UPDATE: The current Ritz-Carlton sign-up offer is up to 70,000 points.
New TPG Contributor Series: Financial and travel writer Jason Steele takes a look at the various perks and pitfalls of the Chase Ritz-Carlton Rewards card.
Competition between hotel credit cards has really heated up this past year with a bunch of new products, like the Hyatt Visa and the new Ritz-Carlton Rewards card. Unfortunately, both are offered by Chase (along with the Priority Club Visa and some Marriott cards), so you may have to pick and choose which ones you get. The Ritz card hasn’t gotten a lot of publicity, so let’s take a look at the benefits:
-Bonus points from spending. Cardholders will earn one point per dollar spent on most charges, with two points per dollar on must airfare, car rental, and dining purchases. Five points per dollar are earned for all charges at Ritz-Carlton properties.
-Gold Status, and Club and Suite Upgrades. Enjoy Gold status at Ritz-Carlton hotels the first year, and retain this status by charging at least $10,000 annually. This mid-tier status offers perks like complimentary Internet service, suite upgrades, and late checkout. Cardholders also get three club level upgrades annually subject to availability.
-$100 Hotel Credit. With each stay of two nights or more (not at deeply discounted or corporate rates, but at regular non-package rates), cardholders receive a $100 credit to use on-property for dining and spa.
-$200 Airline Statement Credit. Ritz-Carlton Rewards card members will receive an annual $200 credit toward ancillary fees from any airline.
-Airline Lounge Access. Card members receive a Priority Pass Select lounge membership that offers free unlimited entry to over 600 business lounges, excluding the United Club.
-Redemption Opportunities. Award nights at Ritz-Carlton properties can be redeemed for between 30,000 – 60,000 points per night, and redeeming four consecutive award nights entitles you to a fifth night free. Customers can also redeem award nights at Marriott owned properties.
-Fees. There is a $395 annual fee for this card that is not waived the first year, but there are no foreign transaction fees.
This card is kind of like a greatest hits album of features from competing cards. For example, it matches the American Express Platinum’s airline fee credit offer of $200 and its Priority Pass membership, while nearly reaching its $450 annual fee. Like the Starwood and Marriott programs, the Ritz-Carlton program offers customers their fifth consecutive award night free. Finally, Chase offers the same 50,000-point sign up bonus that it does for it Marriott Rewards Premier card.
Strengths: The idea of checking into a suite at the Ritz may be enough incentive for many to apply. Immediately offering mid-tier status with complimentary suite upgrades is a unique perk of this card–cardholders get automatic gold elite status for their first year, and can spend their way to status with $10,000 in purchases each year thereafter and receive added benefits like 25% points bonuses on stays, complimentary room upgrades and free internet. The Starwood card offers similar status, but only after spending $30,000 in a calendar year. The Ritz-Carlton card also competes favorably against the Starwood American Express in that it allows customers to earn double miles on most travel expenses. With the 50,000 point bonus alone, you can score a free room night for the 50,000 points at Tier 3 property like the Ritz-Carlton Dubai, where rates start at around $665 right now, or the Tier 2 Dove Mountain resort near Tucson, where you’d only have to use 40,000 points from your bonus for a free room instead of paying the starting rate of $399 this month. At either, you’ve basically saved more on your room than the annual fee on the card costs. Plus you get the perks, like status and club room upgrades.
Weaknesses: This card can’t compete with the Starwood American Express’s point transfer options. Like Marriott points, Ritz-Carlton points can transfer to miles, but at the same dismal ratios of between 10 points:1 miles and 2.5 points:1 mile, while Starwood points convert to miles at ratios as great as 1 point:1.25 miles. Finally, Ritz-Carlton and Marriott properties can impose capacity restrictions to deny you available rooms at peak times, while Starwood, Priority Club, and Hilton offer award nights in any available standard room.
This is a pricey card, but like the Amex Platinum, the price of the annual fee is exceeded by the value of the airline statement credit, lounge memberships, upgrades and hotel credits if you plan to stay in Ritz-Carlton properties a lot, and in the first year alone, you make back that annual fee with the money you save by using 50,000-point sign-up bonus for a free night redemption.