Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

In Ras Al Khaimah, did I find the most generous Marriott Bonvoy elite member welcome gift?

Links on Head for Points may pay us an affiliate commission. A list of partners is here.

Just before Christmas – we checked out on Christmas Eve – we were at The Ritz Carlton Al Wadi Desert resort in Ras Al Khaimah, which is a 75 minute drive from Dubai.

I will do a full review in the next couple of days, because I was impressed by how much the resort has improved since I was there in 2017. Here is my 2017 review of The Ritz Carlton Al Wadi Desert.

Today, I wanted to look at one aspect – the Platinum Elite welcome gift I received.

Elite welcome amenities are generally a bit rubbish

The ‘welcome amenity’ does not have a great reputation. I blame IHG Rewards Club, who think their 75-night Spire Elite members will be delighted with 500 points (worth £2) or a free drink and a Kit-Kat.

(Top tip – take the drink and the Kit-Kat. Not only are they worth more than the points, but it is very common for the points to post anyway.)

The bigger problem is that, because of their different brands, the hotel groups struggle with ‘one size fits all’ benefits. Marriott Bonvoy is particularly confusing, with some brands offering free breakfast to elite members as a right, whilst others require you to choose it as your ‘welcome amenity’.

Hilton – if you are Gold – is even more confusing, because at most brands you are expected to select your choice of amenity in the app before arrival. Diamond members get everything so no choice is required. The Hilton ‘gotcha’ is Hilton Garden Inn, which is the only brand where a Gold does NOT automatically get free breakfast and needs to choose it as their amenity.

The Ritz Carlton Al Wadi Desert has raised the bar

Al Wadi does not upgrade elite members of Marriott Bonvoy. They only have two levels of accommodation – basically a house (top picture) or a tent (second picture) – with the tents being pricier. This is stated very clearly on the website before you book.

Possibly because of this, it goes out of its way to please elite members. At check-in you are given a card which offers you a choice from the following welcome gifts:

  • 1,000 Marriott Bonvoy points (worth £5 – this is the usual The Ritz Carlton default option but you’d be mad to select this)
  • two cocktails in any of the resort bars (worth around £30)
  • complimentary ‘Rainforest Experience’ for two (worth £60)
  • complimentary ‘Birds of Prey’ training session for two (yes, the resort has in-house birds of prey and a trainer)
  • 20% discount on The Ritz Carlton merchandise in the boutique
  • 30% saving on any 90 minute or longer spa treatment booking in the morning (worth quite a bit depending on what you take)

However you look at it, there is some good stuff here. I made a tactical error in not pushing for a second voucher, given that we had booked two rooms from my account …..

The Rainforest at The Ritz Carlton Al Wadi Desert

This is what we chose. I’ve no idea if this existed when I visited in 2017, but as I was with my two young children and without my wife it isn’t something I would have done anyway.

It is, frankly, bonkers.

You can find out more on this part of the resort website here. This is how it is described:

“The Rainforest combines European hydrothermal culture with Middle Eastern bathing rituals, creating a rejuvenating sanctuary in the Arabian desert. The experience includes 16 different stations, each traveling one step farther in the journey to relaxation. Guests are encouraged to follow the mapped sequence and to allow time for the body to cool, whether naturally or with the Ice Igloo or showers, after completing a warm station. The entire experience should be completed with relaxation on a lounger.”

You get cold showers and hot showers. You get aromatic showers. You get ice rooms. You get streams. Here is the full list:

Affusion Showers
Summer Storm, Arctic Mist and Tropical Rainbow showers are designed to increase or decrease body temperature and are perfect stops between the other hydrothermal stations.

Aroma Steam
Each of the two steam chambers features a distinct scent and uses high temperature to induce heavy perspiration. The process detoxifies the body and boosts the immune system and circulation.

Brine Cavern
The combination of steam and salt is the ideal remedy for a blocked nasal passage. Gradually increasing body temperature strengthens the circulatory system and initiates the purifying process.

Bucket Drench Shower
This invigorating experience drenches the body in cold water to close pores and improve skin tone and clarity.

Grotto Steam
High humidity steam gently warms the body to stimulate blood circulation in an aroma-infused cabin.

Inspired by the Middle Eastern tradition for body cleansing and purification, the Hammam features four individual cabins, a shower and a bubbling jet pool.

Herbal Sauna
The aromatic essence of dried herbs and flowers in a warm, comforting chamber is paired with soothing lights in this multi-sensory experience. 

Ice Igloo
This refreshing experience helps boost blood circulation through the rubbing of fresh ice on the body or a cold rain shower. Ideal for addressing cellulite-prone areas.

Rain Walk
The invigorating, warm water of the Rain Walk is the perfect cleansing experience before continuing to your next station.

Heavy perspiration, induced by dry, high temperatures, detoxifies the body and boosts the immune system and circulation.

Sole Therapy
Two tingling foot spas – a pebbled pond alternating cold and hot water and a cross-current encouraging gentle exercise – help soothe aches in feet and calves.

Tropical Rain Shower
This state-of-art hydrotherapy facility combines scent, lighting and varying water temperatures for a heightened shower experience.

Once you have experienced all of the above, you are free to spend as long as you want in the huge vitality pool – see the two images above, not the one below – which offers:

  • Hydro massage lounger
  • Upper-body hydro massage jets
  • Lower-body hydro massage jets
  • Relaxing foot spa
  • Waterfalls for neck and shoulders
  • Body massager

How was it?

The water treatment areas at Chewton Glen in Hampshire are the nearest I have ever come to this in the UK, but Al Wadi ramps it up x10.

All the time, of course, you are also thinking “I’m here in the middle of the desert, it is 30 degrees outside, and I’m rubbing ice all over myself ……”

It was great. The best thing about it is that I cannot imagine, for a second, that we would have paid £60 between us to do this if it hadn’t been our welcome amenity.

In some ways this is definition of a great gift – something which you enjoy but which you are unlikely to have tried out otherwise.

If you go to Al Wadi – and my review may convince you when it appears – I recommend giving the Rainforest Experience a go, even if you’re not an elite Bonvoy member and need to pay.

The resort website is here.

How to earn Marriott Bonvoy points and status from UK credit cards

How to earn Marriott Bonvoy points and status from UK credit cards (May 2023)

There are various ways of earning Marriott Bonvoy points from UK credit cards.  Many cards also have generous sign-up bonuses.

The official Marriott Bonvoy American Express card comes with 20,000 points for signing up, 2 points for every £1 you spend and 15 elite night credits per year.

You can apply here.

SPECIAL OFFER: Until 30th May, the sign-up bonus on the Marriott Bonvoy American Express card is doubled to 40,000 Bonvoy points – and you get a free night voucher too! Apply here.

Marriott Bonvoy American Express

40,000 bonus points and a free night voucher – only until 30th May! Read our full review

You can also earn Marriott Bonvoy points by converting American Express Membership Rewards points at the rate of 2:3.

Do you know that holders of The Platinum Card from American Express receive FREE Marriott Bonvoy Gold status for as long as they hold the card?  It also comes with Hilton Honors Gold, Radisson Rewards Premium and MeliaRewards Gold status.  We reviewed American Express Platinum in detail here and you can apply here.

SPECIAL OFFER: Until 13th June, the sign-up bonus on The Platinum Card is doubled to 60,000 Membership Rewards points (worth 90,000 Marriott Bonvoy points) – and you get £200 to spend at Amex Travel too! Apply here.

The Platinum Card from American Express

60,000 points AND a £200 Amex Travel voucher until 13th June! Read our full review

You can also earn Marriott Bonvoy points indirectly:

and for small business owners:

The conversion rate from American Express to Marriott Bonvoy points is 2:3.

Click here to read our detailed summary of all UK credit cards which can be used to earn Marriott Bonvoy points

(Want to earn more hotel points?  Click here to see our complete list of promotions from the major hotel chains or use the ‘Hotel Offers’ link in the menu bar at the top of the page.)

Comments (49)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Save East Coast Rewards says:

    “Hilton – if you are Gold – is even more confusing, because at most brands you are expected to select your choice of amenity in the app before arrival. Diamond members get everything so no choice is required. The Hilton ‘gotcha’ is Hilton Garden Inn, which is the only brand where a Gold does NOT automatically get free breakfast and needs to choose it as their amenity.”

    Diamond also have to choose breakfast as their welcome amenity at HGI. When I checked in with another diamond they recommended one of us take the points as we’d get free breakfast for two on one of the rooms.

    HGI is a weird brand. The things you can be certain of is they all have a shop and a self service laundry (which I like as it can save a lot of money when staying in hotels) but some have some nice features (e.g. HGI T2 has a nice restaurant and a rooftop bar, closed since March, HGI Lecce in Italy has a nice rooftop pool and spa, HGI near VCE has an outdoor pool and some rooms with an outdoor terrace) whereas most of them sit below the main Hilton brand.

    • Save East Coast Rewards says:

      Going back to the hotel benefit that you reviewed, £60 for two people definitely seems more than worth it particularly when two cocktails will set you back at least £30. The birds of prey experience sounds quite novel too. It’d be nice to go somewhere like that right now.

  • Olu says:

    I’m not going to lie I was quite happy to see even you can sometimes make a tactical error.

    I’ve been in a few hotels and. Some flights (i.e not trying my luck asking for delta pj’s on a night flight) and thought ‘what would Rob do’ lol we’re all human thankfully

    Old me would have gone for 500 points thinking 500 of anything sounds bigger than a kit kat lol

    • Jordan D says:

      I think the Spa access is now 50 EUR pp, but not totally sure if my memory holds from a visit there last year. They throw it in complimentary if you have any treatment booking.

      Those staying in the Villas get a Spa access for two gifted, separate to the Elite Member gift.

      Ambassadors get the whole lot from your list without choosing, plus a few other things.

  • Allan says:

    Ritz Abama also had a card to make choices from as a platinum.
    10% off all food and drink, 2 cocktails, 2 spa access (not quite as extensive as Al Wadi but still €25pp), 20% off laundry and another choice I can’t remember. You got to pick 3.

    • Harry T says:

      Based on my experiences this summer, they also upgrade Platinum members to suites!

      The other choice was a 90 minute massage/spa treatment for the price of 60 mins, which they generously extended to both my girlfriend and I, rather than just the elite member (me).

      I genuinely think the RC Abama has some of the best Elite treatment of any hotel I’ve been to, especially as the programme terms and conditions exclude Platinum members from being upgraded to suites at RCs.

      • Harry T says:

        I should say that I reckon you probably get four of the choices included as a Titanium member – I will report back if I make it there this year.

      • Allan says:

        Yes, that was the other option indeed. Suite upgrade from base room also.

  • John says:

    Cocktails are worth £0 as I don’t drink and tea / coffee are free in the room.

    So the actual question is whether the rainforest experience is worth 1000 points. I think yes the first time.

    As for IHG I wouldn’t pay 500 points for a KitKat and a drink (again, free in the room), but as Rob says you often get both.

    Diamonds need to choose breakfast or points at HGI but many hotels give both and you can usually get both (at the risk of pulling a bendy revolution et al)

  • Andrew says:

    £60 for two seems quite reasonable for a spa experience like that – I would happily pay if I didn’t get the voucher.

  • Mr(s) Entitled says:

    Sounds very much like the Spa experience at Centre Parcs.

  • Dr Lee says:

    I think I’d have gone for the birds of prey tasting session, I enjoy trying new foods.

    • BuildBackBetter says:

      Lol, that’s a training, not tasting session.

      • Dr Lee says:

        I know, just trying to make silly jokes as often as I can. This website can be very bitter these days!

        • Sprout says:

          I was thinking exactly the same. The comments sections of this website were it’s biggest selling point where people would actively help each other and share information. Unfortunately, over the last months the informative posts are completely swamped by a minority who seem intent on sharing their vitriolic views on pretty much anything.
          Hopefully Rob will steer the chat threads back towards points and travel or maybe set up another daily chat thread to deal with points / travel specifically.
          And to answer the inevitable response that “I don’t have to read them” I do find myself visiting the site a lot less frequently than I used to.

          • Mr(s) Entitled says:


            HfP is not where I come to get my information on infectious disease, a lecture on communism, or the impact of Brexit. The daily chat thread now captures most of this so it is easy for me to swerve but then I am sure there are nuggets of useful information in that thread that do not fit neatly into a headline article that I now no longer glean. It will be an interesting transition back, or forward, when the time comes for the next review.

          • Lee says:

            It’s funny, after I posted my comment I became fearful one of the regular HfP trolls would take me to task for suggesting I would eat endangered birds. What has happened to people?

  • MartinJ says:

    Looking forward to your review as booked in for October…..went for dinner last year and it was a fantastic experience, great staff.
    Did you stay at the Walforf Ras again during your stay?

    • Rob says:

      No, we went back into the Dubai Waldorf. Not as good but nearer my sister-in-law!

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

The UK's biggest frequent flyer website uses cookies, which you can block via your browser settings. Continuing implies your consent to this policy. Our privacy policy is here.