The Dangers of Chasing Lifetime Elite Status

Lifetime Status

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.

My Situation

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.

Except…

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.

So…

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

Comments

    • SAR says

      @Miles, I don’t think the Plat elite level achieved by the annual credit card spend on the premium cards (Ritz, Brilliant) counts toward lifetime status – if that is what you are suggesting as a solution in this case for achieving lifetime status. Plat status is achieved for the next year and maintained each year you achieve the qualified spend level, but it is my understanding that these annual Plat achievements do not count toward the years required under the lifetime status scheme. I use the word “scheme” because I would have already made Lifetime Platinum (formerly Gold) under the old formula except for the recent moving of the goal posts under the Bonvoy regime.

  1. Bernard says

    Well technically you start with 16 nights, when you hold a co-brand Marriott credit card. 15 E Nights free, 1 Annual FN cert, so essentially you only need 34 nights every year for the next 3 to qualify. If you can stretch your points by staying CAT 1 properties, 34 nights is really easy to achieve given now Marriott’s larger footprint globally.

    But yes, you got the point right, it’s the allure that you get all these free bennies that you don’t want to book else where will become the consumer’s downfall.

  2. KK says

    It’s a dangerous and slippery (not to mention expensive) slope you’re delving into. I purchased a 3 year membership for NW’s WorldClub right at the announcement of the NW-DL merger. Back then, they didn’t require you to hold a boarding pass for DL/NW/SkyTeam carrier flight. It was great because international partner lounges would also recognize membership without requiring a boarding passes. Often, I would go early and get a gate pass, get into the lounge and wait for friends/family on incoming flights. Delta ring-fenced me by extending membership by 12 months for every year I qualified top tier diamond status. Fast forward to 2020, I’ve logged 2.25million miles on SkyTeam carriers because of my default lounge selection and still haven’t paid for any membership fees in over 10 years. But that of course, have been offset by paying premium for my DL flights instead.

    So, the story here: chase lifetime status early on when you’re in your 20s, not when you’re approaching midlife crisis (instead, spend the money on a motorcycle or other luxury vehicle).

  3. pete says

    I´m missing 1 year and 100 nights for lifetime Platinum. When looking for hotels, I usually find more Marriott than Hilton properties, and Moxys are popping up everywhere, so I can get a lot of cheap nights in a decent setting and use points or status in more expensive locations. So, depending on travel patterns, I´ll have Bonvoy Lifetime Platinum and Hilton Visa to get free breakfast at the hotel 🙂

    Unfortunately, outside of the US you actually have to stay at the hotels, can´t just get nights via a credit card,

    Alternatively, fork up the cash for an AMEX Platinum and get the proper status in all relevant programs. Get a good promo and your initial subscription brings along an intl flight in business on points.

    Airlines is a completely different thing. Used to get a lot of miles on united not flying, but with most airlines, you actually have to fly their hardware to get lifetime status.

    Oh, already have the luxury vehicle and the motorcycle 😉

  4. Paulo A T Kimaid says

    I totally agree with Craig. I bought a timeshare paying the worst interest ever for 10 y and became a SPG lifetime gold status. Also paid more to become a 4 star elite at Vistana and become a Lifetime Platinum. All my tentative to use a benefit I loose. Never have late check out, few times have an upgrade allowed, an the 5 free stays suite premium were not allowed at the hotels I chose last year. I’m afraid I did a bad choice. And being Brazilian it is worst cause it costs much more.

  5. Charles Sexton says

    I am lifetime Titanium. I don’t think that is offered anymore. I have two serious beefs with Marriott:

    1. On the website you can make special requests….. those are NEVER read by the person(s) doing bed assignments. I usually check in late, so I use the mobile check in app, and request a room on the same floor as the Concierge Lounge…. now I resort to calling the front desk. VERY POOR SERVICE

    2. Room upgrades are almost never offered. Again, VERY POOR SERVICE

    I have emailed CS and generally receive no responses

  6. Jim Ryan says

    Marriott has never let me down, I have hit platinum level for the last 16 years and I am still going strong with it. The program is great, their service and their people are incredible.

    JR
    Atlanta

  7. Andy says

    I have found that both Marriott and former SPG status recognition and service has deteriorated markedly since the Marriott takeover. I had SPG Lifetime plat that initially got me the old Marriott Play which was markedly better than the old Marriott Gold (which is what new Bonvoy Plat appears to be).

    Those who picked up the Lifetime Titanium seem to have done a little better but my overall stays have now dropped from circa 60 nights per year to about 10 last year. Marriott LT Plat is useful when you one of the properties is convenient but there are now few Marriotts that would ever be my first choice.

    I have been a Hilton Diamond too for circa 17 years and might just qualify for LT Diamond in another 15 years, Hilton LT is laughably difficult to qualify for and is little more than a token gesture IMHO. HH Diamond also seems to be worth far less now that any Tom, Dick or Harriett can get a Diamond via their credit card or other affinity partner, it typically means little more than a guaranteed free breakfast and access to a massively overcrowded and underwhelming Exec lounge in most properties. It is at least easy to qualify for with only 30 stays.

    This is my first year in 10 years without IHG Royal Ambassador. Given the benefits reduction for RA I am not sure I will miss IC’s or their limited footprint although I think I will more actively miss being Kimpton Inner Circle which seemed to be a status that mattered and yielded reliable and excellent upgrades. However I see no good incentive to stay at Kimptons now.

    Hyatt may be good but the footprint just doesn’t work for me and after 10 years on the IHG RA treadmill it is liberating to embrace more of a free choice. I am looking increasingly to non chain properties booked via Hotels.com to get reliable and easy to redeem reward nights. Most of the major chains seem to have shot themselves royally in the foot by weakening the benefits for status guests, such that if I need to pay in full for the room type I really want to be a likely outcome, then I might as well book via a third party that gives me something rather than a chain that gives me no additional benefit with the added bonus that I then just don’t need to limit myself to 2 or 3 chains where I hold status.

    Freedom is the future

  8. tom smart says

    MB is a joke. They provide a list of benefits that they only give you if they feel like it. Why should frequent stay guests who reach a certain reward level be made to feel as though they are begging for a suite or room upgrade or late check out when they check in? It’s so embarrassing, especially when they say, “ok, we will give you a room on a higher floor overlooking the garden.” Oh wow, how exciting that is. I’ll just sit in my room and stare out at the garden to get my money’s worth of that benefit. Yooo Hooo. And then there’s the crappy food at the lounge’s and Marriott’s recent decision to move all the lounges to the first floor level next to the restaurants and not to allow them to stay open 24 hours. Lounges used to be on a nice high floor with a view where you could have a place to go just to get our of your room for awhile. MB rewards are a joke as are their lounges. How about just giving us the benefits when we make our reservations. How’s that for a novel idea? Why not make the rewards more exciting by saying that a Maybach will be available for use, a nice dinner at a local steak house, etc. but only if the hotel wishes to give the benefit to you. haha. In fact, add a litany of benefits to make you feel important even though they never give them to you. What’s the difference since they never give them to you anyway.

  9. Ed Jenkins says

    Where did you get lifetime chart? I am in similar situation. I have 767 nights but only 7 years at Platinum. With that many nights it makes me wonder if the years are counted properly….

  10. hans blickman says

    timely. not sure that applies everywhere. remember $150 for lifetime America lounge access?
    have been platinum for life with klm/airfrance(lived there for a decade before and am dutch) for a decade or so now. that makes you 3rd or 4th in line when you fly delta. anywhere. but to be fair, when flying klm no automatic upgrades, no better seats, nothing anymore. the word loyalty is one way, yours to them, and devaluating by the hour. as flying has become like taking public trans, passengers are just that, cattle to be herded. plastic fork/knife in business…….deplorable seats compared to Etihad/emirates/singapore…could go on but you know all that.
    you then ask delta what they will do to cross over? nothing, not even a challenge…..so becoming a delta top dog not easy and probably not worth it.
    am afraid top tier loyalty will fade like first class.

  11. Zebraitis says

    I’m enjoying my Lifetime Titanium status with Marriott… or as I have come to call it: Unobtainium, as it is no longer offered. No longer need to chase nights.

    To make this easier, getting Hilton Diamond with the AmEx Hilton Aspire is a no-brainer. Right now, I am sitting in an upgraded room in Vail Colorado, with an expected 3 foot snowfall. But no night chasing there either

    Airline status, on the other hand, is a real PITA.

  12. Evaluating 1K says

    I agree with KK. A slippery slope. I got over a million miles with AA program and the lifetime status I got is pretty much useless. I changed my hub airport and now I am 1K and close to a million miles with UA, but the last couple of years I have been debating if it is worthwhile to stick with them anymore. My international flights are usually business class so I get all the perks, but it is almost impossible to get an upgrade in the long national flights even with my 1K status. Is it worth chasing the lifetime status when other airlines offer comparable to better service at competitive pricing?

  13. Dublin_rfk says

    Well I don’t have to worry about ‘chasing’ lifetime status. I woke up one morning a year or two after Bonvoy was born and received a notice that I had achieved lifetime Titanium status! Great! I thought what the heck is Titanium? And today I still don’t know.

  14. Roelof de Kroes says

    One of the best investments I have ever made was the purchase (in 1980 when I was 26) of a lifetime membership with PAN AM’s Clipper Club. The idea of Businessclass travel & lounge access was fairly new at the time and it set me back only US$ 100.00 or so.

    I am located in the Netherlands. When PAN AM started “slimming down” it sold its London base and routes to United (Amsterdam was part of the London base, although they had direct flights from Amsterdam to JFK, they also had a feeder flight to LHR). Shortly after they sold their Frankfurt base and Continental European routes to Delta. I found myself in the luxury position that I could transfer my Pan Am miles to either United or Delta. Since Delta would not honor my Elite status with PAN AM (they reckoned it was inflated), I chose United – and have clocked up well over 1 million Mileage Plus miles (1 mio miler – effectively United/Star Alliance Gold for life). However as the Netherlands were officially part of the Continental European deal struck with Delta, I ended up with lifetime lounge access to their Crown lounges and partner lounges.

    Not living in the US, US credit cards accumulating points on either airline are no option – I had to fly all 1.2 mio miles on United metal. Since the merger with Continental the quality of the airline has gone down to the point where I stopped flying them – but still make good use of my status for lounge access when flying on STAR Alliance partners. From United I have shifted my flying to KLM and SKY Team partners and am now close to achieving Platinum for life status on AF-KL.

    My lifetime SPG gold status does not amount to much anymore, but is a nice thing to have, although the status match with United Gold for life, effectively gives me a “double” lifetime Gold status in Marriott Bonvoy.

    So Yes: Do try to get a lifetime status early in life, stay loyal and enjoy the benefits for a long time … and, sorry, outside North America you’re stuck with AMEX, or a branded credit card of a local airline (also AMEX mostly) without any of the exceptional deals you end up with at the other side of the pond.

  15. Tang says

    I have been since the SPG’s time a platinum member for 11 years and my earned points are well above 600. So I am a lifetime platinum elite of Marriott Bonvoy. I must say if I compare these two years of Marriott Bonvoy elite with the previous years of SPG platinum member, the latter is far better in every way, particularly at suite upgrading. The standard of the loyalty program is going down quite a lot. Yet I must admit that a lifetime platinum elite is something valuable to own and able to give you convenience and extra benefits, though worse than before, and therefore is still a good thing to pursue If you will reach lifetime platinum in only 3 years’ time (7 years already). I would suggest you should go for it in these three years.

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