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One leg of my recent whirlwind tour of Brazil, South Korea and China was a one-night stay in Seoul with the express purpose of enjoying some Korean BBQ. To make sure I’d have a good night’s sleep with a very full stomach, I booked a room at The Ritz-Carlton, Seoul.
Built in 1995 and then extensively renovated in 2008, the hotel has 375 guest rooms, including 47 suites and 75 Club level rooms. There are six restaurants and bars on the premises, and befitting a massive hotel in a chic district of Seoul, plenty of venue space for high-end weddings and conferences.
The hotel is just under an hour’s drive from Incheon International Airport (ICN) in a great location, right in the heart of the trendy, high-end Gangnam district (made famous by the most-viewed YouTube video of all time, “Gangnam Style”), with lots of restaurants and plenty of buzz just steps away.
The base rate when I stayed was KRW 610,000 ($565.42 USD), or a redemption of 40,000 Ritz-Carlton Rewards points.
Both Ritz-Carlton Rewards and Marriott Rewards are 1:1 transfer partners of Chase Ultimate Rewards, so you could directly transfer points earned from cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Ink Plus to these programs.
Or, there are two credit cards that could get you a free room at The Ritz-Carlton, Seoul:
Ritz-Carlton Rewards Card. The best current sign-up bonus on this card is a two-night stay at any Tier 1-4 Ritz-Carlton hotel after spending $2,000 in the first three months of card membership. This bonus is worth up to 120,000 Ritz-Carlton rewards points, though it could be considerably less if you choose a lower-tier property. The card does come with a $395 annual fee, though you can add additional cardholders for free. You earn 5x per dollar spent at Ritz-Carlton and Marriott properties; 2x per dollar spent on airline tickets, car rental agencies, and restaurant purchases; 1x per dollar everywhere else; and a 10% annual bonus on all points earned with the card.
Marriott Rewards Premier Visa. This card offers identical earning rates as the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Card, but it offers automatic Silver status by giving you 15 elite credits every year. The sign-up bonus is 50,000 Marriott Rewards after a $1,000 spend in the first three months, plus a free night stay in a Category 1-4 Marriott property after account approval and one free night per year at a Category 1-5 property after paying the annual fee after the first year. (Keep in mind that a Ritz-Carlton Tier 1-4 is just about always going to trump a Marriott Category 1-4.) Earnings are 5x for every $1 spent at Marriott Ritz-Carlton properties; 2x per $1 spent on airline tickets purchased directly with the airline, and at car rental agencies and restaurants; and 1x per $1 on all other purchases.
Both cards waive foreign transaction fees, and when you factor in a $300 airline credit (assuming you can take full advantage of it), the annual fees are comparable: $395 – $300 = $95 on the Ritz-Carlton card vs. $85 for the Marriott Premier card (though that’s waived for the first year).
As an American Express Platinum cardholder, I booked my room at The Ritz-Carlton, Seoul through American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts (Amex FHR), the online portal/concierge service that allows Amex Platinum cardholders to book high-end hotels around the world and receive perks like early check-in, spa credits, and upgrades. Keep in mind that if a hotel you book through Amex FHR happens to belong to a loyalty program—like The Ritz-Carlton, Seoul—you’ll also earn that program’s points for your stay.
Upon check-in, we were greeted in the lobby by a female staff member in traditional Korean garb. She showed us to our room and explained the Amex FHR benefits, which included a room upgrade at time of check-in, daily breakfast at the Garden restaurant (continental, but the Ritz Seoul provides a buffet breakfast), late check-out at 4pm, and a $100 USD food & beverage credit (which can’t be used at the Honor bar, the Ritz Bar and the on-site Japanese restaurant, Hanazono).
In addition, by staying in a Club level room, I received additional benefits like free in-room WiFi and five food services in the Club lounge (continental breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, cocktail hour, and dessert). I actually found it hard to use all my Club lounge benefits, because we wanted to go out for Korean BBQ that night and had to leave early the next day!
We had a huge suite with a big balcony. The room appeared to have been recently renovated, and was chic and modern with a clean, high-end feel thanks to a minimal amount of art and blended shades of latte with luxurious touches.
The corner bedroom was a wall of windows with fantastic views of the city. The Frette linens on the massive bed made for a perfect nest in which to melt away after 12,000 miles of travel, from Brazil to California to Seoul. Especially with the Korean BBQ food coma I had!
While there was plenty of room to move around in the bathroom, I was a bit disappointed to see that it only had one sink; those double-sink counters are just so much better. I was pretty happy with the high-end bath products, though.
The Club Lounge was great. They even have egg options here in the morning, so I preferred to have a more intimate breakfast in the Club Lounge than at the lobby buffet.
The fitness room was enormous and packed with equipment—something you’d think would be the norm in a large hotel, but you’d be surprised at how often it’s not.
The pool area was lovely, as well, with great views and lots of light. There were places for lounging—and receiving efficient poolside service of, for example, a little Champagne.
I think the Park Hyatt Seoul is a nicer hotel; it feels more chic, whereas the Ritz’s lobby and public areas seem dated and a bit like a shopping mall. But the location is great, especially for city exploring and Seoul’s most hopping nightlife. In the surrounding Gangnam District—as well as the districts of Hongdae and Itaewon—the restaurants, lounges, and clubs tend to stay open ’til the wee hours of the morning.
Really, my only complaint is that I wish I’d had more time here. The location is perfect, and the perks are extremely valuable via FHR (especially if you can stay four nights; you get the fourth free). Next time I’ll try the W Seoul – Walkerhill or the Shilla Seoul, which is supposed to be one of the best independent hotels in the city and is in the Amex FHR network.
The Platinum Card® from American Express
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