The essential Ritz-Carlton properties

Long-time readers know that I can sometimes have an unfortunately literal approach to travel hacking. So when I decided to look into the Ritz-Carlton program to see if there were any good opportunities to take advantage of Marriott Hotel + Air packages at Ritz-Carlton properties, now that Starpoints can be transferred to Marriott Rewards at a 1:3 ratio, I just looked at every single Ritz-Carlton property.

What would make a Ritz-Carlton Hotel + Air package a good deal?

The first thing to keep in mind is that Ritz-Carlton Hotel + Air packages are priced in just 2 groups: Tier 1-3 packages and Tier 4-5 packages. But the packages are priced on the basis of the highest Tier in each group. In other words, Tier 1-3 packages are priced as 7 nights at a Tier 3 package plus 120,000 miles, and Tier 4-5 packages are priced as 7 nights at a Tier 5 property plus 120,000 miles.

That means, before even getting started, stays at actual Tier 3 and Tier 5 properties are the most likely to prove a good value:

  • 7 award nights nights at a Tier 1 property would cost 180,000 Marriott Rewards points. To redeem a Hotel + Air package for those 7 nights, you'd pay 420,000 Marriott Rewards points, giving you a transfer value of 2 Marriott Rewards points per airline mile (0.67 Starpoints per mile) rather than 1 Marriott Rewards point per mile (0.33 Starpoints per mile) at a Tier 3 property.
  • 7 nights at a Tier 4 property would cost 360,000 Marriott Rewards points. To redeem a Hotel + Air package for those 7 nights, you'd pay 540,000 Marriott Rewards points, giving you a transfer value of 1.5 Marriott Rewards points per mile (0.5 Starpoints per mile), rather than 1 Marriott Rewards point per mile (0.33 Starpoints per mile) at a Tier 5 property.

Next, any given Ritz-Carlton property could only be a good deal if there are no nearby properties that provide an even better deal. That's the idea of opportunity cost: a Ritz-Carlton stay is only the best deal if it's a better deal than any other equivalent property.

What's an "equivalent" property? Well, here my literal-mindedness kicks in again. I take a look at a map, and if there's a Wyndham, Hilton, Hyatt, or Starwood property in roughly the same neighborhood, I say it's equivalent.

Then I make one exception: since our objective is to convert Starpoints to airline miles at a better rate than the standard 1.25 miles per Starpoint, if the equivalent nearby Starwood property costs more than one third the Ritz-Carlton award price, it's no longer equivalent — the Ritz-Carlton property is likely the better deal.

The five indispensable Ritz-Carlton properties

After looking at every Ritz-Carlton property in the world, and applying the above mechanical filters, there are five Ritz-Carlton properties that are objectively speaking the correct places to redeem 7-night Hotel + Air packages:

The best of the rest

If you're willing to get a slightly worse value for your Starpoints, there are a few more Tier 1, 2, and 4 Ritz-Carlton properties without nearby equivalents:

In the US and Canada:


  • Jakarta, Mega Kuningan, Tier 1 (Nearby Le Meridien Jakarta costs 10,000 Starpoints per night, making it roughly equivalent);
  • Okinawa, Tier 4;
  • Bahrain, Tier 2 (Nearby Westin Bahrain City Center costs 25,000 Starpoints per night, making the The Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain Hotel & Spa strictly superior);
  • Riyadh, Tier 1;
  • Barcelona, Tier 4 (Nearby W Barcelona costs 25,000 Starpoints per night, making the Hotel Arts Barcelona strictly superior).

What did I miss?

I don't have any monopoly on the truth, I just have an internet connection and a pirated copy of Excel. So if you have strong feelings about a Ritz-Carlton property I didn't include here, take a gander at my spreadsheet and tell me what I missed.

3 ways I would use the Ritz-Carlton credit card

There's a simple reason why I am so skeptical of signup bonuses and recurring annual benefits. I receive e-mails and comments every day from readers who say the same thing: "I signed up for this credit card before I found your site, and now I have no way to use these points/certificates/companion tickets." If you don't get those e-mails and comments, there's no reason for you to realize just how widespread the problem of orphaned and expiring loyalty benefits is. You may even think you're the only one who has trouble redeeming Membership Rewards points (you're not).

I don't have anything against signup bonuses. But if you chase signup bonuses, rather than focus on how to pay as little as possible for the trips you want to take, you're unlikely to get the most value from your travel hacking budget, whether that budget is in the form of time or money.

Last week I applied that skepticism to the new Chase Ritz-Carlton Rewards credit card. But just because I don't chase signup bonuses doesn't mean signup bonuses are worthless or bad! On the contrary, the right signup bonus at the right time can help you achieve your travel goals at the right price.

With that in mind, here are 3 ways I would use the new Ritz-Carlton credit card signup bonus of 3 free nights at a Tier 1-4 Ritz-Carlton property after spending $5,000 within 3 months.

A 3-night vacation

Sometimes you just want to go away for a long weekend. Nothing wrong with that! Without flying halfway around the world, you could spend 3 nights at Lake Tahoe, in downtown Boston (where hotels, even on points, are shockingly expensive), or in Puerto Rico. Slightly farther afield, there's a Tier 2 Ritz-Carlton in Santiago, Chile.

Those aren't all properties where you'll get outsize value from your redemption, simply because there are other, cheaper properties nearby. But you'll still save the money or points you'd otherwise pay, and you'll get to stay in a class of property you might not otherwise be able to afford.

A leg or side trip during a vacation

If you're planning on a multi-week trip like the one I took to Europe this summer, it would be easy to book one of your stops at a Ritz-Carlton property. The Ritz-Carltons in Budapest and Geneva both look lovely and are centrally located.

Likewise, if you are planning a long stay in a single location, you might want to make a side trip to see more of an area. While planning a trip to Kauai, you might decide to take a side trip to stay at the Ritz-Carlton in Kapalua, or while visiting Tokyo you might plan a few nights in Okinawa or Osaka as well.

Extending a stay

There are a few ways you could use the Ritz-Carlton signup bonus to extend a stay.

First, if you are relentlessly focused on maximizing the value of your points, there are certain inevitable obstacles to doing so. For example, Hilton HHonors points are most valuable when redeemed for 5-night stays, since the fifth night is free. If you want to stay more than 5 nights, but less than 10, that benefit is correspondingly less valuable.

But if you are staying in an area with both Hilton and Ritz-Carlton properties, you can use Ritz-Carlton free night certificates to extend your stay. For example, you might redeem 320,000 HHonors points for 5 nights at Hilton's Grand Wailea, then head around Maui for another 3 nights at the The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, maximizing the value of your HHonors points and enjoying an 8-night Hawaiian vacation.

Second, you could extend a stay at a Ritz-Carlton property. For example, for 350,000 Marriott Rewards points you could book 7 nights at the Tier 3 Ritz-Carlton Vienna (plus 55,000 United MileagePlus miles or 50,000 miles in other loyalty programs), then redeem your Ritz-Carlton free night certificates to extend your stay to 10 nights. Note that if you're transferring Ultimate Rewards points to Marriott Rewards, this is only a marginal play since the Park Hyatt Vienna costs just 25,000 Gold Passport points per night.

Third, you might try to achieve something similar to my experience with Hyatt Gold Passport suite upgrade awards. Since the Ritz-Carlton credit card comes with 3 "Club Level" upgrades annually on paid stays, you could book one paid night, apply a Club Level upgrade, and see if you're allowed to keep the same Club Level room on subsequent nights paid for with your free night certificates. There's no guarantee that would work every time, but it's virtually certain to work at some properties, some of the time.


The right time to sign up for a new credit card is when you already have a redemption in mind, and your research indicates that a new card's signup bonus or earning and redemption structure make it the cheapest, easiest, or fastest way to achieve that redemption.

The wrong time to sign up for a new credit card is when bloggers are salivating over temporarily raised payouts on their affiliate links.

I moved. What did I miss?

Well, faithful readers, I'm back. For the past week I've been packing all my earthly possessions and transporting them 904 miles eastward. They're now, mostly, unpacked, and life should be very slowly returning to normal. Here's what I've learned in the past week.

Pay people to load and unload trucks for you

Packing your possessions into boxes for transport is a long, hard, chore, with a correspondingly high payoff. You can discover long-lost mementos, dispose of mountains of clutter, and get the opportunity to thank your old clothes and books for their service before disposing of them.

Loading and unloading trucks is an utterly thankless task that has no redeeming value. Pay someone else to do it for you. Don't try to help. Just watch.

There are only 81 Ritz-Carlton properties where you can use their new free night bonus

The new Chase Ritz-Carlton Rewards credit card has a signup bonus of 3 nights at any "participating" Tier 1 to Tier 4 Ritz-Carlton property after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months.

According to my brute force calculations (Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 3, Tier 4), that leaves you with 81 properties in the world where you can use your 3 free night certificates.

Maybe you're planning to visit one of the 81 locations where you can use your free night certificates anyway. That makes the credit card a no-brainer, with a signup bonus worth thousands of dollars.

But if you aren't already planning to visit a Ritz-Carlton property, why would you be interested in a credit card that forces you to plan a whole vacation around it?

Travel is too cheap to chase signup bonuses that make you play by the loyalty industry's rules.

Chase Sapphire Reserve seems fine

Now that the details of the Chase Sapphire Reserve have been more-or-less-or-more officially confirmed, I can say with absolute conviction that it seems fine.

The 3 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on travel and dining seems fine.

The $300 in annual statement credits seems fine.

The ability to get 1.5 cents per Ultimate Rewards point when redeeming them for travel through the Ultimate Rewards portal seems fine.

I personally don't chase signup bonuses. But I know a lot of people do! They'll no doubt enjoy the 100,000-point signup bonus after spending $4,000 within 3 months. That seems fine too.

I apply for cards that either help me earn more points or help me leverage the points I already have. The Chase Sapphire Reserve does neither, so I won't be getting it.


I'm sure I'll have more to say about all this (well, probably not about moving trucks) as time goes on and the affiliates continue harping on these cards' supposed benefits. But since I've been out of touch for over a week, I thought I'd get started by sharing my 10,000-foot view of these latest fads in the credit card marketing blogosphere.

Statement credits are worth (much) less than cash

I've written several times in the last few weeks about hacking Marriott elite status using the Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Visa card, and received a number of e-mails and comments suggesting the Ritz Carlton Visa card might be a better option, allowing cardholders to earn Platinum, rather than Gold, status after $75,000 in annual spend.

In response to those comments and e-mails I tend to say the same thing: I don't pay $395 annual fees, and I don't recommend that my readers do either.

When affiliate bloggers promote cards like the Chase Ritz Carlton Visa and American Express Platinum cards, they usually repeat the tired canard that the hefty annual fees ($395 and $450, respectively) are discounted by the annual airline statement credits the cards offer. The usual approach is to point out that since airline gift cards are reimbursed at face value, you're "actually" paying $200 (American Express Platinum) or $300 (Chase Ritz Carlton) less per calendar year than the annual fee would suggest.

The problem with that argument is that a $50 American Airlines gift card (the usual example) is worth much less than $50.

Travel hacking means never paying retail

Using only the most trivial examples, redeeming US Bank Flexpoints, Chase Ultimate Rewards points, or Barclaycard Arrival+ miles for paid tickets allows you to purchase redeemable- and elite-qualifying-mile-earning revenue tickets at a fraction of face value.

Indeed, if you fund Kiva loans with a US Bank Flexperks Travel Rewards card, all you have to pay for your revenue tickets is the time value of your money and the risk of your Kiva loans defaulting (which can be substantially mitigated against by carefully choosing your loans and diversifying your loans across borrowers and countries).

Don't let annual fees lock you into paying retail

Using $50 American Airlines gift cards to purchase your revenue tickets means foregoing the opportunity to redeem alternative, cheaply-acquired rewards currencies for them. In other words, it means paying the full face value of your airline tickets.

When you pay a $395 annual fee for the Chase Ritz Carlton Visa card, and receive back a $50 American Airlines gift card, you shouldn't mentally deduct the full $50 from your annual fee as a rebate. Rather, you should deduct only the amount you would have paid for $50 in American Airlines air travel:

  • if you redeem free Flexpoints for your travel, that amount is $0;
  • if you redeem Arrival+ miles acquired at 0.29 cents each, that amount is $14.50;
  • if you redeem Ultimate Rewards points acquired at 0.47 cents each, that amount is $18.80;
  • and so on.

In no case is that amount $50, so you can't justify deducting a full $50 from your annual fee in your mental accounting.


Credit card annual fees have to be paid with cold hard cash, while the supposedly dollar-denominated annual benefits they provide can only be redeemed in restricted and restrictive ways. While annual benefits like companion tickets can sometimes justify paying annual fees, there are vanishingly few scenarios where paying annual fees over $100 is justified.

If I can make as controversial a claim as is supported by the evidence, even the American Express Delta Platinum credit card, with its $195 annual fee and companion ticket awarded on each account anniversary, only makes sense (compared to redeeming Arrival+ miles) if you can consistently redeem the companion ticket for flights costing more than $672 – the value of the Arrival+ miles you could manufacture with the same $195 in disposable income – or if you can use the Medallion Qualifying Miles earned with the card to achieve Platinum or Diamond Medallion status.