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- United Airlines (and Star Alliance)
- British Airways Avios (and Oneworld Alliance)
- Hyatt Gold Passport
- Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
- Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG)
- Club Carlson Rewards
The Club Carlson Rewards program is unique and potentially very valuable. You can accrue a ton of points very quickly and cheaply and redeem them for free nights relatively easily. At the same time, their elite program is weak when compared to other hotel programs. Still, Club Carlson is a program that all points addicts should pay attention to.
Club Carlson Rewards Basics
Club Carlson Rewards is just the name of the loyalty program; the actual hotel group name is The Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group. They boast a hotel portfolio that’s larger than Starwood’s with 1,300 hotels worldwide, so it’s a significant footprint. They have a huge presence in Europe, where many of their top-end properties are located. Like other hotel chains, they have several brands that vary in cost from budget-friendly to the more expensive, but they don’t have any high-end properties like the other major hotel chains.
Here’s a list of their hotel brands from the lowest-end (budget) to highest-end (expensive) hotels: Country Inn & Suites, Park Inn by Radisson, Park Plaza, Radisson, Radisson Blu, and Quorvus Collection. Many people will not be familiar with the new Quorvus Collection as it has only 3 hotels in its portfolio, but it is a new concept targeted toward millenials seeking luxury, similar to W Hotels from SPG.
Club Carlson Rewards Program
There are 4 tiers of elite status for the Club Carlson Rewards program with various benefits. Like all other loyalty programs it is free to sign up for, which you can do here. The details of each tier are below, with the higher tier receiving all the benefits of the lower tiers.
- Earn 20 Gold Points per dollar spent.
- Get a 5% food and beverage discount at participating hotels.
- Complimentary internet service.
- Earn 23 Gold Points per dollar spent.
- Get a 10% food and beverage discount at participating hotels.
- Complimentary room upgrades when available.
- Early check-in and late check-out.
- Unused qualifying nights will roll-over to the next year.
- Earn 27 Gold Points per dollar spent.
- Get a 15% food and beverage discount at participating hotels.
- In-room welcome gift.
- 72 hour room availability guarantee.
- Earn 35 Gold Points per dollar spent.
- 48 hour room availability guarantee.
- Continental breakfast at participating in-hotel restaurants.
Club Carlson doesn’t have a status challenge like many other programs; instead they do a straight status match based on the level of your status in a competing program. Unfortunately they typically only match up to the Gold level, but there is anecdotal evidence of getting matched at the Concierge level as well. Club Carlson will match Accor, Hilton, Hyatt, IHG, Marriott and SPG.
Getting the status match is easy – simply take a screen shot of your online account that shows your status with a competing hotel chain, then attach it to an email you send to firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to include your Club Carlson account information in the email when you ask for the status match.
Historically, people have been able to match status two or more years in a row. This is something that most other hotel chains do not allow.
Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature Card from US Bank
If you plan to make use of the Club Carlson Rewards program, this co-branded credit card is an absolute necessity to ensure you get extreme value. It provides big benefits on both the earning and redeeming side, plus it comes with a large bonus. Here are the main features:
- Receive 85,000 bonus points after spending $2,500 within 90 days of approval.
- Earn 10 points per dollar on Club Carlson purchases.
- Earn 5 points per dollar on all other purchases.
- When you redeem Gold Points for 2 or more consecutive Award Nights, your last night is free. More on this later.
- Gold Elite status as long as you have the card.
- 40,000 bonus points when you renew your card and pay the annual fee.
These benefits come at a cost of the $75 annual fee. In my opinion, this is a card worth signing up for and keeping because of the multitude of benefits. It very well might be the best co-branded hotel credit card there is. The only downside is that they charge foreign transaction fees, so leave this card at home when you travel abroad.
Redeeming Club Carlson Rewards Gold Points
Club Carlson puts hotels into 7 categories with increasing redemption rates, going from 9,000 per night on the low end to 70,000 on the high end. First I’ll post the full Club Carlson Rewards chart and then go into more detail.
The Club Carlson Rewards chart is simple as you can see. The most noticeable item here is the huge jump in redemption cost from Category 6 to 7 hotels when the previous category increases were relatively smaller. Still, you can get exceptional value as you’ll see soon.
The other thing to point out is that you can redeem extra points for a premium room. As I’ve explained in a previous posts, the term “Premium Rooms” can mean a lot of different things and can vary by property. Every hotel can classify their rooms differently as there’s no real standard or dictionary definition. For example, some hotels have very few “standard” rooms available because they call a room with a better view a “premium” or “upgraded” room, even when the room itself is exactly the same.
Still, it’s nice that Club Carlson provides this option for a 50% premium on the normal nightly redemption cost. If you have a ton of points then it may be worth it for a special occasion.
Getting Your Second Night Free
The true value of this program comes from the “last night free” benefit of the credit card. It’s essentially this: when you book two consecutive nights at the same hotel using points, you will get back the points for that second night. For example, if the hotel you’re looking at costs 50,000 points per night, you should book two nights for 100,000 points. 50,000 points will automatically be placed back in your account, making your effective cost only 25,000 per night.
That means if you always redeem your points for two consecutive nights, you’ll never pay more than 35,000 points per night for any Club Carlson hotel. That’s an exceptional value when you consider the credit card bonus and the generous earning rates.
All this to say, always redeem for two consecutive nights when possible. The cool thing is that you do not need to have the Club Carlson points in your account for the second night. It will reduce the cost to that of one night before you confirm the reservation!
Points + Cash
Like many other programs, Club Carlson offers a Points + Cash option for those that don’t have enough points. Unfortunately the rewards chart is a little vague.
That asterisk down there is huge, because we can’t really judge whether it’s a good deal or not by looking at this award chart. Basically what happens is that Club Carlson decides the price of the cash portion based on the actual rate of the hotel that night. At first glance it looks like the points portion is extremely generous, particularly for the higher end hotels. Let’s look at some examples to see how this works.
I selected two random dates for the Radisson Blu Hotel Champs Elysees, Paris to see what the cash and points option is. When you calculate it, the cash portion you get charged on the Points + Cash award calculates to 60% of the lowest nightly rate for the same night. In general that’s not a great deal (it’s still very expensive), but it may be worth it to some. Let’s see another example.
The May Fair Hotel in London is also a Category 7 hotel that charges 20,000 points for the points portion of Points + Cash awards. This hotel, however, charges a whopping 80% of the lowest nightly rate to fill in the cash side of the award night. I’d say that’s not worth it in almost every case.
We can see that each hotel has a particular percentage applied to the cash portion of Points + Cash awards, and the only way to find out what it is is to search on the Club Carlson website. In general, most Points + Cash redemptions I’ve seen are not worth it, particularly when you consider how much value you get out of the completely free award nights.
Redeem Points for Retail Gift Cards
If you have more points than you know what to do with, maybe you’ll want to redeem them for some merchant gift cards as well. The selection isn’t huge and the value isn’t tremendous, but I’ve seen worse redemption rates as well. As of the writing of this post, merchants include Apple, Best Buy, Target, Starbucks, Staples, Avis, Amazon and more. The redemption value gets better the higher the gift card is priced, so redeem for the highest value if you go for this option.
Redeem Points for Prepaid Visa Gift Cards (with PINs!)
This should get the attention of the manufactured spend crowd. You can actually redeem points for PIN-enabled Visa gift cards at decent rates, making it possible to make money. It would take a lot of work to make money at this rate though, so it’s not something I recommend doing. You’ll do MUCH better with a regular 2% cash back credit card.
Redeem Points for Airline Miles
You can also redeem points for airline miles, but the transfer ratio isn’t anywhere close to what SPG offers. In fact, the ratio is so bad at 10 Club Carlson points to 1 mile that it wouldn’t make much sense to make a transfer at all.
- 2,000 points transfers to 200 miles.
- 50,000 points transfers to 5,000 miles.
- 100,000 points transfers to 10,000 miles.
I don’t recommend you ever take this option, even if you have a ton of points. Redeem them for the Visa gift cards if you must!
Redeem Points for In-Room Express Awards
This is a somewhat unique option that Club Carlson offers. You can redeem your points for various in-room benefits.
- Beverage (soda, coffee or tea) for 1,000 points.
- $4 Laundry Credit for 3,000 points.
- Choice of appetizer or dessert for 8,000 points.
- Pay TV Movie for 10,000 points.
- Room upgrade for 10,000 points.
- Bottle of wine (up to $30 value) for 15,000 points.
- Dinner for two (alcohol not included) for 35,000 points.
There are a few terms and conditions for these and the one that sticks out to me reads “Express Awards and their point values vary by hotel and are valid only at participating properties.” So basically they have an award chart that may or may not be accurate. Wonderful!
But if we assume it is accurate, one of them jumps out immediately as being good value: the room upgrade for 10,000 points. We saw on the award chart above that premium rooms cost a 50% premium on the free night award cost. For hotels Categories 3 and above, the cost of 10,000 would present a savings for a room upgrade. It’s unlikely you’ll get a really great room using this method, but it’s worth trying if you’re unhappy with your room when you get there.
Redeem Points for Donations
To round out their points redemption offerings, Club Carlson allows you to redeem points for donations towards a couple of different causes.
The Red Cross is also listed, but when you click on it the link says the offer is expired. Regardless, it’s nice that Club Carlson offers the ability to redeem this way, even if they don’t really give details of what the points are used for.
Transfer Points to Other Club Carlson Rewards Accounts for Free
A nifty feature this rewards program has is that points can be transferred between accounts, almost without restriction.
- Household members (people with the same address) can transfer points between accounts regardless of elite status, as long as both accounts have been members for one year and addresses not updated for the last 30 days.
- Elites (including anyone with the credit card) can transfer points freely from one account to any other member’s account.
To take advantage of this perk, call Club Carlson Member Services at 888-288-8889. These points transfer nearly instantly, which is the cherry on top to this great benefit. This makes it even easier to take advantage of the second night free benefit for credit card holders.
Best Rate Guarantee
Like the other hotel chains, Club Carlson offers a Best Rate Guarantee. If you find the identical room with identical rate rules (cancellation policy, etc) within 24 hours of booking your room and it is verified by Club Carlson, you will receive 25% off the lower rate.
I like the 25% off, but the part where you have to book with Club Carlson before filing a claim isn’t so great. Also, while Club Carlson says they’ll respond to BRG inquiries within 24 hours, they often times can take over 2 days to get back to you, and by then it’s possible the competing rate could have increased. Still, it’s worth a try if you find a flexible (refundable) rate.
2 for 1 and 4 for 2 Paid Night Offers
Mary M from the comments section below alerted me to another benefit: 2 for 1 and 4 for 2 paid night offers that are available only to Gold Elite members or above. These rates are only to be used for the weekend. So, for example, if you book a Thursday night you can get Friday for free. Or if you book Friday, you can get Saturday free. It works similarly for the 4 for 2 offer. Luckily you can book these rates online.
I did some quick research and found availability for these promotions to be slim for the top hotels (I specifically checked Paris and London). But for the other hotels where I did find availability, it definitely looks like a money-saving offer. It does look like they have a different set of nightly rates, but for the few hotels I tried it still came out to a significant cost savings.
If you’re booking a 2 or 4 night paid stay close to the weekend, you should definitely check out this offer before booking the regular rate. Note that these are only available in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
You now know the basics (and then some) of the Club Carlson Rewards program and how you can use the program to your advantage. If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments section or by emailing me.