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The merger between Starwood and Marriott has led to a large range of (slightly sneaky) arbitrage opportunities that allow the savvy traveller to squeeze some pretty incredible value from the two programmes. I’ll be writing more about these all week I suspect, because there really is lots to look at, but I had to share this particular idea straight away. It requires putting a few tricks together, but bear with me because being able to get Platinum status with SPG and Marriott this cheaply is a fantastic deal.
Doing things the ‘old-fashioned way’ and getting Platinum status with both programmes from normal stays would require a staggering 125 nights at SPG and Marriott hotels in total!
First things first – as a result of the merger between Starwood and Marriott, if you have elite status with Starwood Preferred Guest you can now match it straight across to the equivalent status with Marriott Rewards (and vice versa).
That’s great, but obviously you still need status in one of the programmes to start with.
Marriott Rewards has a long running ‘status challenge’ offer that usually grants Platinum status after 9 stays within 3 months.
You need to contact Customer Service to request this and they might say no or offer some sort of variation. I would email first and if you get turned down I would ring and ask them to reconsider.
Having elite status / lots of stays (in the past year or booked for the next year) with a competitor chain that you can point to would be helpful, and you may even want to consider making some refundable bookings with Marriott before you send your request, in order to show you are serious about committing to Marriott (you can always cancel them once the challenge has been granted…).
Assuming you are granted a Platinum challenge, you now need 9 stays with Marriott in the next 90 days.
Qualifying stays can be just 1 night.
Award stays booked either using full Points or Points + Cash both count towards status.
Marriott Category 1 hotels require just 6,000 Points per night if they are on the ‘PointSavers’ list or 7,500 if they are not.
9 nights x 6,000 Points = 54,000 Marriott Points. You can transfer SPG Starpoints across at a 1:3 ratio – so that is just 18,000 Starpoints!
If you do not have any Starpoints you can use American Express Membership Rewards Points at an effective 1:1.5 ratio, going via SPG – so 36,000 Points.
Sadly, there aren’t any Marriott Category 1 hotels in the UK and only a few in Europe (see full list here). The Courtyard by Marriott in Pilsen looks a decent option, but it’d take you 18 nights in total because you’d have to hop across to the Ibis or something every other night (for the 9 stays to count as separate they can’t be at the same hotel on consecutive nights, even if booked separately).
More realistically, I think the best option is probably a road trip through Spain. There are four Category 1 hotels, 24 Category 2 hotels (requiring 7,500-10,000 Points per night) and 18 Category 3 hotels (requiring 10,000 – 15,000 points per night) – so 46 low category options to choose from in total. Use this map produced by the ever-excellent TravelIsFree to help plot your course!
It also helps that out of season many of these hotels charge less than £40.00 per night anyway, so you can mix in the odd paid stay if you don’t have enough Points. In fact, you could forget Points entirely and fairly easily book 9 stays for under £400.00 in total.
If you’re looking for the very cheapest way to complete the challenge and don’t have any Points, Extremehoteldeals recently flagged a great deal at the Marriott Moxy Hotel in Frankfurt for ~ £27.00 per night for dates throughout November and December. That would work out at about £243.00 in total, but you would have to work something out for the alternate nights as well.
If you’d rather keep things closer to home, in terms of Points the Marriott hotels in Leicester and Peterborough are Category 3s, and in terms of cash it’s not uncommon to find Marriott rates in the UK for ~£50.00 per night on Fridays and Sundays.
Finally, you don’t get the status during the course of the challenge, only once you’ve completed it – but if you already have SPG Gold (a benefit of the Amex Platinum charge card), then you can match that to Marriott Gold and receive free breakfast, upgrades, lounge access (if the hotel has one), late check out etc while completing your challenge.
If you are going to be making a number of paid stays, remember to sign up for the latest promotion (it’s not great but better than nothing) and if you don’t have a Marriott Rewards account yet, email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) for a referral and you will get 2,000 bonus Points on each of your first 5 stays. Alternatively, sign up using this link and get a free 1-night Category 1-5 Certificate after your second paid stay.