Loyalty Traveler analysis of Ritz-Carlton Rewards Card benefits.

Ritz-Carlton Rewards launched its JP Morgan Chase Bank Visa credit card this week with a 50,000 points bonus after first-use by its founding members. This is sufficient for one free night at a Tier 3 Ritz-Carlton Hotel.


Benefits of Ritz-Carlton Credit Card include:

  • 5 points per $1 for Ritz-Carlton brand hotel stays. Stays at other Marriott brand hotels do not earn the 5 points rate.
  • 2 points per $1 for airlines, car rentals and dining.
  • 1 points per $1 for other purchases.
  • Confirmed upgrade to Club Level at Ritz-Carlton Hotels at time of booking three times per card membership account year for paid stays up to 7 nights.
  • Automatic Ritz-Carlton Rewards Gold elite status for first year of card membership.
  • Maintain Ritz-Carlton Gold elite with $10,000 in annual card spend.
  • Priority Pass Select membership for complimentary airport lounge access.
  • $200 annual airline incidentals credit provides reimbursement for items like checked baggage fees and in-flight meals charged to Ritz-Carlton Rewards credit card.
  • JP Morgan Premier Concierge service 24/7.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • $100 hotel credit on minimum 2-night stays for dining, spa and other activities. This credit is not valid for room rate.
  • Insurance coverage for trip cancellation/delay, emergency medical coverage, 24 hour travel and emergency assistance services and lost baggage reimbursement. 

Annual cardmember fee $395 per year.

Interest Rate: 15.24% on June 13, 2011.

Chasing Whales with Ritz-Carlton Rewards credit card  

A recently published Cornell Hospitality Report analyzed and categorized customer segments among hotel loyalty program members. One of their findings was the high-value customers they categorize as “whales”. This customer segment includes loyalty members who stay relatively infrequently, but have exceptionally high average spend during hotel stays for rooms, food and beverage, and other revenue. The Cornell report concludes loyalty programs should chase whales with benefits rather than room rate discounts. The Ritz-Carlton Rewards Card appears to follow that advice. 

Bloomberg reports the JP Morgan Premier Concierge service offered as a Ritz-Carlton Rewards Card benefit is a feature previously only available to its wealthiest customers in the New York based bank. The affluent customer market is dominated by American Express whose members spend three to four times the spend of Visa and MasterCard members. 

Herve Humler, President and COO of Ritz-Carlton, said about 100,000 members are being offered the card. Chase Bank is targeting prime and super-prime customers with high credit ratings. Mr. Humler even has a YouTube 46-second promo spot with little informative substance for the new credit card. The video does provide a close-up look of the card. 

Ritz-Carlton Rewards Gold Elite with $10,000 in card spend

The Ritz-Carlton Rewards Gold elite factor is a competitive edge for Ritz-Carlton Rewards credit card members. Mid-level gold elite at $10,000 compares to HHonors Surpass American Express card with a $20,000 spend level to maintain HHonors Gold. The advantage of HHonors AmEx Surpass is the ability to reach Diamond elite at $40,000 in annual spend, although there is considerable debate in the HHonors community on FlyerTalk as to whether HHonors Diamond elite has significantly more value than HHonors Gold elite these days. 

Ritz-Carlton Gold elite benefits include:

  • 25% bonus points
  • Complimentary room upgrade
  • Complimentary internet
  • Late checkout

$200 airline incidentals credit

The airline incidentals credit is a reimbursement program for charges incurred like baggage fees, change fees, in-flight meals, and even airport club membership. Non-ticket purchases classified as airline category by Visa can be submitted for reimbursement within four billing cycles of purchase date.

The terms state the $200 reimbursement is per calendar year. Is there a leverage opportunity here for a person with a July to June cardmember year to get $200 reimbursed by December 31 and another $200 in 2012 during first year of card? This would effectively make the card free for the first year of membership through the airline fees reimbursement feature by itself.

Confirmed Upgrade to Club Level

Confirmed upgrade to Club Level at time of booking for up to 7 nights per stay and up to three stays per card membership year is a high value benefit.

The Ritz-Carlton Club Lounge access rate is typically a $50 to $100 per night surcharge at most hotels. Club Lounge normally provides breakfast, mid-day snacks, afternoon tea, hors d’oeuvres, dessert and complimentary cocktails seven days a week. This can be a significant rebate value on the annual card membership fee even for card members who spend only a few nights a year at Ritz-Carlton Hotels.

$100 Hotel Stay credit on 2-night or longer stays

This credit is valid for dining, spa and hotel incidentals, and not room rate. The credit is not valid when staying on promotional or discount rates.  

Priority Pass Select membership

Priority Pass Select membership offers complimentary airport lounge access to over 600 airport lounges. Note that beginning October 1 there will no longer be access to United Red Carpet Club and Continental Presidents Club lounges. Here is a link to FAQ for Priority Pass Select with the UA/CO update and here is a FlyerTalk thread about Priority Pass Select.

Loyalty Traveler Conclusion

The Ritz-Carlton Rewards credit card has a relatively low earn rate at 1 or 2 points per $1 for spend outside of Ritz-Carlton hotels. The lack of 5 points per $1 for all Marriott brand hotels, in my opinion, is a deficiency in earning rate for the card. HHonors Surpass American Express and SPG AmEx offer more points value for non-hotel purchases.

Gold elite status in the Ritz-Carlton Rewards program offers cardmembers added benefits for all Marriott brand hotel stays at the relatively low qualification level of $10,000 per year card spend. Spending $10,000 on the Ritz-Carlton Rewards credit card is a far easier route to Gold elite status than staying 50 nights at Marriott brand hotels in a calendar year.

The benefits offered with the card including the airline incidentals $200 rebate per calendar year and the complimentary confirmed Club Level room for up to three stays per card membership year essentially provides a full rebate for the $395 annual card fee for any Ritz-Carlton Rewards member spending 4 nights or more per year at Ritz-Carlton hotels.

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