The end of the Club Carlson Rewards Program as we know it…

In a 1-2-Punch, Club Carlson has devalued their rewards program by more than 50% – the worst such devaluation I have seen in the industry, making even the Hilton HHonors devaluation a few years ago look minor in comparison! After removing the Bonus Award Night from the Club Carlson Visa card (reported here), effective June 1, 2015, more than 200 hotels in the Carlson Group are going up in the rewards category – some by two or even three categories – drastically increasing the number of points required for a free hotel night. As a result, you need almost 4 times the number of points for your stay at some of the Club Carlson hotels – a dubious record for what marketing people still call “loyalty programs”!

I reviewed the Club Carlson program (here) and the Club Carlson Visa card (here) and recommended both of them after experiencing great value from both of them. Unfortunately, with this drastic devaluation, those recommendations no longer stand. So, what exactly are those changes:

1. Category Changes
Many of the hotel reward programs adjust the categories of the hotels (and therefore the points needed for one free nights) on a regular basis to reflect the changing prices at hotel rooms. Some of the hotel rewards programs do it in a gradual and transparent manner. Unfortunately, the changes by Club Carlson are much more drastic: For any booking made on or after June 1, 2015, more than 200 hotels change by 2 or even 3 categories, like the Radisson Blu Kuwait going from category 4 to 7 (38,000 points to 70,000) – basically doubling the cost of a free night! The only saving grace is that more than 100 hotels are going down in category, although I didn’t find many hotels among them I’d actually want to stay at. You can see the full list of changes here.

2. Elimination of Bonus Award Night
The Bonus Award Night feature offered the last night free on any award stay of two or more nights. When used strategically, this represented a 50% off award for holders of the Club Carlson Visa. For any award bookings made on or after June 1, 2015, there will not be any more free nights for Credit Card holders.

3. Communication of Changes
As is so often with changes like this, the way they are communicated is important in addition to the actual changes made. While I give credit to Club Carlson for announcing the changes with more than a month for people to make reservations under the old rules, I can only call it deceitful that Club Carlson sold 100,000s of points in the Daily Getaway (read here) when they already knew that they would devalue those points by more than 50% within days! I’d consider it adding insult to injury to communicate this under “offers” (check out the URL for the list of changes!).

So, what now? If you have a lot of Club Carlson points in your account, you should make reservations before June 1, 2015 to maximize the value of your points – they will be worth less than half after June 1! I already made reservations to use as many points as possible and will continue to make adjustments all the way to the deadline.
If you bought points during the Daily Getaway and can not use them before June 1, 2015, I suggest to contact Club Carlson and ask for a refund of your money. While they were a good deal at the time of the Daily Getaway, they are not anymore after June 1!
If you are considering to stay at a Carlson property going forward, the rewards points should be at the bottom of your list of criteria in your purchase decision – there are better programs out there and I personally wouldn’t go out of my way anymore to stay at a Carlson property! Club Carlson has run very generous promotions in the past and might do so again to respond to the criticism that is sure to hit them about this devaluation. I will review them and report them here, if they provide exceptional value! I would also review any paid reservations you have at a Carlson property to see if they are still good value – I certainly will do that!

And the lesson learned is… there is no such thing as a loyalty program anymore. Whether it is United MileagePlus and Delta SkyMiles or Hilton HHonors and Club Carlson – none of these programs are “rewarding loyalty” anymore. The programs are profit centers and are trading in a point currency. The bad news for the traveler is that the programs also control the value of those points and – similar to a casino – will ensure that “the house always wins”! I will publish a detailed recommendation how to make the most out of points and miles in another post soon!

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