Why the Ritz Carlton card might be worth keeping… for some

The Ritz Carlton 140,000 point credit card offer is back.  In exchange for a $395 annual fee, you’ll get 140,000 points after $3K spend in 3 months (details here).  Ritz Carlton points are equivalent in every way to Marriott Rewards points.  So much so, in fact, that you can opt to enter in your Marriott Rewards number on your Ritz credit card application so that you’ll earn Marriott points rather than Ritz points.

RitzCard

Marriott / Ritz points are not nearly as valuable as airline miles, though.  In my Fair Trading Prices chart, I peg Marriott points at only a half cent each.  This is not an estimate of redemption value, but rather an estimate of the price at which people unwittingly buy Marriott points. It can be thought of as a price at which it would be reasonable to buy the points if they were offered for sale at a discount.

The Fair Trading price gives a rough idea of the value of Marriott Rewards points relative to other programs.  Most airline miles, for example, have a Fair Trading Price of around 1.5 cents.  That’s three times the estimate trading price of Marriott points.  So, we can think of this 140K offer as being roughly comparable to a 50K airline offer.  That’s really good, but not as jaw dropping as 140,000 points sounds.

I’ve written before about ways to get value from the Ritz card.  If you haven’t read these posts before, I recommend taking the time to check them out:

In the posts above, I mostly assumed that people would keep the Ritz card for just a year so as to pay the $395 annual fee only once.  In this post, I’ll explore the value one could get from keeping the card past the first year…

Card Benefits

Here are the primary benefits of the card:

  • Earn 5 points per dollar at Ritz & Marriott hotels; 2 points per dollar for restaurants, car rental agencies, and airline tickets purchased directly with the airline
  • 3 upgrades per year to club level on paid stays
  • 10% annual points premium
  • $100 hotel credit on paid stays of 2 nights or longer
  • $300 annual travel credit
  • Gold elite status first year, then ongoing with $10K account year spend
  • Platinum status with $75K account year spend
  • Airport lounge access via the Lounge Club

Net cost $95

There’s no doubt that the Ritz-Carlton card has a steep annual fee ($395).  That said, if you play it right, you can use the $300 annual travel credit to effectively reduce the annual fee to just $95.  Obviously, if you have a lot of qualifying airline fees each year, you can pay for them with the Ritz card and get reimbursed.  If not, its possible to manufacture fees by buying gift cards, or by paying for refundable fees (see, for example: Award fee reimbursements: searching for limits).

Unfortunately, unlike the Amex Platinum card and the Citi Prestige card which reimburse airline fees automatically, with the Ritz card you have to call to request the reimbursement.  It’s not a lot of work, but its certainly less convenient.

Good for perks, but not for spend (except for seeking elite status)

The Ritz card offers a number of perks that may be worth more or less depending upon your travel habits.  One thing that it is not good for is for earning rewards through spend.  Yes, the card does offer a few 2X categories (restaurants, car rental agencies, and airline tickets) and it does offer an annual 10% bonus, but the points earned are not as valuable as those earned with other cards.  A good comparison is the Chase Sapphire Preferred which earns 2X for restaurants and all travel.  While you might earn slightly fewer points with the Sapphire Preferred (since it doesn’t have a 10% annual bonus), you’re more likely to earn more points since it has broader 2X categories.  More importantly, though, the points earned with the Sapphire Preferred card can be transferred to many airline and hotel programs and even to Amtrak.  Or, at a minimum, the points can be redeemed directly for travel at a value of 1.25 cents each.  So, the flexibility and value of points earned with the Sapphire Preferred card are far superior.

Another good comparison would be to a 2% cash back card.  Even if you managed to average 2 points per dollar with the Ritz card, you would probably do better with a no fee 2% cash back card since it is rare to get better than 1 cent per point value from Ritz / Marriott points.

My advice with this card is to get it if you value the perks, but only use it for spend if you are seeking Gold status ($10K per year spend) or Platinum status ($75K per year spend).  And, of course, use it for spend at Marriott and Ritz properties where you’ll earn 5 points per dollar.

Is it worth $95?

For the card to be worth keeping, I’d argue that you would have to get more than $95 worth of value from the card’s perks each year.  To do so, you would either have to make use of the airport lounge benefit or hotel perks:

  • 3 upgrades per year to club level on paid stays: If you can make use of this benefit, you could get much more than $95 value from a single stay.  Club lounges usually mean free breakfast and free afternoon/evening snacks.  Sometimes the evening offerings are extensive enough to serve as dinner.  Here’s the catch: “Not valid on corporate or other promotional rates.”  Depending upon how the hotel interprets the “other promotional rates” clause, it may be difficult to get these upgrades if you’ve booked your stay with any kind of discount.
  • $100 hotel credit on paid stays of 2 nights or longer: Keep in mind that you would only get $100 in “value” from this benefit if you use the credit and if would have spent that much or more at the hotel anyway.  The credit can not be applied to the room rate.
  • Gold elite status first year, then ongoing with $10K account year spend: At Rtiz properties, Gold status will give you free internet and a chance of a room upgrade.  At most Marriott properties, other than resorts, Gold status means free breakfast either in the hotel restaurant or via lounge access.  Depending on where you stay and how often, this benefit can be huge.
  • Airport lounge access via the Lounge Club: In my opinion, airport lounge access is rarely worth the retail price charged for a one time visit.  That said, you can get value from a lounge.  Generally you’ll at least get free snacks and a place to relax away from the noise and crowds in the airport.  Better lounges also include meals which can be a big money saver.  The Lounge Club lounges are far from ubiquitous, though, so make sure they exist in the terminals you transit regularly if this benefit is one of the reasons you would consider keeping the Ritz card.

Ultimately it’s a guessing game as to whether or not the card will deliver more value to you than the annual fee.  If you stay semi-regularly in Ritz and/or Marriott properties and you don’t otherwise have Marriott or Ritz Gold status, then it probably is worth more than the annual fee… possibly far 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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  1. Just a heads up if you apply for the 140k offer, Chase has been telling people that the signup bonus linked to the application is actually two free nights at a Category 1-4 Ritz which is much less valuable.

    You need to call Chase and have them correct this. Most agents are aware of the issue but you might need to HUCA. I posted more details on my blog: http://pointscentric.com/2014/12/26/if-you-just-applied-for-the-140000-ritz-carlton-credit-card-offer-double-check-the-signup-bonus/

    • The only guarantee would be to use the credits for actual airline fees (bag check fees, for example). That said, people have had success in buying airline gift cards and getting reimbursed.

  2. The upgrade certificates are useless. Most RC properties are available on AMEX Platinum FHR website and their benefits are generally better for short stays (breakfast and $100 credit). Upgrade certs may be good for longer stays but with FHR you can find some 3rd/4th night off deals, which makes FHR rate cheaper.

    The real benefit with RC card, IMHO, is the lounge club membership. RC is much better because you can bring unlimited number of guests for free (per lounge club letter…most I brought was 4. Maybe invite strangers at airport next time and test the limit. I joking told an agent in Seattle that I would bring 20 guests next time, and she said sure!). Also, you can get additional RC cards for family and they too can get the free lounge club membership with unlimited free guests.

  3. The bit on spend analysis for elite status leaves out the not insignificant fact that manufacturing Marriott Platinum status gives you United Silver as well. Good enough for security line bypass, economy plus seats at check-in, and an occasional upgrade.

  4. Like Gary, I only have one day left in 2014 to deal with the airline credit.

    When I have bought AA GIFT CERTIFICATES on Amex it shows up on my Amex Statement as ” AA MISC SALE/ TAX/ FDALLAS TX.” I’m not sure if AA Gift Certs will show up the same way on my Chase Ritz statement.

    If they do show up the same, how would you suggest I best phrase my request for the credit? Any help on this would be much appreciated.

  5. If you tell me that Ritz has figured out a way to make properties honor these perks then I might be a buyer……listening Half Moon Bay?

    • Misty, think costs not related to airline ticket costs or gift cards. Upgrades, snacks, WiFi, and other items can be reimbursed. I used some of the credits via Southwest without any issues. You can ask the rep over the phone and they will give you an idea. I specifically asked about gift cards and was told they do not qualify.

  6. If I’m a Marriott platinum with 300,000+ Marriott points, how do I go about applying for this card without losing plat or any points?

  7. I am thinking about the 300 credit reimbursement. Based on the info from the official website only the following types of non-ticket Net Purchases qualify for this offer: airline lounge day pass, or towards a yearly lounge membership of your choice; airline seat upgrades; airline baggage fees; in-flight internet/entertainment; in-flight meals; Global Entry fees. Since ritz requires us to call them to fulfill the reimbursement, is it possible to use the award fee or buy the gift card?

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