Why a hotel promotion caused me to cancel my airline credit card

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The United℠ Explorer Card is one of my favorite travel cards — and not just airline-specific. It’s one of the best overall travel credit cards, in my opinion. It comes with perks like:

  • 2 United miles per dollar on United Airlines purchases
  • Free checked bags on United for you and one companion
  • Priority boarding
  • Up to $100 Global Entry/TSA PreCheck credit (replenished every four years)
  • 2 United Club airport lounge day passes every year
  • Amazing travel insurance (including primary rental car insurance, which will save you $13+ per day)
  • Access to extra award seat inventory (in other words, you can book free flights when non-cardholders can’t)

The card’s got a $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95 annual fee so the above perks are worth that price tag for anyone who flies United at least once a year.

But thanks to the generous Marriott promotions lately, I canceled my United card. What’s the correlation?

I love my United Explorer! But I’m kicking it to the curb for a few years. Perhaps I’ll revisit it in 24 months… (Photo by Joseph Hostetler/Million Mile Secrets)

Marriott Titanium status is (almost) as valuable as a United credit card

Marriott Titanium elite status is the last rung on the Marriott status ladder that’s worth reaching. It comes with valuable benefits like:

  • 75% bonus points on eligible hotel purchases
  • 4 p.m. late checkout (when available)
  • Welcome gift of points, breakfast, or an amenity, depending on the hotel
  • Multiple Suite Night Award certificates
  • Lounge access (if there is one at the hotel)
  • Upgrade to a suite when available (including at Ritz-Carlton properties)
  • 48-hour room guarantee
  • United Premier Silver status

Those are all grand benefits, but did you catch that last one? United Premier Silver. That’s an important one. Let’s dig into it.

What comes with United Silver elite status?

When you link your United Airlines account with your Marriott account, both programs will receive reciprocal benefits. One of them is United Silver elite status, earned when you’ve achieved Marriott Titanium or Ambassador status.

United Silver status comes with a surprising amount of helpful benefits for the casual United flyer — and many of them replace the value offered by the United℠ Explorer Card:

  • Priority check-in, boarding (Group 2): This is the same group you’ll receive as a United Explorer cardholder
  • Increased award inventory for Saver coach seats: Exactly the same benefit as the United Explorer
  • 2 bonus United miles per dollar on base fares: Same perk as the United Explorer card (though you could certainly stack the card’s earning rate with this elite status bonus rate — however, you’d want to be paying for your flights with a higher-earning travel card anyway)
  • 1 free checked bag: The United℠ Explorer Card gives both you and a travel companion a free bag when you pay with your United credit card, so it’s slightly better than this elite status perk. However, the upside is that your bag can weigh 70 pounds instead of just 50 pounds. And you can pay for your flight with whichever card you want.

As you can see, that covers most of the big selling points of the United Explorer. Most other benefits of the card are common among other cards that most of us in this hobby already have.

To boot, United Silver status also comes with:

  • Complimentary access to Economy Plus seats at check-in for you and one traveling companion
  • Free Preferred seats for you and up to eight traveling companions
  • Upgrades confirmed day of departure
  • Star Alliance Silver status (priority waitlist & priority standby)
  • Hertz Gold Plus status (Five Star)

There’s only one problem with Titanium status: You’ve got to stay 75 nights per year at Marriott to achieve it. How many people are actually going to do that, especially this year?

I know I won’t. And you probably won’t either. But with the below two promotions (and a Marriott credit card strategy), it’s easier than you think.

Promo 1. 50% bonus elite night credits

Marriott has been extremely busy trying to compensate its members for their lack of travel during the coronavirus lockdowns. If you had Marriott elite status last year, Marriott gave you a gigantic head-start to re-achieve the status in 2021. They deposited 50% of the elite qualifying nights required to earn your 2020 status into your account. For example:

  • If you had Gold status last year (earned after staying 25 nights), Marriott deposited 13 elite nights into your account
  • If you had Platinum status last year (earned after staying 50 nights), Marriott deposited 25 elite nights into your account

Marriott ran this promotion last year, too. I was able to earn Titanium last year (earned after staying 75 nights) — and I therefore received 38 elite nights from Marriott this year.

Add to this the fact that I’ve got both a Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card and a Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card, both of which give me 15 additional elite night credits annually, and I’ve earned 68 elite night credits without stepping foot in a Marriott hotel!

I’ve also stayed three nights at Marriott this year, giving me a current total of 71 nights.

Promo 2. Double elite night credits

Through April 27, 2021, you’ll earn double elite night credits for stays lasting two or more nights. As long as you pay for at least one night during your stay, you’ll earn double elite night credits. This is a game-changer promotion, as you’ve probably already got a ton of elite nights in your account from the previously mentioned promotion. For example:

  • If you qualified for Platinum status in 2020, you’ve got 25 bonus elite night credits in your account. You’ll need 50 more nights to qualify for Titanium status
  • If you’ve got both a Marriott personal and small business card, you’ve got another 30 bonus elite nights. You need 20 more to qualify for Titanium status
  • Book 10 nights at Marriott before April 27, 2021, and your elite night credits will double
  • You’ve got Titanium status!

I currently have 71 nights. by booking a two-night Marriott stay before April 27, 2021, I’ll re-qualify for Titanium status through Feb. 28, 2023.

Read our post on how to earn Marriott elite status in 2021 for all the details.

Bottom line

I can’t say enough good things about the United℠ Explorer Card. It’s loaded with such a fun variety of benefits, quite unique in the airline credit card space. But if you’ve got the means to achieve Marriott Titanium status due to all the ridiculously generous promotions, it may behoove you to cancel/downgrade your United card for now and save on the $95 annual fee. By the time your Titanium status expires in 2023, you’ll almost certainly be eligible for a new cardmember bonus — the card terms state that you’re ineligible if you currently have the card or you’ve received the bonus within the past 24 months.

Let me know if you’re chasing Marriott Titanium status this year! And subscribe to our newsletter for more miles and points 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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