How to maximize the benefits of The Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card

Couple lounging in bathrobes in a fancy hotel suite after maximizing the benefits of the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit CardImage: Couple lounging in bathrobes in a fancy hotel suite after maximizing the benefits of the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card

In a Nutshell

The Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card is designed with luxury in mind, but be prepared to jump through hoops if you plan to take advantage of these great benefits. Budget-friendly travelers may find better value with other travel cards that cater to standard hotels.
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The Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card is no longer available. For another option, check out our review of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card.

The Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card makes it easy to splurge on a fancy hotel without breaking your piggy bank.

If you’re planning a romantic weekend getaway, why not treat yourself to a couple of nights of luxury?

Sure, you could earn two nights at a participating Ritz-Carlton hotel after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. But don’t forget about other Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card benefits, like complimentary room upgrades, late checkouts and hotel credits.

The Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card also features a handful of airline benefits for frequent flyers, as well as discounts on rental cars.

Just make sure you can stomach the $450 annual fee.

“The first thing that jumps out at me about the Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card is the annual fee,” says Beverly Harzog, credit card expert and author of “The Debt Escape Plan.” “That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get the card. It just means you really need to review the rewards program to make sure you’ll still come out ahead.”

To determine if The Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card is right for you, here’s a roundup of the card’s benefits, and tips on how to take advantage of them.

9 ways to maximize the benefits of The Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card

1. Treat yourself to two nights of luxury

With your Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card, you’ll get two e-certificates for a night’s stay after making $4,000 in purchases in the first three months of card membership. You may use these e-certificates at participating Ritz-Carlton hotels, Tiers 1 through 4.

We’re not suggesting you spend more than you can pay off each month, but if you qualify for the e-certificates with your regular spending habits, you can treat yourself to a two-night stay at a fancy Ritz-Carlton hotel, or split up the e-certificates for separate stays.

“If you travel a lot, [the card is] certainly worth a look,” Harzog says. “But pay off your balance every month, and don’t spend money on something you wouldn’t normally buy to qualify for the sign-up bonus.”

Whatever you do, don’t let the e-certificates go to waste: They expire after 12 months. And it could take a while to save up enough points for more nights at The Ritz-Carlton: One night at a Tier 4 hotel costs 60,000 points.

2. Turn your Ritz points into more stays

The Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card will give you five points for every dollar you spend at participating Ritz-Carlton Rewards® and Starwood Preferred Guest® hotels. That’s a competitive earnings rate, but you’d still need to spend $12,000 at the five-point rewards rate just to qualify for one night at a Tier 4 Ritz-Carlton location.

The card also give you two points for every dollar you spend on restaurants, car rental agencies and airline tickets purchased directly from the airline. You then earn one point per dollar on all other purchases. At the end of each year, you’ll receive a 10 percent boost on all the new points you earned through purchases.

The Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card will toss in another 10,000 bonus points after you make your first purchase AND add an authorized user within three months of opening the account. (Keep in mind: You’re on the hook for whatever your authorized user spends, so only add someone you trust to make on-time payments in full).

When you book a five-night stay at The Ritz-Carlton with your points, you’ll be charged for four nights (that’s 240,000 points for a Tier 4 hotel), and the fifth night is complimentary.

3. Don’t be afraid to hit the snooze button

Card benefits include automatic Gold Elite status during your first year of membership. If you wish to maintain this status in subsequent years, you must spend $10,000 annually (about $833 per month) beginning in your first year of card membership.

With Gold Elite status, you may check out as late as 4 p.m. That should give you enough time to sleep in, kill time before an afternoon flight or enjoy the hotel’s perks.

4. Upgrade your room

When you have Gold Elite status, The Ritz-Carlton may also upgrade your room at no additional cost, if a better room is available at check-in.

You can also take advantage of three complimentary stay upgrades to Club Level, which features a luxurious space with complimentary luxury dining and personal concierge services, as long as you’re staying no more than seven nights.

The catch with the three upgrades is you must pay full price for the original room to unlock the Club Level upgrade. This means you can’t take advantage of this feature while using your e-certificate for the two nights at the hotel.

5. Pamper yourself at the spa

During stays of two or more nights, treat yourself to a spa day, a nice meal or a souvenir at the gift shop with your $100 hotel credit. But before you spend the evening at the hotel bar, keep in mind the credit doesn’t apply to purchases of alcohol.

And unfortunately for budget-conscious travelers, you can’t apply the $100 hotel credit to the cost of your room.

The good news is you may use this credit anytime you spend a couple of nights at a participating Ritz-Carlton hotel, although only once per stay. If you’re staying for a week, don’t bother booking multiple reservations, because the $100 credit isn’t for consecutive reservations in the same hotel.

The $100 credit is only available when you pay full price for your room, so you can’t use it during your two-night stay with the e-certificates.

Not all Ritz-Carlton hotels will honor this benefit so consider verifying that the Ritz-Carlton hotel you’re staying at participates in the program before spending money you can’t get back.

6. Pay for extra flight expenses with the $300 air credit

The Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card benefits include discounts on travel-related features.

The annual $300 travel credit may be used to pay for airport lounges, baggage fees, seat upgrades and in-flight purchases (if you want to treat yourself to, say, dinner and a movie).

This feature on The Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card won’t pay for airfare, and you must request reimbursement.

7. Fly with a friend using the $100 airline ticket discount

This card offers a $100 airline ticket discount on domestic round-trip flights in coach, which you can use with up to four companions, as long as you purchase all the tickets on the same itinerary using your card. This feature is available any time you travel, but only once per trip. The one drawback? You can’t use this discount if you purchase a single ticket.

To qualify for the $100 discount, you must purchase your airfare through the Visa Infinite website, which partners with The Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card to offer this feature.

Make sure you coordinate the discount before purchasing your airfare, because the terms and conditions say the discount “may not be applied to previously booked tickets.” And keep in mind, it’s not available if you’re sitting in first or business class.

Note that Frontier, Allegiant, Spirit Airlines and Southwest Airlines don’t participate in the companion discount program.

8. Relax at airport lounges

If you need to kill time during a layover, consider taking advantage of your complimentary Priority Pass™ Select membership, which gives you access to more than 900 airport lounges around the world. Most lounges offer a quiet space away from the crowds, where you can enjoy free food and drinks.

You may be charged for access to airport lounges outside the Priority Pass™ Select network. So it pays to do your homework ahead of time and figure out whether the airport you’re traveling through has a Priority Pass™ Select lounge and where it’s located within the airport.

Even though your card benefits include Priority Pass™ Select membership, you still must request your membership card to actually access the lounges.

9. Breeze through airport security lines

Frequent flyers might also appreciate that The Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card will reimburse you up to $100 after you apply for Global Entry (which includes TSA PreCheck). These security clearances issued to pre-approved, low-risk travelers may save you time at the airport. But applying doesn’t guarantee approval.

Next steps

The Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card is a great option for travelers who don’t mind paying a little extra for a luxury hotel. The $300 annual travel credit, $100 airline ticket discount and $100 hotel credit sound great, but they also come with plenty of restrictions.

But if you manage the card’s benefits carefully, they may help you save money on your next trip, in addition to adding touches of luxury to your stay.

About the author: Tim Devaney is a personal finance writer and credit card expert at Credit Karma. He’s a longtime journalist who prides himself on being a good storyteller who can explain complex information in an easily digestible wa… Read more.