Reader Andrew asks,
There is Marriott Rewards and Ritz-Carlton Rewards. How do these two work together? Is one better than the other? How do the 2 statuses work?
Marriott acquired Ritz-Carlton in 1998, but the hotels had limited participation in the Marriott Rewards program: you could spend points for Ritz-Carlton stays, but that was it.
Luxury chains have for the most part eschewed points, the belief was that they provide recognition not freebies and compete to offer the best luxury experience not guest kickbacks.
That seemed like a mistake to me, but of course I start with a presumption that loyalty programs with formalized tiers and defined benefits sett clear stretch goals for your customers which incentivize them to stay more.
After the drop in hotel stays during the Great Recession, Marriott made a strategic decision to try to leverage rewards and formalized recognition in order to goose bookings.
About three years ago Ritz-Carlton introduced a loyalty program.
(Even Four Seasons now seems to think a rewards program is a good idea.)
What are the Differences Between the Ritz-Carlton and Marriott Programs?
The Ritz-Carlton Rewards program is essentially and in most respects the same thing as Marriott Rewards, just with a different name and branding.
Marriott Rewards members can earn and burn points at Ritz-Carlton hotel properties, and their elite status is recognized at Ritz-Carlton hotels (elite benefits are different for the different hotel brands, but a Marriott Rewards Gold member gets the same treatment at a Ritz-Carlton hotel as a Ritz-Carlton Rewards Gold does).
Ritz-Carlton Rewards members can earn and burn points at Marriott branded hotel properties, and their elite status is recognized at Marriott hotels (Ritz-Carlton Platinum is treated as a Marriott Platinum when staying at a Marriott).
There are two primary differences, your preference in these two areas should drive your program selection.
- Promotions. Currently Marriott is running their usual ‘MegaBonus’ offer (they are currently calling it ‘unexpected bonus’ but it is kind of expected since it’s the same thing they run a couple of times a year most years). That’s two stays earns a free night, for most members the free night is capped at redemption for a category 4 hotel. I’ve redeemed mine in the past for stays at the SkyCity Marriott at the Hong Kong airport and for a stay in Boca Raton, Florida.
Ritz-Carlton also has a stay two get one night (up to 2 free nights), it’s specific to earning for Ritz-Carlton stays, and allows redemption for a Ritz-Carlton night as opposed to earning a mid-tier Marriott night.
- Co-branded credit cards. The Ritz-Carlton Rewards credit card offers Gold status free the first year and then renews Gold after $10,000 in spend each year. There are also club level upgrades (on eligible rates) and a $200 airline fee credit that helps offset the $395 annual fee for the card. The key thing here is that status, since it’s recognized reciprocally at Marriotts as well.
In contrast the Marriott Rewards Premier Visa is $85 and gives you 15 nights towards status (it’s useful if you want to become Platinum, since those nights help in your elite credit total versus just being given Gold) and also generates 1 additional night for every $3000 in spend. The card also gives you an annual free night (valid at Marriotts up to category 4), which effectively offsets the fee.
You are only allowed to be a member of one program. They want you to choose (although many people do maintain multiple accounts, this isn’t consistent with program rules). You can convert your account to the other program if you wish. But generally promotion rules require all existing accounts to have been a member of that program when the promotion was announced, so you can’t switch after promotion details are announced (although new accounts can register for a promotion after that promotion is announced).
Should You Choose Ritz-Carlton Rewards or Marriott Rewards?
The best advice is simply to be a Ritz-Carlton Rewards member if you stay frequently at Ritz properties, and your status and benefits will be reciprocated at Marriott. But if you aren’t a frequent Ritz-Carlton guest, then have your membership with Marriott Rewards — unless you stay a lot at Marriotts but not enough for Gold status in which case you should become a Ritz program member and get their credit card.
Personally I’m not a frequent Ritz-Carlton or Marriott guest. I haven’t been a huge fan of the Marriott program, because (1) their elite benefits lag Starwood’s and Hyatt’s, (2) they don’t have all that many aspirational properties where I dream of redeeming my points, and (3) rewards at Ritz-Carlton properties tend to be exorbitantly priced.
But I’m warming to the Marriott program largely because of the Hilton HHonors devaluation. Ritz hotels remains priced as poorly as top tier HHonors properties but on average it takes less spending for a free night through Marriott than Hilton for an average big city stay. And the Marriott program has been improving, such as making breakfast an official benefit on the weekend.
While I’ve stayed at several Ritz-Carlton properties over time, such as Marina del Rey and Naples, Florida, the only Ritz-Carlton I’ve stayed at in the past few years was Grand Cayman for a conference in January.
So being a Marriott Rewards member makes more sense for me — I’m likely to pick up the occasional free night from the Marriott Rewards MegaBonus promotions (stay twice, get a free night usually at a property up to category 4) and indeed I do pick up those nights now and again. But I’m unlikely to earn bonuses from Ritz-Carlton stays.
The only thing that would change that calculation for me is if I was going to be a regular Marriott customer, but not stay enough to earn Gold. For instance, if I was going to do 20 nights a year with Marriott while Gold requires 50.
Then I would get the Ritz co-branded credit card. It’s $395, but the net cost is reduced by a $200 airline fee credit. And it comes with Gold status. So for $195 I would have lounge access and breakfast and the bulk of those 20 nights (i.e. I would be a Gold despite not staying enough to earn that level).