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Update: The offer mentioned below for the Platinum Card from American Express has expired. View the current offer here.
Before the end of summer, I took one last last-minute trip to New Orleans to visit a few friends in the Big Easy. Having never experienced NOLA, I was really excited to go see what all the hype is about. Not surprisingly the city, nightlife and local cuisine far surpassed my expectations and I’m already planning my next trip back. Two days there wasn’t nearly enough – especially with all the great suggestions I got from TPG readers.
Although the end of August isn’t a peak time for tourism in New Orleans, hotels were still somewhat expensive due to the Southern Decadence (gay weekend long “festival”) weekend. I wanted to check out my options, so I checked out all the major chains and a few other booking sites. Though I don’t normally stay at Ritz-Carltons since neither Marriott Rewards nor Ritz-Carlton Rewards is one of my main hotel points programs, after I found a rate of $199 for my two nights in the city, I couldn’t say no. Before I booked, though, I wanted to find a way to maximize my stay.
I recently wrote about the United Marriott RewardsPlus Partnership that provides reciprocal benefits to elites of the airline and hotel chain. After signing up for the promotion I was granted Ritz-Carlton Gold status a few days later since I am already a Premier Platinum on United.
Although you’re not allowed to have both a Marriott Rewards and Ritz-Carlton Rewards membership, I had actually created accounts with both programs and combined them a few years back. What I didn’t realize, however, is that when I sign into Marriott, my Ritz-Carlton number shows in my profile. So when I booked a room at The Ritz-Carlon New Orleans, I was surprised to find that I was recognized as a Ritz-Carlton Gold Elite thanks to the RewardsPlus Partnership.
So I’d encourage any Ritz-Carlton Rewards members who have not yet signed up for the RewardsPlus Partnership to try doing so using your Ritz-Carlton number since you might still be able to get in on the benefits.
With Gold Elite Membership in the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Program you receive:
- 25% added value on Ritz-Carlton Rewards points earned during stays
- Complimentary upgrades when available
- Complimentary high-speed internet in your room
- Your personal reservation line
- Your Dedicated Guest Services Line
- Priority late checkout
- Gift Shop Savings
- Exclusive Offers and Rewards
However, I wasn’t ready to book directly through Ritz-Carlton just yet…
American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts
Many Ritz-Carlton properties are also members of the Fine Hotels and Resorts Program by American Express, which you have access to if you have one of the Platinum Amex cards including the personal Platinum Card, the Business Platinum or the Mercedes-Benz Platinum.
Hotels that participate in this program offer cardholders perks that can be more valuable than your hotel elite status can provide – like room upgrades, free night offers, complimentary breakfast, early check-ins and guaranteed 4pm check-outs, resort credits for expenses like restaurants or spa treatments, and sometimes even free WiFi.
If I had booked my room directly through the Ritz-Carlton website, I would have paid a rate of $199 per night for a standard King Room with little hope of an upgrade. Using Ritz-Carlton Rewards points, it would have cost me 40,000 points per night since this is a Tier 3 hotel (normally 50,000 points per night but there was a 20% discount). I could have transferred Chase Ultimate Rewards points from either my Sapphire Preferred or Ink Plus accounts to do so since Ritz-Carlton is one of the program’s 10 transfer partners, but that would only have gotten me 0.5 cents per point in value – not enough to make it an attractive option.
When I checked the Amex FHR site to see how much a reservation would cost, it was the same $199 rate and the benefits that came along with the FHR booking specifically at the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans included:
- Noon check-in upon arrival, when available
- Room upgrade upon arrival, when available
- Daily breakfast for two
- 4pm guaranteed late check-out
- $100 food and beverage credit to be used during stay (cannot be used for gratuity or alcohol unfortunately)
So for the same room rate, I was getting extra elite perks like early check-in and late check-out as well as a $100 food and beverage credit, and hotels prioritize FHR room upgrades even over their own elites many times, so I had my fingers crossed that I’d be upgraded from my standard room.
Not only that, but because hotels consider FHR to be a traditional travel agency, you can still earn points and elite stay/night credit on reservations booked through it, so it was a no-brainer.
Ritz-Carlton Executive Suite
The Ritz-Carlton New Orleans is located on the edge of the French Quarter on Canal Street, just one block from Bourbon Street – so it was a great, central location for a NOLA newbie like me.
The hotel was opened in early October 2000 and has 527 rooms, 37 of which are suites, 75 Club Level accommodations, 1 penthouse and the rest standard rooms. Aside from the guest rooms there is a 25,000-square-foot spa (which I will make a point to visit next time!).
When I checked in to the hotel I found I had been bumped up to an Executive Suite – thank you, Amex FHR benefits! – which was about 700 square feet, a nice increase from the normal 350-square-foot guest rooms. Executive Suites typically cost around $450 per night, so I was getting an extra $250 per night in value.
The room had a small marble foyer with a door that leads into the bathroom. Straight ahead was the living room with a pull-out sofa bed, two chairs and a glass coffee table arranged around a 50-inch flatpanel HD TV.
Off to the side was a work space with a decent-size desk and ergonomic chair and wired internet access, though I just used the WiFi.
Separated from the living area by French doors (of course) was the bedroom, which featured a king-size bed, wooden nightstands and a cushioned arm chair with an ottoman. The room was decorated with a lot of a different fabrics and curtains, giving it an old-fashioned feel reminiscent of the New Orleans Garden District mansions. The bed was very comfortable and had goose down and non-allergenic foam pillows. The bedroom also had another 50-inch flatscreen TV.
All-marble bathrooms are a Ritz-Carlton signature, and this one was no exception. It had marble floors and tiling, dual vanities and a large mirror, though there was just a shower-tub combo rather than separate facilities. Aside from the oversized terrycloth bath towels there were also two plush bathrobes.
Since I was only at the hotel for two nights and was out and about exploring the city most of the time, I didn’t get to take advantage of the hotel’s facilities as much as I would have liked to. There are two restaurants located inside the hotel; one is the Davenport Lounge which offers classic New Orleans cocktails like the Sazerac and Mint Julep; and the second is M bistro, which prides itself on offering a menu prepared from the finest local meats, seafood and produce.
As I mentioned before, the spa at the Ritz-Carlton is also pretty impressive. There are 22 treatment rooms and 0ver 100 different therapies to choose from. Next to the spa is the fitness center with a variety of cardio machines, weight training circuits and a small resistance pool, though the hotel does not have a full size pool to relax at.
Now that I have one paid Ritz-Carlton stay under my belt, I’ll have to find one more property to stay at before October 31, 2013 to qualify for their summer promotion where I’ll then receive a complimentary night to be used at a Tier 1-3 property (including this one). I wish I could complete my second stay at the Ritz New Orleans since I really enjoyed my short time there but unfortunately stays have to be completed at different hotels. Either way, I will most definitely be coming back to New Orleans as soon as my schedule will allow it.
Being able combine the benefits of the Fine Hotels and Resorts program and Ritz Gold status ended up being a really strong combination and a strategy I’m going to keep in mind for future stays. I’m actually even considering making Ritz-Calrton Rewards one of my new main hotel programs because to compare, Starwood upgrades can be willy nilly, but I was able to get one at the Ritz with no problem and hotels tend to prioritize FHR upgrades. Stay tuned for future hotel reviews, and my roundup of dining experiences from my brief stay in New Orleans.
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