You Have to Pick Just One: Should You Be a Marriott Rewards or Ritz-Carlton Member?

Reader Andrew asks,

There is Marriott Rewards and Ritz-Carlton Rewards. How do these two work together? Is one better than the other? How do the 2 statuses work?

Marriott acquired Ritz-Carlton in 1998, but the hotels had limited participation in the Marriott Rewards program: you could spend points for Ritz-Carlton stays, but that was it.

Luxury chains have for the most part eschewed points, the belief was that they provide recognition not freebies and compete to offer the best luxury experience not guest kickbacks.

That seemed like a mistake to me, but of course I start with a presumption that loyalty programs with formalized tiers and defined benefits sett clear stretch goals for your customers which incentivize them to stay more.

After the drop in hotel stays during the Great Recession, Marriott made a strategic decision to try to leverage rewards and formalized recognition in order to goose bookings.

About three years ago Ritz-Carlton introduced a loyalty program.

(Even Four Seasons now seems to think a rewards program is a good idea.)

What are the Differences Between the Ritz-Carlton and Marriott Programs?

The Ritz-Carlton Rewards program is essentially and in most respects the same thing as Marriott Rewards, just with a different name and branding.

Marriott Rewards members can earn and burn points at Ritz-Carlton hotel properties, and their elite status is recognized at Ritz-Carlton hotels (elite benefits are different for the different hotel brands, but a Marriott Rewards Gold member gets the same treatment at a Ritz-Carlton hotel as a Ritz-Carlton Rewards Gold does).

Ritz-Carlton Rewards members can earn and burn points at Marriott branded hotel properties, and their elite status is recognized at Marriott hotels (Ritz-Carlton Platinum is treated as a Marriott Platinum when staying at a Marriott).

There are two primary differences, your preference in these two areas should drive your program selection.

  • Promotions. Currently Marriott is running their usual ‘MegaBonus’ offer (they are currently calling it ‘unexpected bonus’ but it is kind of expected since it’s the same thing they run a couple of times a year most years). That’s two stays earns a free night, for most members the free night is capped at redemption for a category 4 hotel. I’ve redeemed mine in the past for stays at the SkyCity Marriott at the Hong Kong airport and for a stay in Boca Raton, Florida.

    Ritz-Carlton also has a stay two get one night (up to 2 free nights), it’s specific to earning for Ritz-Carlton stays, and allows redemption for a Ritz-Carlton night as opposed to earning a mid-tier Marriott night.

  • Co-branded credit cards. The Ritz-Carlton Rewards credit card offers Gold status free the first year and then renews Gold after $10,000 in spend each year. There are also club level upgrades (on eligible rates) and a $200 airline fee credit that helps offset the $395 annual fee for the card. The key thing here is that status, since it’s recognized reciprocally at Marriotts as well.

    In contrast the Marriott Rewards Premier Visa is $85 and gives you 15 nights towards status (it’s useful if you want to become Platinum, since those nights help in your elite credit total versus just being given Gold) and also generates 1 additional night for every $3000 in spend. The card also gives you an annual free night (valid at Marriotts up to category 4), which effectively offsets the fee.

You are only allowed to be a member of one program. They want you to choose (although many people do maintain multiple accounts, this isn’t consistent with program rules). You can convert your account to the other program if you wish. But generally promotion rules require all existing accounts to have been a member of that program when the promotion was announced, so you can’t switch after promotion details are announced (although new accounts can register for a promotion after that promotion is announced).

Should You Choose Ritz-Carlton Rewards or Marriott Rewards?

The best advice is simply to be a Ritz-Carlton Rewards member if you stay frequently at Ritz properties, and your status and benefits will be reciprocated at Marriott. But if you aren’t a frequent Ritz-Carlton guest, then have your membership with Marriott Rewards — unless you stay a lot at Marriotts but not enough for Gold status in which case you should become a Ritz program member and get their credit card.

Personally I’m not a frequent Ritz-Carlton or Marriott guest. I haven’t been a huge fan of the Marriott program, because (1) their elite benefits lag Starwood’s and Hyatt’s, (2) they don’t have all that many aspirational properties where I dream of redeeming my points, and (3) rewards at Ritz-Carlton properties tend to be exorbitantly priced.

But I’m warming to the Marriott program largely because of the Hilton HHonors devaluation. Ritz hotels remains priced as poorly as top tier HHonors properties but on average it takes less spending for a free night through Marriott than Hilton for an average big city stay. And the Marriott program has been improving, such as making breakfast an official benefit on the weekend.

While I’ve stayed at several Ritz-Carlton properties over time, such as Marina del Rey and Naples, Florida, the only Ritz-Carlton I’ve stayed at in the past few years was Grand Cayman for a conference in January.

So being a Marriott Rewards member makes more sense for me — I’m likely to pick up the occasional free night from the Marriott Rewards MegaBonus promotions (stay twice, get a free night usually at a property up to category 4) and indeed I do pick up those nights now and again. But I’m unlikely to earn bonuses from Ritz-Carlton stays.

The only thing that would change that calculation for me is if I was going to be a regular Marriott customer, but not stay enough to earn Gold. For instance, if I was going to do 20 nights a year with Marriott while Gold requires 50.

Then I would get the Ritz co-branded credit card. It’s $395, but the net cost is reduced by a $200 airline fee credit. And it comes with Gold status. So for $195 I would have lounge access and breakfast and the bulk of those 20 nights (i.e. I would be a Gold despite not staying enough to earn that level).


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About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I’d definitely recommend Marriott – have been a Plat for years, they’ve been very good… Of course, my one stay at a Ritz as a Marriott Plat was pretty lackluster… I wouldn’t say that their acknowledgement was anything close to what I’d expect at a Marriott. We got no lounge access (even though it had a lounge, I even asked and was denied), nor breakfast– nothing.

  2. The free night certificate is cat 1-5 after the first year, which is almost unusable compared to cat 1-4 which are completely useless now. Marriott Platinum status has been totally not worth it for me, I stay mostly in the big cities and have seen zero suite upgrades. So I’ve mostly switched to Starwood. Marriott claims about 5% of Plat stays get upgraded, it seems to me less than that. I still stay with Marriott in the smaller towns where there is perhaps only a Holiday Inn or a Hampton Inn as competition. I find them to be more consistent and I get good value from the stay 2 get 1 free Megabonus.

  3. The program operates as one. When you check in at a RC, they´ll often say “thank you for being a marriott gold member” even if you´re a RC rewards member. You are eligible to earn in both programs promos. In fact, the one going on now double stacks 😉

  4. I am currently a lowly Marriott Rewards member. However, with two or three trips planned at Ritz’ this upcoming Spring, I was toying with applying for the Ritz Credit Card. Would I be a Ritz member (at the gold status), even though I currently am a Marriott member? What would my status be if I applied for the Ritz Card?

  5. I’m not 100% positive, but I believe you can keep your account under the Marriott Rewards designation, but still apply for the RC Visa and get status through it.

  6. @Tommy777 One account is definitely eligible for 2 promos? Mine isn’t.

    http://ritzcarltonrewards.netlinkrg.com/nights2013/en/

    “Our records indicate that you are not eligible for the Enjoy More promotion. If you believe you have received this message in error or have any questions, please contact The Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Guest Services Team for assistance.”

  7. @Tommy777 How do you get the promo to double stack? I’m a Marriott member, I get an error when I try to register for RC promos.

  8. FYI, I just called the Ritz Rewards Desk and there are actually two promos going on until the end of October.

    Promo 1. This promo for free night certificates.

    Promo 2. 5 nights you get 50,000 points and another 5 nights gets you another 50,000 points for no more than 100,000 points total.

    Also, the Desk clarified that a stay is not consecutive nights, but simply a check in/check out, meaning you can stay one night and it’s a stay. The terms and conditions say otherwise, which is why I asked.

    I recently stayed at the Ritz Washington, DC Georgetown and moved to the Ritz Washington, DC (22nd Street) simply to get a certificate and it qualified. Will be doing the same in another city for a work trip before the promo ends.

    She also clarified that Ritz Rewards member may participate in both Ritz Rewards promos and Marriott Rewards promos, where as the Marriott Rewards members may only participate in Marriott Rewards promos.

  9. Some folks have reportedly registered for both free night promos online but it is not clear to me that Marriott is honoring that, my read of the terms and conditions say that the Ritz Rewards promo requires being an existing Ritz Rewards member before the promo was announced or opening a new Ritz Rewards account (which you aren’t supposed to do if you are a Marriott member).

  10. I think it’s also important to remember that with the Ritz credit card, the $395 annual fee is per membership year, while the $200 incidental airline credit is per calendar year. Thus, sign up for the card in July for $395, then get a $200 credit now and then another in 2014, which makes the card free. Also – in each of the past two Augusts Ritz has run promotions on the credit card with no annual fee for the first year. Hopefully they’ll do it again next month. For our family, this card has been quite valuable for our vacations. We stay at a Ritz resort for a week and all of the family food, plus unlimited drinks for mom and dad, are covered in their entirety with the club floor upgrades (Ritz Club Lounge food presentations are usually four/five times a day and quite a bit more comprehensive that at Marriott)

  11. It’s important to understand that the rate you need to pay to use the upgrades that come with the RC card are substantially higher than not only the best rate you will find but higher even than rack.

    I recently found this out the hard way when RC reservations booked me using full rack rate but the upgrade was denied. You would think they’d know their own rules, but they don’t. Luckily the hotel was nice about it and after some internal discussion decided they would honor the upgrade however be aware that the value of the upgrade is almost certainly substantially less than you might think it is.

  12. No – these upgrades apply to rack rate. It sounds like Steve had an isolated bum deal. My wife and I each own the card, just to get 6 upgrades a year (you’re allowed 3 per card per year), and we’ve always had a nice experience using them. Everyone will value the club upgrades differently, but when you have two teenagers eating three meals a day and a thirsty mom and dad, it’s well worth the small difference in price each night that the rack rate runs over a government or AAA discount – one of the few types of discounts that Ritz offers anyways 🙂

  13. The Ritz Carlton card also gives the holder lounge access to most every airline out there, regardless of which class you are flying. For me, that alone is worth the annual fee.

  14. Tim if you are correct I’d sure like to know more. I had an extended conversation with RC regarding this and they made it absolutely clear that you must use an eligible rate and that it is listed separately in the system.

    Now its possible that some locations have set the upgrade rate the same as their rack rate but that was most certainly not the case with the Boston property.

    If you know something to the contrary I would very much like to hear more because I’m about to drop the RC card specifically because of this issue. It would also mean that RC reservations is telling people incorrectly.

    Can you tell me where your information is coming from?

  15. Every time I’ve used upgrades I go first to the Ritz website and do a one-night rate search for the best rate without checking the box for promotional rate. That way I know if the rate increases or decreases during my stay. I wonder if maybe they’re charging you a higher rate because of a mid-stay rate change? The best rate that shows up is always the one I’ve gotten when I then call the dedicated 800 number for club upgrades.

  16. My wife used to have a Marriott Visa and cancelled it. I have never had either. With Marriot, you can’t combine points for no reason per se, but you CAN combine with spouse if you need them for an existing reservation. I believe that point is what makes this card valuable for a couple.

    That would be 280,000 RC points for a couple, and $800 airline credits (which Id buy AA gift cards for, assuming you get the card now and can get the airline credit for this calendar year and next.)

    Even at the highest level of Marriott category 9, that’s essentially 6 free nights. If you can get your air for the airline credits, then basically that vacation is going to cost you just $800 with the 2 annual fees.

    Can you designate you want Marriot Rewards instead of Ritz, or does it even matter if you can redeem at both places?

    Also, the Marriot Visa with the 70K signup is a separate card from this isn’t it, so my wife would be able to apply for this and use her existing Marriott number and in fact get the bonus or would she want to open this with a Ritz rewards account or a new account?

  17. Help – my husband just got approved for the RC card. However, when asked if we had a RC number, we said no (we have a Marriott). Agent said they would set one up. Now there is a delay with processing the card – Chase says the delay is at the RC end. We leave for a stay at a Marriott hotel in 3 days and now I am worried we won’t get our RC gold status in time.

    We’d like to keep the Marriott account since we stay much more at Marriott than RC. We got the RC card to work towards a Marriott vacation package.

    What shall we do?

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