Club Carlson – Small program, but mighty rewarding!

Although I didn’t even know Club Carlson existed a few years ago, they have taken my heart by storm! Why? Their promotions and Club Carlson Visa card have enabled some of my most memorable reward stays in beautiful (and expensive) places in London, Dresden, Prague, Vienna and Cape Town!

Who are they?

Club Carlson is the reward program of the Carlson Rezidor hotel group, owned by the privately held Carlson company. They have more than 1,000 hotels around the world, with their biggest brands being Country Inn & Suites (> 460 hotels, mostly, North America & India), Radisson Blu (>280 hotels, mostly Europe) and Radisson (>150 hotels, mostly North America). They also include the Park Plaza, art’otel and Park Inn brands, as well as the recently launched, luxury Quorvus Collection and the soon to be launched, hip Radisson Red brand. You can find more information about some of their brands here: (Park Plaza & art’otel by Park Plaza) While Carlson Rezidor is bigger than the Hyatt group and about the same size as Starwood, they are not as well know, due to their brand and hotel distribution across different regions of the world.

Why should I care?

Over the last few years, they have started to change that with an aggressive marketing push for Club Carlson, including very generous promotions for earning points, buying points and the launch of a rewards credit card. The single most attractive part of the program is the Club Carlson Visa card from US Bank (see more details here): The key benefits are instant Gold status in the program, a free night with every reward redemption (effectively cutting the required points in half on two-night reward stays) and 40,000 points with every credit card renewal. Club Carlson also has offered flash sales of their points, as low as 70,000 for $280. In combination with the credit card, that allows you to purchase a reward night at one of their top hotels for as little as $100 – a great deal when Radisson Blu hotels in Europe can be more than $500/night in peak season! So, even if you are not a frequent traveler, you can leverage the program for memorable stays ad aspirational properties!

Earning Points

Club Carlson members earn 20 points per US Dollar spent at their properties, including room rates, meals and other incidentals. That’s pretty generous, compared to only 2 points at Starwood or 5-10 points per USD at Marriott and InterContinental group. You earn 35% bonus points as a Gold member (or Club Carlson credit card holder) and 75% bonus as the top-level Concierge level member. You can also earn points through car rentals or a few merchants, but there is no shopping portal or airline partnership. You can also earn points throught the Club Carlson Visa card or purchase up to 40,000 per year, anytime for as low as 0.7cents/point or for as little as 0.4 cents/point during promotions. I would recommend to wait for their promotions!

Redeeming Points

You can redeem your points for hotel stays. Club Carlson uses 7 categories for redemption:

ClubCarlson HotelsByCategory Table

Like most of the chains, Club Carlson leads with a very low category 1 redemption at 9,000 points per night and goes up to very high amounts at the top level 7 with 70,000 points per night. Fortunately, 15,000 points will get you access to more than 10% of their hotels and only 1% of their properties is in the top category. One of the most exciting benefits in the rewards industry is the one-free-reward night for any redemption when you hold the Club Carlson Visa card, effectively cutting your redemption rate in half for two night stays. That benefit is so good, that I almost exclusively redeem two nights with Club Carlson and switch hotels for longer stays! To redeem one night at at least 10% of their hotels, you will have to spend US$750 at Carlson properties as a base member (or as little as US$277 as a credit card holder on a two night stay). 44,000 points will get you access to more than 90% of their hotels, requiring a spend of US$2,500 as a base member (or US$926 with card on two night stay). These ratios make Club Carlson one of the easier programs to earn reward stays.

Club Carlson also offers a Points & Cash option, allowing you to use as little as 5,000 points per night plus cash payment, making it easier to redeem your points, if you don’t earn a lot of them. You can also redeem your points with a long list of partners, including transfer to 22 airline partners (at a rate of 10 points per mile), for gift cards (best case of 6.6 points per US$) or prepaid Visa cards (at 6.7 points per US$). Like with most rewards programs, those options are pretty bad value and I advise against using them. Given how easy it is to top-up your Club Carlson account during purchase promotions, you will almost always be better of using points for a hotel stay. Club Carlson points expire after 24 months without activity, so you want to make sure to credit some activity to your account during any two-year period.

Membership Levels & Benefits

Like most hotel rewards programs, Club Carlson offers several levels of membership with increased benefits the higher your level:

ClubCarlson Benefits Table

Both, the nights needed to reach the various levels as well as the benefits associated with them are pretty typical. Because Club Carlson also counts award and Points & Cash rate stays and rolls over unused elite nights to the next calendar year, the elite levels are more achievable than with some other chains The most interesting part is that you can get Gold status simply by signing up for the Club Carlson credit card and getting significant benefits, regardless of how many nights you stay. This makes Club Carlson especially interesting for not-so-frequent travelers who still want to enjoy elite-level perks. I personally have the Club Carlson Visa card and enjoy the perks tremendously. I have been upgraded, received the welcome gifts and early/late check-out on the majority of stays, even on award stays.

Who should sign up?

Because Carlson Rezidor has limited coverage around the world compared to Hilton, Marriott or InterContinental, it might not make a good “go-to” or only hotel rewards program, but it is a good “additional” or “back-up” program. Club Carlson is a great program if you are looking to redeem rewards for aspirational stays at high-end properties in Europe and (somewhat) Asia. There are Radisson Blue properties, Park Plaza and art’otel properties all over Europe, providing you amazing stays for very reasonable redemption rates. It’s even better, if you are a US resident and willing to sign up for the Club Carlson credit card. If you said “yes” on both points, you should sign up for Club Carlson, even if you only stay with them a few times. The sign-up bonus for the credit card, the promotions and point purchase options alone make for a great way to score amazing hotels at bargain rates!

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