Marriott Bonvoy is the best hotel loyalty program for Canadian travellers, and its elite status program can deliver tremendous benefits once you reach the higher status tiers.
Earning Platinum Elite status at 50 qualifying nights per year is widely considered to be the most significant threshold, where most of the best elite benefits come into play.
In this article, let’s take a look at a few of the best ways you can earn Platinum Elite status without necessarily having to stay the full 50 nights.
Why Is Platinum Elite Status So Valuable?
The Platinum Elite level is where the loyalty benefits truly start to do their work for you.
The most significant benefit is likely the free breakfast offering, which many travellers seek to maximize by loading up on food in the morning, thus saving themselves the time and expense of eating lunch while they’re out and about for the day.
Suite upgrades can also be an awesome surprise and can really make your trip a memorable one, especially if you’re in the habit of asking the front desk for a suite upgrade proactively.
Moreover, 4pm late checkout is an invaluable benefit that really allows you to make the most of your time at the hotel when you plan to depart later in the day.
And at hotels with Club Lounges or Executive Lounges, these intimate spaces provide the perfect place to meet a friend, catch up on some work, or just unwind at the end of the day.
Moreover, the evening cocktail spread can often serve as a dinner replacement, which can save you lots of money if you’re travelling on a budget. It’s usually advertised as “evening canapés” or “light bites”, but you can keep going back for more portions. 😉
So, what are the best ways to achieve Platinum Elite? While the traditional way is to spend 50 nights in Marriott hotels, there are quite a few shortcuts and workarounds to “finesse” your way to that target.
Instant Platinum Elite Status: American Express US Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card
As of September 2022, the American Express US Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card will automatically grant cardholders Platinum Elite status for as long as they are a cardholder.
This is by far the most straightforward way to earn Platinum Elite status without having to step foot in a single hotel room. Indeed, it almost feels a bit too good to be true that one can attain Platinum Elite status so easily.
The card has an annual fee of $650 (USD), although it’s offset by a $25 (USD) monthly worldwide dining credit, which brings the effective annual fee down to $350 (USD) if you can maximize this credit each month.
Beyond the instant Platinum Elite status, the Bonvoy Brilliant also offers plenty of other benefits to justify that $350 (USD) net annual fee, such as an anniversary Free Night Award worth 85,000 Bonvoy points, 25 elite night credits, a Priority Pass membership with unlimited visits, and more.
For Canadians, this card can be obtained during the early stages of getting into US credit card as a Canadian, since Amex US applications don’t require an SSN or ITIN to complete.
15 Elite Nights: The Marriott Bonvoy American Express Cards
If you don’t want to get the Bonvoy Brilliant Card, you’ll have to work your way up to Platinum Elite status the traditional way, by earning a total of 50 elite qualifying nights.
Right off the bat, however, we can earn 15 of those by holding either one of the Canadian-issued Amex Bonvoy cards: the American Express Marriott Bonvoy Card or the American Express Marriott Bonvoy Business Card.
New cardholders will see the 15 elite nights posted to their accounts shortly after opening the credit card. Meanwhile, if you’re a current cardholder, you’ll most likely see your 15 elite nights credited at the start of every year.
Indeed, if you have any interest in maximizing the Marriott Bonvoy program for free hotel stays, then having one of these credit cards is basically a prerequisite, so I imagine most of you will be receiving this 15-night boost almost by default.
15 or 25 More Elite Nights: Holding a Personal and Business US-Issued Bonvoy Card
The US-issued Marriott Bonvoy credit cards allow you to earn two sets of elite nights from credit cards, for up to 40 elite nights in total, if you hold both a personal and a business card issued in the US.
Personal Bonvoy cards in the US include the Amex US Bonvoy Brilliant Card, the Amex US Bonvoy Bevy Card, the Chase Bonvoy Bountiful Card, the Chase Bonvoy Boundless Card, and the Chase Bonvoy Bold Card.
There’s also the Amex US Bonvoy Card and Chase Ritz-Carlton Card, which are legacy personal products that are no longer available to new applicants and are only available by product-switching from a different card.
All of these personal cards except the Bonvoy Brilliant Card earn you 15 elite qualifying nights. The Bonvoy Brilliant Card earns you 25 elite qualifying nights; however, if you hold this card, you’ll already have instant Platinum Elite status as outlined above, so the extra elite nights are only useful for earning an Annual Choice Benefit at 50 nights or reaching Titanium Elite status at 75 nights.
Meanwhile, the only small business Bonvoy card in the US is the Amex US Bonvoy Business Card, although there’s also the legacy Chase Bonvoy Business which has been discontinued for new applicants.
For Canadians, out of all the possible combinations of personal and business cards, it’s probably easiest to apply for two American Express products (i.e., either the Bonvoy Brilliant or the Bonvoy Bevy, plus the Bonvoy Business). Compared to Chase, Amex US cards are more easily accessible during the early stages of getting into US credit card as a Canadian.
Again, if you choose the Bonvoy Brilliant, you’ll already be a newly-minted Platinum Elite member as an automatic cardholder benefit.
But if you choose the Bonvoy Bevy and the Bonvoy Business, then that’s 30 down, 20 to go. What’s next?
Earning More Elite Qualifying Nights
If you’re looking to hit Platinum the traditional way by earning 50 elite qualifying nights, then the shortcuts come to an end with the above 15 elite nights (if you limit yourself to Canadian-issued credit cards) or 30 elite nights (if you dabble in US credit cards, but don’t get the Bonvoy Brilliant).
The remaining elite nights will have to be earned via Marriott hotel stays.
Regular Hotel Stays
The ideal scenario is that you stay with Marriott enough as a result of your natural travel patterns to attain 50 elite qualifying nights.
Remember that hotel stays booked with either cash or points will count towards elite night qualification, so you can get closer towards Platinum Elite status while still redeeming Bonvoy points for hotel stays without paying anything out-of-pocket.
Indeed, if you’re redeeming Bonvoy points, one sweet spot that you’ll definitely want to take advantage of is the “Stay for 5, Pay for 4” benefit. Not only do you get the fifth night free, but that’s one extra elite qualifying night closer to the 50 nights needed for Platinum Elite status too.
(Plus, even if you’re staying at a hotel for only four nights, redeem for a five-night stay anyway, as long as it doesn’t cost you anything extra. Check out only after the fifth night using the mobile app, and you’ll have earned an extra elite qualifying night for no additional expense.)
Double Elite Night Promotions
Marriott Bonvoy has historically offered public and targeted Double Elite Nights promotions on a fairly consistent basis at least once per year, with the most recent round occurring in Spring 2022.
Under these promotions, members can typically earn two elite qualifying nights for every paid night that they stay with Marriott.
It’s obviously very lucrative to plan your Marriott stays during these periods, so you’d be well-advised to shift as much of your paid stays to Marriott during a Double Elite Night promotion as possible – and potentially even book a few mattress runs at cheap cash rates.
If you still have a shortfall to make up after your organic hotel stays, then here’s where you can start getting a little creative.
The term “mattress running” refers to the practice of checking into hotels solely for the purpose of earning points or elite credits – especially hotels that are extremely cheap on cash or on points.
For example, some hotels in Canada can be booked for as little as 6,000 points per night. Combine that with the “Stay for 5, Pay for 4” benefit, and you’re looking at potentially spending as little as 24,000 Bonvoy points to earn five elite qualifying nights.
If you live elsewhere in Canada but happen to pass through one of these places along your travels, it could be worth checking in at the hotel for a five-night mattress run if you anticipate that those five elite qualifying nights will come in handy for Platinum qualification this year.
Note that you must physically check-in to the hotel in order for the stay to count. If you simply make a booking but don’t show up, your booking will be forfeited and you may even lose your points or face a no-show penalty.
However, there’s no real requirement that you remain in the room at all times. The generally advised approach is to throw up the Do Not Disturb sign and complete your checkout on the mobile app on the final day of the stay.
Of course, you have to decide whether the five elite nights are worth the points you spend, since those points could also be used towards a free night that you’ll actually need on one of your trips.
All things considered, I’d say that the “mattress running” strategy only comes into the equation if you anticipate that you’ll be within touching distance of Platinum and only need those extra few nights to bring you over the edge.
The “Second Guest Trick”
The other angle, which should only be done at one’s own comfort with the practice, is to make hotel bookings for others.
Position yourself as the “go-to” person within your circle of friends and family for all their hotel needs – offer them your elite benefits in exchange for their elite night credits. If you pull it off, it’s a win-win situation.
Again, though, you’ll have to have some finesse about how you approach this, because Marriott and other hotel loyalty programs technically do not grant elite benefits nor qualifying nights when the member isn’t physically staying at the hotel.
The workaround is known as the “second guest trick”, where you make the reservation, then contact the hotel to add your friend or family member as the second guest, and say that they’ll be arriving first.
When your friend or family member arrives, they can provide a credit card of their own to secure the reservation and access the room.
Otherwise, it’ll all be much ado about nothing, because no one gets the elite benefits and no one gets the elite qualifying nights. Needless to say, trust is paramount when doing this, and you should also be prepared not to receive the elite nights and benefits that you aren’t technically entitled to.
In theory, you could even combine the above two creative approaches: make cheap five-night bookings at Alberta’s cheap hotels, and then find a local friend to check-in on your behalf as your second guest to complete your mattress run.
I’m surprised that no enterprising Albertans have started up a service for doing this yet. 😉
Chase Bonvoy Boundless Card: Spend $5,000 (USD) for 1 Elite Night
Lastly, with the US-issued Chase Bonvoy Boundless Card, you can earn one elite qualifying night for every $5,000 (USD) spent on the card.
That’s a fairly high amount of money to spend for only one elite night in return, so I wouldn’t place too much emphasis on this method of racking up elite nights.
If you’re sitting at at, say, 48 or 49 elite qualifying nights at the end of a year and just need one last push to get you over the edge, you might spending your way to the last few nights. Even then, however, it’s probably still better to just book a cheap night at a local hotel to get you over the edge.
Alternate Pathways to Marriott Platinum Elite Status
Besides trying to reach Platinum Elite status by earning 50 elite qualifying nights the traditional way, there are also a few other pathways to reach this target.
Marriott offers a status challenge known as the Platinum Challenge, which will grant you instant Platinum status if you stay 16 paid nights within a 90-day period.
You can contact Marriott to request the Platinum Challenge, and any individual may only register for the challenge once every three years.
With the requirement for paid stays, the Challenge isn’t necessarily too useful for those of you looking to achieve Platinum Elite status on the cheap. But if you’ve got a busy period of travel coming up and will need to book lots of hotel stays, then the Platinum Challenge can help you unlock better benefits along your hotel stays with fewer nights than what’s normally required.
In future years, you wouldn’t be able to retain Platinum Elite status with the Platinum Challenge’s criteria, but you’d at least be able to enjoy your benefits while you work towards requalification the regular way.
Spend $75,000 (USD) on the Chase Ritz-Carlton Card
Another alternate way of earning Platinum Elite status is by reaching a spending threshold of $75,000 (USD) on the Chase Ritz-Carlton Visa Card during a calendar year.
However, this threshold is most likely prohibitively high for most cardholders, so it isn’t necessarily a viable method of achieving and retaining Platinum Elite status year after year.
Even if you have no trouble spending $75,000 (USD), the opportunity cost of doing so on a Marriott co-branded credit cards is quite high, as you could unlock much more valuable bonuses by completing minimum spending requirements on new cards instead (or even just spending on, say, a card that earns more powerful Membership Rewards points rather than Bonvoy points).
Given the high opportunity cost, it’s much better to pursue Platinum Elite status the regular way rather than contemplating this $75,000 (USD) spending threshold.
Platinum Elite status within the Marriott Bonvoy program is certainly a status worth having, and the more you stay with Marriott, the more worthwhile it becomes.
By holding a Canadian-issued Marriott Bonvoy American Express credit card, you’ll already earn 15 elite qualifying nights towards the 50-night threshold. And if you can get both a personal and business US-issued Bonvoy credit card, then you’ll be more than halfway to that 50-night mark year after year.
Should you successfully scrape together the remaining 20 nights via a combination of your organic paid or award stays, mattress running, and booking hotels for friends and family, then you’ll soon be enjoying the fruits of your labour along your travels as you savour a delightful breakfast buffet or Club Lounge cocktail.