The New Best Use of Club Carlson Points

Last week Club Carlson completely changed the award prices for many hotels and got rid of the free night benefit from the credit card (RIP). This post is about finding the sweet spots in Club Carlson going forward. While we have lost a great benefit, Club Carlson remains a great program for frugal travelers.

Also, I want people to know I have now updated the Complete Map of Club Carlson Hotels to reflect the new prices. This map has every Club Carlson hotel sorted by their new categories.

Let me quick go over earning and then spend most of the time talking about best uses. Earnings are still important as some of this has changed, but there are still great opportunities.

Why Club Carlson? (And how to earn Club Carlson points)

Many (including myself) feel like Club Carlson points are nearly half as valuable as they were when the credit card benefit gave a free night per booking. But gone is gone. There is no good in dwelling on what was. From now on I want to talk about what is.

 

Best earnings from paid stays

The fact is that when you look at the Best Hotel Rewards Program [InfoGraphic], Club Carlson still ranks number 1 on earning points. To get a free night at a category 1 or the top category 7, Club Carlson requires the least amount of money spent, with or without status.

  • You earn 20 points per dollar as a regular member
  • You earn 27 points per dollar as a gold member (you get this status with the credit card)
  • You earn 35 points per dollar as a concierge member (requires 30 stays/ 75 nights (award nights count)

 

Promotions on earning points

Despite already giving the largest number of points per dollar spent at hotels, they have great promotions. Often (and currently) they have a promotion giving triple points. Which means you at least earn 60 points per dollar.

 

Promotions for discounts on paid stays

I’ve talked about the 2-for-1 rate and the 4-for-2 rate before, but these are fantastic deals. Often you can get a hotel in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East (where Club Carlson is strongest) for half off on weekends. It’s hit/ miss as to which hotels allow it. Check out the 2-for-1 here, but there are a number of other promotions out there for discounts on paid rates.

Check out promotions here, both for paid stays and for points.

 

Credit card bonuses

I’m not sure if the card is worth keeping past the annual fee anymore, but it can certainly be a great source of points if you need them.

  • The Club Carlson Premier gives 85,000 points for signing up for the credit card. And from what I hear, US Bank is generous in giving bonuses to existing members, so if you change your mind don’t hesitate to apply.
  • The card gives 5 points per dollar on all spends. This means that even buying a $500 gift card would give 2,500 Club Carlson points. I therefore consider buying gift cards (at $5 cost) to be the equivalent of buying points at .2 cents each.
  • The card gives 10 points per dollar at Club Carlson hotels.
  • The card gives 40,000 points every year you pay the $75 annual fee.
  • The card gives 1 free night in the US, on the $75 annual fee if you’ve spent $10,000 that year on the card.

One negative thing about the card is that they don’t waive the annual fee for the first year. However, it includes a lot of earning opportunities.

 

 

Best Use of Club Carlson points

Cheap Category 1 & 2  hotels

Before the recent devaluation, I don’t know if I said it, but I definitely thought of Club Carlson hotels as ranging from 9,000 points to 50,000 points. Yes, they had the 70,000 point category then, but so few hotels were in it and there were still cheaper options elsewhere. For example in both London and Amsterdam there were hotels at 70,000 points, but there were many hotels equally nice for 50,000 points.

But now nearly all the super nice hotels are 70,000 points for a standard room. In Vienna, London, Paris, Sydney, New York, etc… prices are now 70k. Some of these hotels are only $200 a night and yet they are 70,000 points.

In contrast there, are hotels that are 9,000 points that are worth at least $100 a night. Therefore I personally like using Club Carlson points at cheap category 1 and 2 hotels. Not that I’m against spending the points at the nicer hotels, but if there is a nice hotel that’s cheap, I’ll blow a lot of points. It’s 1/8th the cost in points and often only half the cash price.

Therefore, I’m going to start with some examples of hotels that are amazing low category redemptions.

Radisson Blu Resort, El Quseir, Egypt – 9,000 points

This Radisson in Egypt is often going for $150 a night and still maintains excellent reviews on TripAdvisor. I will try to check out the hotel later this year, and I will report back, but my guess is that this is one of the best Club Carlson redemptions out there.

art’otel Berlin Kudamm, Berlin, Germany – 15,000 points

Aside from being in the alps, Berlin is at least my favorite city in Germany. And I’ve only heard good things about the “art’otel” brand, and this is the only art’otel on the category 1 or 2 list. Great deal many times of the year.

Radisson Blu Beke Hotel, Budapest, Hungary – 15,000 points

We’ve stayed at this hotel probably 4 or 5 times in the last few years because it’s such a great deal, even when we get super odd suites… the location is great. Plus the city can get a little more expensive in the summer and the hotel easily brings in $100+ a night.

Others:

  • Radisson Blu Resort Wetland Park Wuxi, China – 15,000 points
  • Radisson Blu Hotel, Klaipeda, Lithuania – 15,000 points
  • Park Inn By Radisson Kaunas – 15,000 points
  • Radisson Blu Hotel & Spa, Limerick – 15,000 points
  • Radisson Blu Hotel, Ankara – 15,000 points

 

Tons of cheap category 1 & 2 hotels in India

Let me first list  some of the most interesting hotels in India.

  • Radisson Blu Hotel Amritsar – 9,000 points
  • Country Inn & Suites and Radisson in Goa – 9,000 points
  • Country Inn & Suites By Carlson Mussoorie – 9,000 points
  • Radisson Blu Hotel Chennai City Centre – 15,000 points
  • Radisson Blu Hotel Haridwar – 15,000 points
  • Country Inn & Suites By Carlson, Haridwar – 9,000 points
  • Park Plaza Delhi CBD Shahdara – 9,000 points
  • Country Inn & Suites By Carlson, Jaipur – 9,000 points

All of these are in the north, except the Radisson Blu in Chennai and Goa. Really, you could do a lot of these great places in one trip and by the way, I tried to pick hotels in interesting towns. Personally I’ve been to many of these places and here’s the route I would do if I could do it again right now (partly because I didn’t get to see Haridwar but wanted to and felt like I should have).

Start in Jaipur (the Country Inn is a much better location than the Radisson fyi), although I’d probably recommend seeing Udaipur or Jodhpur while you’re at it. Those are two of my favorite cities in India, hands down. Jaipur is just convenient for those two. Although you could do Ajmer if you wanted to stick with category 1 Club Carlson hotels.

Then go up to Delhi.

Then go up to Haridwar and Mussoorie. Three hotels to choose from in the category 1 and 2 range. This area is kind of the foothill of the Himalayas. This would be a totally different change of pace compared to a lot of India.

Amritsar could be your final destination in order to see the Golden Temple. Neither the Radisson nor the Country Inn & Suites are great locations for seeing the Golden Temple, but transport and taxis are insanely cheap. But the site is amazing.

 

Mid Range Club Carlson points hotels

All over Europe there are some great hotels in great places for mid range prices.

Tallinn and Riga both have hotels downtown for 28,000 points.

All over Germany. Now I’m not an expert on small towns in central Germany and I tend to get burned out on Germany rather quickly (just because it’s a lot like my own culture except without my friends and family and where people speak German instead… it’s just a personal thing that it gets boring). That being said, there are a lot of category 1 and 2 hotels in Germany as well as some great mid range hotels in cool cities like Berlin.

Park Inn Krakow, Poland – 28,000 points

Krakow’s old town is pretty small and this hotel is just a block away from the big beautiful castle. We personally stayed at the Radisson Blu for $50 a night with the 2-for-1 rate, but we got pretty lucky with the price.

Park Inn Prague, Czech – 28,000 points

Prague is one big old town. While this hotel isn’t in the dead center, transit is super easy and cheap. It has great reviews on TripAdvisor and looks like a great hotel. In terms of quality of hotels, so far this appears to be one of the best mention so far.

Park Inn by Radisson Hotel and Residence Duqm, Oman – 28,000 points

Out on the southern beach of Oman, this is a “getaway from it all” kind of destination. Seems like a great deal.

Radisson Blu Hotel, Alesund, Norway – 38,000 points

This hotel looks awesome and it went down in points. Plus Norway is super expensive, so this is a great place to burn points.

Radisson on Flagstaff Gardens Melbourne, Australia – 44,000 points

I’m just going to be super honest and say that I don’t know much about the hotel and I’ve only been to Melbourne on a layover… but it has good reviews. :-p

 

The nicest Club Carlson Hotels

(The “nice” hotels are going to be 70,000 points unless otherwise noted).

Thus far, my favorite Radisson is the Radisson Blu Vienna. The location is absolutely phenomenal and on our last visit they upgraded us to a Jr. Suite. Vienna is also one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen, and the hotel maintains the looks by being in an 1800s bank.

Radisson Blu Sydney was a cool hotel, but it’s in an even cooler city.

London has a ton of options but the most popular one is definitely “The May Fair” hotel. It’s a great location and the most expensive of the really expensive hotels. For whatever it’s worth, when we visited with my Mom, we stayed at the Plaza On The River as it is a “suites” hotel above the Park Plaza, and our suite had separate rooms for sleeping. However, the location is across the river from Victoria, so it’s not as great as actually being near the Westminster area. Also, maybe it’s worth mentioning that the “Radisson Blu Edwardian Grafton” is also a great location but only 50,000 points. If you’d like to save 20k a night and still be in a nice hotel in downtown London… that seems like a great option.

Norway is super expensive but has a ton of Club Carlson hotels. My recommendation would be to visit the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel, Bergen, and the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel, Stavanger. While 70,000 points is a ton of points, there aren’t a lot of cheaper options.

 

Best use of your free night cert

Again, as an annual bonus, you not only get 40,000 points but you get an extra gift if you spent $10,000 on your card that year – you get a free night certificate, good at any hotel in the US.

Here are the hotels I see as the best in the US… although there aren’t a ton of nice Radissons here (and I thought the Radisson in NYC was only okay, but a great location).

  • Radisson Blu Warwick Hotel, Philadelphia
  • Radisson Martinique on Broadway
  • Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel, Chicago
  • Radisson Blu Minneapolis Downtown

 

Conclusion

This covers a lot, I know, but there are a lot of changes. Plus, I often try to take an “A to Z” kind of approach, meaning a little earning explanation even with a post on using points.

Hopefully this is helpful, and let me know if you caught any other new gems.

Oh and check out the new map.

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23 Comments

  1. Just before the deadline, I booked 2 nights in Budapest, 2 nights in Vienna, and 2 nights in Chicago… Feeling pretty good about my choices right about now :)

    Reply
    • Hope you get the weird deer suite in Budapest! 😀 Vienna is by far my favorite Radisson/Radisson Blu. Even Sydney, Amsterdam, Brussels, and others haven’t been as nice. But I hear Chicago is the flagship properties and I haven’t been. But I’ve only heard good things. Let me know if it’s nearly as good as Vienna. :-p

      Reply
  2. Best use of Club Carlson Points –

    Wait a minute, who still has Club Carlson points?

    Just kidding, another great post. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Thank you for keeping the maps up-to-date!! I end up using one of them almost every day it seems. I was worried about whether you’d be able to regularly revise them – it definitely has to be a lot of work. You rock!

      Reply
    • Well I still need to go back and change IHG. Although not the biggest change still need to do it. Yea, updating old posts isn’t rewarding. 😀 So thanks for the comment… unless it’s about the IHG map, then bite your tongue. :-p

      Reply
    • Pssh. Not me… unless I cancel a week in Sydney or NYC. Then I’ll have plenty. 😀

      Reply
  3. Park Inn By Radisson Kaunas is only 9,000 points, not 15,000, which makes it an even greater deal considering how nice this hotel is. Stayed there twice, staying there again in July. Breakfast buffet is great and is included for everybody. But maybe I am biased since I was born and raised in Kaunas :)

    Reply
    • Love Kaunas! Visited it many times during the Soviet era. Was my most favorite city in the Baltics.

      Reply
    • That’s awesome. You never hear about it either. I was thinking of doing Vilnius (again) and then doing Kaunas, and then to the coast in Klaipeda. Anyone know if Klaipeda is cool? That would be a real cheap club carlson tour. Almost did it, but instead decided to start in Riga this time and go north.

      Reply
    • Man. I almost considered going there… right about now, but decided to see anew country instead. But I continually notice the hotel when I sort by cat 1s on the map. Hopefully it stays that price until next time I’m there.

      Reply
  4. “And from what I hear, US Bank is generous in giving bonuses to existing members, so if you change your mind don’t hesitate to apply.”

    Are you saying that people can get multiple credit cards at the same time? I haven’t heard much about the ability to churn these cards.

    Reply
    • I’ve only gotten one card, so I have no experience personally. Maybe someone else can chime in.

      Reply
  5. Country Inn and Suites in Heredia Costa Rica is a fantastic value for 9000 points a night, and includes a free shuttle from San Jose airport and breakfast. Not really a destination but a great place coming in and out of San Jose to other adventures. Gave me an upgrade to a 4 room, 3 bed suite for being a gold member. Fantastic post Drew – great perspective.

    Reply
    • I did notice that on the map, although I try to recommend destination type hotels. I’d hate to find out someone vacationed at the San Jose airport hotel because of me. 😀

      But really, I have noticed a ton of good airport hotels decreasing in price, which is good. Plus now the 2-4-1 award benefit is gone, I can now justify a one night stay.

      Reply
  6. “I therefore consider buying gift cards (at $5 cost) to be the equivalent of buying points at .2 cents each”

    You could have made the same purchase using a 2% cash back card and earned $10 in cash back. Your cost is .4 cents minimum, although you should be getting a category bonus anyway…

    Reply
    • I’m not sure exactly what you’re saying. But if this is an “opportunity cost” thing, I hope you don’t get offended by my upcoming post on people using the phrase in poor math.
      Basically forgoing cashback points is not a “cost” at all. It’s forgoing an opportunity for sure, but not a cost as you’re not investing any cash to do so really. At least that isn’t the limited resource in this case.

      Which is to say… this is a post on earning club carlson points, and if you need to rack up some for a specific redemption, this card can do it at 5 points per dollar.

      Reply
  7. Thanks for that Drew; I was unfamiliar with Carlson Hotels in general. New to your fantastic site. Thank you for what you and your wife are doing! I have been an avid traveller for years; but alas, got into the points game just recently. I know that you are a busy guy; but if you get a free moment drop me an email if you can please.

    Reply
  8. Hey Drew, I wanted to pass on something not necessarily related to this thread, but important. I know that the advice on your site is multi-faceted; covering many subjects, so I thought I would share some info about credit cards. Some years ago, I was trying to establish credit; so I accepted an offer for a low-limit credit card with a seemingly low annual fee. I used the card maybe twice, and then it was declined for a purchase. Bewildered at how I could have already maxed out my card I contacted the credit card company who confirmed that my limit had already been reached. I was livid!!! Here’s how it happened! Credit card companies run a common scam; wherein you receive their credit card offer precisely before your birthday. Since the annual fee is assessed on your birthday they quickly whack you with the first annual fee before your birthday when you first apply; and then whack you again immediately after your birthday! Another side effect of this scam is that they can actually create a situation where you are now over your credit limit and THE HIGHER APR NOW APPLIES! So just a good rule of thumb to anyone who will listen; try not to accept ANY credit cards WITH AN ANNUAL FEE until after your birthday, or you will be a victim to this industry wide scam of mass proportions.

    Reply
    • Hey Gunner, thanks for the comment.
      Although I must say, there must have been some kind of confusion with the csr. No credit card applies an annual fee on your birthday. I have cards with nearly every card that offers rewards cards and I’ve never had such a thing happen, nor heard of it happening.

      Reply
    • Gunner,
      What on earth are you talking about? That certainly sounds like a scam, but one I’ve NEVER heard of and likely few others here too. Annual fees are assessed one year after date of issuance, which means it can be any day of the year and depends entirely on the date on which a given person applied for the card. Also, if you’re trying to establish credit, you’re MUCH better off with a no-fee card. There’re good ones out there, such as the Chase Freedom. No annual fee at all and good quarterly bonuses. Good luck!

      Reply
  9. Excellent write up. Thanks for the pointers on lower category Club Carlson hotels. By the way, like @brteacher said above, I too would like to know if the Club Carlson cc is churnable? If so, any sources you can point us to? If it can be done, I would sign up for a second cc. Notwithstanding the huge devaluation that just took place + the loss of the 2nd free night, I can still find value at lower category hotels, even in the U.S. and especially when we take road trips. It’s better than staying at Motel 6…

    Reply
  10. Forgot to mention that we used up all our stash of points for an “all Ireland” trip next May. We’re going to be staying at the Radisson Blu Dublin, the Radisson Blu Galway and the Radisson Blu Sligo. We went so far as reserving the Radisson Blu Letterkenny up in County Donegal (anyone ever been there? didn’t think so), but ended up cancelling and then making a reservation at the Marriott Powerscourt in County Wicklow, which we’ve heard is a-m-a-z-i-n-g. Still have some points left, so I’m thinking of using the cc to MS a ton and then get more low category nights out of it. If I can churn it, I will.

    Reply
  11. Hey Drew,

    I stayed at the Radisson Golf and Summit in Panama as a category 2 resort and it is a steal at that rate. The Country Inn at Panama Canal is great as well, but the Radisson Golf is like a resort on a golf course. The room we are in is massive as well.

    Reply

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We have spent the majority of our marriage traveling full time, living out of hotels.   All the while, we list our expenses publicly, budgeting $25,000 a year for our nomadic life while still staying in mostly 4 or 5 star hotels across ~20 countries a year.
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