Club Carlson rocks our world… Again

(Note: The Bonus Award night feature was discontinued on June 1, 2015.)

Club Carlson introduces new credit cards.  They give us a lot to like.

Apply for the Club Carlson VisaClub Carlson is the loyalty program for Radisson, Park Plaza, Park Inn, and Country Inns & Suites.  A year ago, Club Carlson came out of nowhere and delighted the frequent traveller community with an wonderfully generous Radisson offer (stay one night, get 50,000 points).  Amazingly, they topped even that this past summer by repeating a similar promotion not just with Radisson, but with all of their brands.  Through a combination of real stays and “mattress runs” (where we checked in without staying), my immediate family racked up 500,000 points.  We can now use those points for 10 nights in their top properties (think Radisson Blu or Park Plaza), or as many as 55 nights in category 1 hotels!

It was no secret that Club Carlson was going to be coming out with a credit card too, but I didn’t think it would be an interesting product.  Boy was I wrong.  For a complete overview of the new Club Carlson cards, you can check out Mommy Points’ write up: More Details on New Club Carlson Credit Card.  For now, suffice to say that there are four different cards, the two best of which offer a 85K sign-up bonus, automatic Gold status, 10 points per dollar earnings at Club Carlson properties and 5 points per dollar elsewhere.  Best of all, all four cards offer “Bonus Award Nights”.  What this means is that for any award stay of 2 or more nights, one of those nights will be free.  For example, instead of redeeming 100,000 points for a two night stay at the Radisson Blu Ambassador Hotel in Paris, you can get that same two night stay for only 50,000 points!

3 out of 3 ain’t bad

Credit cards are worth considering for three reasons: their sign-up bonuses, their on-going perks, and/or for the value of the rewards earned for spend.  Most credit cards are good values for only one or two of those reasons.  Club Carlson’s new cards, surprisingly, do well on all three.  I can’t even think of another card that does that.  My favorite Ink Bold / Ink Plus cards have great signup bonuses and great category spend value, but offer very few perks.  The American Express Platinum card, meanwhile, offers fabulous perks and occasionally very good (but usually targeted) sign-up bonuses, but relatively little value in spend.

Sign-Up Bonus

The 85K sign-up bonus available with two of the new cards is good, but by itself it’s not great.  By itself, 85K points is not enough for two nights at a top property.  However, the story changes when you consider this bonus together with a couple of the cards’ perks: 5X earnings on spend, and bonus award nights.  Given that these cards earn at least 5X for all spend, by the time you have met the $2500 spend requirement, you will have earned an additional 12,500 points on top of the 85K bonus.  If you increase the spend by just $500 more, you will then have earned a total of 100K points (counting both the signup bonus and the spend).  That’s enough for two nights at the best Club Carlson properties in the world.  Now, consider the bonus award nights:  You can spend the 100K points you have earned to get two separate two night stays at any top property.  In other words, we’re looking at a sign-up bonus worth 4 nights at a top of the line Radisson Blu!  Or, if you can find a nice tier 1 property which costs only 9000 points per night, you can take 11 separate 2-night vacations!


Bonus Award Nights: For every two night (or longer) award stay, the last night of the stay is free (up to 50 free nights per year).  This means that, for two night stays, your points are twice as valuable.  The value of this perk diminishes with longer stays as a percentage of overall points spent (but a free night is always appreciated).

The surprising thing about this benefit is that it encourages shorter stays.  Marriott, Hilton, and Starwood all have reduced price award options for longer stays.  For example, both Marriott and Starwood offer 5th night free awards.  Hilton offers discounted awards to certain credit card holders (AXON awards) and elite members, but only for stays of 4 or more nights.  Club Carlson is the only program I can think of that encourages shorter stays.  This could be by design in that it may encourage people to pay for extra nights rather than redeem points.  Regardless, I find this interesting.

Gold Status: Two of the new cards automatically give the user Gold status as long as they keep the card.  Gold status makes you eligible for free room upgrades (I got upgraded to a nice suite once, for example); a 2000 point online booking bonus; 50% more points earned per stay; and an in-room welcome gift.

40,000 points annually:  Each year that you pay to renew your card, the better two cards offer 40,000 bonus points.  Whether you pay $75 for the personal card or $60 for the business card, this is a great perk.  At $75, this is like buying points for 1/5 of a penny each (Club Carlson normally sells points for .7 cents each).  Since having the card makes those points more valuable (through the Bonus Award Nights), this is a steal.  You’re essentially getting very close to two nights at a top of the line Club Carlson property each year in exchange for the $75 fee.  Sweet.

Spend Value

It’s not unusual for me to like a card (for its perks and sign-up bonus), but to never use it for spend.  A great example of this is the Chase Priority Club card.  I love the card for its benefits that include automatic Platinum status and an annual free night at any property (including InterContinental hotels).  However, I don’t value Priority Club points enough to actually use that card for day to day spend.  The Club Carlson cards, though, have me thinking…

The best two Club Carlson cards offer 10 points per dollar at Club Carlson properties and 5 points per dollar everywhere else.  In order to estimate the value of Club Carlson points, I picked a random date and a number of cities and compared the Club Carlson advertised room prices to the number of points required for free nights.  Using that metric, the value of points ranged from .22 cents to .89 cents each, with a mean of .43 cents.  Let’s discount the mean value to account for the fact that I didn’t look for special rates (AAA, for example), and that award nights do not earn points.  Given that, I think .3 cents per point is a fair, conservative value.

Given the .3 cent value estimated above, at 5 points per dollar for day to day spend, we can estimate that points earned on spend are worth 1.5 cents per dollar.  Then, if we vow to always spend points for two night stays to maximize the Bonus Award Nights benefit, these points become worth 3 cents per dollar.  That’s a very good (and bordering on excellent) return for non-category bonus spend.

Not Chase

Chase seems to always come out with the best credit cards.  For people who already have a lot of Chase cards, or are planning to get some soon, it is good news that the Club Carlson cards come from U.S. Bank instead.  The downside is that U.S. Bank is rumored to be tougher with approvals for people who have recently signed up for lots of cards.  If that’s your situation, you might want to wait a while before applying for one of these.

Club Carlson Properties

Unlike Hyatt, Marriott, and Hilton, Club Carlson doesn’t currently have many aspirational properties.  Some people have a negative view of the properties available and so would not be impressed by these new cards.  That’s understandable.  That being said, I know that I’m looking forward to staying in some great looking Radisson Blu and Park Plaza properties around the world…

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  1. […] This card earns 5 points per dollar on all purchases, and 10 points per dollar on Club Carlson property purchases.  And, the card gives you instant Club Carlson Gold status which makes you eligible for free room upgrades, a 2000 point online booking bonus, 50% more points earned per stay, and an in-room welcome gift.  The Club Carlson card also comes with one killer feature: bonus award nights.  For every two night or longer stay booked with points, one night will be free.  This means that for 2-night stays you are charged only for one night!  For more details, see “Club Carlson rocks our world… Again.” […]

  2. […] The Club Carlson Premier card and its business twin have a lot going for them: 85,000 point signup bonus; 10X points per dollar earned at Club Carlson properties and 5X everywhere else; automatic Gold status; Bonus Award Nights that can double to value of Club Carlson points; and 40,000 bonus points each year that you renew.  The business card has the edge over the personal card in that its annual fee is slightly cheaper ($60 vs $75).  See full details here: Club Carlson rocks our world… Again. […]

  3. […] The Club Carlson card offers 85,000 points, which is more than enough for 9 nights in a category 1 hotel and almost enough for two nights at a top tier hotel.  Plus, the card automatically makes the last night of your multi-night award stay free.  So, a two night stay costs the same, in points, as a one night stay!  You can read more about this card’s benefits here. […]


    • Kevin: I don’t know about applying for both. If I remember right, I think there is language somewhere saying that an individual can only get the bonus once (but I could be remembering that wrong).

      Maury: I would get one of the cards with the 85K bonus for the better perks. The business card is slightly cheaper, but it has fewer consumer protections. So, if you plan to use the card for day to day spend, get the personal card. If not, get the business card.

  1. These have to be good if you would take the time to write about them. Usually you only mention the Ink products. Which of these four would you recommend most for the long run?

  2. Can you combine the Bonus Award Night with the stay one night get one night promotion this quarter? That is, if you had participated in that promotion and book a Radisson using points, the first award night will cost you 0 points, and the second night would cost the regular number of points. If you have this credit card, does it make it 0 points for 2 nights?

  3. Looking at this card for stays in Europe or Asia next big trip. The Madrid Blu is usually around 200.00 per night and the Blu on the Bosphorous in Istanbul I bet has great views which I will be more likely to get as a gold.

  4. Just having 100k points will not get you 4 nights at a Radisson Blu (or any other 50k property). you will need to have 150k points.

    You have to have the full amount of points available in your account at booking.
    So for your first reso, you’ll need to have 100k points. After completion of the stay, they will only deduct 50k from your balance. Leaving you with 50k leftover.
    You won’t have enough points to book another 2 nights at a 50k property (system won’t allow it).

    However, getting 50k points isn’t that tough (10k spend on the credit card). Plus many of us are sitting on a glut of points from their promos.

    I think this is a very interesting card. I’m considering getting it for my wife and have her use it for her everyday spend (easier than buying her a bunch of AMEX/VISA prepaids at OD).
    If you value CC points at 0.8 cpp, and then maximize (double) the bonus nights. A CC point with credit card is worth 1.6 cpp. 5x for spending makes this a 8% cash equivalent card on every day spend.

    I would take 5x CC points over 1 SPG point or 3 HHonors points (every day spend on SPG/HHonors cards).

    The only thing I wish this card had was an annual spend bonus (spend 40k get platinum which is really just free breakfast, or spend 20 get 20k bonus points).

    This is a very interesting card.

  5. I just re-read and saw you value CC points at .3 cpp. I consider that evaluation to be undervalued.

    I can regularly find 50k/night rooms at a rate of $300/night (.6 cpp).
    I can regularly find 9k/night rooms for $100/night (1.1cpp).
    In fact, the 9k/night redemption is fairly prolific, and there are plenty of nice properties near big attractions (I’m thinking Disney) that can be had for 9k/night

  6. If you have the Club Carlson Biz Card, would U.S. Bank report your monthly spending to the Credit Bureau thus affecting your credit utilization for the Fico score

  7. Moreover, it seems that you will get 40 points (20 base+10 gold member+10 credit card) per dollar spent on their hotels: an amazing deal if I didn’t misinterpret anything.

  8. To me the most encouraging part of this offer is the 40k points on renewal. Hopefully this might encourage card competition so others start to offer similar deals.

    • russell: yep, the 40K points on renewal is great. In many ways its better than the other hotel cards that offer a free night since 1) the points don’t expire after a year (whereas the free night does); 2) you just need 10K more to use the points for a 2 night stay at a top hotel; and 3) if you use it for a cheaper (in points) property, you can use it to stay many nights.

      Pranay Nigotiya: I did have to check in to each hotel, but I didn’t stay the night. I just checked in, went to the room to have a look, and left. Hotels will automatically check you out in the morning if you don’t do so yourself.

  9. Hi, I would like to get some insights or tips on how you managed to rake in so many points during the promotion esp. when not actually checking in. Pls do enlighten me.

  10. Steve: thanks for the clarification regarding needing to have enough points in your account. As to the valuation, I like to be conservative. It is certainly possible to get .8 cents value, but only if you cherry pick the best opportunities. That said, if you do redeem for those great values this card becomes even more amazing!

  11. I was about to say that I wasn’t cherry picking. I thought there were a lot more 9,000 pt/night properties. It just happens that the first three cities I searched had 5 of them. Then the next 10 had none. It seems that 15k pts/night is common for ~$100/night rate.
    that’s still .66 cpp.

    A lot of $180/night rooms for 28,000/night. that’s .64 cpp.

    So I would still say their worth more than 0.3. I’d put them in the .6-.7 cpp range.

    • Steve: Thanks for those data points. I simply picked 6 cities and collected all of the data for all hotels for one random night in January and I came up with the min, max, and mean (average) that I reported. There is no “right” answer here for what a point is worth. I’m always happy when people get more value from their points!

  12. Problem I am finding Is that the real aspirational properties do not have any rooms on points — for example I wanted to book a trip to Moscow but the radisson has no rooms on points — anybody know of any really good hotels in Europe or Asia to use this on? Thanks

  13. The ‘fine print”:

    2 Bonus Award Night: When you redeem Gold Points for Award Nights of two or more consecutive nights at the same participating Carlson Rezidor hotel property, you will receive the last of the Award Nights of that stay free without deduction of any Gold Points from your Club Carlson account (“Bonus Award Night”). Your Account must be open and reservation must be in the Club Carlson member’s name and use the member number associated with your Account to be eligible for the Bonus Award Night. The Bonus Award Night offer is available only on advance reservations for Award Nights paid in full with Gold Points and is not valid with standard paid reservations or Points + Cash redemption reservations. Only one Bonus Award Night will be available for a stay of two or more consecutive nights at the same hotel (early checkout with one night stay not eligible), regardless of the total length of stay, the total number of reservations or the number of check-in/check-outs, is subject to availability and all other terms and conditions and cancellation policies regarding Award Nights apply. Does not apply to additional reservations booked as contiguous stays at the same hotel. Only one room per reservation, per hotel for an Award Stay will be eligible to receive the Bonus Award Night offer. Maximum fifty (50) Bonus Award Nights per calendar year per member with an open Account (“Annual Maximum”). If a reservation with a Bonus Award Night is subject to a cancellation penalty, the Bonus Award Night from that reservation will count against the Annual Maximum. A Bonus Award Night has no Gold Point or cash value and cancellations involving a Bonus Award Night will not result in the credit of any additional Gold Points in your Club Carlson account.”

    Does this mean you CANNOT use more than ONE free night at each hotel? That would eliminate back-to-back stays. Unless I’m misreading it.


  14. “I just checked in, went to the room to have a look, and left.”
    Housekeeping must have been so confused the next day.

  15. I have a 5 night reservation booked on points in July. If I get one of these cards wondering if I’d need to cancel and rebook to get the last night free or just call up CC and have them apply this new promo?

  16. I have excellent credit score ~800. US banks repeatedly shot me down for ” busy applications away “. Although I did talk back naughtily ” I would be abnormal if I can turn down AMEX Platinum invitation for $1000 spend and 100K “

  17. Amit, there is a Radisson in Moscow. It’s the Radisson Royal and is one of Stalins 7 Sister hotels. One of the best hotels in Moscow. There are also a number of Club Carlson properties in St. Petersburg.

  18. Before we carried away, remember this cc is issued by stingy & mean us bank. Couple of my friends who have excellent credit scores just got denied today! Head scratcher for me… Now I don’t know if I’m ready to waste an inquiry on this stupid us bank.

  19. Regarding not being able to book back-to-back, 2-for-1 stays, I think there are a couple ways around that. If traveling with a partner who has Club Carlson points, you could each book alternating 2-for-1 stay reservations. You could book a 2-for-1 stay reservation, pay for a one-night stay at that hotel or another, then book another 2-for-1 stay. The key word, the way I read it, is “continguous.” In neither of these scenarios would you be booking a continguous stay.

    • I Can See for Miles: I think that’s true that you can work around it. I feel like that would be breaking the intention of benefit so I wouldn’t personally feel right about doing that.

  20. @ VRT (post 39)

    Did USB say why they denied your friends’ applications? How recently had either applied for credit?

    I’d be curious to know some details for those approved and those denied. At the time I plan to apply for this card, it will have been 4 months since my last application.

    Also, can anyone who has been approved for this card say which credit bureau U.S. Bank pulls from? Someone on FT said USB pulled from Experian, but I’d be curious to know what others experienced and whether it varies by state.

  21. @Nick, they are NOT heavy churners by any means. I know that they both realized how much miles can be accrued by CC application and got in barely 9 months ago. I asked them, one has 5 cards in nine months, other has 4 may be in 10-11 months. Prior to that, they both (like me) had just one or two cards for a long time! I didn’t ask them their scores, but my guess is they are above 800 or close to it.

  22. FM, I got the Premier Rewards personal card from your link and today got my first statement. My CC status changed to gold and 55,000 points got posted after only a $1,000 spend. The bonus was supposed to be 85,000 after a $2,500 spend. Have you seen any reports of this happening? I plan to complete the spend requirement before asking them about the bonus.

  23. TravelSplash: that’s normal. The signup offer is tiered: 50k after first purchase and 35k more at $2500 spend. You’ll get the final 35k points when you get to $2500 spend.

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