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?
Why Ritz club upgrades can be valuable
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
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
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:
- Call Marriott Rewards and follow prompts until you can speak with a person
- Tell that agent that you want to use a Ritz Club Level Upgrade
- 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.
- Repeat 2 and 3 until you get someone who knows how to do it.
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.
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.