My Strategy for Elite Benefits in 5 Programs With Just One Credit Card (Or 7, Depending How You Count)

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Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card

I won’t likely do 150+ hotel nights again next year. I’ll end 2016 with both 100 night Starwood status and with Hyatt Diamond, along with a handful of Marriott, Hilton, and unaffiliated hotel nights.

With Hyatt increasing the requirements to earn top tier status (and with Hyatt’s elite status the one I want most), and with fewer nights overall to work with, I’m not going to renew Starwood’s Platinum Ambassador level.

I’ve decided that I don’t need to. I can’t give all my business to Hyatt because their foot print isn’t large enough, there are places I travel where there isn’t a Hyatt or at least where a Hyatt isn’t what’s reasonably convenient. I need another chain.

So my plan is to get the Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card. It comes with Gold status the first year and lets you re-earn that status with just $10,000 a year in spend on the card.

  1. For my purposes what’s most useful is that $75,000 in spend on the card in a year earns Platinum status. Ritz-Carlton and Marriott Platinum status are effectively the same. I have access to the 5000+ hotel footprint and with status.

    Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, Credit: Ritz-Carlton

  2. This status matches to Starwood Platinum.

    I’ve confirmed that status earned via credit card is eligible for the status match. It’ll keep me Starwood Platinum without having to worry about my stays.

    St. Regis Abu Dhabi

  3. Of course Starwood Platinums get elite-like benefits with Delta and with Emirates. (We may soon see a similar program with China Eastern.)

  4. Marriott and Ritz-Carlton Platinum also get you United Premier Silver. I’ve been much more willing to fly airlines besides American this year. I requalified for Executive Platinum in June, but I also fly United to destinations they serve non-stop from Austin. Knowing I’ll keep United Silver means more points for my tickets and economy plus at check-in. Of course it also means no more cheap first class buy up offers at check-in.

  5. United Silver is eligible for Hertz Five Star status. I’m not a regular Hertz rental, but sometimes I find myself needing a Hertz car. This status should keep me from getting turned away as a nobody despite having a reservation.

Count Marriott as a separate status from Ritz-Carlton since they’re equivalent, and count both Emirates and Delta recognition, and that’s 7 status benefits from a single credit card.

The Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card has a $450 annual fee. However it also comes with a $300 annual travel credit. There’s also a signup bonus of 3 complimentary nights at any tier 1-4 Ritz-Carlton property after $5,000 spend on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.

You get Ritz-Carlton club lounge upgrade certificates and a $100 airfare discount when booking travel for yourself and a companion.

Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong Club Lounge, credit: Ritz-Carlton

You get Priority Pass lounge access and your authorized users on the account do, too.

And it’s important to know about Chase 5/24 and why the Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card is the best card to get if you’re over 5/24.

Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card

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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, 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. Jealous. Not that I want to be a working road warrior but I don’t travel for business. That rules out the scenario you paint. My profile is vastly different. My travel is for fun and to visit relatives (and sometimes that covers both). Having said that, I manage to travel very well and frequently as a leisure traveler.

  2. Gary, the reason you got Starwood ambassador this year is a promotion that gave you 2 nights for each night stayed. Who knows what promos you will benefit from next year.

  3. Wouldn’t the better play be to match your SPG platinum to Marriott platinum, then when it expires, buy back the Marriott platinum for 40k points.

    The opportunity cost of $75k spend is much too high to spend at 1x on a Marriott card.

  4. Using Platiq to pay my mortgage and 2nd along with a couple of other bills that don’t take cards, I’ll break $50,000 in spend on only my bills. I don’t think I’ll be able to hit $75 k, but it might be possible.

  5. The problem is what are you going to get for that 75k spend regarding award nights. What can you get for 75.000 Marriott points? Only one night at the top category

  6. @gary – would you write up a scenario for the average person? I have an idea what I’m going to do l but we could use your usual entry level advice. Similar to you plugging the Sapphire Preferred for the entry level traveler…

  7. @Robert tell me how many stays/nights a year you do, what cities, what price point and what you value most in benefits and i’m happy to offer advice!

  8. @Stannis they’ve offered that in the past a couple of months after status expires, don’t know for sure they’ll do so again given the work on the program, don’t know for sure they won’t treat that as promotional (though I’d guess not). If you don’t mind a gap in status then it could be a good strategy if they bring it back as they have in the past.

  9. @David depends whether you have a better card for unbonused spend. For me I’ve also had a Starwood Amex for 15 years, I’m loathe to cancel. And I haven’t been approved yet for the Ritz card so that’d come first.

  10. The affiliate payments for that Ritz card must be off the charts. I can’t think of a single card you’ve advanced so hard as this one.

    If you’re Platinum in either program already, I wouldn’t put a penny on the Ritz card until you see whether Marriott will bring back the option to retain status by using points. In the last several years, you could keep Marriott Platinum status for 40,000 points. I would submit that what you’re foregoing by putting $75,000 in spend on the Ritz card, instead of other cards, is worth far more than 40,000 Marriott points or 13,333 Starpoints. Even if every single one of the those $75,000 is on non-bonus categories, you could instead put that same $75,000 on a freedom unlimited or an amex everyday preferred and earn 112,500 UR points or 112,500 MR points. I respectfully submit the delta between 112,500 UR points and 75,000 Marriott points is well worth simply using 40,000 Marriott points to retain status. Of course, if Marriott discontinues that possibility, it’s a different story. But we should know by January, and so there’s no reason until one knows to worry about gearing up to spend $75,000 on a $450 annual fee card.

  11. If you can get Platinum status back for 40k Marriott, that means you can buy it for 13.5k SPG.. with the 50% discount currently running, that’s $236.25 to get back top tier status. Pretty insane.

  12. @Gary, as many of the above comments have already stated, most of us are NOT the sort of “road warrior”/travel [virtually] every week on business/etc., etc. that makes the 150+ nights per year in ONE hotel chain (let alone multiple chains) even a possibility, let alone a reality. Ergo, what is MOST valuable — for me, and dare I suggest for many others — is the *automatic* status granted by some credit cards . . .

    I doubt I shall ever come close to even 50 nights/year! As a result, being able to earn status on spend is even more crucial than ever. I (should) have no problem obtaining the Ritz-Carlton Visa Infinite card, and no problem with the $10k spend to retain Gold — I presume this will ALSO equate to Gold at Marriott AND at Starwood . . . but my question is this: I am blocked from the Chase Sapphire Reserve card (5/24). Do I get the Ritz-Carlton card and forget about CSR (keeping my CSP), or wait for the time exclusion to pass and get the CSR, passing on the Ritz?

  13. @Jason Brandt Lewis – probably depends how close you are to a 5th card falling off. Have you checked to see if you are pre-approved in-branch despite 5/24?

  14. @Gary — in the FWIW Mode: a) probably 15-16 months away (!) from dropping below the “five”; b) have *not* checked in-branch. But just FYI, the breakdown on hotels by year’s end will be as follows:

    — SPG: Gold, via number of stays CY2016.
    — Marriott: Gold, via SPG status match/merger.
    — Hilton: Gold, via Hilton Surpass AMEX (I would only qualify for Silver based upon status CY2016).
    — Hyatt: member, but with only 3 stays/5 nights this CY, I have no status. I could stay two more times for Platinum (mattress run?), but sincerely doubt I’d ever be able to renew under their new program, without switching loyalty from SPG (now Marriott).


    As an aside, ever get the feeling you backed the wrong horse? I’m Gold with Virgin America, and that will disappear w/Alaska. I have been flying Virgin Atlantic through either AMEX MR points transfers or Virgin America transfers, the latter now no longer possible. I now need to rethink not only my hotel strategy, but also my airline loyalties . . .

  15. Gary my wife is a road warrior and not optimizing her hotel spend to get status. She stays about 65 nights a year on the road. Her yearly travel typically comprises 20 nights in San Fran, 5 in Chicago, 4 in Orlando, 5 in Boston, 5 in DC, 5 in London, 5 in Orlando, 5 in Miaimi, 5 in San Diego, 5 in Paris, 5 in Stockholm. We are Starwood Plantium members which would give her free breakfast at Palace Hotel in SF and Liberty Hotel in Boston and late checkout. My instinct is she should try to stay at Starwood first and then Marriott hotels second and get a Ritz Carlton Rewards card to get Marriott Gold which she could then have status matched by Starwood and to put actual spend on Starwood card except times she intends to use the free breakfast benefit in which case she could put spend on Amex Plantinum.

    More importantly, what do you recommend?

  16. Just adding a minor point: the cardholder gets a 10% bonus on card spend, so 75k = 82,500 points earned. Also, these are actual usable points, as opposed to cashing in 40k (which, as Gary mentions, may or may not even be an option), which gets you *only* renewed status. It’s similar to airlines that offer ways to buy EQMs or boost status if you’ve fallen short. In most cases, you’ll do better doing a MR to earn those EQMs since you’ll also earn RDMs.

    That said, it’ll be interesting to see what promos SPG offers in 2016. I made it to 50 nights solely because of the double credits offered earlier this year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if similar offerings happen next year.

  17. @Jonathan given that you’re talking major cities and over 60 nights would Hyatt make sense, perhaps with a strategy that yields Marriott Gold for those non-Hyatt stays?

  18. Oh gosh, I really need to start understand how all this card thing works. I´m so not interested, but it looks like it could pay of right!?

  19. This card will no longer get you United Premier Silver, correct? Since charging 75k now only gets you Platinum and Platinum Premier is required for United Premier Silver.

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