[edit 5/15/18: read the comments for warnings from folks who have tried to game their Ritz-Carlton credit limits.]
In response to yesterday's post about some new and upcoming credit cards, reader Andy commented:
"You are missing two of the bigger benefits of the Ritz Card. First, you get $100 off airfare for 2 or more people via the Visa Infinite Portal, which you can use that an unlimited amount of times. Second, you get priority pass access with unlimited guests [ed: Andy is correct that I omitted this from my original post; it's now been fixed]. Plus, if you don't want to pay the annual fee, drop your credit limit to $1,500 and Chase will refund the entire annual fee. I haven't paid the annual fee in two years on the Ritz card."
The Visa Infinite discount has always seemed like a bit of a canard to me, but at Andy's invitation, I did some research, and am happy to share what I found.
$100 off two cash tickets isn't much of a deal
I always like to start looking at a deal through the lens of how it is supposed to be used, and here you can see the Visa Infinite companion ticket doesn't offer much to a travel hacker. The discount can only be used on roundtrip, economy class tickets within the United States, so it's easy to do the math for yourself how that works out. $100 off two $200 tickets is a 25% discount, but $100 off two $600 tickets is a discount of just 8.3%. And since you have to pay for your tickets with your Visa Infinite card, you don't have the opportunity to apply fixed-value points like Barclays Arrival miles, US Bank Flexperks Real Time Rewards, or Bank of America Travel Rewards points to the cost.
$100 off two $100 tickets is a killer deal
On the other hand, if you frequently buy extremely cheap tickets for two passengers on an airline included in the Visa Infinite booking portal, you can easily make a killing. Using Google Flights I found 2 basic economy tickets on United from Boston to Chicago for $221. With a $100 discount, you'd pay just $121, a 45% discount. Now, I wouldn't recommend anybody fly United, or fly in basic economy, but obviously some people fly United, and some people fly basic economy, and for those folks this might be the deal of a lifetime.
Note that the Visa Infinite portal will apparently only show fares above $100 per ticket; previously folks were booking sub-$100 fares and paying less than $100 total for two tickets.
After June 5, you'll need elite status to really hack Visa Infinite
Until June 5, 2018, Alaska Airlines will continue to allow all reservations more than 60 days in the future to be cancelled and their value returned to the passenger's "My wallet" travel bank. That's historically been an easy way for folks to combine the maximum value of several fixed-value rewards currencies into a single ticket (as long as they were interested in actually booking an Alaska Airlines ticket eventually).
Starting June 5, only Alaska Mileage Plan MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K members will be able to cancel tickets without penalty.
Likewise, JetBlue Mosaic members have change and cancellation fees waived for themselves and anyone traveling on the same reservation.
Does the Visa Infinite companion discount redeem the Ritz-Carlton Rewards card?
At the end of the day, there are two ways to frame this question:
- can you get more value from the Ritz-Carlton Rewards card than the $450 annual fee?
- will you get more value from the Ritz-Carlton Rewards card than the $450 annual fee?
The answer to the first question is an unequivocal "yes." Even without the card's $300 travel credit, $450 represents just 4.5 roundtrip domestic economy trips for two before you've recouped the annual fee entirely.
But the second question is trickier. If you're already buying tickets for two people to fly out of Boston to Chicago in basic economy at 5:11 am, and returning at 6:00 am (the $221 roundtrip referenced above), then you'd be hard pressed to do much better than a 45% discount, all without leaving the comfort of your own home (until you have to get up at 3 am to head to the airport).
Likewise, if you're already earning JetBlue Mosaic status by spending $50,000 on the Barclays JetBlue Plus Card, then through multiple changes and cancellations you might be able to generate an arbitrary amount of JetBlue flight credit at up to 50% off.
Those are obviously not conditions that apply to most, or even many, travel hackers, but if they apply to you, then the Ritz-Carlton card is well worth considering.
At the end of the day I don't think domestic economy roundtrip fares are cheap enough that I'd save more money paying a $450 annual fee than I would by tactically redeeming miles, fixed-value points, and companion tickets. But that's not a question about program design, that's a question about the reservations you actually make and the trips you actually take.
And of course you can always ask Chase to drop your credit limit to $1,500 and enjoy what our financiers like to call "optionality."