How to Pick a Hotel Loyalty Program: Club Carlson

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I recently started a series on hotel reward programs where I look at some of the strengths, weaknesses, earning, and redemption options for some of the popular hotel loyalty programs.  Hotel points play a major role in how my family can afford to travel around the world and stay in some quite comfortable spots along the way, so I am happy to try and help your family do the same.  The first program I looked at was Hyatt Gold Passport, and in this post I’ll take a look at another program that we have used significantly for award stays in the last year or so, Club Carlson.

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Saving in Paris at the Radisson Blu Champs Elysees

Club Carlson encompasses chains such as Quorvus Collection, Radisson Blu, Radisson, Park Plaza, Park Inn by Radisson, and Country Inns & Suites By Carlson.

Club Carlson Good for Short and Mid-Range Stays in Europe and Beyond:

Where as Hyatt has some “aspirational” type properties such as the Park Hyatts in Paris, Sydney, and The Maldives as well as awesome family resorts, Club Carlson has a different set of strengths.  I think Club Carlson’s strengths come in the form of decent mid-range properties that sting a lot less when paid for with points instead of cash.  They seem to have better properties in general overseas in Scandinavia and select cities across Europe, though there are some properties in the Caribbean and the US that can be good for families as well.

Nice room in Norway

Nice room in Norway

If you were in the “points game” back in 2011 and 2012 then you likely took advantage of some extremely lucrative promotions to earn Club Carlson points, and might still be sitting on a hefty pile in your accounts.  The trick to getting the most for these points, and the other real strength of the program, comes thanks to the last award night free benefit with their co-branded credit card the Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature® Card.

No matter how long your points stay is, you get the last award night free if you have this card.  For us, that means lots of two night stays that essentially become buy one night on points and get one free!  This does not work with paid stays or points + cash stays.

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Pay for one night in Dublin on points, get the second free!

Double the Value of Your Points for Two Night Stays:

Most of my Club Carlson stays are two nights long.  Why?  Because having two night stays essentially doubles the value of my points since the last award night is free on stays of two nights or longer.  That means I spend the usual number of points for night #1 and 0 points for night #2.  It’s an insane deal, and one that you should absolutely take advantage of by having a co-branded Club Carlson card if you utilize this program for your family’s trips.  I wouldn’t be near as excited about Club Carlson as I am without that benefit.  Many families either switch to another hotel after two nights or put nights 1 and 2 in one parents name and nights 3 and 4 in the other parents name.  Both parents have to have their own co-branded Club Carlson cards to make that work.

Gold Status Doesn’t Mean Much, But It’s Easy to Get:

Club Carlson Gold status honestly doesn’t mean much even though it normally requires 35 nights or 20 stays in a calendar year to earn it.  However, with the co-branded credit card it is yours without doing any nights/stays, so that’s pretty cool.  In theory Gold status gets you room upgrades if available, free internet, 15% discount on food and beverages in the hotels within Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific, 35% points bonus, and a welcome amenity in the room.  In practice most of that is pretty standard and delivered as promised, but I have found that room upgrades are pretty rare in my travels…or if the room was upgraded it was an imperceptible upgrade.  You can read more about my experience as a Club Carlson Gold member here.

On the other hand, the welcome amenity has been consistent and is almost always waiting for us in the room when we check-in.  It isn’t much, but a bottle of water and a small snack can sometimes be very appreciated after a day of travel.

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Gold member gift at Trysil Resort in Norway

Earning Club Carlson Points:

A couple years ago Club Carlson was handing points out like candy with promotions that awarded 50,000 bonus points with just one paid stay.  Those promos have dried up for now, but it still isn’t too tough to earn Club Carlson points.  They award 20 points per dollar spent at their hotels on stays, plus give elites a bonus such as the 35% bonus for having Gold status, plus you get 10 points per dollar if pay with the Club Carlson card.  That means you are earning about 7,400 points on a $200 Club Carlson stay if you have the co-branded card – and that’s assuming there are no additional promotions going on.  You earn 5 points per dollar on other charges paid for with the credit card.

If you join their business program you can earn up to an additional 10 points per dollar on your stays.  For a quick infusion of points the Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature® Card awards up to 85,000 points after you spend $2,500 in the first 90 days, and then 40,000 renewal points at each anniversary.  For me that is worth the $75 annual fee.  There is also a business version of the card.  You can also purchase Club Carlson points at a rate of 1,000 points = $7, up to 40,000 points per year.  That can be a good way to top up to an award if needed, though an easier way is simply to transfer points from a friend or family member’s account.  Elite members (which you are if you have the credit card) can transfer from their account to another Club Carlson member’s account for free.  This is done over the phone and has always been instant in my experiences.

Finally, Club Carlson also has some partners such as car rental partners, wine clubs, etc. what allow you to earn Club Carlson points.  They will also be participating in the Daily Getaway sale on June 17th at a rate of less than 1/2 a cent per point.  Quantities are very limited though, so consider that a lottery more than a reliable way to buy Club Carlson points.

Save Money on Club Carlson Stays:

You can book Club Carlson stays by first going through online cash back sites like eBates, TopCashBack, and more for a % of cash back on the price of your paid reservation.  Currently I see 5% back via TopCashBack, 3.5% via Ebates, 5% via Mr. Rebate, and 2 miles per dollar via US Airways Dividend Miles Storefront.

Club Carlson also offers a Best Rate Guarantee, so if you find a lower price for the exact same reservation within 24 hours of booking and more than 48 hours before the stay on a third party site than is offered on the Club Carlson website, you can save 25% off of that lower rate.  I have successfully done this several times with Club Carlson via their online claim process.

Using Club Carlson Points:

Club Carlson recently changed their award chart to add a 7th tier of hotels for 70,000 points per night, up from a max of 50,000 points per night.  So far the number of hotels in that tier is pretty small, but hopefully that change means that another devaluation will be at least a couple of years off.  Of course that isn’t a guarantee, but that is my hope.  Club Carlson also offers a cash + points option that is sometimes a decent option to save some cash without spending points for the full amount or the reservation.  I look to this option when I occasionally have a one night stay, and can’t maximize the last award night free benefit.

Points + Cash in Oslo since it was a one night stay

Points + Cash in Oslo since it was a one night stay

Club Carlson seems to have more “family rooms” in destinations such as Europe than some other hotel chains that I frequent on points.  This isn’t standard at all of their properties, but it is something to look out for if you need some extra space and want to keep your entire crew in one room.  In some cases you can even book the family rooms on points as part of their premium room options which I describe here.  In fact, some family rooms cost even less than the premium prices listed below.

If you are staying purely on points, the award chart is as follows ranging from 9,000 points per night for a Category 1 standard room in a hotel such as the Country Inn & Suites Atlanta Airport South to 105,000 points per nigh for a one-bedroom suite at the Plaza on the River, London.

Club Carlson Award Chart

Club Carlson technically has No Blackout Dates on standard rooms, but some individual properties seem to play games with that requirement.  I have had success contacting the individual properties to get them to open up points availability when standard rooms were for sale with cash, and you can read more about that process here.  Note that it does not always work, but it is always worth a shot.

You can check out a few of the Club Carlson stays we have had via the reviews below.  As you can quickly gather by the locations, we much prefer to use Club Carlson points outside the US in most cases, though their are some nice properties within the US as well.

May Fair London

Radisson Blu Champs Elysees Paris

Radisson Blu Royal Hotel Dublin

Radisson Blu Airport Hotel – Gardermoen Airport

Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel – Oslo

Radisson Blu Trysil Ski Resort

We have upcoming stays booked at the Radisson Aruba Resort, Casino & Spa as well as potentially another property in London that has larger rooms available on points such as the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge London or the Plaza on the River.

Overall Impressions:

Overall Club Carlson is not my favorite hotel program, but their credit card does offer my favorite rewards card perk with the last award night free.  Club Carlson is not my favorite program purely because I am a little spoiled, and prefer some of the nicer resorts and hotels via Hyatt and Starwood, but I think Club Carlson still has a very good use as a back-up program, and a way to get a few “free” nights on a trip easily paid for with points.  They also have a better presence in some of the smaller towns across the United States than say Hyatt, and their are some nice Club Carlson properties scattered around the world.  I’m very much looking forward to trying out their Aruba property, hearing what my parents have to say about the Radisson Martinique on Broadway, and would return to some of their ski properties such as the Trysil Resort in Norway without hesitation.

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Slope-side Radisson Blu in Norway!

 

I’d love to hear your impressions of the Club Carlson programs including tips, experiences, favorite redemptions, and more!

 

Disclosure: I do receive a commission if you utilize my affiliate links.  As always, thanks for your support. 

 

 

Comments

  1. We just finished our stay at the Radisson Blu Madrid Prado. Nice property and a great location if you ever head to Madrid.

  2. Two comments :

    a) While all Club Carlson cards offer the last night free perk, some only offer Silver status rather than the Gold that the Signature version does.

    b) A very lucrative way to earn Club Carlson points is via the regular AVIS promotions giving 9000 points for a 3 day rental.

  3. I haven’t become Hyattized, so even the US Country Inns have been fine with me (usually upgraded to suite). I have found the loss of the 3,000 point Concierge internet booking bonus has cut my stays down considerably. I am burning some points with two two-night stays (2nd night no point deduction) when I do some vacation starting the 4th of July. That will take me down to a little over a million points stashed.

  4. I love Club Carlson. Their Aruba property was spectacular, although all those caged parrots really creeped me out. The Les Arcs property is my favorite though, ski-in/ski-out at a great resort in the French Alps. We spent a week there last year and are going back again this year. It’s easy to forget how large Padadiski is with over 135 lifts!

  5. Great write up MP. I’m a big fan of Club Carlson properties in Europe. I was unaware that you could transfer points between accounts. Can you transfer CC points from a personal account to a business account over the phone?

    Club Carlson points are so easy to manufacture that you can stay at high end properties (not the top tier 70,000 points a night) for under $50 a night. I wrote about the math here: http://travelwithgrant.com/how-to-guides-hotels/40-radisson-blu-stays/

    I’m looking forward to your future hotel loyalty program reviews. Please do Hilton, they are under appreciated now after their devaluation last year. Hilton Cash and Points are an excellent deal.

  6. Our Gold welcome gift in Vienna was a small bottle of champagne. In Salzburg we were given vouchers for a free drink each in the bar. Finally, at the Amsterdam Art’otel we got free drinks in the bar, popcorn and water delivered to the room right after check in.

  7. We have a stay planned for August at the radisson Martinique and would love to read your parents review. Thanks!

  8. The US Country Inns & Suites seem to be a pretty good value for the money. They are mid to lower mid scale compared to a Radisson or whatever. Still, it’s not a fleabag type hotel and that 85K can take one far. Some states have quite a few of them.

  9. Why is it necessary to have two partners to do two two-night reservations? Does Club Carlson prevent you from making consecutive two-night reservations in your own name at the same property? I assume that’s the case, but I’ve never actually seen anyone specifically say so.

    • Knee, you can make two back to back reservations at the same property, but the last night free won’t work on the second.

  10. BTL, good to know!
    Sean, very true and thanks for sharing!
    Carl, being Hyattized is a double edged sword for sure, but I also enjoy some Country Inn properties from time to time!
    Billy, both of those are on my “short list” for sure.
    Grant, not sure about business accounts. I will do Hilton for sure.
    Deborah, good to know!
    Sandy, sadly your stay sounds like it comes before theirs, but look forward to hearing about your stay!
    Nick, I totally agree and they can pop up where other chains aren’t.

  11. Our best redemption so far was 4 nights at the Park Plaza on the River in London. 2-room suite that normally goes for around $400/night – wife and I each did a 2-night award stay with 2nd night free. 100,000 Club Carlson points (earned during their easy promos) saved us $1,600! The hotel was in a good location with easy walk to the tube or Big Ben. Loved it.

  12. I took advantage of the Club Carlson promos in 2011 and 2012 and wound up with over 230,000 club Carlson points.
    Then I signed up for their VISA card.
    Major advantage, the free second night using CC points. I go to NYC frequently and stay at the Queens Country Inn and Suites. For an ex-NYC cab driver like myself who rides the subways, its a great deal. (38,000 points for two nights).
    Disadvantages, very little presence in the Western US. Inconsistent properties especially with Radisson and most Country Inn and Suites are not up to par with Hampton Inn, Courtyard by Marriott or a Holiday Inn Express. (Resembles LaQuinta, a Days Inn or Baymont).

  13. Recently returned from trip to Brussels and Amsterdam. Husband and I both got the CC Visa w. 85k bonus and we spent to earn up 100K each. Alternating our reservations, we stayed on points:
    2 nights (2nd free = 0 points) at Radisson Blu Royal Brussels – upgraded room (nothing special) in a nice, adequate, very well-located hotel.
    6 nights (3 free = 0 points) at Radisson Blu Amsterdam. Here we got a canal view room and welcome amenities. Really liked this hotel. And we saved a bundle on those 8 free nights!!!

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