Better Hotel Credit Card For Everyday Spend?

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Reader Stannis asked the following question on a recent post about redeeming Starpoints:

On the earning side, would you agree that all unbonused spend should rather be directed to the Club Carlson card? I’ve recently acquired this card and have shifted my spending away from the SPG Amex to it instead because of the 5x earning and the last-night-free redemption.

I’d argue two of the most lucrative credit cards for everyday, non-bonused spend are the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature® Card.

As a reminder, the Starwood American Express offers one Starpoint per dollar spent on everyday spend, while the Club Carlson Rewards Visa Card offers five Gold Points per dollar spent.

As anyone involved in this hobby knows, not all points currencies are created equal. In terms of valuations, I value these points currencies roughly as follows:

  • Starwood Preferred Guest Points: ~2.2 cents per point (return of ~2.2% per dollar spent)
  • Club Carlson Gold Points: ~0.4 cents per point (return of ~2.0% per dollar spent)

On the surface that means the Starwood Preferred Guest Card is better, though lets look at this a bit more closely:

Benefits to spending on the Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Card

The benefits of the Club Carlson Card go far beyond the return on everyday spend. The biggest perk of the card is that the second night of every award redemption is free whenever you redeem points.

My valuation of 0.4 cents per point doesn’t account for that benefit. So if you only stay in two night increments, that can potentially increase the value of Club Carlson points to ~0.8 cents each. At five points per dollar, that’s potentially a return of ~4% on everyday spend.

Of course this is a very specific use of points. Club Carlson points are most useful for stays in Europe, and the quality of hotels can vary substantially, as I recently experienced.

Radisson-Blu-Oslo-Airport-1
Radisson Blu Oslo Airport

Some people can’t get enough of Club Carlson points, while others can’t seem to find a use for them.

Benefits to spending on the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express

The single greatest benefit of Starpoints is how versatile they are. They can efficiently be used for hotel stays and for airline mileage transfers, given that they convert 1:1 to about two dozen airline programs, and for every 20,000 points you transfer you get a 5,000 point bonus.

So if you want to collect a flexible points currency because you don’t really know how you want to redeem your points, Starpoints are tough to beat.

Bottom line

Under a very specific set of circumstances I do think you can get a higher return on everyday spend using the Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature® Card. This assumes at least some of the following conditions:

  • You mostly redeem hotel points for two night stays
  • You have a fairly short term use of points (since they could devalue the program in the future)
  • You stay in cities where Club Carlson properties represent a good value

That being said, if your plans aren’t quite as concrete and focused, I do think the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express is a “safer” bet, since you’re not tied into one currency quite as much.

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Comments

  1. Generally places that take AMEX I use an Amex gift card bought with SPG card. Pretty tough to beat 1 SPG point and 2+ percent cashback.

  2. Being a bit unorganized is there a chart that lists the various credit card bonus spending programs? In my first 2 years of this hobby I have open 17 credit cards and revisitng a central place/chart would be helpful.

  3. Lucky, another consideration here might be for traveling couples who each have a card (or, as you point out someone who has both a business card and personal card) so that the stays could be two or four nights. Again, a specific redemption model, but loads of points with a huge retention bonus at every annual fee period. If it lasts.

  4. @ Jason “Pretty tough to beat 1 SPG point and 2+ percent cashback” ====> I didn’t know that SPG offer 2+ cashback? Can you please elaborate what qualifies and how to get this 2+ cashback?

  5. Lucky, I think the “sweet spot” for Club Carlson is a lot bigger than “two night stays”. For example, if you want to stay in London or many other major European cities, $40,000 in spend (200,000 points) gets you five nights in nice Club Carlson properties. It takes $48,000-$64,000 in spend to get five nights in Starwood Cat 5 properties (even with “fifth night free”). (And that’s assuming you book a single Club Carlson award for the 5 nights. You can get the Club Carlson stay for $30,000 in spend (150,000 points) if you book nights 1 and 2 first; nights 4 and 5 in a second award, and night 3 in a third award.).

    If you do the math on pretty much any length of stay in Europe, you can get more out of Club Carlson card spend than out of Starwood spend, unless you’re in a city with a good Cat 3 or 4 SPG hotel.

  6. @ Lucky, I am referring to the Jason’s comment, since he cannot reply, can you please help answering my question: “Pretty tough to beat 1 SPG point and 2+ percent cashback” ====> I didn’t know that SPG offer 2+ cashback? Can you please elaborate what qualifies and how to get this 2+ cashback?

  7. Thanks for the maths Lucky! I have seen lots of posts about the redemption side of the card, but not much on the lucrative earning potential. I realize the Carlson footprint is not huge, but I figure between them and Hyatt (earned via Chase UR) I can cover my bases on accommodation. Hilton, Marriott and Starwood just charge way too many points…

  8. @Amanda – Looking at @Jason’s full comment, he’s using the SPG to buy Amex giftcards. There are a few shopping portals online that offer various amounts of cashback (i’ve seen up to 3% on special bonuses) when buying Amex giftcards. So he’s getting cash back via a portal on top of the regular points from the SPG card. Then using the Amex giftcard to pay for things.

  9. Thanks jyee and Lucky! by the way, I heard that recently portal stop paying bonus on Amex gift cards….not sure which portal is it but I remember I read it on the blog somewhere…

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