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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available – The Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card
An important part of maximizing award travel is taking advantage of big bonus opportunities when they pop up. Today, TPG Contributor Nick Ewen looks at a current Ritz-Carlton credit card offer that can get you free hotel nights at premier properties and more.
Back in October, I wrote a review of the Ritz-Carlton Visa card to see whether it should earn a place in your wallet. The Ritz-Carlton Rewards program is one that I have recently started paying closer attention to, given that it provide a back door to earning status in Marriott Rewards. Chase recently announced an increased sign-up bonus of 140,000 points after you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months, so today I want to revisit the card and analyze the value you can get from this new offer.
For starters, let’s quickly review both the Ritz-Carlton Rewards program and the benefits of the card. As I wrote about in my review, Ritz-Carlton Rewards and Marriott Rewards appear to be separate programs, but are essentially interchangeable. You’re only allowed to have an account with one program, and you can use that same membership number for stays at all properties in the Ritz-Carlton and Marriott portfolios.
The similarities don’t stop there. Regardless of whether you stay at a Ritz or Marriott property:
- Your earning rates are the same (10 points per dollar spent)
- Your elite status benefits are the same
- Your redemption rates are the same
- You have the same 1:1 transfer ratio to both programs from Ultimate Rewards (on cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Ink Plus)
As a result, each Ritz-Carlton rewards point is essentially identical to a Marriott Rewards point, which is why TPG pegged both at 0.7 cents apiece in his most recent monthly valuations.
When it comes to credit cards, there are some clear similarities between the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Visa and the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card. Here’s a quick overview of the benefits that the two cards share:
- 5 points per dollar spent at Ritz-Carlton and Marriott properties
- 2 points per dollar spent on airline tickets, car rentals, and dining purchases
- 1 point per dollar everywhere else
- No foreign transaction fees
The Ritz-Carlton Visa gives you additional benefits that can be highly valuable, especially for air travel purchases and stays at Ritz-Carlton properties:
- 10% annual bonus on all points earned with the card
- Three club level upgrades per year on paid Ritz stays of up to 7 nights
- $100 credit for incidentals on paid Ritz stays of 2 nights or more
- Gold elite status for the first year of account opening and in each subsequent year when you spend $10,000 on the card
- Upgrade to Platinum elite status when you spend $75,000 or more in a cardmember year
- $300 yearly air travel credit for baggage fees/lounge membership/upgrades/Global Entry
- Membership in Lounge Club
- J.P. Morgan Premier Concierge Service
Since I discussed these benefits in detail back in October, today I’m going to focus on the new offer. Using TPG’s valuation of 0.7 cents apiece, the sign-up bonus alone is worth $980. That’s more than enough to cover the $395 annual fee for the first year, and doesn’t even take into account the additional benefits listed above.
However, with the right redemption(s), you can get a lot more than $980 out of the sign-up bonus, and it’s a significant upgrade over the standard offer, which has typically been a free night in any Tier 1-4 Ritz-Carlton property worldwide after spending $2,000 in the first three months of cardmembership). Tier 4 Ritz properties can cost up to 60,000 points per night, so that’s the maximum value you can get out of the standard sign-up bonus.
The big benefit of the new offer is that you earn bonus points rather than a Free Night Stay E-Certificate. This adds significant flexibility to your redemption options. For starters, the certificate from the usual sign-up bonus expires six months from the date of issue, so your redemption window is small. With points, you simply need qualifying activity on your account within 2 years to prevent them from expiring.
Secondly, you wouldn’t get any refund or rebate if you wanted to stay at a lower-tier Ritz property. For example, if you wanted to stay at a Tier 2 property that was offering PointSavers rooms at just 30,000 points per night, you’d still have to forfeit the full certificate even though you’d only be getting half the redemption value out of it.
You can put the 140,000 points to much better use. Here are some sample itineraries for you to consider:
Two nights at a Ritz-Carlton Tier 5 property
With the standard sign-up bonus, top-tier Ritz-Carlton properties were “off limits” when it came to redemption. However, with the flexibility of points, you can redeem your sign-up bonus for two nights in any of the seven most luxurious Ritz-Carlton properties around the world.
For example, you could spend a winter weekend at the magnificent Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch, with ski-in, ski-out access to Beaver Creek Mountain. I still see a couple of weekends in January and most weekends in March with reward availability. With nightly rates of $899, you’d get $1,798 worth of free lodging from the sign-up bonus alone, bringing your redemption value to 1.3 cents per point.
Three nights at a Ritz-Carlton Tier 2 property
Ritz-Carlton currently has 26 properties that fall into Tier 2, which requires 40,000 points per night. With the sign-up bonus alone, you could book three nights and have 20,000 rewards points leftover. Rates at these properties tend to start around $200 per night, but they can get significantly higher if you find award availability during high season.
For example, the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort in Naples, Florida has decent availability on many dates through the spring. Revenue rates are as low as $499 per night in early January, but if you checked in on either Thursday, March 12th or Thursday, March 19th and stayed through the weekend, your 40,000 points would cover a room rate of $649 for a value of 1.6 cents per point!
Five nights at a Ritz-Carlton Tier 1 property
Like Marriott, Ritz-Carlton Rewards gives you the fifth night free on points redemptions, and since a Tier 1 property costs 30,000 points per night, you can use 120,000 points for four nights and get the fifth night free. Unfortunately, there are only 13 Tier 1 Ritz properties, but this can still get you a lot of value, and leaves you with 20,000 extra points for future redemptions.
For example, the Ritz-Carlton Beijing has award availability throughout most of 2015, and revenue rates get as high as 2,300 Chinese Yuan per night (approximately $370 based on exchange rates at the time of writing). A five-night stay would be worth $1,850, offering 1.54 cents apiece in value from your points.
Five nights at a Category 7 Marriott property
You can utilize the fifth night free benefit on award stays across Marriott’s portfolio as well. Since Category 7 Marriott hotels usually cost 35,000 points per night, you can book a five-night award stay for exactly 140,000 points.
Let’s say you wanted to book the Surfer’s Paradise Marriott Resort & Spa in Australia. Room rates typically start around AU$250, but there are dates in February with rooms for AU$349 per night. At current exchange rates, this equates to US$1,421.44 in savings by redeeming your 140,000 points, or a value of just over 1 cent per point.
At least 50,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points
In addition to redeeming Ritz-Carlton Rewards points for hotel stays, you can transfer them to a variety of airline partners. For the most part, the transfer option provides relatively poor value. At first glance this appears to hold true for Southwest as well, since 140,000 Ritz-Carlton Rewards points = 50,000 Rapid Rewards points, which are only worth approximately $715 in Wanna Get Away fares.
However, the real benefit is that (as of now) the transferred points can help you qualify for the Southwest Companion Pass. If you were to also open a Southwest Rapid Rewards Visa and earn the 50,000-point sign-up bonus (after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months), you would be at most 8,000 points away from a Companion Pass. One of the great things about this pass is that it’s valid for the remainder of the calendar year in which it is earned and the entire following year. If you were to sign up for both cards now and earn the Companion Pass in early 2015, you’d be looking at almost two full years of free companion flights!
Previously, I recommended this card for those who consistently complete at least 2 paid stays at Ritz-Carlton properties annually, or those who plan on spending $75,000 to earn Marriott Platinum Elite status. However, with the new offer I would recommend this card for a much wider audience, as you can get some tremendous value out of the 140,000 points earned from the sign-up bonus.
What would you do with the 140,000 points from this sign-up bonus?
Know before you go.
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