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Should I Switch My Loyalty Once I Reach Elite Status?

Dear Tim,

I’ve been a Marriott Platinum elite for a number of years and I’m quickly on pace to reach that level again this year. If I reach Platinum status before June (75 nights), do you feel it’s better to continue earning the points or shifting to another program to reach its elite level too?

Al S.

Dear Al,

Great question, and one that frequent travelers infrequently ask.

The general tendency is to strive for ever-higher elite status in one program, and then continue plugging away in that same program once the highest level is reached. The underlying assumption is if a little is good, a lot is better. It’s worth checking into whether that theory is valid or not.

As a Platinum-level elite in Marriott’s program, you’ll receive a 30-percent bonus on earned points. So shifting your future stays to another hotel chain means a dual sacrifice. First, you won’t enjoy the upgrades and extra recognition when you stay at hotels outside the Marriott network. And second, you won’t earn bonus points for those stays, at least until you’ve reached elite status in a second program.

What you gain by securing elite status in a second program is the security of a backup—an extra elite card in your pocket for those occasions when there’s no suitable Marriott available.

So, is it worth giving up the Marriott perks in the short term in order to have the option of receiving elite perks in a second program in the longer term?

There’s no right answer, of course. The need for elite status in a supplemental program ultimately depends on one’s travel patterns, and how well the primary program fits those patterns.

The very fact that you’re on track to rack up 75 Marriott nights this year suggests there’s a good fit between your travel destinations and Marriott hotel locations. Indeed, Marriott’s network of brands and individual hotels is extensive enough that you’re likely to find a participating hotel almost everywhere you travel.

But if you find yourself spending 10 or more nights per year—the minimum to achieve elite status in most frequent-stay schemes—in hotels that are not part of the Marriott program, then it might be worthwhile consolidating those stays within the Hilton, Starwood, or Intercontinental hotels networks to reach elite status in the program of one of those chains.

It’s worth noting that travel industry marketing executives are aware of the problem posed by customers like you who have reached the top tier and have less incentive to remain loyal from that point on. A similar situation exists for program members who find themselves between elite tiers; they might as easily begin earning elite status in a second program as continue striving to reach the next highest tier in their current program.

United, for example, has added a host of special awards for members of its Mileage Plus program who reach mileage levels between the existing elite-qualifying milestones, and for those who have exceeded the requirement for the airline’s highest elite tier. It’s a clever if obvious attempt to keep the airline’s best customers firmly chained to the Mileage Plus treadmill.

I don’t have any specific insider information on this, but I think there’s a strong possibility that one or more of the major hotel programs will add similar intra- and supra-tier awards to its elite benefits. That would go a long way toward insuring that questions like yours never arise.

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