[UPDATE 8/15/2016 — Originally there were conflicting reports as to whether the new Ritz-Carlton Visa included the same 3 annual Club upgrades as the old Ritz-Carlton card. It was my understanding that it did not; however, after this column was posted, Marriott reached out to me to clarify that the Club upgrades are in fact included with the new card as well. This post has been updated to reflect the correct info, and thanks to Marriott for letting us know!]
From the desk of the Devil’s Advocate…
The Conventional Wisdomers collectively lost their minds this week when Chase announced several improvements to the pricey Ritz-Carlton Visa card. Based on the headlines, you’d think Chase had added a cure for cancer to this card instead of a Priority Pass membership.
Some folks might chalk up this oversized reaction to affiliate links, or an eagerness to find alternatives to the soon-to-be devalued Citi Prestige, or even just a glimmer of hope breaking through the general sense of malaise that’s descended on the points and miles world in a rather deal-bereft 2016.
Or… are the improvements actually that great?
Should you run out and apply for a Ritz-Carlton card given the new benefits? Is it worth taking up a valuable Chase slot in your credit card portfolio? Are the increased perks actually worth the increased $450 annual fee (which is NOT waived in the first year)?
I don’t think so. But it doesn’t matter what I think. It only matters what I can argue. So let’s see if I can argue that the Ritz-Carlton Visa still isn’t worth an application.
Which perks have changed?
I never thought the previous version of the Ritz-Carlton card was valuable enough to be worth applying for, but before I attempt to argue that the new benefits also aren’t worth applying for, we should probably take a look at those old benefits so we know what’s been gained and what’s been lost.
Several perks remained the same between the old and new versions of the card, so here are just the benefits that are changing.
- The old signup bonus was 2 free nights at a Tier 1-4 Ritz-Carlton after $3,000 in spend, while the new bonus is 3 nights at those tiers for $5,000 in spend.
- The Lounge Club membership is being replaced by a Priority Pass membership.
- A $100 Global Entry/$85 TSA PreCheck credit has been added.
- The previous Ritz-Carlton card was a Visa Signature, while the new one is a Visa Infinite (more on this one in a moment).
- The old card offered 3 upgrades to Club level – the new card does not have any upgrades.
- The annual fee has risen from $395 to $450. Yeah, okay, that’s not exactly a new perk, but certainly it’s an important change.
Most of these changes are self-explanatory except for the switch from Visa Signature to Visa Infinite. There haven’t been a lot of Visa cards issued under the “Infinite” brand in the United States to this point, but it seems we’re going to start seeing more of them going forward.
Visas issued as Infinite carry some specialized benefits, with the most discussed one being a repeatable $100 companion discount when purchasing roundtrip airline tickets. You can read more about how this works in my post over at Frequent Miler about the Visa Infinite issued by City National Bank (the Ritz-Carlton Visa Infinite works roughly the same way). There are other Infinite benefits as well, but none as exciting as the companion discount, so for the purposes of this post we’ll keep our focus to that one.
So are the changes that much better?
Obviously the biggest change is in the signup bonus with the 1 extra night added to the already existing two. The one knock is the nights can’t be used at the top level Tier 5 Ritz-Carltons. That being said, it’s still Ritz-Carlton, so you won’t exactly be slumming it at the Tier 1-4 hotels.
A quick search demonstrates that we can find Ritz-Carlton rooms for as low as $150 and as high as $800, so let’s say that 1 additional free night is worth an extra $475. That’s a pretty nice bump and much more than the $55 increase in the annual fee. So it seems clear you’ll get your money’s worth from this card just in the increased signup bonus in the first year.
But hang on a second…
Ritz Carlton is not a big chain. In fact, they only have 87 properties worldwide. Knock out the Tier 5 ones that you can’t use and we’re down to around 75 properties. So there’s going to be a fairly limited set of destinations where you’ll be able to use these free nights. That makes them somewhat less valuable, though obviously you could be planning a luxurious vacation that happens to take you near a Ritz Carlton.
How about these other new perks? Priority Pass is better than Lounge Club but there are plenty of other premium cards out there offering it too. The Global Entry fee waiver is even more ubiquitous across high-end credit cards nowadays, and if you don’t travel enough to already have Global Entry then you probably shouldn’t be starting with this Ritz-Carlton card anyway.
The $100 companion discount is actually one of the more useful credit card companion discounts available, as most of them are usually heavily restricted and one-time only use. But most people probably aren’t going to take advantage of that benefit enough to push this card into the “must have” category.
And then there’s the big downside (or is there?)
When I originally wrote this post, I said the big downside was the loss of the 3 annual Club upgrades, which the old card had but the new one appeared to be missing. However, after this column was published, Marriott reached out to me to let me know that the Club upgrades are in fact included on the new card. You can read more about the source of this confusion in my additional post on the subject.
Needless to say, this is excellent news. The Club upgrades are considered by many to be one of the best features of the old card, so knowing they’re still included makes a major difference in my analysis. The upgrades can easily be worth $100 per night and each upgrade is good for an entire stay up to 7 nights, so you can get some tremendous value from them.
With that being said, obviously the only folks who are going to truly benefit from the Club upgrades are those who stay regularly at Ritz-Carlton hotels. That may seem obvious, but my point is that the new benefits don’t necessarily make this new card a better value proposition than the old one unless you spend a lot of time at Ritz-Carlton hotels.
Finally, as a side note, one benefit that didn’t change is the $300 annual airline fee credit – it’s on both the old card and the new card. However, it should absolutely be noted that this is not automatic like most other airline fee credits. Instead of a statement credit automatically generating against a valid charge as the Amex Platinum and Citi Prestige do, you have to call up Chase every time you have an airline fee charge and ask for a credit (and sometimes even argue about the validity of the fee).
That’s exceptionally annoying for such a high annual fee card, and certainly another major knock against applying. There’s some talk that the new Chase Sapphire Reserve may have a $300 credit that is more automatic, so perhaps once Chase has that system up and running, they’ll port it over to the Ritz-Carlton card as well. But for the moment, it’s still a manual process on this card.
The Devil’s Advocate is passing on both old and new Ritz-Carlton cards.
I know change can be exciting, but despite the clarification about the Club upgrades, I’m only changing my analysis slightly. Originally I said I wasn’t a fan of the Ritz-Carlton card before, and after looking over these new benefits, I’m still not a fan. That stance hasn’t changed.
However, knowing now that the Club upgrades are still an included benefit of the new card, I think if I was a regular user of Ritz-Carlton hotels or planning a specific vacation to a city with a great Ritz-Carlton, I would probably make getting this card a priority. Some of my readers who vehemently disagreed with the original version of this post appear to be regulars at Ritz-Carlton. For them, this card makes a lot of sense. So if you fall into that category, you should definitely consider it.
But I don’t stay at a lot of Ritz-Carltons and I wouldn’t apply just because of the new perks. If you’re in the market for a premium Visa Infinite card, I’d definitely recommend going for the City National Bank Crystal Visa Infinite instead of the Ritz-Carlton. The CNB Crystal Visa Infinite just saw the return of a 50,000 signup bonus, and unlike the Ritz-Carlton card, its $400 annual fee is completely waived for the first year. Unfortunately it’s not a piece of cake to get approved by City National Bank, but Chase isn’t exactly being generous with approvals nowadays either.
So if you’re going to take a shot, I say go for a card that really offers value instead of one just changing up their menu of benefits that still ain’t all that.Devil’s Advocate is a bi-weekly series that deliberately argues a contrarian view on travel and loyalty programs. Sometimes the Devil’s Advocate truly believes in the counterargument. Other times he takes the opposing position just to see if the original argument holds water. But his main objective is to engage in friendly debate with the miles and points community to determine if today’s conventional wisdom is valid. You can suggest future topics by following him on Twitter @dvlsadvcate or sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recent Posts by the Devil’s Advocate:
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Find the entire collection of Devil’s Advocate posts here.