Some more thoughts on Club Carlson…

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On Monday I wrote about the co-branded Club Carlson credit cards, and I’ve been giving them some more thought. Actually not exclusively the cards, but the Club Carlson program as a whole, because I think it’s at a really interesting stage in its “development,” if you will.

For a moment it took me back to the good old days of Hyatt Gold Passport and their “Faster Free Nights” promotion. For several consecutive years Hyatt ran a promotion offering one free night at any Hyatt property in the world after two stays with no limit to the number of free nights you could earn. Think about that for a second — you stay two nights at your local airport Hyatt which is maybe $80 per night, and you get a free night at a Park Hyatt (be it in Sydney, Tokyo, Paris, etc.), that retails for upwards of $600 per night. And that doesn’t even factor in that back in the day the promotions were stackable, so you were often racking up another 5,000 points per stay on top of that.

The promotion was unreal and unsustainable. But Hyatt ran it year after year. I actually only got in on the promotion the last year it was offered, and took full advantage of it, and was able to redeem for some amazing Park Hyatts for a fraction of their retail cost. Hyatt’s strategy was clear — they were in a high growth period in terms of their global footprint (and still are), they wanted to grow their loyalty program, they were going public, and they had plans to introduce a co-branded credit card in the US. So given those circumstances who wouldn’t want to acquire loyal customers, even if it comes at a cost?

At this point Hyatt has come out and basically said they won’t be offering a similar promotion again, yet they’re still one of my favorite loyalty programs thanks to all the other improvements they’ve made. I think a lot of us are kicking ourselves for not having gotten in on the promotion earlier.

And the reason I’m mentioning that is because I see a lot of the same characteristics in Club Carlson now that I saw in Hyatt a few years ago. They just rebranded their loyalty program a couple of years ago, they just introduced a co-branded credit card in the US, and a majority of their properties aren’t even in the US. So they’re hungry for new customers… even if they come at a cost.

But what’s different about Club Carlson than Hyatt is that it’s not their loyalty program as such that’s unsustainably generous, but rather their credit card. Club Carlson has been running some really generous promotions not in any way related to their credit card, but what they offer with their credit card is so generous that it’s in a totally different league.

Again, Club Carlson’s award chart looks as follows:


Conservatively I value their points at 0.4 cents each. They have a ton of nice properties in London and Paris, for example, markets where your points usually don’t otherwise go very far. 50,000 points is enough for a free night at a really pricey hotel in London, for example, so I think valuing those points at $200 is pretty conservative (though I tend to value my points conservatively).

Meanwhile the Club Carlson credit card gives you the second night free on points redemptiosn, which more or less doubles the value of your points. So suddenly your Club Carlson points are conservatively worth 0.8 cents each. And this card offers 5x points per dollar spent on every day purchases, so that’s the equivalent of a 4% return on every day spend at a valuation of 0.8 cents each. Seriously, is there any other card that gives you that kind of a return?

The bottom line

I have two very strong feelings about Club Carlson and their credit card:

  • You’ll want to get in on this ASAP, because the 85,000 point sign-up bonus, 40,000 point anniversary bonus, the complimentary second night on any redemption, the 5x points per dollar spent, and the Gold status won’t can’t last. They can’t possibly. You want to be the person that maxed out Hyatt’s “Faster Free Nights” promotion for several years in a row, and not the person that kicks themselves for waiting too long.
  • You don’t want to hoard Club Carlson points. As they say, if something sounds too good to be true it probably is. We saw that recently with Hilton. So you want to rack up Club Carlson points quickly, and you want to burn them fairly quickly as well. Unlike Starwood points, Membership Rewards points, and Ultimate Rewards points, which are extremely flexible, there’s a high risk/cost to “holding” Club Carlson points in my opinion. But if I had to guess, I’d say we still have a bit of time before any major changes occur, since they’re really at the very beginning of their growth stage in the US market.

This card is part of my next round of credit card applications, which I plan on doing next week. On one hand I don’t really want to have to “deal” with more hotels — I already have top tier status with Hilton, Hyatt, and Starwood, and it’s enough of a stretch to qualify for those each year. On the other hand, what I’ve come to realize over the past several days is just how many legitimately nice properties Club Carlson has in places that other hotel chains don’t have many properties. For whatever reason I always kind of assumed their hotels were dumpy, though the more research I do, the more I realize that’s not the case.

I’ll have a post this weekend with 10 Club Carlson properties I’m eying, that I consider to be an especially good use of points.

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  1. but as usually these promotions are just for americans. there’s never an european credit card that allows smth like this

  2. i got declined for this card due to “too many recent applications” – and i didn’t even have that many as i skipped the previous churn.
    i guess for most people who do regular app-o-ramas it is not easy to get approved.

  3. LOL, did you just happen to discover these cards or did they suddenly bump up your affiliate payout for these?

    It is unlikely you just had an epiphany that these were a good deal when they have been heavily discussed in FT and by frequent miler.

  4. I’m so happy I got this card in late 2012 which was prior to getting as many cards as I have gotten in 2013. Probably would not have gotten approval. I’ve earned a ton of points from CC and it’s been great so far. I’ll shoot you an email with some suggestions for the best properties.

    I agree with you on the thought of a deval in the future, but think that’s a couple years off. One thing that’s really annoying is the range at the low end jumps in huge increments 9->15->28 and slows down significantly. Category 3 is the screwy one and they should probably introduce a category in between the 15 & 28K range. Rates vary so much that you could be getting less than 1/10 a cent in value on those cat 3 redemptions. So long as they don’t raise the top category by anywhere close to 100% a la Hilton, I think most people can live. If it were me I’d do something like 7.5K, 15K, 22.5K, 30K, 37.5K, 45K, 52.5K, 60K. Should make it a bit more sustainable and allow them to better categorize hotels with vary different $ rates.

  5. Thanks for the post. Agreed that CC’s main goal is market share and users right now; they consider these deals equivalent to a marketing investment, though unsustainable they may appear to us.

    Lucky, I’m really interested in your take on HackMyTrip’s recent post by Amol about applying for CC’s card. He suggests freezing reports from two tier 2 credit bureaus to up your chance of approval:

    Have you heard about this before? Love to know what your thoughts are, as I’ll be applying for this card next quarter, too!

  6. I am curious if people think the future devaluation (which I agree is still a long way away) will come in the form of Club Carlaon (1) removing the last night free benefit from the credit card for everyone; (2) not offering it to future card applicants but grandfathering in existing card holders; or (3) increasing the number of nights required in order for the last night to be free (e.g., going from 2 to 3 nights).

  7. No, this program stinks. Not worth getting the card. Who wants to stay in Country Inn and Suites?

  8. perhaps its the cynic in me, but really, when was the last time you actually stayed at a Club Carlson property… two posts on CC in a week.

  9. Now if you were to spit that “referral bonus” with me, I may be tempted to click the link on your page. Otherwise, I would just go to the CC page and apply directly 🙂

  10. Last week, I stayed 2 nights at the Park Plaza Beijing Wangfujing. We were very happy with the location and hotel. Upon check-in, we were offered a modest room upgrade. We chose to upgrade to the executive level to gain lounge access. Breakfast on the first day was wonderful. Happy Hour included hot food (fried fish and dumplings) and cold foods (italian pasta salad and sausage salad). Cab ride from Tienanmen Square was 18 RMB and we could walk to shopping at Wangfujing pedestrian mall. It’s not the Four Seasons, but we stayed 2 nights for free and enjoyed it.

  11. we have stayed at Radisson / Club Carlson properties in Paris, London and this December in Sydney. Saved thousands of dollars.

  12. @JonJal

    but why? that way no one gets the referral… why not help a fellow human being? especially since you clearly do read his blog, possibly even use some advice?

    this is something i truly don’t understand.

  13. My wife and I got in on the “BOGO” offer last summer with the intent on using the points this year for a trip through Europe.

    I qualified for both the CC business and personal credit cards, which pretty much gives me an additional four nights.

    With the free night benefit on both cards, our eight free nights has doubled to 16 free nights.

    I feel like I hit the lottery with these cards.

  14. These points comes handy for families too. Just redeemed 75k for 2 nights in a business room at radisson ambassador Paris. Glad we spent the extra points since they were full and didn’t offer free upgrade. We were told we had the best bus. room (701), almost like a suite with a cal king bed and sofa. Balcony over looking Eiffel tower, the Opera, and a peak of notre-dame/arc the triumph. I did read on trip advisor that it’s going to rebrand to Marriott.

  15. @lantean – because there will always be those that “hate”.

    For most, it’s all they have.

  16. @ PointsPlease — That’s a great question, and something I’ve been pondering. My guess is that we’ll see two things eventually:
    a) A modest award chart devaluation for Club Carlson for the top properties.
    b) Maybe a limit to the number of “free second nights” you can claim, or maybe an increase in the minimum stay needed in order to qualify.

    They’d be hard pressed to change the rest of the benefits, in my opinion, at least in the near future.

  17. I agree with hobo13. Who cares? You’re putting all your spend on a Club Carlson card so you can earn points to stay at… a Radisson Blu? No thanks. I’d rather stay at a Park Hyatt. And I’d DEFINITELY rather stay at a Hyatt Regency than an ordinary Radisson. (Not to mention the obvious superiority that a Hyatt Place has over a Country Inn & Suites.) There’s simply no comparison.

  18. I mean really, this is like touting an Air Koryo Mastercard with a 150,000 mile signup bonus.

  19. Man there are some seriously entitled commenters here. Oh no, you might have to stay at a hotel other than a Park Hyatt! Same people that whine when they are “stuck” in Y when there upgrade doesn’t clear. Not everyone who travels is a road warrior über-elite. Country Inn & Suites is a fine hotel for the price point it’s in.

  20. Do these points expire? If I cancel the card after I get 100k points, will I still be able to redeem?

  21. @ Maryann — They expire after 24 months of inactivity. You still get to keep the points if you cancel the card, though you can’t redeem for the second night free on award redemptions anymore. Given the low annual fee and anniversary bonus this card is really a no brainer to keep long term, in my opinion.

  22. The best use of CC points is in Scandinavia, where due to their legacy tie-up with SAS, they dominate the hotel market. Combined with the elevated prices for, well everything there, you can save a good chunk of change.

  23. Three months ago got approved for personal and business card. Wasn’t easy but since my wife has checking with US Bank they approved both. With sign up bonuses, only took 2 months to reach 250,000 points. Just booked 6 nights on Palm Beach in Aruba next March. Room rates at that time are $400 – $600 night. My friends can’t understand how I booked 6 nights at this resort for $135 – my annual fees. Not a bad deal.

  24. I just got approved for the personal card without freezing IDA/ARS. Any recs on how long I should wait before applying for the business card, and whether I should freeze the secondary credit bureaus first?

  25. This card is worthwhile for infrequent travelers (with low-avg CC spend) who intend on going to Europe…$10K of everyday 1X spend to get 2 free nights in London or Paris?

    I think for everyday spend, this strategy makes the most sense for normal people. What can one really do with 20K UA or AA random miles at the end of the year?

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