Although Ritz-Carlton is a luxury hotel chain owned by Marriott, both brands still retain independent loyalty programs and you can only have a membership to one program. With rewards points interchangeable between both programs in reality there is little difference between the two, however it can still lead to confusion with their program overlap and reciprocity.

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Over the past few years luxury hotel chains have been joining in on the loyalty program scene and have been adding more benefits along with points redemption opportunities for its members. It was back in 2010 when Ritz-Carlton officially unrolled its loyalty program adjacent to Marriott Rewards. Until then luxury chains shied away from offering kickbacks and free benefits, and instead focused on offering the utmost luxury stays to lure guests back. Recently the trends are continuing to change, as Four Seasons launched an ‘invitation only’ loyalty program in 2013.

Both programs have similar names—Marriott Rewards and Ritz-Carlton Rewards—and the major difference between Marriott and Ritz-Carlton Rewards are the promotions and which website you use for an online account.

Per their rules of the programs you are limited to have only one membership account with EITHER the Ritz-Carlton Rewards or the Marriott Rewards program. This is actually quite an odd rule because the differences between the two programs are minuscule and mostly boil down to branding and name. For the most part Marriott Rewards and Ritz-Carlton Rewards are identical, and members of each program will have reciprocal benefits with between both programs. You can even choose which program to have as your primary designation.

Elite Status

As a member of Marriott Rewards and Ritz-Carlton Rewards you can earn and redeem points at any Marriott or Ritz-Carlton brand hotel, vice versa. Elite benefits are slightly different between the two brands, but elite members will get reciprocal treatment at the same elite status level when staying at the other brand. That means Marriott Gold/Platinum members will get the same benefits as a Ritz-Carlton Gold/Platinum will receive at Ritz-Carlton hotels, vice versa.

Points within either program are virtually interchangeable and can be redeemed at either Marriott or Ritz-Carlton hotels.

Marriott Rewards Gold Status | 50 Qualifying Nights

  • Guaranteed lounge access/breakfast for members and one guest (excludes resorts)
  • Complimentary room upgrade (Suites and Club Level rooms are included.)
  • 25% bonus on points for stays
  • Free premium tiered internet service
  • Guaranteed room type
  • Hertz #1 Gold membership
  • Free local phone and local fax
  • Gold Exclusive Offers
  • Gold customized rewards
  • Priority late checkout

Full Marriott Elite Status benefits

Ritz-Carlton Gold Status | 50 Elite Nights or 5 meetings

  • Complimentary Room Upgrade (Suites and Club Level rooms are excluded.)
  • Complimentary In-Room, Premium Tiered Internet Access
  • 25% Bonus on The Ritz-Carlton Rewards Base Points
  • $100 hotel credits for paid stays two nights or longer (with J.P. Morgan Ritz-Carlton credit card)
  • Exclusive Offers
  • Elite-Only Redemption Rewards
  • Priority Late Checkout

Full Ritz-Carlton Elite Status benefits

Co-branded Credit Cards

Ritz-Carlton. The Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card currently has three sign-up offers available. The three offers include:

  • One free night at a category 1-4 Ritz-Carlton hotel after spending $2,000 within the first 3 months (can apply online, annual fee not waived)
  • 70,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 within the first 3 months (apply over the phone by calling 1-888-846-7004 and using RSVP code F53K, annual fee is waived first year)
  • 140,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 within the first 3 months (apply over the phone by calling 1-888-846-7004 and using RSVP code F5BP, annual fee is not waived first year)

All of these offers get you the same card with these benefits:

The $300 annual travel credit helps offset the $395 annual fee, and since it is based on a calendar year if timed right you should be able to get two statement credits ($600) before the annual fee hits (based on card membership year). I recently applied for the card but have used my credit yet, however six $50 American Airline gift cards should suffice.

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By far the most valuable benefits from the card are the free Gold status for the first year and each year you spend $10,000 on the card. With Gold status you will get free breakfast and lounge access during any stay at JW Marriott®, Autograph Collection®, Renaissance® and Marriott Hotels®.

The other key benefit is the unlimited free Lounge Club access for you and one guest. This is a great perk if you want airport lounge access and regardless of what airline you are flying on you can still get access to the lounge with your card.

An important aspect here is that you get Ritz-Carlton benefits and that the Gold status is reciprocal at Marriotts as well. You can even keep your account under Marriott Rewards and earn status through the Ritz-Carlton credit card.

Marriott. On the other hand, the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card is offering 70,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 within the first three months, plus one free night at a category 1-4 property upon account approval.

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The annual fee is only $85 and waived the first year. You also get 15 elite nights towards status and an additional one night towards status for every $3,000 you spend. The biggest benefits of keeping the card is the one category 1-5 hotel free night certificate each card year anniversary, and the annual free night basically negates the annual fee. On thing to note, you cannot have this card and the Ritz-Carlton credit card at the same time.

Promotions

One of the major differences between Marriott and Ritz-Carlton Rewards are the promotions.

Marriott. Currently Marriott is offering an enrollment bonus for new members to earn a free night at a category 1-5 hotel after completing two paid stays at any hotel. All you have to do is join Marriott Rewards and you will automatically be enrolled for the promotion. After two paid stays at a participating hotel within 120 days of enrolling, you will earn a free night certificate to use at a category 1-5 Marriott hotel.

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Another promotion is Marriott’s fall MegaBonus promotion and is available for stays between September 15, 2014, through January 15, 2015 (registration must be done by November 15). Given that most promotions are targeted for Marriott members, the specific details may differ, but my offer was for double Marriott Rewards points after two paid stays. A maximum of 25,000 bonus points are possible, which is essentially worth a free night at a mid-tier property considering Marriott free nights are from 7,500 – 45,000 points.

Normally you earn 10 points per dollar spent at most Marriott brands, so this promotion basically doubles your earnings to 20 points per dollar spent. With the Ritz-Carlton credit card you will also earn an extra 5 points per dollar, and a 25% points bonus as a Gold member, which basically means you will earn ~29 points per dollar when stacked.

Ritz-Carlton. Ritz-Carlton is offering its Explore Beyond the Expected summer promotion giving the opportunity to earn up to two nights in any 1-3 tier Ritz-Carlton property. You will earn a free night after every two stays, so if you maximize the offer you can earn two free nights from four stays.

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New members that enroll in the Ritz-Carlton Rewards program after June 4th will automatically be registered for the promotion, and existing Ritz-Carlton Rewards members must register using their membership number. However if you are already an existing Marriott Rewards member you are not eligible for this promotion unless you converted your membership to Ritz Carlton prior to June 4.

There is a separate pure points offer for up to 100,000 bonus points after 10 paid nights between July 1 – October 31, 2014. You will earn 50,000 bonus points after five paid nights and an additional 50,000 bonus points after another five paid nights. If you maximize the offer you can earn a total of 100,000 bonus points after ten nights.

Which is More Valuable – Ritz-Carlton Rewards or Marriott Rewards?

You are only allowed to have membership with one program—either Marriott Rewards OR Ritz-Carlton Rewards. Basically they want you to choose which brand to be loyal to, even though many of the elite benefits are reciprocal. That said, contrary to the program’s terms, there are folks who have maintained multiple accounts.

The major benefit of having one membership over the other are the targeted promotions, and most of the time you have to be a member to enroll in the promotions. If you are an existing member you also can not switch back and forth to take advantage of select promotions, but you can choose the designation of your account and can switch it over at any time by calling in.

Really the only question you have to ask when choosing which program you want your account to be designated as is ‘what website do you prefer to log in to and which promotions do you want to receive?’

Likely the best option is to choose the program with the brand in which you most frequently stay or the one you plan to stay with the most. This will ensure you are receive promotions for your preferred hotel brand—either Marriott or Ritz-Carlton. Apart from that all elite benefits will be reciprocated when you stay at either brand, meaning if you a Marriott Rewards member your elite status level will be reciprocated at Ritz-Carlton properties. If you are a Ritz-Carlton Rewards member, your status will carry over for stays at Marriott.

If you do not stay enough nights at either hotel to earn and maintain Gold status, then a good option would be to go for the Ritz-Carlton credit card to easily earn Marriott Gold status. Personally I applied for the card this year and have found the benefits to be generous and well worth the $395 annual fee. Not to mention that the $300 travel credit will almost cover that from year-to-year, and the $95 out-of-pocket will get you airport lounge access, hotel lounge access and free breakfast. It is also an easy way to maintain Gold status and have Marriott as a backup hotel program.

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