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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…
…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 are 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.
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.
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.
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:
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…and that’s more than a little disappointing.
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