stay. Once you’ve made your reservation, check the reservation details and you’ll see a link to apply upgrade requests using your available Suite Night Awards. You’ll receive an email notification when the upgrade request clears or not a few days before your arrival. In some cases, the hotel will upgrade you to a suite as a benefit of being SPG Platinum. In this case, your Suite Night Awards are deposited back to your account. Suite Night Awards expire, usually the end of the calendar year after the year you first received them.

As a reminder, you can start each calendar year with five nights toward elite status when you have either of the American Express (Amex) SPG credit cards. If you have both cards, you only need to stay 40 more nights at Starwood properties to earn Platinum elite status for the rest of this year and the next year. You can also link your SPG account with Marriott Rewards and receive an elite status match to Marriott Platinum too.

To apply for the Amex SPG cards, click one of the links below (I do not receive any referral fee from these links).

Summary

While there are several ways to earn SPG Starpoints, the easiest are to book and stay at Starwood hotels, and use one of the Amex SPG cards for your regular spending. Booking free hotel stays is easy – check out the redemption rates for your destination and dates using either the Starwood web site, or the SPG smartphone app. You can top up your SPG account using airline mile transfers, and earn bonus Starpoints from SPG partners, such as Hertz. You’ll be amazed how quickly you can earn tens of thousands of Starpoints for a free or upgraded vacation stay at thousands of hotels and resorts worldwide.