Monday, March 17, 2014

Despite Program Changes, Club Carlson Still A Great Value

Program changes to Club Carlson took effect on March 15, and despite mostly negative adjustments, the overall value proposition remains relatively consistent. The biggest devaluation, of course, is the newly added top-tier Category 7, at a rate of 70,000 Gold Points per night. Previously, there had only been a total of six categories, with the most expensive rate being 50,000 Gold Points per night. While this represents a whopping 40% increase in the top-tier category, the good news is that only nine properties have moved up to Category 7, and almost all of them are in Europe, where there are plenty of other hotel options available:
  • The May Fair London
  • Plaza on the River London
  • Radisson Blu Hotel Champs Elysees Paris
  • Radisson Blu Le Dokhan’s Paris
  • Radisson Blu Le Metropolitan Paris
  • Radisson Blu 1835 Hotel & Thalasso Cannes
  • art’otel Amsterdam
  • Radisson Royal Hotel Moscow
  • Radisson Blu Royal Hotel Dubai

New hotel category and Premium Room option as of March 15, 2014

Creating a brand new top-tier category, however, does leave the door wide open for a more massive devaluation in the future. While visiting London last summer, I stayed at three different Carlson Rezidor properties, including The May Fair, which is one of the priciest hotels in the city. All three were wonderful, but I can understand how The May Fair definitely stood out and probably deserved to be in a higher category. In total, 114 hotels moved up in category, and 67 moved down. You can find the full list of changes here.

Sadly, the generous online booking bonus that provided up to 3,000 additional Gold Points depending on elite status will now be offered only on a promotional basis. Another devaluation bundled into these changes are the decreases in elite status bonus points earned through stays. Thankfully, the Concierge Status bonus still remains the same:
  • Silver: 25% → 15%
  • Gold: 50% → 35%
  • Concierge: 75% → 75%
With the bad news out of the way, there are still some positive points that can be gleaned from all of this. First off, Gold Points can now be redeemed for premium rooms (room types and amenities may vary by hotel) at an additional 50% above the base redemption rate. This probably isn't a huge deal to most people who just want a basic room, but for those who would prefer something a little bit more fancy during a special trip, it can be a worthwhile option.

Mommy Points over at BoardingArea also found a new option of booking Family Rooms at some European locations for only a 25% points premium. These rooms have a capacity for two adults and two children under the age of 12, and usually feature an additional sofa bed.

Arguably the most beneficial feature to come out of all these changes are that award stays now count toward elite status qualification. Most of the industry have been moving to this structure, including Starwood Preferred Guest and Hyatt Gold Passport, and I'm glad to see Club Carlson also following in their footsteps. Not only that, elite members will now earn Gold Points for all food and beverage purchases charged to their room during award stays.

The Club Carlson Visa

The main reason why I say Club Carlson is still an amazing value, however, is because of its co-branded credit card with US Bank. Since its launch, card users and bloggers alike have raved about its spectacular benefits, including 85,000 bonus Gold Points after spending $2,500 in 90 days, automatic Gold Status, an annual 40,000 Gold Points renewal bonus, and best of all, the last night free perk when you redeem for an award stay two nights or longer.
Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa and Business Rewards Visa

This last benefit is especially lucrative, since it essentially reduces the amount of Gold Points needed for award stays by 50% when you only book two-night stays. In cities where there are multiple Carlson Rezidor properties such as London, you can basically hotel-hop from one property to the next for two nights each, and pay only 50% of the typical award redemption rate. Or, if you are traveling with a friend or significant other who also carries the Club Carlson credit card, you can remain at the same hotel and just alternate two-night bookings under each name.

Thus, despite the highest category charging 70,000 Gold Points per night now, the actual rate can be cut in half to 35,000 Gold Points. Of course, paying only 25,000 Gold Points before the devaluation is still a far better deal, but I honestly can't complain about a 10,000 point per night increase for only nine of their best properties worldwide. By all accounts, this is still a fantastic deal.

Add to the fact that the earn rate for both paid hotel stays (20 Gold Points per dollar) and for credit card spend (10 Gold Points per dollar at Carlson Rezidor hotels, 5 Gold Points everywhere is else) is unmatched by any other hotel loyalty program, and I would venture to say that Club Carlson is still the most rewarding program out there right now. The only downside is that they lack the regional coverage larger hotel chains have, and perhaps the quality and aspirational nature of their properties are still not up to par. In the meantime, I will still be collecting as many Gold Points as possible for all my future stays.

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