Marriott rollover nights and the hunt for Gold elite status

Last October I wrote a couple of posts about an idea I had to use Marriott rollover nights in order to earn elite status once every two years. The technique takes advantage of the principle that elite status is valid for the remainder of the year in which it's earned, plus the entire following elite membership year (which may even reach into the year after that, depending on the loyalty program).

In other words, if you were somehow able to earn elite status on January 1st, you would have that status for two full calendar years.

Marriott Rewards isn't a program I find particularly lucrative for my own travel, which is 100% leisure, but I know many business travelers love their essentially universal footprint and elite recognition.

I love digging into the nitty-gritty of loyalty programs, so I decided I'd give this technique a try to see how it works in practice. 

Elite-qualifying night breakdown

When you log into your Marriott Rewards account, you can click on your "Account Overview" and see the breakdown of all your elite-qualifying nights so far this year. It looks like this:

My Chase Marriott Rewards Premier card has an anniversary date in April, when 15 additional "Rewards Credit Card" nights will post to my account, bringing my "2015 Total" to 34. At that point, I'll need 16 additional elite-qualifying nights, or $48,000 in spend on my Premier card, in order to reach Gold elite status with Marriott Rewards. At that point I'll have exactly 50 elite-qualifying nights, and in January 2016 my total will reset to 0, since I won't have any 2015 rollover nights.

Rollover nights don't roll over!

What I didn't appreciate, Marriott Rewards not being one of my primary or even secondary loyalty programs, is that elite-qualifying nights only roll over one time.

At the end of 2014, I had 42 elite-qualifying nights: 8 paid nights, the 15 bonus nights I receive from my credit card every April, and 4 nights I'd earned through spend on the Premier card, plus 15 nights I rolled over from 2013. I assumed that I would roll over all 32 nights in excess of the 10 elite-qualifying nights required for Silver elite status.

But instead, only 17 nights rolled over: my 2013 rollover nights simply vanished.

Does it matter?

When I originally hatched this elite-qualification scheme, it was in the form of a question: if the Marriott Rewards Premier credit card earns 15 bonus nights per year, and only 10 are required for Silver status, doesn't that mean the 5 rollover nights will accumulate so that every 8 years cardholders will suddenly receive Gold elite status?

The answer to that question is "no:" each year, 5 rollover nights will "expire" and 5 rollover nights will be added, leaving the cardholder running in place towards Gold status.

On the other hand, this has no effect on the strategy of earning Gold elite status every two years using rollover nights.

  • In year 1, receive 15 annual bonus nights and manufacture $45,000 in spend to end the year with 30 elite-qualifying nights;
  • In year 2, receive 15 annual bonus nights and roll over 20 nights;
  • Also in year 2, manufacture $45,000 in spend to reach Gold elite status;
  • In year 3, receive 15 annual bonus nights and manufacture $45,000 in spend to end the year with 30 elite-qualifying nights;
  • In year 4, receive 15 bonus nights and roll over 20 elite-qualifying nights;
  • Also in year 4, manufacture $45,000 in spend to end the year with 50 elite-qualifying nights.

Using this technique, you'd only be without Gold elite status in "even" years, and only until you met that year's $45,000 spending goal.

Is it worth it?

Absolutely not.

Remember, when you manufacture spend on any credit card that earns just 1 mile or point per dollar, as the Marriott Rewards Premier card does, you're buying those points at 2 cents each, since you could put the same spend on a 2% cash back credit card. That means besides the Marriott Rewards Premier card's $85 annual fee, you'd also be foregoing at least $900 per year in exchange for Gold Elite status.

In fairness, you would also receive 45,000 Marriott Rewards points for your purchases, which are worth perhaps $450, if you're consistently strategic in your redemptions.

Who might seek Gold status in this way?

Everything I've said so far implies you never stay at Marriott properties, which would generally make you a poor candidate for Marriott Rewards Gold status! This strategy is vastly more realistic for members who actually have paid elite-qualifying nights at Marriott properties.

Since Marriott allows elite members to renew Gold elite status each year by simply paying 25,000 Marriott Rewards points, which can be transferred in from Chase Ultimate Rewards, the absolute most money you should be willing to spend pursuing Gold status on an annual basis is $250 (the cash value of the transferred Ultimate Rewards points).

A rough guideline that $3,000 spent on the Marriott Rewards Premier card earns $30 in points and costs $60 in foregone cash back would imply that you should be willing to manufacture no more than $25,000 per year on the Premier card pursuing Gold elite status. That would get you to 23 elite-qualifying nights annually (15 annual nights plus 8 nights earned through spend).

In other words, since Gold elite status requires 50 elite-qualifying nights, this strategy might be worth pursuing if you have 27 or more paid nights per year. In that case, manufacturing just $24,000 per year on the Premier card would earn you the marginal elite-qualifying nights you need to reach Gold status.