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

This is the first of our overview series of the main hotel loyalty schemes. Each scheme will be covered over two posts. One will list the basic facts of the scheme, the other – on the following day – will be my subjective view of what is of particular merit.

Club Carlson was launched in 2011 from the ashes of Radisson GoldPoints.  It covers 1,000 hotels globally under the Radisson Blu, Radisson RedRadisson, Park Inn, Park Plaza, Quorvus Collection and Country Inn & Suites brands (the latter is rarely seen in Europe).  The Club Carlson home page is here.

What is the geographic spread?

In the UK, Radisson Blu hotels are dotted around the major cities and there are a number of budget Park Inn properties. Radisson has a London-specific sub-brand called Radisson Edwardian.  Park Plaza runs a number of high quality properties in London, particularly around Waterloo / Westminster.  Two of the three Quorvus Collection hotels are in the UK – The May Fair in London (review) and the G&V (ex Hotel Missoni) in Edinburgh.  Redemption opportunities in London are good.

Outside the UK, Radisson is especially strong in Scandinavia and Germany.  The only Radisson Red hotel in Europe so far is Brussels.  In general, the chain is weak in Asia and lacks high quality hotels in North America.

Do I use them?

I rarely pay to stay with them to be honest.  I do transfer American Express Membership Rewards points to Club Carlson via the generous 1:3 rate.  These are generally redeemed for Park Plaza properties in London for visiting friends, usually County Hall.

I reviewed my pleasant stay at the Radisson Blu Hamburg Airport here and my stay at the Radisson Blu at Stockholm Arlanda Airport here.  The Park Plaza Westminster Bridge in London is very nice as I reviewed here.  I have Club Carlson Gold status via my American Express Platinum charge card.

Club Carlson

Elite membership levels

Silver – requires 10 stays or 15 nights. Benefits are 15% bonus on base points and upgrade if available.

Gold – requires 20 stays or 35 nights. Benefits are 35% bonus on base points and upgrade if available.

Concierge – requires 30 stays or 75 nights. Benefits are 75% bonus on base points, upgrade if available and free breakfast.

Note that Silver and Gold members should receive free breakfast if upgraded to a ‘business room‘ at a Radisson Blu since that is a defined benefit of that room category, although some hotels play hardball and refuse to provide it.  Other ‘business room’ benefits include free pay TV films and an in-room coffee machine.

Free internet is generally provided at all Club Carlson hotels.

All elite members can roll over their additional elite nights – but not stays – into the following year to aid requalification. They can also request late check-in and check-out.

Suite upgrades are NOT an elite benefit.

Reward nights count towards elite status qualification or requalification.

The full table of benefits can be found here.

The generous benefit of 2-4-1 and 4-4-2 offers for cash stays mixing midweek and weekend nights was withdrawn in early 2017.  These were exclusive to Gold and Concierge members and often provided great value – I used it in Riga once.

Club Carlson does not offer lifetime status.

Earning points

Club Carlson gives a substantial 20 points per $1 spent. You will also receive an elite status bonus if applicable.

The programme has historically been relatively light on promotions and you cannot be certain that they will always be running an offer, unlike Hilton, Marriott or IHG.   See our ‘Hotel Promos’ page for any current offers.  The recent offer of 5,000 bonus points per night was decent.

Spending points

Redemption rates for hotels run from 9,000 points in Category 1 (the cheapest Park Inn properties) to 70,000 points in Category 7.  The full chart is here.

There are no discounts for extended stays.

Some hotels make business class rooms, family rooms and suites available at a premium – usually 50%.  At a Radisson Blu booking a business room would mean breakfast and Pay TV is included, which can represent a good deal.

A 5-star 70,000 point redemption would typically require a Gold member to spend $2,600, excluding promotions. This is better than most of its competitors. This is based on 20 points per $1 plus the 35% Gold bonus.

Points expiry

Yes, if you have no earning or redemption activity within a 24 month period.  The formal wording is here.  I wrote an article on how to stop your Club Carlson points expiring.

Can you upgrade using points?

Not online, although you can at some hotels book higher room categories – not just standard rooms – for a larger number of points. Some hotels also allow you, at the front desk, to use points to upgrade a cash room to a higher category.

Are ‘cash and points’ redemptions available?

Yes – see the Carlson website here – although not all hotels offer them. The cash element is generally 60% of the cost of a refundable room.  These deals are generally poor value if the hotel is offering aggressive discounts for prepaid bookings – the cash element on a reward night can be close to that of a prepaid ‘all cash’ room – but at other times they can work out OK.

Airline redemption options

Club Carlson points can be transferred to a wide range of airlines including Avios.  The ratio is a weak 10:1, however, compared to the value of using the points for stays.  Arguably it is not a bad deal based on the amount spent – you still receive 2 Avios per $1 based on 20 points per $1.

Many hotels offer in-hotel ‘instant’ redemptions such as breakfast, spa credit, upgrades etc. Points can also be redeemed, at poor exchange rates, for gift cards.

Can I earn Avios directly without collecting points?

Yes, see ba.com here. You can earn 500 Avios per stay by showing your British Airways Executive Club card at check-in. You do not need to be a member of Club Carlson to do this.

Credit card partnerships

Can you get elite status with a UK credit card?  Yes, American Express Platinum members receive Gold status for as long as they retain the card.

Is there a Club Carlson credit card in the UK?  No

Is Club Carlson an Amex Membership Rewards partner?  Yes, at the very generous transfer rate of 1:3.

Purchasing and transferring points

You can buy Club Carlson points for $7 per 1,000 via this link. This is a very reasonable price. You can buy up to 40,000 points per year.  Carlson runs occasional bonus promotions which give you an additional 30% or more points with every purchase.

Points can be transferred to other members without charge, which is a useful benefit. Details are here in q13.  If you are not an elite member you need to share an address with the other person.

My opinion

Click here for part 2 which contains my personal opinions on Club Carlson.

(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.)

My flight from Gatwick to Heathrow - or, what's happening at BA?
A review of the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island - on Hilton points (Part 3)
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  1. Arthur says:

    Rob, even with Concierge level status some of the hotels play hard ball over the free breakfast, such as The Mayfair in London where they will only give the benefit to the member and not their guest. They do mostly provide a welcome gift, wine chocolates or fruit in the room however. Also I n my experience many hotels in the chain will not give Business room benefits to people that received the room by way of a free upgrade. In some countries upgrades are rarely given (Germany for example) or if they are the fact that you have been upgraded may not be noticeable but in other countries (Poland for example) I’ve always been upgraded to a junior suite.

  2. Wally1976 says:

    Slightly OT but I’m planning a trip to Florida for myself, wife and two children (will be aged 11 and 8) in August 2020! Probably a week in Orlando area and a week on the coast. Intending to use points to cover our hotels and wondering which hotel scheme is best to focus on. I will be raising points mostly by using Amex Gold/Plat and/or SPG Amex churning. Currently have negligible points in any scheme but some Amex MR to get started.

    We are quite happy with fairly basic hotels and have the hotel statuses given by Amex Plat.

    Any thoughts or recommendations appreciated!

    • rams1981 says:

      no expert of the area but with points bookings, I’d personally recommend the hilton as you’d have gold status and so get free breakfast potentially?

    • fivebobbill says:

      Wally, I’m a big fan of Club Carlson, mainly because I like to travel to Florida and move around. If your trip’s gonna be flip flops and shorts, beaches and parks, then the best value by far are Country Inns & Suites. Ok. they’re not 5 star hotels right on the beach, but is that what you’re looking for when you’re there? How much time are you gonna spend in it for a start? All CI&S hotels are well located and very clean, they all have a pool area and include free breakfast buffet and free wi-fi. Queen rooms are the typical large 2 queen bed family type, fridge, microwave, coffee/tea maker. Rooms average 28,000 Club Carlson points per night (9,333 avios), but can be as little as 15,000 (5,000 Avios). Also bear in mind FREE parking, most beach or 4/5* hotels will charge you up to $20 a night for parking – free room or not! Also, when combined with some of their regular deals you can easily do a week in Florida with CI&S for less than 50,000 avios.
      For instance I’m heading over at the end of April, staying at Country Inns for 6 nights. First night at Orlando airport, then 2 nights in Tampa (Busch Gardens), and finally 3 in Sarasota/Bradenton area on the gulf. I hadn’t enough points to cover all of it so had to pay $118 for one of the nights in Sarasota, total cost in Club Carlson points is 99,000, or just 33,000 avios! So almost a week for £95!

      • Wally1976 says:

        fivebobbill that’s really great information, thank you, exactly what I was looking for.

        I had initially thought Hilton or Marriott due to the free breakfasts but then had noticed that many of the Club Carlson properties give free breakfast anyway and seem to offer better value due to the 1:3 Amex MR conversion rate. Of course I realise between now and then a lot could change (this is more likely with Marriott) but I think for now CC is the best place to focus my points earning.

        Have you ever come across any resort fees with these properties? And do you have any particularly good ones you’ve visited and can recommend?

        Thanks again.

        • fivebobbill says:

          No resort fees at any of the CI&S properties, and no taxes if you book with points, also breakfast is included in ALL of them regardless of the room you stay in. As to recommendations, I can’t really say I’ve had a bad experience with any of them. Some of the properties are older than others, but then some of them are brand new, regardless, they are all very clean and well maintained. No matter where you choose to stay, there’s always a choice of two or three properties within 20 or 30 minutes of each other, I usually just have a read through Tripadvisor to see if there’s any to particularly avoid. They all come with the same layout though, if you’ve stayed in one you won’t get lost in any other, I think they must throw them up in kit form lol. I’m booked into the one in Bradenton, FL 34203, it’s brand new, 20 minutes to the gulf beaches (beaches with free parking) and only an hour up the I75 from Busch Gardens. It seems to be getting rave reviews so far, so if you’re heading to the gulf area I’ll come back in May and let you know what it’s like.
          To be honest, I really don’t know why anybody throws big money or points at hotels in Florida (unless you get the points for free), I looked at Hilton myself, and for one night in a gulf beach property I’m getting a week at CI&S, no brainer for me, I’ll save my points for the flights! Glad to be of help, anything else just ask…

        • Wally1976 says:

          Great thanks fbb :-). I agree – no need to pay big bucks (or even medium bucks) for accommodation in Florida from what I’ve seen.

        • Definitely some superb deals to be had! The main reason I’ve paid more in that area is when staying for a short trip without a car, handy being at one resort hotels for walkability and early/late park hours.

      • Nicely done! Good to know how good value they are – agree on road trips that can be just what you want!

    • Tracy says:

      I’m doing this in July this year. We are spending 9 days in Orlando at Embassy Suites Lake Buena Vista Resort, they have family rooms that sleep 5, free breakfast & evening reception. Then we have 5 nights at Boca Beach Club in Boca Raton, 2 rooms needed for 5 people though. We booked these hotels before the new changes to the Hilton programme this year, Embassy suites was about 20k per night, Boca beach club was 40k per room per night. All up 580k points and no resort fees (I have email from Hilton confirming this plus it’s noted on my bookings). Could have been much less points if we didn’t choose Boca beach club but it looks fab 🙂 Both hotels get great trip advisor reviews…

    • Corrine says:

      We did Florida and Caribbean as a family of 4 big holiday several years ago. We booked the car hire via BAEC (using avios), stayed at Doubletree by Seaworld using Cash+Points. Booked all our flights using BAEC and VFC including internal flights Tampa to Miami then Miami to Antigua for minimal taxes. We saved a fortune on our family holiday. However, I am now in the process of booking a Boston/Niagara/Toronto/Lake George road trip. Hilton isn’t looking quite as appealing as in the number of points now needed. I have just booked 3 nights in Niagara Radisson Fallsview (peak season) for £95 & 86000 points (29K Amex MR = 2 x free nights 1 x points plus money) Cash equiv £550 !! Also I’ve booked the same value/same points/3 night in Queensbury NY with Country Hotel & Suites (Club Carlson). These definitely seem to be the better option if you can find a decent CC hotel close to where you are staying. I’ve also taken out the new IHG cards and booked a few nights using points too.

  3. The_real_a says:

    In probably close to 50 stays over the last few years, as Gold i have always been upgraded to a business room, but never recieved free breakfast with it.

    The 2:1 weekend offer was fantastic and a major reason to look at CC properties. Big shame as when on leisure most are more price senstive and raddison is never cheapest in its segment in any city.

  4. JamesW says:

    The loss of the 2-4-1 & 4-4-2 deals has seen my stays drop at CC properties already and in fact has stopped me even checking at their properties for any availability when I’m looking for a 2-4 night stay. This does mean perhaps I’m not finding a cheaper stay than I make with one of their competitors as CC’s standard rate (without a 2-4-1 etc..) might be lower anyway, however the chain have just kind of dropped out of my thoughts when I’m looking for a room.
    This isn’t actually a deliberate protest decision on my part but is a consequence of them dropping that offer.
    I can’t believe it was not very popular as Club Carlson claim.

    • JamesW says:

      To elaborate slightly, I am currently CC Gold and have points to use up as, as you’ve pointed out in your review, inactivity expires points and I can’t see me paying for a CC stay again except in exceptional circumstances (such as no decent competition available in a location).

      • xcalx says:

        Book a reward stay then cancel, this will reset your expiry date. I have done this a few times in the past as I am left with 28,100 cc points. I must remember to use these someday. I always try the Carlson FF rate US80 per night or in Europe Euro80 per night.

    • Brendan says:

      Same. I’m pretty much done with them now.

  5. RogerWIlco says:

    The removal of 2-4-1 and 4-4-2 for Gold rather effectively removed me from Carlson properties.

    They have a generous status match for several competitors and SAS (SK) Eurobonus

  6. fivebobbill says:

    Just to share an experience I had last November. The wife and I arrived into Abu Dhabi on a relocation cruise from Athens, we spent 2 nights anchored in Abu Dhabi while the Yas Island Grand Prix was on, but needed a hotel the day of disembarking as our flight wasn’t until the following night. Although the big race was over day before, hotels were still quite expensive, so we decided to use Club Carlson points and book into the Radisson Blu Yas Island, which actually overlooks the racetrack and gave us a chance to explore the Yas Island track and marina area without the crowds. Rooms were 38,000 points (12,666 avios), but a business room was 57,000 (19,000 avios), which included early check in, late check out, full breakfast, and access to the business lounge. During the booking process on the Club Carlson website we were offered an upgrade to a one bedroom suite for an extra £30, given the cash cost for a suite was showing at £260 that was a no brainer! Anyway, we were off ship at 8am, and arrived at the hotel at 08.30. We were told the room would be an hour or so and were directed to the business lounge in the interim, where they had food and drinks available in the mornings, afternoons, and for 4 hours in the evening. We got checked into our suite in an hour. We ate in the business lounge the rest of the day, drinks that night, had full breakfast in the restaurant next morning, then lounge again for lunch. Our flight wasn’t until 11pm that night, but the hotel allowed us a 6pm check out, then luggage with the concierge, and access to the business lounge again until taxi time to the airport at 9.30!
    For 19,000 avios (and £30), we had almost 2 full days in a Radisson Blu suite on probably one of the busiest peak days of the entire Abu Dhabi season, we spent nothing on food or drink, were treated like royalty whilst we were there, and ended the holiday very relaxed indeed.
    My point is, I know Club Carlson isn’t for everyone, but if used and planned properly, can be a very rewarding experience indeed. (at that time I was only club Carlson ‘RED’ by the way, the lowest rung on the loyalty ladder.)

  7. Rob, they have an Edwardian in Manchester so maybe not just London any longer?

    Also, in comparison to Hilton and Starwood, the Radisson website and app are rather dated & less intuitive I find.

    • Radiata says:

      I stayed at the Radisson Edwardian Manchester last year.

      Club Carlson Gold due to AMEX Plat but although status initially not acknowledged at check-in by way of an upgrade, upon (gentle..) enquiry upgraded to a Business Room and breakfast complimentary.
      Similarly to Tracy’s experience below, asked to show proof of being a guest on return late at night. Indeed front door was locked but I put it down to the rambunctious weekend atmosphere in the vicinity..

  8. Tracy says:

    Have only stayed at two CC properties recently. My 2p worth – Radisdon Blu Glasgow, no recognition as silver on first stay, 2nd stay I was gold, upgraded to business room and received free breakfast but had to remind staff at checkin that I was gold. Beds not comfy at all. Recently back from Park Plaza Westminster bridge on a 241, wasn’t all that impressed tbh. Location was great, hotel was very large & impersonal. Check in was very slow, took nearly an hour. Was given an upgraded room as gold, was an ok room, no breakfast. Wasn’t keen on being asked for proof I was staying in the hotel by security if returning to the hotel late at night.

  9. Optimus Prime says:

    OT – I’m member of BAEC, Avios, Iberia Plus, AerClub and Topbonus.

    My wife has just a BAEC account and we’ve got a household one there.

    Is it worth getting here an account for the other schemes or mine are enough to move points across?

    Also when flying OneWorld her BAEC number will grant her Avios points, won’t it?


    • Genghis says:

      I think I might have said the other day that I have signed my wife up for all the same accounts as me. She’s actually benefited from an Avios account as she opened a Lloyds Amex and referred me and did a Heathrow Reward->Avios transfer. She’s had points come from IB+ (i.e. when you buy avios and can only but a few k of the cheapest tranche). I don’t think you’ve anything to lose.
      And yes, when flying OW your wife can credit flights to BAEC for TPs and avios.