My experience applying a Ritz Club Upgrade Certificate

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Chase’s Ritz-Carlton credit card is one of my favorite ultra-premium cards.  For $450 per year, the card offers an annual free night certificate good at any Marriott costing 50K points or less, $300 in airline fee reimbursements per year, and Priority Pass Select with unlimited free guests, free authorized user cards (and each one can get its own free Priority Pass Select membership!), and 15 nights credit towards elite status.  For me, those features alone are worth more than the card’s annual fee.  But the card comes with one more attractive-sounding feature: 3 Club Level Upgrades per Year.  That sounds awesome, but is it?

Chase's Ritz Carlton credit card is no longer directly available to new applicants, but it is still possible to get one.  You may be able to upgrade to the Ritz card from any Chase consumer Marriott card such as the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Card or the Marriott Bonvoy Bold Card.  If you have one of these cards, call Chase to ask about upgrade options.  If you don't have one, you can sign up new for a Marriott card and later ask to upgrade.  See also: Are you eligible for a new Marriott card?

Why Ritz club upgrades can be valuable

Ritz Carlton Abu Dhabi Club Lounge.  Photo courtesy of the hotel’s website.

Club upgrades at any hotel are always welcome because they tend to offer daily free breakfast and light snacks at other times of the day.  Ritz-Carlton club lounges, though, are known to be a big step up over typical hotel lounges.  They tend to offer more elaborate dining, alcohol, and other amenities.  For example, the Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi advertises the following for club level bookings:

  • Continuous culinary offerings including breakfast (6:30 to 10:30 a.m.); midday snacks (12 to 2 p.m.); afternoon tea and light snacks (2 to 4 p.m.); evening hors d’oeuvres (5 to 8 p.m.) and cordials and desserts (8 to 10 p.m.)
  • Complimentary coffee and cookies in the Club Lounge operating hours
  • Complimentary wireless Internet access
  • Personal computers for guest use
  • Complimentary pressing for two pieces per room, per day
Ritz Carlton Abu Dhabi Club Lounge.  Photo courtesy of the hotel’s website.

Unfortunately, even though Ritz participates in the Marriott Bonvoy program, Ritz properties are exempt from having to offer club lounge access to Platinum Elites.  Some Ritz properties have been known to offer it anyway, but that’s the exception rather than the rule.  So, even if you have Platinum status or better, club upgrade certificate are at least theoretically valuable.  Each certificate can be used to upgrade as many as 7 nights during a stay.

Note that if you book a 2-night or longer stay, your Ritz card (and the similar Bonvoy Brilliant card) additionally offers a rate with a $100 property credit and you can stack this $100 credit with a club upgrade certificate if staying 2 or more nights.

How to book

Don’t be fooled by the link in your Marriott account that says “How to use your certificate”. That goes to a generic page with information about free night certificates not about the club level upgrade certificates.

The problem with using the Ritz card’s club upgrades is that you have to book a special rate that is only available to specific Marriott call center reps from a special department that few know about.  Luckily, there’s an easy way to find the price before entering Marriott’s call center purgatory.  The club upgradeable rate seems to always be the same as the “standard rate”.  This is the rate for a standard room without any discounts applied.

The technique for booking rooms with club upgrades is as follows:

  1. Call Marriott Rewards and follow prompts until you can speak with a person
  2. Tell that agent that you want to use a Ritz Club Level Upgrade
  3. The agent most likely won’t know what you’re talking about, but will hopefully transfer you to another department that knowns more about this.
  4. Repeat 2 and 3 until you get someone who knows how to do it.

My experience

For our Passing the GUC Trip (see this post for details), our original plan included a single night in Abu Dhabi at the Ritz.  We each booked a room in a different way with the idea of being able to find out which was the best option.  Nick booked through the Marriott STARS program while I booked through Marriott and applied a club level upgrade that came with my Ritz card.  Eventually our plans changed and so we cancelled these bookings, but I still think it’s worth sharing the example.  The Ritz Abu Dhabi was a great choice because cash rates were very low.  Here are the after-tax rates:

  • Best rate w/out applying upgrade: $116 (AAA rate)
  • Rate required to use upgrade certificate: $168 (standard rate). This was $52 more than the AAA rate, above.
  • Best rate for booking club room directly: $208 (AAA rate). This was $40 more than the rate I booked with the upgrade to certificate.

As you can see above, I had to pay $52 extra in order to use my upgrade certificate.  It would have been just me in the room, so it’s debatable whether it would be worth it (especially since we’d be unlikely to have all three meals in the club).  For those traveling with multiple people in a room, though, it wouldn’t take many meals to justify this cost.

Another way to look at this is if I was determined to book a club room, then the club upgrade certificate saved me $40 vs simply booking the club room from the get-go.  That’s not an amazing savings, but on a week long stay it would add up.

On the other hand, Nick booked his stay through the Marriott STARS program for the same $168 after taxes that I had booked.  Nick’s reservation included free restaurant breakfast, $100 hotel credit, and a room upgrade.  And it appeared that his upgrade was to a club level room with club lounge access.  So, without using an upgrade certificate he got a better collection of perks for the same price.  Read more about Marriott STARS (and other similar programs), here: Getting the elite experience without elite status via credit card & preferred partner hotel booking programs.

Conclusion

The annual 3 Ritz Club Level Upgrades that come with the Ritz credit card sound great, but in practice they’re rarely useful.  You can’t use these at all if you pay for a room with points, and even when paying cash you have to pay the full standard room rate.  There can still be real savings compared to booking a club room from the get-go, but as we saw with the Marriott STARS program, there may be other ways to get a similar or better upgrade without any certificates at all.  And with STARS, you can get these benefits with a one night stay whereas with the Ritz card, the ability to get a $100 property credit is limited to stays of 2 nights or more.  The next time I plan to stay one night at a Ritz on a paid rate, I’ll probably book through Marriott STARS rather than with the club upgrade.  On a multi-night stay, which way I go will depend on how important club lounge access is to me for that stay.  Marriott STARS doesn’t guarantee a club upgrade whereas the upgrade certificate does.  If club access is important and its too expensive to pay for directly, I’ll forgo STARS and use an upgrade certificate along with the $100 property credit which is another feature of the Ritz card.

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Paul Davis

I decided to try the club room experience for myself as an experiment. Ritz Carlton Bacara Santa Barbara. BIG MISTAKE. With tax, resort fees and parking it was about $900 a night. Club room was nice, food offerings were OK, but nothing spectacular. I suppose if you wanted to dring a lot of wine and beer you would come our further ahead. When I reserved the room I indicated the rate I was looking for so I could apply the Ritz upgrade certificates. I assumed this rate would also qualify for the $100 Ritz credit. To my dismay it did not. I’ve called and argued but they just say “NO”. I’ve been able to book this property for 50k points. If we stay there again I’ll use points and ask about an upgrade to club room to see just how much it costs. They threw out a number like $500 a night more per room. Lovely property and we got an upgrade room with a view. I just don’t see the value proposition in the club upgrade.

josh

The ritz carlton credit card is GREAT. I have it for many years. But the Club upgrade certificates, as you pointed out, have little value to MOST people and misleading.. First of all having to call an agent an spend 15-20 minuets on the phone is already a big disincentive . and the price differential often $50+ same. I have only used them once in multiple years

iamhere

The $100 property credit is not a guarantee. It depends if you book a reservation with the credit or not. Sometimes the rate is much cheaper if you do not include it. Also, if you redeem points you cannot use the lounge upgrade certificate nor can you get the $100 property credit.

iamhere

You did not mention the 15 nights that this card comes with as well. That’s a big perk toward Platinum status. Marriott Platinum allows late checkout and lounge access at lower brands for Platinum or above members. Many properties also include breakfast, which requires 50 nights, but with this card it only requires 35 nights. Furthermore, it is important to remember that their $300 airline credit is almost face value because it does not apply to one specific airline however it can only be used for extra fees not the ticket itself.

Loren M

This is important to me as I was reading the comments with the intention of asking about the 15 nights. I am thinking of upgrading my Bonvoy Boundless to the Ritz card but want the 15 nights.

Also – does the PP membership include restaurants since it’s a chase card and not an Amex?

Loren M

@iamhere – so you don’t have to pick an airline ahead of time for the credit?

Hi Ma

Hi there, I’m interested in getting the Ritz card but I was reading terms and conditions and the card reads that you can no longer reach platinum status with approved nights…it’s only once you hit a spend of 75000. Do you know this to be correct?

Byron

We have used our 3 Upgrade certicates each year. Amelia Island, Washington DC 2x, New Orleans. One of the Ritz’s in DC was the best. You can get about any liquor you want. The food is more like an appetizer, but way different than you might get in the restaurant. We have even paid the $150 extra per night for the upgrade for our son and his SO. Considering what you get in a nice environment is well worth it. Go stay when the weather is awful and you would not go outside.

Jimmy Crickets

Any chance these can be applied to a BRG rate, or a reservation that is later modified by a BRG claim?

Nick Reyes

See my response above. Don’t think of it as an upgrade you apply to an existing reservation, think of it as a coupon you need to call and speak to someone in “Luxury Services” for them to book you a club room for the standard room’s standard price. You can’t book any rate yourself and later apply the upgrade, you have to book this through an agent at Marriott (in the right department at that).

chbartel

its going to depend on which Ritz you stay at and the difference in cost. I have stayed at the Aruba and Cancun Ritz, and to go from “regular” room to club level is sometimes 300-500 more per night. Both were amazing on club level with Cancun being the best. We stayed 4-5 nights each time. Well worth the cost of this card for sure.

Scott

I’ve heard that individual properties determine which rooms qualify to use the club upgrade cert. It some case this has needed to be a junior suite or more.

Todd

Can the agents apply the upgrade cert to a friends and family rate?

Bill

Not in my experience. It has to be whatever rate is available under the Z38 code which is typically equal to or slightly higher than whatever the lowest flexible rate they are currently offering on the website.

Nick Reyes

There is no applying the upgrade to anything. You have to book the club upgrade rate specifically. It’s not like you book something and then someone applies something. Think of it more like a coupon you need to have to book the highly discounted club rate (highly discounted in the sense that it is the standard rate of a standard room rather than the club room rate).

Bill

When searching on Marriott’s website you can find availability and pricing for Club upgrade certificate eligible rooms by using the promo code “Z38” . Be sure to do the search for the specific property only. If the search shows “Rate Unavailable” be sure to click on the “View Availability” link as that will usually magically reveal that there is in fact availability. The Rate Detail results you get from this search will show the $100/stay credit but do not mention the Club upgrade eligibility even though this is the right code (as opposed to the “Z34” promo code which is for the $100/stay credit only). I typically book the reservation online using the Z38 code and then call to have the certificate applied. The Z38 reservation won’t be changed to reflect Club Lounge access until the e-certificate is actually applied by the customer service rep.

Biggie F

You can definitely stack the $100 credit on a two-day stay with the lounge certificate. Done it 2-3 times.

Nick Reyes

I’ve done it also! I think Greg just forgot that part of my story. That elderly brain now and then…. 😀

BML

Is that automatic? Do you have to confirm with the booking agent that you want the $100 credit when you apply the cert?

LarryInNYC
  • Continuous culinary offerings including breakfast (6:30 to 10:30 a.m.); midday snacks (12 to 2 p.m.); afternoon tea and light snacks (2 to 4 p.m.); evening hors d’oeuvres (5 to 8 p.m.) and cordials and desserts (8 to 10 p.m.)

This is a usage of the word “continuous” with which I was previously unfamiliar. I would have opted for “discontinuous”.