What is the best hotel scheme? – Club Carlson – The Opinion

In my article yesterday, I reviewed ‘the facts’ of the Club Carlson loyalty scheme. This post is my personal opinion, highlighting areas where I think you might want to focus.

The 10-second summary:

Strong points – high earnings rate, free Gold status via Amex Platinum, generous Amex Membership Rewards transfer rate, good spread of properties in Europe and Middle East including excellent London coverage

Weak points – fewer bonus promotions than some programmes, lack of ‘wow’ luxury properties, few or poor quality hotels in Asia and North America

Club Carlson review

The longer version:

I like Club Carlson.  Whilst I rarely pay to stay in their hotels (except when mattress-running for promotions), I frequently transfer over Amex Membership Rewards points for stays.  They are my ‘go to’ first choice when we have friends or relatives coming to London.

Club Carlson compares favourably with other chains when you look at how much you need to spend to earn a free night in a luxury hotel.  Even when transferring from American Express,  a 70,000 point five-star redemption would only require 23,333 Amex points at 1:3 – no other hotel transfer is anywhere near as good.

(The 2nd best hotel option, as mentioned in the comments, is probably 30,000 Amex to 15,000 Starwood to 45,000 Marriott which gets you a top category hotel.)

You get Gold status if you have an American Express Platinum charge card.  At a Radisson, this can lead to a pleasant chain of good results – if you get upgraded to a ‘Business Room’ at a Radisson for being Gold, as I was in Hamburg in 2012 and at Stockholm Arlanda in 2015, you also get free Pay TV, free mini bar and an in-room Nespresso machine.  You may even get free breakfast, although some hotels like to remove this benefit from the business class room benefits if they upgrade you.

The Park Plaza properties in London are relatively low profile but surprisingly modern and high quality.  The Park Plaza Westminster Bridge in London is very nice as I reviewed here.

20 points per $1 spent means that points are very easy to earn.  The ability to top up by an Amex Membership Rewards transfer means that you shouldn’t end up with any orphan points.

The recent Spring promotion, now over, offered 5000 bonus points per night.  If you value them at 0.33p, you were getting £17 of extra value on top of your base points.  That isn’t bad at all.

Reward rooms are generally OK to find. They do NOT have ‘last room availability’, so seeing cash rooms does not mean you will see reward rooms. The ability to spend more points for better rooms, available at some hotels, is good.  It is the only chain to have specific ‘family room redemptions’ which have the space for extra beds for children.

The recent 2017 loss of the 2-4-1 and 4-4-2 deals for Gold card holders was a shame.  I remember a stay at a Radisson in Riga about 9 years ago, where I did a 2-4-1. I got two nights for £40 in total AND got upgraded to a ‘Business Room’ with free mini-bar and breakfast!

Because the Radisson chain was owned by SAS in Europe at one point, there are a lot of properties in Scandinavia. A lot of major global chains ignore that part of the world, despite the high room rates, so it is a good programme if you are planning stays in the region.

What don’t I like?

Whilst there are some impressive ‘flagship’ Radisson properties (Berlin, Chicago), many are old and tired. The brand desperately lacks ‘wow’ properties (or even ‘impressive’ properties) in many places including North America, although you will usually find a Carlson family hotel of some standard if you need one. There are few properties of any sort in Asia.

The June 2015 devaluation made the chain a lot more expensive for European redemptions – although the ‘earn to burn’ ratio remains better than its peers.

The benefits for mid-tier Gold members, if you don’t get upgraded, are pretty much nil apart from the bonus base points. That said, I have generally done OK with upgrades but I am working off a very small sample set of stays.

Club Carlson has a nasty habit of changing the rules without notice.  In 2013 it devalued the ‘points to miles’ conversion rate overnight, with no notice.  This was especially unfair because the rate improved as you collected more points, meaning that collectors were encourage to hold off redeeming their points for miles until they reached a high balance – only to have the rug pulled out.  The June 2015 changes were announced online in advance but members were NOT emailed about them.  The removal of the 241 deal for Gold members in early 2017 also happened with no notice.

Overall

If Carlson was not an American Express partner (offering me a free Gold card and a generous points transfer ratio from Membership Rewards), I would probably ignore it.

As it is, I am happy to pick and choose the best properties from their redemption list for friends, family and myself whenever I need to, and I have always been happy with the experience.

I would have no qualms being told I had to stay in a Radisson Blu property on a business trip, because I know that I can always top up the points I will earn with additional Amex points and redeem for a decent European hotel somewhere.  Anika found herself in exactly this situation recently – she ended up with 14,000 Club Carlson points due to their Spring promotion from what was her first Radisson stay and she will probably end up redeeming them after an Amex top-up.

(Want to earn more hotel points?  Click here to see our complete list of promotions from the major hotel chains or use the ‘Hotel Promos’ link in the menu bar at the top of the page.)

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Comments

  1. Gareth says:

    They also cancelled 241 for gold members with zero notice which was I felt one of the only good things with their status

  2. “Even when transferring from American Express, a 70,000 point five-star redemption would only require 23,333 Amex points at 1:3 – no other hotel transfer is anywhere near as good.”

    I’d argue that top end marriott redemptions are at least as good if not better. For example marriott grosvernor house or grosvernor square @45K marriott, and hence 30K Amex. This becomes more of a no-trainer for plat card holders, who can get marriott gold status, and therefore access to the lounge and free breakfast for that 30K amex points.

    • True, the ability to go SPG to Marriott for a 45k Marriott makes that a competitive option.

  3. Rob there is a new promo of triple points and 5000 bonus points for a Sunday or Monday night.

    • Yes, seen this, on the list!

    • Optimus Prime says:

      I received the email for such promo a week after I booked a stay in Stockholm in June which includes Sunday and Monday 🙁

      • You can still register and get the points, Club Carlson don’t require you to register before you book.

  4. Chris Cannon says:

    They have to be the most dimly lit hotels going. Especially Park Plazas in London. They’re OK and because they are newly built in London, they have the freshness factor

  5. I’ve stayed at the Rad Blu EMA property once a month for 2 years on the 2-4-1 each time. Always got upgraded to a Business Class room, always got the breakfast, always got free beer and wine and all this for approximately £70-80 each time. With the accumulation of points it was like we were being paid to stay there.

    Luckily we had 2-4-1s booked up until the end of the year but I’m sorry (if not surprised) to see it go.

  6. Optimus Prime says:

    OT but hotel related:

    Can the Barclaycard Hilton free night voucher be redeemed at any date?

    Also can I use my wife’s and mine to redeem a 2-night stay or do they ask you to pay for at least one night?

    We’re thinking of staying at the Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam for just 2 days, Friday and Saturday.

    • Any weekend date where standard reward rooms available. No need for paid nights. WA Amsterdam is tricky for availability I believe.

      • Optimus Prime says:

        Thanks, I’ll have a look. Do they have a reward nights calendar?

        BTW I’ve called Amex to cancel my BAPP and the lady said I’d lose my companion vouchers… So I haven’t cancelled. Is this true or they’re just trying to get me to keep it? She advised my downgrade to BA cc though.

        • Genghis says:

          Just look on Hilton site for availability.
          99.999% of the time you will keep your voucher.

        • Optimus Prime says:

          Ah and she’s also refused to transfer my wife’s Amex MR points to me upon cancelling her Amex Gold card…

        • Tick flexible dates when searching.

          Amex always say that, very rare to lose it.

        • Optimus Prime says:

          Have just cancelled my BAPP one.

          My wife has tried again to cancel her Amex Gold card and has just been told they’ll only transfer her points to another account if it’s on her name.

          Is transferring out to Avios the best option in this case?

          Thanks.

        • Genghis says:

          You could through a long process to get them transferred to you. I’ve never done it. I always transfer out as both wife and I churn. As to what to transfer to, depends what your points goals are.

        • Agreed

        • Optimus Prime says:

          Yeah my main goal is churning. I’ll move them across to BA then.

        • Optimus Prime says:

          BTW what’s your main churning strategy? Do you normally try to build up Avios with BAPP and Amex Gold/Platinum?

          My wife and I are Spanish so the BA RSF are very handy, I’ve seen availability even in Christmas.

          I know that BA long-haul flights have worse quality than others. We realised after flying Etihad to Australia and was fantastic. That’s why I’m now wondering if it’s worth pursuing the BAPP Companion voucher every year…

        • Indeed, if you can instead put that spend into lots more sign-up bonuses and spend on another airline it might work out better for you.

          I churned Hilton a few times, BA and BAPP a few times. I keep Plat long-term as make use of a lot of the benefits and now have 450k MR points that I don’t want to lock in to Avios!

        • Genghis says:

          @Optimus Prime. Think about what you want to use the points for first and then think about how to achieve it.
          Ie. Do you want to get avios to go to Spain on RFS? If so, this is your goal (compare it to U2 and FR etc on cost) and you need to earn avios. How you get there is then with a plat churn every 6 months (92k MRs with £4K spend and convert to avios and a BAPP churn etc).
          If you want to fly Ethiad, I believe AA miles are generally a good way, depending on route but these are harder to pick up

  7. They also have a programme that awards PAs and the like for arranging travel. Get the partner organise your stay and you got an extra bonus 🙂

  8. Ian Snowley says:

    Writing this from the Hilton at St. George’s Park – I agree with Rob’s points about Hilton in general, but there is evidence of an important in the properties outside London, and some recent openings like London Bankside are superb. So far in a number of years at Gold (thanks to the cc) I’ve always had great upgrades and benefits.

  9. Geoggy says:

    For those of us that just got dropped from Diamond to Silver after the last status match, has anyone successfully reapplied for the new match and got it?

    Have a stay at the WA Rome coming up and clearly being Diamond would be preferable

    • Yes, me. Applied 1st April as soon as it was clear I had dropped, was back up to Diamond within 3 days, just in time for today’s arrival at Conrad Tokyo!

  10. Pangolin says:

    They’re permanently off my list after they pulled the 241 offer for Gold+ members without notice.