Last week, one of the world's most venerable hotel brands launched its own loyalty program.
Think "putting on the ritz" and "ritzy."
That's right, the hotel group is Ritz-Carlton. And its new frequent-stay program is Ritz-Carlton Rewards.
For all its hold on the minds and pocketbooks of consumers, the Ritz-Carlton collection numbers just over 70 properties, scattered all over the world. That's not enough hotels to mount a robust single-brand loyalty program—frequent travelers want in-network hotels in every city they visit. And ideally, a hotel program features brands at a range of price points, to accommodate members' varying needs, depending on whether they're on a spending binge or a budget-friendly weekend getaway.
In Ritz-Carlton's case, a solution to the scale problem was close at hand.
It's no accident that Ritz-Carlton Rewards sounds a lot like Marriott Rewards. Ritz-Carlton is a wholly owned subsidiary of Marriott, and the new Ritz-branded program is essentially a clone of the existing Marriott Rewards scheme, with the addition of a few extra benefits to give it its own identity.
On the earning side of the program, members accumulate points for stays at Ritz-Carltons as well as around 3,300 Marriott family hotels, as follows:
- 10 points per dollar on room rate only at Ritz-Carlton hotels
- 10 points per dollar on all spend at Marriott, JW Marriott, Autograph Collection, Renaissance
- 10 points per dollar on room rate only at EDITION, Courtyard by Marriott, SpringHill Suites, Fairfield Inn
- 5 points per dollar on room rate only at Residence Inn, TownePlace Suite
That's virtually identical to the earning rate and hotel line-up available to Marriott Rewards members (who may now earn points for Ritz-Carlton stays, for the first time). Also as with Marriott Rewards, Ritz-Carlton Rewards members may choose to earn miles in 32 airline programs instead of points.
On the award side, free nights are offered at both Ritz-Carlton and Marriott hotels, at levels identical to those in the Marriott Rewards program. In addition—and here's where we see some differentiation—points may be redeemed for awards from upscale travel provider Abercrombie and Kent, Vera Wang, National Geographic Expeditions photography workshops, and Neiman Marcus.
Elite status is also a carry-over from the Marriott program. Entry-level status is awarded after 10 nights, with higher tiers reached after 50 and 75 nights.
Current Marriott Rewards members may switch to the new Ritz-Carlton program at any time. But it's either-or. You cannot maintain accounts in both programs.
Which raises the question: Which program should you engage with?
For Ritz-Carlton loyalists, it probably makes sense to convert their Marriott Rewards accounts to Ritz-Carlton Rewards accounts. Points balances will be unaffected, and you'll be eligible for bonuses for Ritz-Carlton stays and other program-specific promotions.
As an example, new Ritz-Carlton Rewards members are being offered a free night at a Ritz-Carlton after two Ritz-Carlton stays completed by December 31.
If the majority of your stays are at Marriott's other brands, stick with Marriott Rewards to take advantage of rich promotions specific to that program, such as the recurring MegaBonus offers.
Putting on the Points
The luxury end of the hotel market has traditionally been a pretty staid place, marketing-wise. The prevailing attitude was that customers' loyalty was won or lost with top-drawer service and amenities, not with points and freebies.
The new Ritz-Carlton program challenges that assumption, and will almost certainly spur more loyalty-related initiatives from the likes of Mandarin Oriental, Peninsula, and Four Seasons.
Recognition is good, as are rewards. But both are better.
This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.