Club Carlson Devaluation Breakdown
In case you missed it, Club Carlson released the details of their latest devaluation. We have known for the past month that their co-branded credit card is losing its “Bonus Award Night” on June 1, however now we know that 329 hotels are changing categories at the same time.
As part of the change, 212 hotels are increasing in price and 117 are decreasing. (Points with a Crew has a sortable table of the changes.) Instead of just bringing you this bad news, I thought I would try to provide a little perspective on where the sweet spots of the program now lie.
The Program Was Too Generous Before
Before I go any further, it is important for you to understand that Club Carlson was way too generous. The Bonus Award Night was a ridiculously good benefit and now the program looks terrible without it. Lets try to look past that though.
Program Sweet Spots
Club Carlson still provides value in the lower categories. A category 1 property costs 9,000 points and a category 2 property costs 15,000 points. That is still ridiculously cheap. Even a category 3 property at 28,000 points isn’t too bad. (There are a lot of category 3 properties!)
With the Club Carlson credit card you receive 40,000 points in exchange for paying the annual fee. Those points can easily get you 2 nights or more in lower category hotels. With the card, it is also fairly easy to manufacture points for stays since it earns 5x.
Many people purchase $500 gift cards to manufacture Club Carlson points. Even at an average cost of $5 per $500 gift card (you can actually do better), the cost to manufacture a night at lower category hotels is as follows:
- Category 1: 4 x $500 gift cards with a total $20 cost.
- Category 2: 6 x $500 gift cards with a total $30 cost.
- Category 3: 11 x $500 gift cards with a $55 cost. (You actually end up with 27,775, but close enough.)
As you can see, there is still a ton of value on the low-end in Club Carlson. In fact, the value has always been on the low end in the chain. While they do have decent properties in Europe, Club Carlson is not a luxury or aspirational chain.
While looking at the category changes I noticed one interesting thing. A lot of Club Carlson’s properties in India have gone down in cost. More importantly, most of their India properties are newer and reside in the lower 3 categories. If I was planning a trip to India, Club Carlson would be a good place to start.
Areas to Avoid
So now we know that the lower categories of the Club Carlson program are actually still quite good. So what are the pitfalls of the program now.
Category 7 Hotels
As part of the changes, many properties jumped up to the crazy expensive Category 7. To me, category 7 is ridiculous, since it costs 70,000 points which is a 20,000 point (~40%) jump from category 6. It just isn’t worth it.
All of the U.S. Radisson Blu properties moved up to category 7 along with many properties in Europe as well. Before this devaluation there were only a handful of top tier hotels, but now there are many more. The real issue here is the quality of these properties.
If you look at Hyatt, their top category hotels like the Park Hyatt Tokyo are world class. That simply isn’t the case with Club Carlson. For example the Radisson Martinique in New York City is now a Category 7 and by all accounts the place isn’t exactly luxurious.
Everyone used to say that Europe was the sweet spot for this program. After all most of the Club Carlson properties in the U.S. leave a lot to be desired, but there are definitely some decent properties in Europe. Well that is true, but the value proposition has changed.
As part of this devaluation, many properties in Europe increased in price. In fact, just about all of the nice properties in Europe went up and several jumped up to the terrible category 7. With the loss of the bonus award night and the increase in cost, Europe simply isn’t as good as it was before.
Manufacturing for Higher Categories
At $5 per $500, you could manufacture enough points for a category 6 stay with just $100. It would cost only $140 for a category 7 stay. Some of their top tier hotels may be worth doing that for, but I wouldn’t do it speculatively. On the other hand, I would keep some points on hand to redeem in lower category hotels as necessary.
I still see a lot of value on the low end in the Club Carlson program. My family and I love road trips and their Country Inn brand in the United States is pretty good. While I haven’t decided if I will keep the Club Carlson card, if I do, my strategy going forward will be to redeem in the lowest categories and keep my luxury high-end stays with Hyatt.