A few days ago, Marriott and United Airlines announced the RewardsPlus partnership, obviously modeled on the Crossover Rewards program offered by Delta and Starwood. Basically, if you're a United Premier Gold elite or higher, you can receive Marriott's mid-tier Gold status for free, and if you're a top-tier Marriott Platinum elite, you can receive United Premier Silver status for free.
Naturally, my first thought was "how can I hack this?" Here's what I came up with. Note that I don't actually recommend doing this: whether or not it makes sense for you depends on your specific situation.
Approach #1: Status Match to United
United has a published status match program which runs from January 1 to August 31. If you have Delta Gold or Platinum Medallion status, you can have your United account upgraded to Premier Gold or Platinum for 90 days. If you fly 12,500 PQM (Gold) or 18,000 PQM (Platinum) within those 90 days, you'll keep United Premier status for the rest of the program year.
What I don't know is whether you would be able to register for RewardsPlus during your probationary period, or only after successfully completing the status match. Either way, once registered you would receive free Marriott Gold status for the remainder of the 2013 program year.
Assuming you intend to complete your challenge exclusively through mileage runs at 4 cents per PQM, you can buy Premier Gold status for $500 or Premier Platinum status for $720. Through RewardsPlus, you'll also then have Marriott Gold status.
Approach #2: Status Challenge to Marriott
Marriott likewise offers status challenges to their top-tier Platinum status, through a program called "Taste of Platinum." You have 3 calendar months, plus the remainder of the calendar month you begin your challenge, to complete 9 paid Marriott stays. If you complete the stays within the challenge period, you're upgraded to Platinum status for the remainder of the program year.
At the end of the program year, you can use 40,000 Marriott Rewards points (for example, transferred from a flexible Ultimate Rewards account), to buy back your Platinum status for the next year.
If you're completing your 9 paid stays exclusively on mattress runs at $75 per night, you'll earn Marriott Platinum status (and United Premier Silver) after spending $675.
Is it worth it?
A status match to United or Marriott (or any airline or hotel loyalty program) always makes sense if you actually intend on flying or staying with that airline. For example, if your company forces you to fly an airline or stay with a hotel chain you don't yet have status with, be sure to status match before you start traveling in order to take advantage of your new elite benefits.
The specific question I'm interested in here is whether it's worth doing a status match specifically to take advantage of RewardsPlus.
Unfortunately, it usually won't be worth hacking RewardsPlus. The more lucrative version would usually be Approach #2, and it's probably too late for this to be worth doing this year (since the United Premier program year runs through the end of February). But if this program is continued again in the 2014 program year, then paying about $700 for United Premier Silver status, which entitles you to a 500-mile earning minimum and a 25% earning bonus, plus free Economy Plus seats at check-in, might be worth it for leisure travelers and those who fly short-haul domestic United and US airways flights, who without status are only earning the flown mileage on short routes.
You can think of this as bundling an Economy Plus subscription (which United sells for $499) with an award accelerator and free checked bags. If you're the kind of traveler who is likely to take advantage of some or all of those, then having Premier Silver from the beginning of a new program year may be worth the upfront cost of a Taste of Platinum challenge. Of course, the cheaper you can find your mattress runs, the better a value you'll receive, and you'll also earn 15 Marriott Rewards points per dollar spent on your mattress runs, which gives a rebate value of 10-15%, depending on the properties you're likely to use your points at.