Platinum for Life! Gold Guest List for Life! What’s not to like? It sounds fantastic… a deserving reward for a lifetime of “loyalty” to an airline or hotel chain. Of course, lifetime elite status doesn’t always mean YOUR lifetime… just ask a lifetime elite member of BMI Diamond Club how well that worked out for them…
However, why would airline or hotel executives just give away elite benefits forever? I can guarantee you that “loyalty” – at least on a two-way basis – has absolutely nothing to do with it! Instead, the lure of “lifetime” status is one way of holding on to customers that might otherwise be thinking of making a change. And that is dangerous for those of us “travel hackers” who try to use loyalty programs to our own advantage. Here is my situation, where try as I may, I struggle to escape the lure of lifetime elite status.
Marriott Lifetime Platinum
With the launch of Marriott Bonvoy, a new system of lifetime status was implemented. You can essentially ignore Lifetime Silver and Lifetime Gold, as the benefits of those levels of status are rubbish to put it bluntly.
Platinum on the other hand, is a very valuable elite status to hold. Platinum members receive:
- Room upgrades (subject to availability but potentially including suites)
- Guaranteed 4 p.m. late check-out (except at resorts where it is subject to availability)
- Bonus points, both welcome amenity points and a 50% bonus on the standard 10 points per US dollar spent
- Lounge access
- Free breakfast at most, but not all, Marriott brands.
Since Platinum status with Marriott Bonvoy normally requires 50+ nights per calendar year to achieve, the prospect of reaching Lifetime Platinum status can be very tempting. No more late-year mattress runs. No more Excel spreadsheets to track progress towards those 50 nights. As a lifetime Platinum, whenever a Marriott Bonvoy property worked for me, I would be able to book it and know I’d get my valuable (to me) elite benefits.
And I’m relatively close…
I’ve already reached the 600 night hurdle, but require 3 more years as a Platinum member. With 50 nights in each of 2020, 2021 and 2022 I’d be there.
A few weeks ago Rob at HeadforPoints received a lot of flak when he gave a special “Editor’s Choice” award to Marriott Bonvoy. I happen to agree with him. In my opinion, Marriott Bonvoy is certainly the BEST DESIGNED hotel loyalty program. There really is a lot to like, ranging from:
- Elite benefits that are valuable, and actually delivered
- An excellent earn/burn ratio, with airline miles as a strong alternative to hotel nights for spending your points
- Cash back on paid rates
- Hotels absolutely everywhere, with brands ranging from aspirational luxury to cheap one-nighters
However, Marriott Bonvoy’s design is being let down by horrible implementation and lousy customer service. Would I really choose Marriott Bonvoy today, knowing that:
- The IT systems have been in meltdown since Day 1. The latest problems are “zombie reservations“, whose cancellation does not actually reach the hotel and a random re-pricing of award stays (never in your favor of course).
- Many paid stays do not post points/elite nights to your account and require chasing.
- Best Rate Guarantee claims are now much more difficult to find.
- Bonus point promotions don’t run year-round, and even when available, most Bonvoy promotions are simply not lucrative enough to make a difference
- The peak / off-peak award chart seems to offer lots of “peak” dates and very few “off-peak” dates, at least for those hotels I’m interested in visiting.
- If you have to deal with customer service, your problem may never be resolved. Senior management clearly doesn’t care either.
The Grass Isn’t Necessarily Greener…
After several years enjoying hotel elite status, I can say quite definitively, at least for my own travel habits and preferences, that IHG simply doesn’t cut it, despite Joe’s best efforts to convince me otherwise.
Hilton could be an option – a useful level of elite status can be achieved for far less than 50 nights per year – but I like to earn hotel points that retain their value. Hilton’s regular and repeated overnight award pricing changes destroy my trust in Hilton Honors. And apart from a few luxury hotels in Asia, I’ve never felt that Diamond or Gold status made much of a difference in terms of room upgrades, etc.
Hyatt Globalist would remain the obvious choice for me, but there’s no question that finding 60 nights in a calendar year to stay at a Hyatt requires (at the very least) some sub-optimal hotel choices to go along with those guaranteed suite upgrades at Asian beach resorts.
And, of course, free agency is an option – simply choosing whatever hotel works best in each situation – however I spent many years traveling that way, and “you get what you pay for” doesn’t work for me. In fact, if I’d paid more attention earlier in my career – during those 6 years with SPG Gold status – I’d already have my lifetime status.
Is it worth staying with Marriott Bonvoy 50 nights during 2020? I’d really say no… although I’m just one out of millions of Bonvoy members. Management really needs to get the message that there are serious issues that require fixing…. IMMEDIATELY!
Yet the lure of lifetime elite status is strong… and once I give up on Marriott Platinum status, would I ever bother to get it back?
What do you think? Do you completely ignore your progress towards lifetime status? Or does it entice you to make decisions that might not be optimal? Let us know in the comments section…
By Craig Sowerby