The Ritz-Carlton Rewards program is essentially the same thing as Marriott Rewards, the key differences being promotions that are offered and the particulars of their co-branded credit cards.
With the Ritz card you get enough points for a free Ritz-Carlton night after $2000 spend within 3 months. And the card comes with Gold status (equivalent to Marriott Gold — so the easiest way to achieve 50 night elite status) the first year and then continues to provide that status each year with $10,000 spend.
Now, there’s a $395 fee for the card. But the first year that seems easy to me — since this offer gives you a $200 gift card, and the card has embedded as a feature a $200 airline reimbursement that is generally more liberal than the one that comes with American Express Platinum even.
That nets out to $0 if you can make use of the Ritz-Carlton gift card at face value and you use the fee credit which means you pocket Gold status and Marriott points for a $5 profit.
Now, if you’re a United MileagePlus Gold elite you can have Marriott Gold status for free anyway so this makes less sense for United’s mid-tier and higher elites. And folks who don’t stay at Ritz-Carltons or Marriotts won’t value it much either.
But I’ve frequently said that the Hyatt and Starwood hotel programs are the most rewarding, but that their footprints aren’t large enough (order of magnitude 500 and 1000 properties respectively) so it’s useful to have a backup program and ideally a backup program with status. For me, that backup program has been Hilton HHonors. This is a play to use Marriott as the backup.
Note: This credit card offers no referral credit to me, it just seemed like it would be interesting to some. Mommy Points calls me Mr. Fancy Pants, and I did have one work-related Ritz-Carlton stay this year. But she stayed at the Andaz on Maui while I stayed at the Hyatt Regency. Nice enough, but not as fancy. 🙂