For Sale: hotel brands (Radisson / Park Inn / Park Plaza), good condition, offers invited

We have already seen Marriott take over Starwood, although that deal may yet collapse.

Accor is taking over Fairmont, Raffles and Swissotel.

The latest news is that Carlson, the Radisson / Park Inn / Park Plaza group, is up for sale.

Carlson has a big European presence.  The US arm, whilst accounting for half of the company, is dominated by the low-key and unremarkable Country Inn & Suites chain, whilst the Radisson brand in the US has a far poorer reputation due to the quality of the hotels.

This makes the company an interesting play for Wyndham.  Whilst Wyndham is the biggest hotel group in the world, mainly through its ‘cheap and fairly cheerful’ US chains such as Days Inn, it still has virtually no UK hotels for example.

Hilton and IHG will also take a serious look, having missed out on the recent deals, but I think that any move would simply be corporate vanity rather than a sensible business decision.

IHG has done a good job of keeping a distinction between its brands – does anyone know the difference between SPG’s Le Meridien, Westin and Sheraton brands, for comparison? – and this deal would just muddy the water.  Unless they planned a full rebranding it would not fit well.  Of course, as IHG owns some incredibly strong brands, a rebranding of every Carlson property cannot be discounted.

Hilton is using DoubleTree as a ‘dumping ground’ for random hotels.  There are, basically, no brand standards at all.  That is the reason why they make a big play of giving every guest a free chocolate chip cookie – there is literally nothing else that the hotels have in common.  In the US, for example, Hilton will accept hotels with external ‘in your window’ aircon units into DoubleTree which other brands would not.  This gives Hilton some flexibility with acquisitions since anything which does not fit cleanly into another brand gets dumped into DoubleTree.

Hyatt is often named as the chain most in need of a partner, being the smallest of the major chains, but it is difficult to see the company wanting such a diverse bag.  It would do better to court owners of Starwood, Fairmont, Raffles or Swissotel properties who may be looking to re-flag following their takeover.

You can read more in this Reuters report.

Radisson Hamburg 350

The Carlson deal would be relatively ‘clean’ which is a major benefit from any acquirer.  There are only four major brands – Country Inn & Suites in the fourth, rarely seen in Europe – and the loyalty programme does not inspire huge amounts of enthusiasm.

I can imagine Wyndham keeping the Radisson brand, although they may decide that Ramada and Radisson sound too similar and decide to retire one of them.  Park Inn could be swapped for Days Inn or something similar with little trouble as I sense little loyalty to that brand.  Park Plaza is positioned higher than any existing Wyndham brand and I imagine would be kept.

Compare this to the Starwood / Marriott deal.  This involves Marriott taking on another 11 brands – taking them to a ludicrous 30.  It is also faced with the necessity of dismantling the best loved hotel loyalty scheme, Starwood Preferred Guest, and forcing its members and their points into the least loved, Marriott Rewards.

The Starwood / Marriott deal is beginning to look a little wobbly.  It is primarily a ‘share for share’ deal.  Since the merger was announced, however, both companies have seen their share prices fall sharply.  The sell-off in the wider market has hit travel companies harder because they are hit the worst in any slowdown.

There were a few people who were rumoured to be looking at a cash deal for Starwood.  If any of those bidders came back and offered the same level of cash per share that they were willing to pay two months ago, Starwood shareholders would bite their hands off.

These rumours will also be causing concern over at American Express.   At present, Membership Rewards in the UK has three hotel transfer partners – Hilton, Starwood and Club Carlson.  Two of those could be gone in 18 months.

The Platinum charge card also risks losing two of its key benefits – Starwood Gold status and Club Carlson Gold status.

It is also likely that the Starwood Amex will close which, in the US, is a big earner – when I started in this hobby, the SPG Amex was the ‘go to’ US credit card.  Marriott has a major partnership with Visa and it is unlikely that would change.

Add this to the loss of the Costco Amex card – which, amazingly, represented 10% of Amex’s entire global card volume and 20% of its global revolving credit volume – and you can see why things are getting tricky for them.

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  1. Enigma368 says:

    I would not miss Club Carlson. Of the major chains, it has for me the least value in terms of redemptions. There is very little value to be had at the upper end and very few hotels in the lowest categories. Most of the hotels you might want to stay at are at least 38k or 44k a night which does not compare favourably to IHG or Hilton where similar hotels are usually available for 20k or 30k a night in their schemes (and if anything Carlson points are worth less than either Hilton or IHG)

    • On the other hand, you can earn points incredibly quickly. I’ve had great value from club carlson. I paid £170 for a pile of points and had three nights in the penthouse in the Radisson Martinique New York which, whilst far from luxurious, is as huge amount of space in central new york for less than £60 a night. (A standard room would have cost about $400 per night).

      It also got me out of trouble when I accidentally booked an anniversary trip to Edinburgh without realising that the festival would be on. 3 nights in an Ibis would have cost about £600, but by transferring a handful of points from Amex to club carlson, we spent three comfortable nights in the Radisson Blu on the Royal mile – right in the heart of the action. Club Carlson has no blackout dates, which is why it’s so good for stuff like this. Sometimes their hotels don’t like to recognise that rule, but a quick call to Club Carlson central office will force open availability.

      • That’s interesting, I didn’t know the offered that. Hilton used to have something similar – as a Diamond you could force a stay when a property was fully booked. Sadly this is no longer available on redemptions so is of little use given the cash rate you’d pay on a forced stay.


          As it says here, “no blackout dates on standard rooms”. The problem you have is that individual hotels don’t willingly apply this rule, but Club Carlson HQ will force them to if needs be. Take, for example, my stay at the Radisson Martinique. I saw that they had standard rooms available but no reward rooms. I called the hotel to ask them to book me in with points. They refused. I pointed out the policy. They basically said “computer says no” and referred me to Club Carlson. Club Carlson were great: they did the booking immediately by email, and in fact gifted me additional points to book in to an exec room because I was gold (had I simply cancelled the booking I’d have walked away with 75k free points!). (From there, I got one a POUG to the penthouse for something daft like £20 a night – the penthouse included breakfast and a $50 per day per person food and drinks coupon, so it more than paid for itself).

          It’s annoying that the no blackout rule is not automatically applied at hotel level, but with the minimum of effort you can make it work.

        • Brendan says:

          There’s a big difference between “no blackout dates” and “all standard rooms are available for awards”. If a hotel has no rooms left at award level that doesn’t mean they are blacking out a particular date.

          Does it explicitly state that all standard rooms can be had as award stays?

        • Nice result there, Nick! Will keep that in find on future bookings 🙂

  2. I’d actually cry if the Radisson Blu brand disappeared. I don’t mind clubcarlson they’ve matched my Hilton for 3 years now and I constantly stay under their 2for1 and 4for2 offer for gold members. It’s saved me a bit over the years.

  3. I’ve had some good redemptions with Carlson (top one being the Radisson Blu Le Dokhan in Paris Trocadero) and would be sorry to see them go. My folks have also had some good Oslo airport stays with them when heading to Oz!

    Do you have any sense from your contacts at Amex if they are actually looking at this over the next 12 months and trying to do something to bolster the Plat card, Rob? Based on past experience I’m a bit worried they’ll just let benefits gradually reduce bit by bit and do nothing to address the worsening value proposition of the card (or add useless benefits like the partner airline tickets at full price!)

    In related news, did you see have unveiled ‘Tru’ – yet another brand for them with a vomit-inducingly dreadful brand video!!

    • The Radisson blu is a good choice at Oslo airport?
      Need a night at the end of March.

      • Yes, directly connected to the airport – staff very friendly and helpful. My folks had issues on their first stay (shower not working), moved to another room which had a very bad smell, property comped the stay and made sure they had a great room on the return visit. They really liked being able to dump their bags there then jump on the train into the city centre for the evening (they got some last minute discount opera tickets!) – made for a very nice ex-EU trip!

      • Yes it’s in the terminal practically isn’t it? Tough, i was checking it out for my ex Eu next March and already in june last year it was 120£ for a mid week night. You could also check park inn but i finally booked another one in the end to keep my ex eu sensibly low(would not make sense otherwise).

        • Thanks guys, I’ll take a look 😉

        • Lady London says:

          If those are full the Comfort Inn at Oslo gets pretty good ratings and I couldn’t really fault it when I stayed there. You do have a 10min shuttle to get there and back though. If you’re not collecting points and just looking for a cheaper cash stay Kayak had it for lower than other sites.

      • Park Inn at Oslo airport is better.

      • Andrew (@andrewseftel) says:

        There’s also another Radisson right next to Oslo train station.

    • I had an email yesterday from a French Plat holder who got an email saying he will get Hilton Diamond and Melia status. Now, Hilton is not big in France so I can see why they may give French residents Diamond but stuff UK residents with Gold, as in the US.

      Looks like some form of Hilton and Melia status is on the way though.

      • Don’t you just live the UK mentality, get dumped on every which way 🙂
        All we need now is to stay in the EU and let the French pass all their unwanted residents here.

        • I’d personally say the UK mentality is to be miserable and moan about anything and everything…

      • Thanks, Rob – interesting. If HH G was ongoing that would definitely have some appeal. I enjoyed the one Melia stay I’ve had but wouldn’t rate status with them as highly as CC Gold. Amex need to give us more free hotel nights like they used to! (that was how I had my one Melia stay – in Madrid!)

      • As a Spanish Plat. card holder, I get Gold in Melia (had already earned it last year) and Jade in Shangri-La (along with Gold Club Carlson & Starwood)

  4. Frenske says:

    Any thoughts about what will happen with Club Carlson points. I have amassed 350K.

    • You are safe for at least 2 years due to the IT integration needed.

      There may even be an arbitrage, eg if IHG buys them you could move Amex to Carlson knowing they will become IHG. Same with Amex to Starwood if you want Marriott points.

  5. I would cry a lot! I love it and it made me start travelling much more! Are we joking…it’s not only about the 3x Amex rate, it’s all about the 442/241 at a reasonable price with clean simple but still stilish soul, as per the Scandi standard. I think i need to study a plan now..
    Rob i usually love your articles as a good morning but today, no!

  6. Chelseafi says:

    Can’t believe I missed the news with regards Costco & Amex. That’s really going to hit my spend hard as I do most of my shopping at Costco stores, i don’t know what Visa card to go for now ready for 1st April when they switch, I mainly use the £10k spend BA 241, struggling to see what Visa card is best for Avios?

    • Metatone says:

      The decline of Amex is very worrying for us in the UK because the interchange rules have essentially killed off MC/Visa as earning routes.

    • Andrew (@andrewseftel) says:

      Amex lost the Costco partnership in Canada a couple years ago (to Capital One/MasterCard) and, more recently, in the USA (to Citi/Visa). I’m not aware of any changes in the UK. I wouldn’t worry until anything is announced.

    • Does this mean Costco will no longer accept AMEX? or mean that AMEX no longer will have the credit cards for Costco?

    • nobbynobchops says:

      The Amex loss in Costco is US only where they are going to Visa. Amex is staying in the UK

  7. Metatone says:

    I have to join the chorus of disagreement. Over the years I’ve gotten a lot out of Carlson Gold 2for1 and 4for2. It’s great for European city breaks. And it’s rare I didn’t get a nice room upgrade. One reason I was happy to pay for Amex Plat is that getting Carlson Gold back was a good thing. (My work trip patterns changed so I lost the stays route.)

    Of course, there are downsides. US coverage and offers are not much cop. Points situation isn’t great because the earning scale isn’t generous and there’s no UK credit card. (I need to use Amex MR mostly for airline points.) Still, I think Carlson can be pretty good for some.

  8. OT, but if you wanted to use a Hilton Honours voucher for one night in Singapore, where would you stay please?

    Also, are there ever any offers for staying at Raffles hotel?

    • Personally I’d use it at the Conrad Singapore – fantastic property (even better if you managed to get Diamond status match recently – superb Exec Lounge and restaurant breakfast).

      Not sure re. Raffles Hotel offers – am sure Rob should know given it’s his namesake!

      • Andrew (@andrewseftel) says:

        +1 for the Conrad.

      • AndrewC says:

        I would say Raffles Singapore is more like staying in a zoo with all of the tourists walking the corridors every day looking for Long Bar. I’ve stayed in St Regis near Orchard Road and Westin near Marina Bay and could recommend both. I’ve also heard consistently good reviews of Conrad which fits with your Hilton preference.

    • Raffles is almost certainly in Amex FHR, Virtuoso etc – they are not ‘precious’ about protecting high rates. I assume most 342 etc offers via the Raffles group will be included. It isn’t even the best Raffles hotel – that is probably Dubai. Worth staying, though, because they have done a good job restoring it.

    • I didn’t like Raffles at all. Looks nice from outside – agree with the comments about people trying to find the Long Bar. I’d recommend the Fullerton Bay but I stayed there before I got into points so I probably won’t be going there again lol.

  9. It may be duff information but a Costco store manager recently told me that the uk is not dropping AmEx, I guess we will have to wait and see.

    • Andrew (@andrewseftel) says:

      Raffles’ comment was about their partnership in the US. I don’t believe any other market is affected (although Amex also lost the partnership in Canada a couple years ago to Cap One).

      • That said …. it is difficult to imagine the UK card remaining once the current contract is up.

        • Surely it’s a completely different scenario though? The US doesn’t have capped fees on visa and mastercard making them more competitive with Amex. If they switch in the UK would it not be likely for Costco to see their cut decrease?

        • This is the funny bit. The Costco Visa deal – which has sent all other US retailers into a spin at how crazily cheap it is – is believed to be a touch over the 0.3% which is now mandatory in the EU!

  10. I for one would not be happy if this went ahead. Carlson hotels are my first choice in London and I have over a million gold points. I also find there are some of the best when it comes to points availability. I saved a fortune with gold points when the London Olympics were on and again this summer when the Stone Roses play in Manchester.

  11. Nick Burch says:

    > does anyone know the difference between SPG’s Le Meridien, Westin and Sheraton brands, for comparison?

    LM doesn’t try to be as “hip” as a W, but normally should have quite a lot of art around, more interesting / designery layout and furnishings, more interesting food options etc

    Sheraton, unless it’s one that’s now a Sheraton Grand, will be dull and uninspiring but normally fairly solid (in a boring and with the odd small fault way)

    Westin should be nicer than a Sheraton, a bit more interesting in terms of layout and offerings, but aiming to be a bit more “normal” than a LM

    • But, in reality, we all know properties in all of those chains which do not need those descriptions. There are cities in Asia with Sheraton hotels which are uber-lux. Similarly, there are some depressing Westins such as the one in Edmonton I stayed in this Summer. Meridien Hamburg, the only I use regularly, is fairly ‘arty’ but – frankly – not much more than I would expect from any modern hotel today.

  12. Aeronaut says:

    Is it just me or do other people think that many of the hotel brand names are pretty naff – Westin, Park Plaza, Crowne Plaza, DoubleTree, Park Inn (a motel?), Radisson Blu (which sounds like it could be some horrific alcopop)… ?

    In terms of loyalty names Club Carlson just sounds too much like an American corporate attempt to come across upmarket, whilst Starwood Preferred Guest rather makes it sound like they don’t want your business if you’re not a ‘preferred guest’, and as for a group name, Starwood isn’t too great either – it could be some noveau riche store in Lakeside shopping centre.

    Mind you, I never much liked Uber as a name, and that’s regardless of the missing umlaut!

    OK, rant over!

    • Aeronaut says:

      And yes, it seems I can’t spell nouveau riche, so there’s egg on my face too!

    • Quite agree.

      Not quite as bad as Priority Pass, whose card looks like a membership card for a Gentlemen’s entertainment venue. (So I’ve heard…)

  13. AndyGWP says:

    I’ve looked through your old articles “such as your earning Club Carlson – Facts / Opinions” post, but not been able to see the answer.

    1) Is status at Radisson Blu recognised even if you don’t book direct?
    2) If not, can you still earn the 500 BAEC points (avios) (as on one article you mentioned you don’t need to be a member of Club Carlson to benefit from this)?

  14. Is Radisson Blu the same company/brand as Radisson? I always thought it was a separate beast, something to do with SAS.

    • Aeronaut says:

      Radisson Blu is what was Radisson SAS (airline rather than Hereford-based embassy siege specialists), but SAS pulled out of the partnership a few years ago so it was renamed with the Blu suffix (presumably because someone somewhere though that was a good idea!).

  15. Irons1980 says:

    It would be pleased if IHG took over Radisson Blu – IHG’s coverage in Scandinavia is pretty sparse (nothing at all in Sweden) so it would be great to almost immediately gain quite a few hotels in Stockholm, especially as a couple of them are very well located vs. the Hilton and others.

  16. Raffles, are you going to cover the current Marriott promo?