How I earned top-tier hotel elite status between apartment leases

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For the cost of a month’s U-Haul storage unit, you can take an extended vacation and earn top-tier hotel elite status.

A whole lot of us are working from home nowadays. Upon polling my circle of friends, it sounds like working from home is the future. Coronavirus stinks, but silver linings from bad situations do materialize now and again. I found this a ripe opportunity to earn top-tier hotel elite status!

You can achieve valuable elite status simply by holding the right hotel credit cards — but to get the kind of status that offers suite upgrade certificates, free breakfast, and scads of bonus points, you’ll usually need to actually buy hotel nights.

I’ll show you how I achieved Titanium elite status with Marriott for effectively zero dollars.

My wife and I (and some friends) spent a good deal of time near Badlands National Park — and achieved Marriott elite status in the process. (Photo by Joseph Hostetler/Million Mile Secrets)

Earn hotel elite status between leases

Do you know what “mattress running” is? In short, you purchase hotel stays that you probably won’t even use so you can earn hotel elite status or reap the rewards of some sort of promotion. It’s common for those of us in the miles and points community to check into a hotel, and turn around and go right back home, leaving a perfectly good hotel room empty for a number of nights.

This strategy applies to any hotel elite status — but I was chasing Marriott Titanium status in particular.

There are five levels of Marriott elite status:

  • Silver – Stay 10 nights
  • Gold  – Stay 25 nights
  • Platinum – Stay 50 nights
  • Titanium – Stay 75 nights
  • Ambassador – Stay 100 nights and make $20,000+ in qualifying purchases

I had already achieved Platinum status this year since Marriott generously gifted dozens of elite nights based on last year’s status. Platinum status comes with free breakfast (a huge money-saver), eligibility for suite upgrades at all hotels except Ritz-Carlton, five Suite Night Awards, and 50% bonus points at Marriott hotels. But with Titanium status, I’d get benefits like:

  • 75% bonus points on eligible hotel purchases
  • United Premier Silver status (free checked bag, complimentary upgrades)
  • Five more Suite Night Awards
  • Eligibility for suite upgrades at Ritz-Carlton hotels

These benefits are worth hundreds and hundreds of dollars to me. For example, I intend to stay at several Ritz-Carlton hotels in 2021, so the ability to be upgraded to a suite (though not guaranteed), is exciting. Still, it’s not worth the price of a month-long hotel stay.

However, I found an astonishingly cheap hotel in an area that I didn’t mind vacationing, so the price was totally worth it — Rapid City, South Dakota.

Rapid City has a surprising amount to do. It’s even quite a foodie town! (Photo by Joseph Hostetler/Million Mile Secrets)

The nightly price dropped even more when booking weeks at a time. See, hotels will sometimes give you a discount if you’re staying for an extended period. I believe the special rate kicked in at this hotel for stays of six nights or more.

Here’s a snippet from my hotel bill. You can see that the base price for the room was $37 — $42.33 after taxes. That is SO cheap.

With these rates, staying a month at this hotel would cost about $1,270. That’s less than I pay in rent, so staying here in between leases is effectively free. I didn’t quite stay an entire month because I didn’t need 30 elite nights to reach Marriott Titanium status. I also earned a ton of Marriott points since I paid cash for the stay and used a credit card that earns bonus points for travel purchases.

I’d like to highlight that if you book a hotel without a kitchenette, you may spend exponentially more for food than at home. Also, if you fly somewhere instead of drive, you’ll need to factor in the cost of transportation during your stay.

Turn your mattress run into a super fun extended vacation

I’ll write a post on how to find the cheapest hotels in the world later this week. You can subscribe to our newsletter if you want posts like that delivered to your inbox.

There are plenty of dirt-cheap chain hotels in very desirable locations (though most are international), no matter which hotel status you’re trying to achieve. And many of these countries have a significantly lower cost of living than the U.S. This will help keep your food and transportation costs low. Let’s look at a few examples.

The Fairfield by Marriott Bali Legian is a gorgeous four-star hotel less than half a mile from a pristine beach. The hotel regularly sells for around $30 per night. You can lock down an entire month here for well under $1,000 after taxes.

The Fairfield Inn Bali Legian is extremely close to the same beaches touted by five-star hotels like the W Bali. (Photo courtesy of Marriott)

The Hyatt Place Aguascalientes/Bonaterra is much closer to home. It’s located in Mexico, an accessible country despite COVID-19 lockdowns.

The hotel often sells for less than $45 per night after taxes. That’s a jaw-dropping rate for a Hyatt hotel. If you’ve got enough airline miles for a free flight to Mexico, there are few hotels better to achieve Hyatt elite status than this one. Top-tier Hyatt elite status is perhaps the best in the game.

Another common location for extra cheap hotels is Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt. You can book a five-star hotel like the Sheraton Sharm Hotel, Resort, Villas & Spa for about $40 after taxes, depending on your dates. Spending a month or two at this popular resort town is perhaps the most fun way to earn Marriott elite status. This is where I would have visited to earn my status, if not for coronavirus restrictions.

Again, you probably wouldn’t want to make the effort to fly to these destinations just to earn elite status. But if you can find a city you’d like to vacation, this is an enjoyable way to earn elite status!

If you’re looking to stay in the U.S., using Google Hotels and searching for stays in your preferred area can be a way to find cheap nights. Just filter by what chain you want to stay at and then book a hotel that matches your price point.

These hotel credit cards will help you earn elite status faster

If you’re trying to earn the best hotel elite status, there are a few cheats that will help you get a humongous head start.

30 Marriott elite night credits every year

A great benefit of Marriott credit cards is that they give you 15 elite night credits each calendar year. But if you hold both a Marriott personal card, like the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card, as well as Marriott business credit card, like the Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card, you’ll receive 30 nights every year, as long as you keep both cards open.

In other words, if you’re trying to achieve Platinum Status every year, you’ll only need to stay 20 nights with Marriott instead of 50 nights. That’s a big deal and could result in huge savings!

I keep both a personal and small business Marriott credit card year after year because of this. If I didn’t have that 30-night jumpstart, I probably wouldn’t have gone for Titanium status. These cards also offer annual free night certificates for award nights up to 35,000 points, further solidifying their value.

The opportunity to earn Marriott Platinum status by applying for just one credit card

The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card and the Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card have both launched limited-time welcome offers where you can enjoy Marriott Platinum status for a year (offers end 1/13/2021).

The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card will give you complimentary Bonvoy Platinum status for the 2021 status year (valid through 1/31/2022), 100,000 Marriott bonus points after spending $5,000 in eligible purchases within the first three months and another 25,000 Marriott points after your first anniversary of card membership.

This could be a great option for those who don’t want to pay for an extended hotel stay or don’t have any elite nights already racked up to get them to a higher level of Marriott status. Plus, these offers come with a ton of Marriott points, which make them even more worthwhile.

5+ Hyatt elite nights every year

The World of Hyatt Credit Card comes with 5 elite night credits each calendar year you retain the card. You’ll also get 2 elite night credits for every $5,000 you spend on your card. If you’re a big spender, you could conceivably earn top-tier Hyatt status simply by spending on your card.

Top-tier Hyatt status isn’t easy to earn. You’ll need to stay 60 nights for all the best perks. So while earning 5 elite night credits is less than modest, every elite night credit helps.

Automatic top-tier Hilton elite status every year

Hilton is an exception to all other hotel chains in that it gives you the chance to receive its highest elite status simply by holding a credit card. The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card comes with automatic Hilton Diamond status immediately after opening the card. You get 100% bonus points, free breakfast, eligibility for suite upgrades, and more.

Diamond status otherwise requires 60 nights to achieve — so Hilton is quite generous by offering it through a card! The Amex Hilton Aspire is my absolute favorite card because of its other amazing benefits, like a free weekend night certificate and $250 airline incidental credit. Read our Amex Hilton Aspire review to learn why.

The information for the Hilton Aspire card has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Bottom line

If your lease is soon to expire, why not take a rent sabbatical and earn hotel elite status in a fun location? My wife and I had a blast booking an extended hotel stay between apartments. And now we’ve got Marriott Titanium elite status!

If you do this yourself, know that by far the most inconvenient aspect of the strategy is the extra loading and unloading of stuff. You’ll need to store your belongings if you’re apartmentless. But if you can scoop up a couple of different hotel elite statuses for it, the extra day of moving is totally worth it.

Or if you’ve been looking to get out after being cooped up during the recent restrictions, traveling domestically for an extended period of time could be a great way to explore a new part of the country and earn hotel elite status to boot.

Let me know if you’ve ever done something similar! And subscribe to our newsletter for more travel tips and tricks delivered to your inbox once per day.

Joseph Hostetler is a full-time writer for Million Mile Secrets, covering miles and points tips and tricks, as well as helpful travel-related news and deals. He has also authored and edited for The Points Guy.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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