Ritz-Carlton Rewards Card: Should it be in Your Wallet?

Oct 2, 2014

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Like its hotels, Ritz-Carlton’s co-branded credit card comes at a premium, but the travel and elite benefits offered by the Ritz-Carlton Rewards card can make it well worthwhile. Today TPG Contributor Nick Ewen explains how.

Many of the most prominent hotel brands have their own “luxury” brands embedded within their portfolios, such as St. Regis or Park Hyatt. Marriott is a bit different, with Ritz-Carlton essentially acting as a program partner with a closely intertwined loyalty program, but its own award chart, promotions, and co-branded credit card. In this post I’ll discuss the most important features of Ritz-Carlton Rewards (and how it differs from Marriott Rewards), and take a close look at the Ritz-Carlton Visa card to see if it should have a place in your wallet.

Ritz-Carlton Rewards looks like its own loyalty program, but it is actually fully integrated with Marriott Rewards.
Ritz-Carlton Rewards looks like its own loyalty program, but is actually integrated with Marriott Rewards.

Overview of Ritz-Carlton Rewards
Before we even get to the card, let’s first take a look at the Ritz-Carlton Rewards program. While Marriott Rewards and Ritz-Carlton Rewards appear to be separate programs, basically membership in one equals membership in the other. The same membership number is used for both programs, and the Ritz-Carlton FAQ page on Marriott’s website indicates that you cannot belong to both programs at the same time. I was able to login to the Ritz-Carlton Rewards website using my Marriott account information, so the member number is essentially interchangeable.

When you apply for the Ritz-Carlton Rewards card, you’ll be prompted for your Ritz-Carlton Rewards number, but I have read multiple reports of applicants instead submitting their Marriott Rewards number to make sure that they don’t wind up with duplicate accounts. Generally speaking, one program is designated as your “primary” program, and while you can change this by contacting Guest Services, there’s usually no point to doing so.

The lone exception would be to take advantage of promotions like the two TPG wrote about earlier in the year. While registration ended for the 100,000 bonus point promotion, you can still earn double elite status credit for Ritz-Carlton stays through December 31, 2014. However, you must have Ritz-Carlton Rewards designated as your primary loyalty program; Ritz stays as a Marriott Rewards member do not count.

When it comes to earning & redeeming points and elite benefits, the programs are identical. You earn 10 points (or 2 airline miles) per dollar spent at both Ritz and Marriott properties worldwide. You can then redeem those points at any Ritz or Marriott property, and the rates are consistent regardless of which program is designated as your primary one. Regular Marriott hotels (including Marriott, Renaissance, Courtyard, and J.W. Marriott) are classified as Category 1-9, requiring 7,500 – 45,000 points per night (or 6,000 – 40,000 for PointSavers rewards). Ritz-Carlton properties, meanwhile, are classified as Tier 1-5, requiring 30,000 – 70,000 points per night (or 20,000 – 60,000 for PointSavers rewards).

Notice that the elite levels and benefits for Ritz-Carlton mirror those offered by Marriott.
The elite levels and benefits for Ritz-Carlton mirror those offered by Marriott.

Ritz-Carlton Rewards has the same elite status levels and earning thresholds: Silver requires 10 nights, Gold requires 50 nights, and Platinum requires 75 nights. The great thing is that your status is recognized at both Marriott and Ritz properties, regardless of how it is earned. Elite members receive numerous on-property benefits, including bonus points, complimentary Internet (Gold & Platinum), room upgrades (Gold & Platinum), and welcome gifts (Platinum). A complete list of these benefits and the properties at which they apply is available here.

Finally, just like Marriott Rewards, Ritz-Carlton Rewards is also a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, so you can transfer points earned from the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Ink Plus/Ink Bold cards directly to the program.

Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card
Now that we’ve covered the (lack of) differences between Ritz-Carlton Rewards and Marriott Rewards, let’s consider this card itself. The current sign-up bonus is a free night stay at any Tier 1-4 Ritz-Carlton hotel after spending $2,000 in the first three months. This bonus is thus worth up to 60,000 Ritz-Carlton rewards points, though it could be considerably less if you choose a lower tier property. (Two superior targeted offers appear to have become unavailable just earlier this week.)

You can use the free night sign-up bonus at a variety of properties, including the Ritz in Kapalua, Maui.
You can use the free night sign-up bonus at a variety of properties, including the Ritz in Kapalua, Maui.

Beyond the sign-up bonus, the Ritz-Carlton Visa offers a number of key benefits for cardholders:

  • 5 points per dollar spent at Ritz-Carlton and Marriott properties
  • 2 points per dollar spent on airline tickets, car rental agencies, and restaurant purchases
  • 1 point per dollar everywhere else
  • 10% annual bonus on all points earned with the card
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Three upgrades to Ritz-Carlton Club Level per year on paid stays up to 7 nights
  • $100 hotel credit on paid Ritz-Carlton stays of at least two nights
  • Gold Elite status for the first year of account opening and in each subsequent year after spending $10,000
  • Platinum Elite status when you spend $75,000 or more in a year
  • $300 yearly travel credit for baggage fees/lounge membership/upgrades/Global Entry
  • Membership in Lounge Club
  • J.P. Morgan Premier Concierge service

The card does come with a $395 annual fee, though you can add additional cardholders for free.

Comparison to other “premium” cards
With the high annual fee, the Ritz-Carlton Rewards credit card is clearly trying to compete in the premium market with the likes of The Platinum Card from American Express, Visa Black Card, and Citi Prestige. The card does offer some competitive advantages over these products:

  1. The travel credit is higher on the Ritz-Carlton Rewards card than on either the Amex Platinum or the Citi Prestige (the Visa Black Card doesn’t offer any fee credits), and although it doesn’t apply to airfare (like it does with Citi Prestige), it does apply to virtually any non-ticket expense, including baggage fees, lounge access, upgrades, and Global Entry. You don’t need to select a designated airline like you do with Amex Platinum. You do need to call to redeem, but I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews of their customer service. Since the $300 credit is based on the calendar year, you can apply now, earn a credit in 2014, and earn another one in 2015, easily covering the annual fee (and then some).
  2. The card also provides some huge benefits at Ritz/Marriott properties, including 5 points per dollar spent, automatic Gold status for the first year, and credits/club level upgrades on paid Ritz-Carlton stays.
  3. Finally, the card offers terrific bonuses on purchases. While the Citi Prestige will soon offer 3 points per dollar on airline/hotel/car rental purchases, the Ritz-Carlton card gives double points on those purchases plus double points on dining (which matches the Citi Prestige earning rates). All of these surpass both the Visa Black Card and Amex Platinum.

Unfortunately, as I discussed in my recent comparison of premium cards, the Lounge Club benefit pales in comparison to the Priority Pass membership offered by Citi Prestige and Amex Platinum. Still, for occasional travelers, having any lounge access can be a fantastic way to keep your sanity while on the road, so it’s a useful added benefit .

The point-earning structure on the Ritz-Carlton Visa is identical to that of the Marriott Premier Visa, but you also have numerous other benefits.
The earning structure on the Ritz-Carlton Visa is identical to that of the Marriott Premier Visa, but you also get numerous other benefits.

Comparison to the Marriott Premier Visa
The other relevant comparison is between this card and the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card. The two cards offer identical earning rates, and the sign-up bonuses are fairly similar: a free night stay in a Tier 1-4 Ritz property vs. 50,000 bonus points and a free night stay in a Category 1-4 Marriott property. Both cards waive foreign transaction fees, and when you factor in the $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 is waived for the first year).

The other big benefit of the Ritz-Carlton Rewards card is automatic Gold Elite status. You can renew this status each year by spending just $10,000. With the Marriott Premier card, you’re awarded Silver Elite status (15 elite night credits) plus an additional night credit for every $3,000 in spending. That means you would need to spend over $100,000 every year to earn the same Gold Elite status!

If you regularly pay to stay at Ritz properties (like the pictured one in D.C.), this card is a must-have.
If you regularly pay to stay at Ritz properties (like the one pictured here in D.C.), this card is a must-have.

So when does having the Ritz-Carlton Rewards card make sense? If you meet one of the following two criteria, then you should go for it:

  1. If you have at least 2 paid Ritz-Carlton stays a year
  2. If you plan on charging at least $75,000 a year

Looking at the card benefits, these should seem like relatively obvious conclusions. An interesting aspect of stays at Ritz-Carlton is that Platinum members don’t get complimentary access to the club lounge. Instead, you must pay for a room or use one of the three upgrades provided on the Ritz-Carlton Rewards card. Based on a quick survey of various properties around the world, club level rooms typically have a premium of $200 – $500 per night over standard rooms. If you fully maximize this benefit by booking three seven-night stays and applying these upgrades, you’re looking at a value of at least $4,200!

The other great benefit at Ritz-Carlton properties is the $100 credit for paid stays of two nights or longer. The credit (unfortunately) cannot be applied towards room rates, alcohol, taxes, or gratuity, but given the luxurious nature of Ritz properties, it shouldn’t be hard to find a restaurant, spa, or recreational purchase to put that credit to good use. Unlike the club level upgrades, there is no limit to the number of reservations on which you can utilize this benefit.

Finally, by spending $75,000 a year, you’ll automatically earn Platinum status in the Ritz/Marriott Rewards program(s), which brings a whole host of benefits. Unlike Hyatt, SPG, and Hilton, there is no shortcut to earning this top tier status through stays, so if you’re a big spender but typically don’t spend 75+ nights in Marriott properties, this is a nice way to achieve the highest elite status in the program(s).

You can earn Ritz-Carlton Platinum Elite Status by spending $75,000 on the card annually.

Unfortunately, both the club lounge and on-property credits are typically only valid on standard reservations, so if you’re attending a conference through a group rate or book a room using another package/promotion/third-party website, you likely won’t be able to use them. However, if you do have qualifying paid stays booked at standard rates, this card should be a no-brainer.

With how closely intertwined the Marriott Rewards and Ritz-Carlton Rewards programs are, this credit card clearly appeals to the traveler who stays at Ritz-Carlton properties on a regular basis. It also appeals to high spenders who value Platinum Elite status with either or both Ritz-Carlton and Marriott Rewards. It’s up to you to decide if you fit into one of these categories.

Any Ritz-Carlton Rewards credit card holders out there? Please share your thoughts on this card in the comments section below!

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.