At Middle Age Miles, we love to experiment with different points-and-miles strategies and then share our results with our readers, in hopes that it’ll benefit the community.
In this experiment, we wanted to explore the notoriously hard-to-use Club Level Upgrade certificates that come as a benefit of the Ritz Carlton Visa card (RC Visa). As our primary experiment, we wanted to see whether we could stack using a Club Level Upgrade certificate with points/miles/cashback earning from making our reservation through a shopping portal. This experiment is still in-progress, but we wanted to let you know how it’s gone so far.
In addition, this reservation and stay set us up for a couple of secondary experiments – Could we also stack the Club Level Upgrade with the $100 hotel credit that’s also a benefit of the RC Visa card? And, could we get these benefits but ultimately use a different method of payment other than our RC Visa card?
Read on to find out how we set up these experiments and how they’ve turned out so far!
Background on the RC Visa Card and Club Level Upgrade Certificates
To start off this section, it’s useful to have a bit of background about the Club Level Upgrade and $100 hotel credit benefits of the RC Visa card, which is one of our very favorites for its multitude of valuable features.
One of the benefits of the RC Visa card is that you receive 3 Club Level Upgrade certificates each cardholder year. Each certificate is good to upgrade you during a single stay of up to 7 days. The certificates are issued on or near your cardholder anniversary. They are good for one year after issuance, although it has sometimes been possible to get Marriott to extend the expiration date if you call in before a certificate expires, particularly if you ask at the same time to apply the certificate to a reservation after the expiration date.
Another good feature of the Club Level Upgrade certificates is that, if there is availability when you call to apply the certificate, your Club Level room is immediately confirmed. You won’t have to wait until check-in to find out if you’ve been upgraded or not. And, Club Lounge access is still pretty limited at Ritz Carltons, as lounge access isn’t given as an elite benefit at any official tier of the Marriott Bonvoy program. To get Club Lounge access at a Ritz Carlton, you’ll have to either pay for it or use one of these upgrade certificates.
In our limited experience, Ritz Carlton Club Lounges have generally been quite nice. Of the 4 RC Clubs we’ve had the good fortune to try, the RC St. Thomas club was the nicest of all (and hopefully still is, after renovations necessitated by damage from Hurricane Irma), followed by the RC Kapalua (Maui) and RC Pentagon City, which were also both very nice, and then by the RC Tysons Corner, which was good but not as nice as the others. Others in the know have suggested the RC Naples and the RC Grand Cayman as places with fantastic club lounges.
Unfortunately, it can be a challenge to use the Club Level Upgrade Certificates effectively. The most important limitation is that they can only be used when booking certain rates. Basically, they can only be used when you book direct with Marriott/Ritz Carlton on a Member Rate or Standard Rate. That means that a lot of rates and booking options are excluded – no advance-payment rates, corporate rates, AAA rates, award or certificate free nights, Citi Prestige 4th night free bookings, Amex FHR/Chase LHRC/Virtuoso bookings, and no other third-party bookings.
In addition, there must be club level room availability when you call to use your upgrade certificate. And finally, some Ritz Carlton properties restrict the use of upgrade certificates, even when Club Level rooms are still available for booking. [We’re still smarting a bit from an attempt to use a Club Level Upgrade certificate at the RC Aruba a couple of years ago; there were still Club Level rooms available using paid rates, but the hotel had blocked the use of upgrade certificates.]
The Experiment – Going Through a Shopping Portal to Book a Reservation, and Then Using a Club Level Upgrade Certificate
We needed a 4-night reservation at the Ritz Carlton Pentagon City (Washington DC area), and we knew that we wanted to use a Club Level Upgrade certificate. We’d stayed at this hotel previously, on the Club Level, and we knew that the lounge was nice and had great food throughout the day.
Here’s a sampling of what we’d get in the Club Lounge at the RC Pentagon City:
As we discussed above, we knew that we were limited to booking a Member Rate (fortunately, not much higher than other available rates in this instance).
Given that situation, we decided to try an experiment. We would go through a shopping portal, then book our room at a Member Rate direct with Marriott, using our Ritz Carlton Visa card to hold the reservation.
In this case, we booked the room by going through the AAdvantage eShopping portal, on a day when they were running an enhanced offer of 10 AA miles per dollar. We were re-directed from the portal to the Marriott website, where we could book direct for our reservation at the RC Pentagon City. We made sure that our RC Visa card was used to hold the reservation.
Next, we called in to the RC Visa card’s dedicated line for reservations (800-542-8680) and asked them to apply a Club Level Upgrade certificate to the reservation. They did, and we received an updated confirmation email. Marriott re-issued the reservation as if we directly booked a Club Level room (that is, the confirmation email showed that we were booked into a Club Level room). But (and we think this may be helpful for our experiment), the reservation retained its original confirmation number.
When we called in to apply the certificate, though, the agent warned us that the best practice is to call in to the dedicated line to make the reservation. Their explanation is that the rate & availability can be confirmed at that time, and the certificate can be applied all at once. Obviously in our case, calling direct wouldn’t have worked to run our experiment to try to get miles from the AA portal.
Results of Our Experiment … So Far
The “upgrade” part of our experiment worked perfectly. We were indeed assigned to a Club Level room at check-in, and we enjoyed the fruits of the Club Lounge for days. Service at the Lounge was impeccable – the ladies there could not possibly have been more friendly or accommodating toward us. And there were 5 separate food presentations each day, including breakfast which was open until 11:00 am!
We don’t yet know, though, if the AA miles from the portal will be awarded. The fact that Marriott re-issued the reservation when we applied the upgrade certificate may pose a problem. However, at least the reservation retained its original confirmation number.
We suspect that the AA miles will not post automatically and we’ll have to follow up. If that turns out to be the case, we will at least be able to send AA eShopping customer service our original confirmation email, with the same date as our visit to the AA eShopping portal. It will have the correct confirmation number for our reservation, and AA eShopping and Marriott will be able to track it.[Note that we already had to go through the follow-up process with AA eShopping customer service, with a different Marriott reservation made through the AA portal on the same day. We eventually received those miles, but it took about 2.5 months and required some investment of time and energy on our part (see Will I Ever Receive My AA Miles from AAdvantage eShopping for My Marriott Stay? [Update from Article on 2/15] and AA Miles from AAdvantage eShopping for Marriott Stay Finally Posted! – Plus Take-Aways and Tips for AA eShopping and Other Shopping Portals).]
Based on our past experience, we know that we should wait until 15 days after our stay before we contact AA eShopping customer service. (We were told that “According to Marriott’s Terms and Conditions, rewards will be credited after 15 days from the last day of travel.”)
We’ll keep you updated on whether we get the miles. Our base rate for the 4-night stay was $976, so we have 9,760 AA miles at stake. At our baseline value of 1.25 cents per AA mile, these miles would be worth about $122. If our experiment works, that’s a great success and very valuable data point!
A Secondary Experiment – Do Club Level Upgrade Certificates Stack with the $100 Hotel Credit Benefit on the Ritz Carlton Visa Card?
In addition to the 3 Club Level Upgrade certificates you’ll receive per cardholder year, another benefit of the RC Visa card for Ritz Carlton stays is a $100 hotel credit.
Under its express terms, the $100 hotel credit benefit requires a paid stay with a minimum of 2 nights, paid using the Ritz Carlton Visa card. And, much like the Club Level Upgrade certificates, the $100 hotel credit is valid only when you book a member rate or a non-discounted rate.
So, does the $100 hotel credit apply when you’re also using a Club Level Upgrade certificate? Yes, it does. The benefits stack, which is very helpful.
We’ve done this stack successfully before, and we were successful again during our recent stay at the RC Pentagon City. As we mentioned earlier, we made sure to hold the reservation using our RC Visa card when we booked. At check-in, the agent reminded us of the $100 hotel credit, even before we asked about it.
We actually talked with the check-in agent a bit about what charges were eligible for the credit. At this particular property, basically the only eligible charges would be food & drink from the hotel restaurant & bar. Parking charges weren’t eligible, the agent said, because the valet service is provided by a separate company, not the hotel itself (even though it’s charged to the room). The same was true with any excess charges for cleaning or pressing clothes (above the complimentary services provided as part of our Club Level room). It was good to know this up front; we knew to use it on food & drinks as opposed to thinking that our daily parking charges would be covered.
At check-out, we actually had a slight glitch on the $100 credit. The credit had not been applied to our preliminary folio. When we asked, the agent (actually the same agent we’d had at check-in) said he didn’t see the credit on our account or reservation. However, he readily deducted $100 from our bill, crediting it against our food & drink charges.
Another Secondary Experiment – Do You Actually Have to Pay with Your Ritz Carlton Visa Card to Get the Club Level Upgrade and the $100 Hotel Credit?
For starters, remember that the RC Visa card earns 6 Marriott points per dollar. This results in a points rebate of about 4.2%, based on our current baseline value of 0.7 cents per Marriott point. At worst, it’s within a few tenths of best-in-class earning for charges at Marriott hotels (3x UR earning on the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Chase Ink Preferred, or 3x points earning on the US Bank Altitude Reserve might technically be slightly better, at 4.5%). So, in general, it’s a solid choice to pay with your RC Visa card and you should do so unless there’s some real upside to using a different payment method. Don’t rock the boat if you don’t have to.
In this case, though, we wanted to do a couple of things. One, we had several hundred dollars of Marriott gift cards that we wanted to use if possible. And two, we have a current promotion on our Amex Marriott Bonvoy Business card (formerly Amex SPG Business card) for an extra 7,500 points if we hit $5,000 in spend during a calendar month. Ideally, we would use the gift cards, then put the balance on the Amex Bonvoy Business card to make progress toward the $5,000 threshold for this month.
Another possible reason to use an Amex card for payment rather than the RC Visa would be if you have an Amex Offer for Ritz Carlton properties or for Marriott Bonvoy properties generally that would apply. In fact, we’d recently had such an Offer that would have applied if we hadn’t already used it.
This experiment was a success. We were hopeful for this result (and we’d done parts of it successfully on previous RC stays), given that we would have already completed our Club Level stay and the $100 hotel credit would have been applied before we told the agent at check-out that we’d like to change our payment method. This turned out to be a little touch-and-go since the $100 credit hadn’t yet actually been applied. We had to ask for the credit to be applied first, and then a few seconds later discuss payment methods (we asked first about using the gift cards, and then when that part of the payment was complete, we said we wanted to pay the balance with the card I had in my hand (I didn’t mention that it was an Amex card).
We hope that you’ve found our experiment and this article helpful. We’ll update you about whether the AA miles from the AA eShopping portal post, and what further steps (if any) we have to take to get them. Keep your fingers crossed!
Also, just to confirm, our stay at the RC Pentagon City earned bonus points under the recently-expired Marriott “Double Take” promotion, so there was yet another level to our “stack” of benefits here!
Do you have any data points about stacking RC Club Level Upgrade certificate and shopping portal benefits, or the other experiments we discussed in this article? If so, please share with us and other Middle Age Miles readers in the Comments!
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