Ritz-Carlton: The Marriott hotel brand where elite benefits don’t really apply
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I have 55 elite nights with Marriott Bonvoy so far this year, and I’ve held Platinum status with the program for seven years. In non-pandemic times, this translated to thousands of dollars every single year directed to Marriott’s slew of participating properties — which I deliberately chose at times over other loyalty programs.
And what did this loyalty get me on a recent stay at The Ritz-Carlton, Turks & Caicos, where I spent another few thousand dollars? Other than the 50% bonus on points earned that Marriott Platinum members get at all properties … just 1,000 bonus welcome points, worth just $8 based on TPG’s valuations.
This wasn’t a shock in the sense that I knew the rules of the game going in, but in a world where travelers have had the chance to re-evaluate if it’s even worth being loyal to a particular travel brand, it still left a bitter taste in my mouth.
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Those who pursue hotel elite status throughout the year on the little stays usually do it (in large part) to get pampered with extra perks on the bigger stays. A night spent at a Courtyard or Fairfield-type of property is going to be pretty similar for all guests — regardless of whether you have the highest, triple-diamond-titanium level of hotel elite status or none at all.
Favoring a chain like Marriott over other available options on those everyday stays is usually done to rack up elite status (and points) for when you want to indulge at the company’s high-end brands. From experience, I know that elite status can be worth it at these luxurious properties — with nice suite upgrades, cool perks, money-saving free breakfasts, lounge access and more.
Hotel loyalty programs also know this, and it’s the norm that elite perks carry over to high-end brands such as Marriott’s St. Regis, Hyatt’s Park Hyatt and Hilton’s Conrad. On your loyalty program marketing materials, you’re far more likely to see a photo of an infinity pool at a top-tier resort than that of a limited-service lobby because that’s why people usually care about the program to begin with.
But there’s an oddball in the bunch where most perks do not apply: Marriott’s Ritz-Carlton brand.
No breakfast (or upgrades or other perks) for you
Instead of no soup for you, at Ritz-Carlton, it’s no free-eggs-and-toast breakfast for you (as an elite member).
No matter how many thousands of dollars you’ve spent with participating brands that year, it’s going to cost the full price plus taxes, fees and tip for that morning yogurt parfait at a Ritz-Carlton ($19 at the Turks and Caicos location).
At Marriott’s other top brand, St. Regis (which was under the Starwood umbrella prior to the Marriott acquisition), Marriott Platinum elites and higher can choose 1,000 bonus points or breakfast for two guests for each day of the stay. And at a high-end St. Regis, a full breakfast for two can easily come to $75 or even $100 if paid for with cash, making that a real benefit.
On top of that, members with Suite Night Awards can apply them to a stay at luxurious St. Regis or JW Marriott properties and potentially get to live it up in a suite, if one is available.
Personally, I’ve had a great time in a suite (plus complimentary room-service breakfast) thanks to my Platinum status at the St. Regis New York, and I recently enjoyed a suite upgrade at the JW Marriott Bonnet Creek near Disney World. Those are the sort of moments that make a hotel stay a truly memorable one — and thus contribute to my yearly pursuit of Marriott status.
But per the Marriott Bonvoy terms, the Ritz-Carlton brand is excluded from Suite Night Award redemptions, accessing on-property lounges and enjoying free breakfast for higher-tier elite members.
In fact, you get more tangible benefits at a limited-service Courtyard property — where you have the option of a $10 food-and-beverage credit per night of the stay — than you do at an upscale Ritz-Carlton.
Why is Ritz-Carlton stingy with elite perks?
A long time ago, in a timeline far, far, away — before the fateful 2018 marriage of Marriott and SPG — there was actually a third program in that mix: Ritz-Carlton Rewards.
In fact, before the merger, you had to choose whether to be a member of Marriott Rewards or Ritz-Carlton Rewards, as they were connected (but different) programs. If you go even further back in history to the 1990s when Marriott first acquired a portion of Ritz-Carlton, it only had a 49% stake in the company, which may have been related to the separate tracks, programs and rules.
And not surprisingly (given the modern-day offerings), neither of these loyalty programs was especially generous when it came to on-property perks at participating Ritz-Carlton locations.
Even for top-tier elites (Platinum in both of the old programs, which required 75 nights each year and thus was equivalent to today’s Titanium), there were no breakfasts or suite upgrades to enjoy at Ritz-Carltons.
In contrast, Starwood Preferred Guest was generous with elite perks offered across its portfolio — including at St. Regis properties.
When these three programs became one, we saw the newfound ability to earn and use Marriott Bonvoy points at all the participating brands, but the scarcity of on-property elite perks at The Ritz-Carlton brand remains as a pre-merger holdover.
This could be fixed
When TPG’s Scott Mayerowitz recently sat down with Marriott’s new CEO, Anthony Capuano, he didn’t get into the specifics of the company’s loyalty program. However, he did acknowledge that Marriott Bonvoy isn’t as generous as SPG and added that Marriott Bonvoy gets an “incomplete” when it comes to the integration of the programs.
Your guess is as good as mine as to whether some of the complex, brand-specific benefits and exclusions are part of that “incomplete,” but I’d say it should be considered.
Ritz-Carlton properties are certainly nice, but I’ve had the luxury of staying at many top-tier resorts around the world, including Conrad, St. Regis and Park Hyatt properties. I’m thus confident in stating that Ritz-Carlton hotels and resorts aren’t truly in a league of their own when it comes to the hard product.
They are generally on par with those other high-end brands, and from all discernible angles as a guest, I’d say they’re not worthy of a special loyalty program carve-out — where virtually no elite benefits apply.
It’s probably nice as a Ritz-Carlton property owner to avoid handing out free orange juice and suite upgrades. But if Marriott Bonvoy as a loyalty program wants to make some progress in winning over the hearts, minds and (ultimately) wallets of travelers beyond just leaning on its large footprint, the lack of benefits at one of its nicest brands is a problem. It is precisely those aspirational redemptions and perks that drive everyday behaviors.
There are two real fixes.
The simplest — and likely best — option is to dramatically simplify the benefits Marriott elites get across chains.
At brands where breakfast isn’t already free for everyone, make it an option for those with Platinum status and above. This is already the policy at St. Regis and JW Marriott properties, so cut the exceptions and make it standard at Ritz-Carlton, too.
The same thing applies to Suite Night Awards. These aren’t actually processed until just days before check-in anyway, so if a suite is available at that point, let an elite guest use an award to enjoy it.
The second option, while not as ideal, is to create new benefit rules just for Ritz-Carlton properties — specifically ones that go beyond the 1,000-point welcome bonus.
If breakfast is (for some reason) off the table, maybe offer high-tier elite travelers a daily food-and-beverage credit valid at any on-property outlets. Frankly, even a $50 daily credit doesn’t go that far at most Ritz-Carlton properties, but something is better than virtually nothing — and a drink tastes sweeter when it is a “reward” for a year of loyalty.
When I stayed at The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch earlier this year, that property specifically offered coupons to select elite members, valid for some specialty cocktails, cookies and other items from the hotel’s “secret” menu.
That could be formalized into a Ritz-Carlton amenity for Marriott Platinum, Titanium and Ambassador guests — which is similar to what Hyatt used to offer for its top-tier Diamond members.
A stay amenity and $50 (or more) daily food and beverage credit would be a step in the right direction to help bridge the loyalty gap — if the brand wasn’t ready to simply match the other high-end options in the Marriott portfolio.
Playing some mental gymnastics to earn elite status can almost be fun for some frequent travelers. Doing the same thing to figure out how to receive those rewards isn’t nearly as enjoyable.
I’ll stay at Ritz-Carlton properties when they are the only logical choice for somewhere I want to visit, which is how I ended up in the new Ritz-Carlton on lovely Grace Bay in the Turks and Caicos. That said, if I had my choice between earning (or using) points at a Ritz-Carlton vs. a Conrad, Park Hyatt or even St. Regis, I’m unlikely to choose the Ritz-Carlton, simply because that stay is ultimately going to cost me more due to the lack of loyalty program benefits.
The Ritz-Carlton brand has the potential to be a huge driver of loyalty for the Marriott Bonvoy program, thanks to its aspirational nature and five-star locations. However, as it stands, it’s instead an unnecessarily sore point in a program that is already full of complexities, carve-outs and exceptions.
Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.
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