Fly free with a companion for two years and get a free seven night stay

UPDATE 1/14/2016: The Ritz credit card signup bonuses now offer free nights rather than points, so this post is no longer relevant.

UPDATE 9/26/2014: Unfortunately, the Ritz Carlton credit card signup offers described in this post have expired.

One of the biggest and best opportunities for free travel is the Southwest Companion Pass.  Earn 110,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points in one calendar year and you get a companion pass good for an unlimited number of flights for the rest of that year and all the next year.  Think about that.  If you manage to earn the companion pass early in the year, you can bring along a designated companion, for free, for any and every Southwest flight you book (with points or with cash) for nearly two years.

For those who fly Southwest with a companion often, this represents an amazing value.  And, now that Southwest has begun flying internationally (Costa Rica, Aruba, Mexico, etc.), the deal is even more spectacular.

In my recent Big Wins post, I showed how to get the needed points quickly by signing up for two credit cards.  There is, though, another way.  This option includes not just the points needed for the Southwest Companion Pass, but a 7 night hotel stay as well.

The key to this alternate approach is Marriott’s Air and Hotel packages (also called “travel packages”).  With enough Marriott Rewards points, one can book a 7 night hotel stay and get up to 120,000 airline miles.  When booking a package like this there are many options for what type of miles you want to earn (American Airlines, Delta, United, etc.), but the key to this plan is to choose Southwest Rapid Rewards points.  Marriott has a chart dedicated just to that option:

Marriott_hotelplusAir_SouthwestRapidRewards

As you can see in the chart above, one can exchange 270,000 Marriott Rewards points for 120,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points and a seven night stay in a Category 5 Marriott.  In other words, if you had 270,000 Marriott points to spend, you could get enough Southwest points for a companion pass (and for a lot of travel) and you’ll also get a seven night stay to boot.

That’s great, but where do those 270,000 Marriott Rewards points come from?  Enter Ritz Carlton.

Puttin’ on the Ritz

Even though the Ritz Carlton chain is owned by Marriott, and even though the Ritz rewards program is identical to Marriott’s, they’ve kept the two separate, in name.  In reality, they are one and the same.  Ritz points can be used to book Marriott properties and Marriott points can be used to book Ritz properties.  You can call to switch your Marriott account to a Ritz account or vice versa.

There are currently two big Ritz credit card signup offers (found here). With one offer you get 70,000 points and the first year annual fee is waived.  With the second offer, you get 140,000 points, but the first year fee is not waived.  Choosing the 140K offer is like buying the extra 70,000 points for $395 (the annual fee amount).  Normally I’d say that’s not a great bet to make.  In this case, though, it’s a great deal.

Here’s the trick:

1) You and your spouse or domestic partner both sign up for the 140K Ritz Carlton credit card offer.  Within a month or two after you’ve met the required $2,000 minimum spend on each card, you’ll each have at least 142,000 points.

2) Wait until January 1.  Then call Marriott (or Ritz) to book an air and hotel travel package.  According to Marriott’s website, you can transfer points to your spouse or domestic partner when booking awards (terms & conditions can be found here).  Pick a package that gives you enough Southwest points for the Companion Pass (or gets you close enough to where you can earn the final points another way).  For example, 270,000 points is enough for 120,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points and 7 nights in a Category 5 hotel.  Alternatively, you can choose to get a Category 6 hotel and 100,000 Southwest points for 280,000 Marriott/Ritz points.  Or, if you already have a stash of Marriott points, consider a more expensive package such as the one that gives you 7 nights in a Category 7 hotel and 100,000 Southwest points in exchange for 310,000 Marriott/Ritz points.

Hotel ideas

  • Costa Rica Marriott Hotel San Jose: Category 5.  With Southwest now flying to Costa Rica, you can use the Southwest points and the companion pass to fly to Costa Rica, and then use the 7 night certificate for a free stay.
  • Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center: Category 6.  In recent years, Marriott has moved many desirable properties up in category so that it is now difficult to find appealing category 6 properties in the United States.  This one looks pretty good though.
  • Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino: Category 7.  With Southwest now flying to Aruba, you can use the Southwest points and the companion pass to fly to Aruba, and then use the 7 night certificate for a free stay at this resort.

Pictured below: The Inn at Bay Harbor in northern Michigan. When I last visited this was a category 5 property, but it has been bumped up (twice) since then to category 7:

Marriott_InnAtBayHarbor_Frequent_Miler

Additional value from the Ritz credit card

While you have the Ritz credit card, you might as well get full value from your $395 annual fee.  Here are some ideas:

  • Use the card for airline fees and call to get those fees reimbursed, up to $300 per calendar year.  This means that it is possible to get up to $600 in fees reimbursed in your first cardmember year!  See “How to increase credit card signup bonuses” for more.
  • Get free access to Lounge Club airport lounges
  • Enjoy Gold elite status, which guarantees free internet and breakfast or hotel club lounge access at many Marriott properties worldwide.

Read more

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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Comments

  1. You’re sure these transferred points count towards companion pass? Also can you buy gift cards to use the airline fee credit like the platinum?

    • Yes I’m sure the points count towards the companion pass. Checkout the post by Frugal Travel Lawyer that I linked to. As to gift cards: I haven’t personally tried it, but I’ve heard at least one person say that it worked for them.

  2. How soon the airline points transferred to the airline account? AFter booking hotel air package or after stayed? You said wait until Jan 1 to call Marriott to book but you may or may not stay in January.

    • I believe it takes a few days for the miles to transfer after you book the package. You do not have to book the hotel in order to get the package: when you get the package you then have credit for a seven night stay which you can book later. The credit will expire after a year, but LoyaltyLobby reports success in calling to extend it.

  3. If I call Marriott to convert my Ritz account to a Marriott account, do the Ritz points combine with existing Marriott points, or does it end up creating 2 accounts?

  4. I like where your head is at, as it’s where mine went to over a month ago. This is similar to the plan my wife and I have, albeit with less annual fees given we have a 100k stash of Marriott points. Between the 140k w/ fee for her and the no fee 70k for me, we should get around where we want to be, and top off with some UR transfers. She wants to do the Atlantis near NAS which will hopefully be a Marriott category 6-8 by next August. I want to do a Hawaii Category 8.

    However, the 7 nights are not free, per se, are they? In your example, a couple has spent about $800 given the unwaived annual fee. To your point, it makes sense if you get a companion pass out of it.

    I do worry that all the posts on this are killing it. To Nick’s point above, I wonder if all the value we assume is there will be left once 2015 rolls around. Something tells me Marriott will be getting a lot of calls from folks at the beginning of 2015.

    • most probably it won’t be a “marriott fix”, they could care less. It will be an SQ fix to say “if miles come from X, don’t give Y”. The path to this have always been there for the last 2 or 3 years that I know of..and probably much longer than that.

      it’s the same thing we’ve seen with say WallyM not accepting cards from certain companies to load a BB…they simply encoded to not accept X when doing Y..and whala..it was done. SQ can easily do the exact same thing.

      • I agree that the most likely way that this deal will get killed is if Southwest stops allowing points from hotel partners to count. They already don’t count points transferred from Ultimate Rewards.

  5. With cards like this where the airline reimbursement is every calendar year, wouldn’t it be possible to collect three rounds of reimbursements? One in December, one at any point in 2015, one next January, then cancel and have annual fee refunded?

  6. I need JAL points to fly Emirates in Southeast Asia and Australia and this seems a lot faster than MS with my SPG card………

      • Yes but it is like the buffet in Killeen Texas where the food is horrible but you get a lot of it……….unless of course there is another Emirates partner with a better Marriott partner rate AND the ability to book without starting or stopping in the USA……….

  7. My husband and I each have a Marriott credit card. I remember reading that you can’t have, (or don’t receive a bonus), from the Ritz card if you presently have a Marriott card. Is this true?

  8. if some actually jumps through all of these hoops and books the trip, please do tell. the process seems pretty fun though.

    what about the actual value of the nights/flights option?.. any use if no companion pass (ex. united)?
    thanks

    • As long as you value the 7 night stay, its a good deal even for other airlines like United. With United you get 20% more miles due to their relationship with Marriott. And, currently both AA and US Air are offering bonus miles on miles transferred from Marriott. These packages would count for that.

  9. Good luck with that, as I have spoken to two CRs about using the airline reimbursement for gift cards. They stated that it would not qualify. That is not to say that they may not catch it, but note that in order to use the airline credit you must call and request the credit for said spending. This gives them a great chance to further review the dollar amount and potentially deny the charge. You should try it and let us know. My recommendation being that you purchase small dollar amounts and not all at once.

  10. do buying drinks aboard count as airline fees that can be reimbursed? What about buying something out of those ridiculous airline catalogs? If so, it’s at least a way to get something for it

  11. This is “old reliable” for the lazy blogger. This gets trotted out every month or so when the bloggers have nothing else to write about. It’s been hammered so much I can’t believe it hasn’t disappeared months ago. Just start the count down clock now, and you bet the bloggers won’t admit they were the reason.

  12. Hi FM,

    If I apply for it today, is it possible to get the $300 annual credit for 2014 and 2015? It looks little difficult compared to Amex Platinum. Any thoughts?

  13. I know this is an older post, but just signed my wife up for the Ritz-Carlton 140K offer. I am going to pass on getting one as I am maxed out with Chase right now. While I agree for the most part that Marriott points are not extremely valuable, I like the above option for the Marriott hotel and flight options. While I normally wouldn’t do the spend to get Platinum status, I see it as a way to achieve 3 things at one time. 1. Get Marriott platinum status, 2. Get United silver status and 3. allow me a quick way to renew our SW companion pass for another year. I don’t know of another way to get all 3 for the $75K spend.

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