Should you accept the Marriott 15 elite night upgrade offer? Will I?


We reported last week that Chase was sending out upgrade offers to many who still had the old Marriott Bonvoy Premier card.  Last year, Chase offered points to encourage people to upgrade to the Premier Plus (now called Bonvoy Boundless).  This year, they’re offering elite nights.  If you didn’t receive an upgrade offer by email like the one shown above, you can check to see if you’re targeted here: Direct link to see if you are targeted.

The following chart shows all of the Marriott cards together so that you can easily compare.  The upgrade offer is for those with the 3rd card down ($85 Bonvoy Premier).  They want you to upgrade to the 2nd card down ($95 Bonvoy Boundless):

Which card is better?

By most measures, the Bonvoy Boundless card is way better than the Bonvoy Premier.  For only $10 more per year, you get an annual free night certificate that can be used at hotels that charge up to 35K per night vs. the Premier that offers only a 25K certificate.  That improvement alone is worth far more than $10 per year in my opinion.  Also, if you use the card for spend (I use mine only for the annual free night), the Boundless offers far more points.  With the exception of certain travel purchases, the Premier offers only 1 point per dollar whereas the Boundless offers 2 points per dollar.

There is one instance where the old Premier card is better, though.  The Premier card offers 1 elite for every $3K of spend.  If you’re close to earning meaningful Marriott elite status, the ability to spend your way to the final few nights is a nice option to have.

What are 15 elite nights worth?

Elite nights are a way of measuring your progress towards elite status.  Bonvoy has 5 elite levels.  The number of elite nights required per year to attain each level are listed in the table below.  These represent the number of elite nights you have to earn every year.  The next column shows the requirements for lifetime elite status.  This is permanent.  Once you earn a lifetime level, you do not need to do anything to keep it.

The value of each elite night depends on how it is used, if at all.  For example, let’s say that you already earned 25 elite nights, but you have no plans for additional Marriott stays this year.  In that case, you have Gold Elite status that will be good for the rest of this year, all of next year, and through February of the year after that.  If you then accepted the upgrade offer and received 15 elite nights and you still didn’t have any more stays this year (or find another way to earn elite nights), then those 15 elite nights would be worth almost nothing.  In this made up scenario, you would end the year with 40 elite nights which is no better than 25 as far as your near term elite status is concerned.  Either way, you have and keep Gold status, and your elite night count resets to zero in January.  The reason I said that those 15 elite nights would be worth “almost” nothing in the above scenario is that there may be value to increasing your lifetime elite numbers.  I’ll cover that topic a bit later in this post.

Let’s look at another example that is the opposite of the one above.  Let’s say that you somehow know that you’ll end the year with 35 elite nights.  In that case, the 15 elite nights from the upgrade offer would be exactly enough to push you up to Platinum Elite status.  This means that you will get far more benefits for your stays (while the status lasts), and you’ll be able to pick a Choice Benefit (such as 5 Suite Night Awards).

I expect that most real life cases will be somewhere in between the two above, and usually far less certain.  Take my situation for example.  I already have 50 elite nights this year and 13 more already booked.  If nothing else happens, I’ll end the year 12 elite nights away from 75 night Titanium Elite status.  If I knew for certain that I would end the year 12 nights away from Titanium status, I would highly value those 15 elite nights from the upgrade offer since they would almost all go to good use.  In reality, I’ll probably stay at some more Marriott properties before the year is over, but I don’t know how many more nights I’ll earn.  So the upgrade offer could be very valuable or not worth anything depending upon how many nights I spend at Marriott hotels throughout the rest of this year.

The value of lifetime elite nights

As I discussed above, the value of the 15 elite nights for achieving elite status this year can easily vary from a lot to nothing depending upon whether or not those nights help you get to the next status level.  One thing that doesn’t vary is the impact on lifetime elite status.  Lifetime elite status is based on the combination of the number of years you’ve had that status level and the number of elite nights you’ve accumulated over your lifetime with this program.

If you don’t think you’ll ever achieve meaningful lifetime elite status, then these 15 elite nights won’t be valuable to you.  But if you do think that you’ll get there, these elite nights will help you get there sooner.  As I discussed in a previous post, I expect to earn lifetime Platinum status in about 4 and a half years.  With this upgrade offer, I would likely get there in just 4 years.  Whether or not that really matters will depend on whether I’ll achieve Platinum status that year anyway.  If so, getting to lifetime status sooner hardly matters since I would get the same benefits either way.

Other ways to manufacture elite nights

In the above paragraphs I utterly failed to estimate the value of the 15 elite nights.  An alternate way to look at it is to estimate what it would cost to get those elite nights in other ways.  For example, instead of spending $3,000 to qualify for the upgrade offer, you could spend $45,000 on the old card in order to earn the same 15 elite nights.  What does it cost to spend $45,000 though?  If the alternative is a 2% cash back card, then you are giving up $900 in cash back.  But you do earn 1X points, and if you value those at 0.75 cents each, then you get ~$330 worth of points.  So, your net cost of manufacturing 15 elite nights would be $900 – $330 = $570, or about $38 per elite night.

But spending on your old Bonvoy Premier card is not the only way to manufacture elite nights.  We cover lots of options in our Marriott Bonvoy Shortcuts to Elite Status.  The potentially cheapest option is to get 10 elite nights by holding a meeting at a Marriott property.  You can only do this once per year, but I know plenty of people who have found Marriott hotels willing to let them host a meeting (i.e. sit in a conference room for an hour) for $100 or less.  If it’s possible to essentially buy 10 elite nights for only $100, then one could argue that the 15 elite nights from the upgrade offer are only worth $150.

Another option for manufacturing elite nights is to book cheap stays either with cash or points.  If booking with points, the ideal option is to book a 5th Night Free award at a very low category hotel.  You do have to check in to make this work though.  Also be careful that they don’t check you out automatically when they don’t see your stuff in the room on days 2 through 4 because you’ll only get credit for the nights they think you actually stayed.

What’s the downside to upgrading?

If you’re on the fence as to how valuable those 15 elite nights are to you (as I am!) then another consideration is whether you should upgrade anyway.  After all, the annual 35K certificate is worth far more than the annual 25K certificate.  But, there are three things you would be giving up:

  1. $10 per year (the upgraded card costs slightly more)
  2. The ability to earn 1 elite night per $3K spend
  3. The possibility of a better upgrade offer in the future.

Earning elite nights through credit card spend may be easy (depending upon your situation), but it can mean giving up much more valuable rewards if you would otherwise put spend on a much more rewarding card.  To me, it’s useful only as a backup if I think I’ll need one or two more elite nights to get to a valuable elite level.

I do think it’s likely that Chase will introduce more upgrade offers in the future.  I’d guess that they’ll go back to the boring but easier to analyze 20K points offer.  On the other hand, they might not do these again at all.  My bet is that the chance of a big upgrade offer (50K points or more) is very slim.  I wouldn’t decline the current offer for hopes of something like that.

What will I do?

I’m leaning towards accepting the upgrade offer even though I don’t know that I’ll need those elite nights.  At the very least it will free me up for the rest of the year from even thinking about picking a Marriott over a better option.  I won’t even consider going for 100 night Ambassador Elite status since that level requires $20K Marriott spend.  $20K is not going to happen.

Worst case, all I’ll get from the upgrade offer is a slightly faster path to lifetime Platinum status.  Best case is that it will also help me re-qualify for 75 night Titanium status.  Either way, I’ll be getting a 35K free night each year going forward.  And, in my experience, there are many terrific 35K properties, but relatively few 25K (the Courtyard Hakuba notwithstanding).

Accepting the offer does mean that I’ll lose the ability to earn elite nights through spend.  That does bother me a bit.  But, is it worth having to deal with a 25K cert each year in order to have the possibility of spending my way to elite status even if I’m unlikely to do so?  Probably not.

How about you?  Will you take the upgrade offer?

See also: Marriott Bonvoy Complete Guide

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