HomeCredit CardsChase Credit CardsWhy The Ritz-Carlton Credit Card's Club Level Upgrades Can Be Deceptively Bad

Why The Ritz-Carlton Credit Card’s Club Level Upgrades Can Be Deceptively Bad

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Earlier this year I product-changed my Chase Marriott Bonvoy credit card to the Ritz-Carlton credit card (a card which is no longer open to new applicants) and I made the change because the Ritz-Carlton card suited my needs better. It costs significantly more to hold than Chase’s Marriott Bonvoy Boundless credit card but my valuation of some of the Ritz-Carlton card’s key benefits suggests that the card’s higher annual fee is worth it to me.

I’ve recently tried to use one of the major benefits of the Ritz-Carlton credit card and I quickly found myself counting my blessings that it wasn’t one of the benefits I’m relying on to help me get real value out of the card. The experience turned out to be more than a little disappointing.

For me, the Ritz-Carlton’s $450 annual fee is offset entirely by a combination of the free night certificate (useable at properties costing up to 50,000 points/night) and the $300 of annual airline fee credits that the card offers, but anyone thinking that the card’s Club Level upgrades can be a great money saver may want to think again. For a lot of people, they won’t be money savers at all.

The first thing to know about the Club Upgrade certificates that the Ritz-Carlton card offers is that they cannot be used on points bookings. The second thing to know is that they can’t be used on a lot of cash bookings either and it’s this fact that may come as a surprise to quite a few readers.

If you take a look at the headline information that the Ritz-Carlton credit card’s page offers on the Club Level upgrades, it’s very clear that they can only be used on paid bookings…

a close-up of a website

…but I don’t see anything there to suggest that there are any major constraints on the paid bookings the upgrades can be applied to.

The full terms and conditions of this particular benefit say this (emphasis is mine):

“The Ritz-Carlton Club Level: Club Level offer valid at participating Ritz-Carlton hotels on up to three qualifying paid stays per account anniversary year using The Ritz-Carlton Credit Card with a seven-night maximum length of stay, subject to availability at time of reservation. “Account anniversary year” means the year beginning with your account open date through the anniversary of your account open date, and each 12 months after that. E-certificate is required, is non-transferable, and not combinable with other offers. Club Level Upgrade E-Certificates are valid for 1 room per e-certificate and up to 2 guests per room. Valid only on member rates and non-discounted rates available weekdays and weekends on standard and premium rooms. Not valid on special corporate negotiated rates, wholesale rates, discounts or promotions (includes AAA), packages, group rates, eChannel rates, advance purchase rates and Government rates. Reservation must be paid for with a valid Ritz-Carlton Credit Card. Account must be open and not in default to maintain your Club Level E-Certificates. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. is not responsible for offer fulfillment or the provision of or a failure to provide the stated benefits and services.”

To me, the section in bold suggests that the Club Level upgrades can only be used on flexible rates offered for standard and premium rooms and, while it would have been nice if that detail had been in the headline information, that’s not really a deal-breaker. Club Level upgrades can be valuable as the Ritz-Carlton Clubs are significantly more impressive than regular run-of-the-mill hotel lounges, so I don’t have a problem with the idea that these upgrades can only be applied to flexible rates. What I do have a problem with is that this information isn’t entirely true.

In reality, Ritz-Carlton properties can use their discretion as to which rooms and room rates can be upgraded with these Club Level upgrades, and I only discovered this when I called up Ritz-Carlton reservations to upgrade a planned stay at the Ritz-Carlton Abama.

I have to hold my hand up and admit that I had failed to read the upgrade terms and conditions fully so I had assumed that all rates were upgradable. That was a silly mistake and it meant that I was a little surprised when the Ritz-Carlton agent said that she was “going to check which rate can be upgraded at this property”. However, while I was on hold and the agent was checking the rates, I pulled up the full t&cs to see what they said and, having seen my mistake, I assumed that I’d probably have to book the property’s flexible rate which cost just €13 (~$15) night more than the rate I had booked.

a screenshot of a hotel

I was wrong.

When the agent returned, she said that she had checked the upgradable rates and that the cheapest on offer was for a Junior Suite costing €358/night. That’s a nightly rate that’s €96 (~$113) per night more than the flexible rate for the room I had booked and €109 (~$128) per night more than the rate I had originally booked.

a screenshot of a hotel

The property wasn’t just asking me to book a flexible rate or even a room one level up from an entry-level room – it was asking me to book a premium room 3 levels above the one I had booked.

a screenshot of a hotel website

Leaving aside the fact that this was a booking I was trying to make in the middle of a pandemic (so the demand for rooms is hardly high), I’m struggling to see how this fits in with the Club Level upgrade terms and conditions which clearly state that upgrades can be applied to “standard” rooms.

As I know that my Bonvoy Titanium status would almost certainly get me upgraded into a considerably better room than the entry-level room I had booked, and as the rate I had booked included the one daily meal Joanna and I would definitely be eating at the property – breakfast – I couldn’t justify paying $128/night more just to be able to use a Club Level upgrade. The math just didn’t add up but, as I found out a little later, the math got worse.

After it was clear that the cost of booking a Club level upgrade was unnecessarily high, I set about seeing just how cheaply I could book the Ritz-Carlton Abama. When I checked to see what “special rates” I could find, this is what appeared for the property’s AAA rate:

a screenshot of a hotel room

Suddenly, the room rate required to use a Club Level upgrade was no longer €113/$128 more expensive than the cheapest rate – it was €153/$180 per night more expensive. That’s a HUGE difference.

Unless you don’t have Bonvoy status that will get you an upgrade to a better-than-entry-level room or are the sort of person who’s happy to spend a considerable amount of time eating and drinking in a Club Lounge (which I’m certainly not), this cannot possibly offer value for money. That’s more than a little disappointing.

Bottom Line

Despite what the terms and conditions appear to suggest, you shouldn’t expect to be able to use the Club Level upgrades issued by the Ritz-Carlton credit card on standard room bookings – you may have to pay for a premium room before the upgrade becomes useable.

If you don’t have reasonable Marriott Bonvoy status which will get you a complimentary room upgrade and if the “breakfast included” rate is high, the Club Level upgrades may offer value. If, on the other hand, your status is very likely to get you a good room upgrade when you check-in and you can book a good-value rate which includes breakfast, the Club Level upgrades may often not offer very much value at all. Your mileage will vary with this benefit but it’s certainly not as good a benefit as the headline information (and the terms and conditions) may lead you to believe.

Featured Image: Ritz-Carlton Kapalua Maui courtesy of Marriott

For Your Consideration

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Currently, if you successful apply for the card_name (Amex's high-end premium Marriott credit card), you can bonus_miles_full.

(Annual fee annual_fees - rates & fees).

Select Benefit Highlights (terms apply & enrollment may be required):

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  • Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite status
  • 25 elite night credits every year (limitations apply per Marriott Bonvoy® member account).
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Click for more details on the card_name

For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card, please visit rates & fees

Regarding Comments

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  1. We only had the card for a year and felt like we got good value out of the club lounge certs. We stayed at the Hotel Arts in Barcelona and Ritz Half Moon Bay that year and were on the lowest flexible room category and were able to upgrade. I think the rate we paid was probably $50 more than the non flexible rates but the Ritz lounges were worth it. I stupidly got rid of the card and wish I could get it back.

    You said it’s not open to new applicants but can you still product change to it?

    • Yes, you should be able to product change from an existing Chase Marriott Bonvoy Card to the RC card.

  2. They could probably do a better job of explaining the terms of these certificates, but there are also many opportunities for some people where these upgrades, although restrictive, really do add value. Standard rates are allowed to upgrade from at the Ritz Amelia Island, FL, one of our family’s favorite vacation spots. There are no other restaurants within walking distance, and the restaurant’s breakfast buffet with tax/tip runs about $34 p/p. With our 13 and 14 year old boys in tow, and considering that this lounge basically offers three substantial and higher-end meals a day with unlimited alcohol for my wife and I, the value for us becomes several hundred dollars a night, and those meals are some of the most enjoyable events of the day. May not be for everyone though đŸ™‚

    • We stayed as a Family of 4 with our girls 9 and 11 and the Club Lounge at Amelia was simply fantastic. That being said, I have to agree with Ziggy that typically we have to book at higher room level. When we stayed at Amelia that was an Ocean Front Suite.

  3. It’s hit or miss for me. Sometimes it’s a great deal, other times you can book into a club lounge room for very little extra. Best use for me? RC Hong Kong! Enjoyed the lounge daily on floor 118!!

    • Brett I have used mine for the member rate at the RC Hong Kong no problems and I continue to use it there great property.

  4. Usually the room details will tell you if the room is eligible for club upgrade or not. I don’t have the card, but I see the eligibility whenever I am looking at RC rooms.

  5. Also significant – at least for our family – is if we’re visiting a city where dining options are plentiful and eating out is part of the experience of visiting the city. I’d never want to pay for the club upgrade for a Ritz in New York or Paris with so many great restaurants but at a place like Amelia Island where you’d probably eat most of your meals on property anyway, it can be a great deal

  6. I have to agree with all the comments here. The one thing that the RITZ could do better is to allow us to book these Club Level Upgrades ourselves. This is where Ziggy has it right. Its like you never know what you can or can’t book. In most cases you find a good rate for say a King room only to find out you HAVE to book a Suite to get the upgrade. Its deceiving at best. It has also been my experience that the reservation has to go through a final voucher upgrade attachment phase over the phone. This is both annoying and not the high luxury that the brand would like to reflect. Fix this RITZ.

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