Club Carlson Announces Huge (Further) Devaluation As Of June 1, 2015

Filed Under: Club Carlson, Hotels

Oh, Club Carlson…

While I’m fine with programs devaluing as long as they give advance notice, I think someone at Club Carlson needs to learn the concept of not writing checks they can’t cash.

Club Carlson’s credit card devaluation

Back in early April, Club Carlson announced a huge devaluation to their US co-branded credit.

The single biggest perk of the credit card was that the second night of every award redemption was free for as long as you had the co-branded credit card. That was basically a “buy one get one free” offer on awards as long as you have their co-branded credit card.

They announced that benefit would be discontinued as of June 1, 2015. Instead they replaced the benefit with an annual free night when you spend $10,000 on the card in a year. That’s a pretty crappy replacement, if you ask me. That was a huge devaluation to those with the card, though ultimately I couldn’t really fault them for it:

  • It was extremely generous, and over time we shouldn’t expect “sweet spots” to stick around
  • The card is still quite competitive, given that it offers 40,000 points upon your account anniversary each year, plus Club Carlson Gold status for as long as you have the card

Club-Carlson-Email

Club Carlson award chart devaluation

For many US based members, the value of Club Carlson Gold Points was halved with the last announcement. But that’s just the beginning. Club Carlson has just announced their 2015 hotel category changes, which kick in for bookings made as of June 1, 2015.

Through these adjustments we’re seeing about 330 properties change categories — 200+ are going up in price, while 100+ are going down in price.

The worst changes are on the high end. Early last year Club Carlson introduced Category 7 hotels, which go for 70,000 points per night. When they were introduced, there were fewer than a dozen properties in that category.

Club-Carlson-Award-Chart

With these changes, however, there will be 65+ Category 7 properties. They’re literally going from 11 to 68 properties in that category. And that’s not a small increase in cost — Category 7 is 40% more expensive than Category 6, and ~60% more expensive than Category 5.

And you know how we know these changes are BS? Most of these new Category 7 properties are in Europe, despite the falling value of the Euro. So while other chains lower the number of points required for a free night in Europe, Club Carlson is increasing the cost.

Putting these changes into perspective

Previously if you had Club Carlson’s co-branded credit card you could book just about any hotel in Europe for 50,000 points per night, and you’d get the second night free. That’s a rate of 25,000 points per night, when staying in two night increments.

Now many of those “good” hotels we were redeeming at will cost 70,000 points per night, and there won’t be a second night free. So for many of our redemption patterns, the cost of free nights is just about tripling.

Radisson-Blu-1919
The Radisson Blu 1919 Reykjavik is one of the new Category 7 hotels

Again, I’m all for programs having the right to make changes, even if they’re drastic ones, but this isn’t the way you do it. Club Carlson has been printing points nonstop and offering the most lucrative imaginable promotions, only to turn around and almost exponentially decrease the value of many members’ points.

Bottom line

These changes don’t surprise me. “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” And from the perspective of a US member, Club Carlson has been too good for too long. Ultimately that’s a horrible way to manage a loyalty program, though as smart consumers we shouldn’t be surprised.

I feel especially sorry for the non-US based members, who never had the ability to take advantage of the second night free benefit, and are also experiencing a huge devaluation with their points. I guess now us US-based members know how they’ve felt all along.

Anyway, keep in mind these changes only kick in for bookings made as of June 1, 2015, so if you have the chance to make Club Carlson travel plans, now is the time to do so

Radisson-Blu-Oslo-Airport-1

What do you make of these Club Carlson program changes?

Comments
  1. Wow, they moved every hotel I have stayed at on points or plan on staying at up to 70,000 points! I wonder why they feel the need to get rid of the last night free AND do this devaluation. Seems like either by itself would be sufficient. Two nights in London was previously 50k. Now it is 140k! This is worse than Hilton that set the bar a few years ago for hotel devaluations.

  2. As I mentioned when the CC credit card devaluation occurred, at least you could buy points with the daily getaway….. /s

    I’ve only been denied for 2 credit cards ever, 1 being my most recent application with the Club Carlson card; I’m actually ok with this now.

  3. There’s one property I want to visit going down a category. Anyone think of a way to get the new price and the BOGO?

  4. Not only are they moving a bunch of hotels up in category — has anyone noticed a number of properties that are normally 70k that are now showing 75k a night? ‘Cause I sure have…..

  5. Wow. I went to Norway last year and stayed at several of those hotels making that trip moderately affordable. Glad I went then…..

  6. @Nico,
    Those 75k awards are for a premium room at a 50k property. It is 50% extra for that particular room.

  7. “This is worse than Hilton that set the bar a few years ago for hotel devaluations.”

    And the collective rage from the “I’m going to exploit this program for what it’s worth” community about Hilton’s decade+ of devaluations has only given Hilton record stock prices and occupancies.

    My guess is that Club Carlson has noticed everyone else devaluing and also hasn’t seen any kind of real boom in their US properties based on a very exploitable credit card… and gone “eh, why bother being generous, just so Americans get heavy discounts on our European properties on vacation, that we don’t really need to offer to fill rooms?”

  8. @eponymous coward
    You are probably right. I’m more worried about US Bank here. I bet they are going to see an enormous drop in their cardholder membership for this card.

  9. I’m moving to Sweden for two years and I’ve been sitting on a decent amount of points, hoping to take advantage of them when I move. Guess I better find a new program. Shame. Both SPG and Hyatt have no presence up there and I liked Radisson BLU.

  10. @ Nico — Yeah, that just means there’s a lack of standard room availability, and instead only premium room rewards are available.

  11. Almost every Radisson that worth staying at in the US is going up as well (I count two that I would want to redeem at which are not changing categories).

  12. @Tom sez: “This is worse than Hilton that set the bar a few years ago for hotel devaluations.”

    That perspective-free statement is a reminder that one should first put any type of change into proper context before declaring it so cataclysmic that the sky would fall…

    If Hilton’s devaluation “set the bar a few years ago for hotel devaluations”, why is it that after that devaluation their awards are not only much cheaper than SPG’s, but they are also priced almost exactly the same as Hyatt’s or Marriott’s? I will tell you why: The fact that Hilton’s awards are priced almost exactly the same as Hyatt’s and Marriott’s even AFTER their devaluation that purportedly “set the bar” MUST mean that their program got so ridiculously cheap that it was no longer competitive. It required a “devaluation” of the magnitude that they implemented in 2013 to make them competitive again. What is the proof that AFTER their “devaluation” HHonors awards are priced exactly the same as, e.g., Hyatt’s? Here it is:

    Cost of awards for top category Hyatt hotels: 30K.
    Cost of awards for top category Hilton hotels: 95K.

    Excluding co-branded credit card points (but Hilton would be favored if they are included),
    a Hyatt GP Diamond earns 6.5 points/$
    a Hilton Honors Diamond earns $20 points.
    This means that a HH Diamond earns 20/6.5 or 3.1x more HH points a clip than a GP Diamond earns GP points.

    Therefore, the 95K HH points that one would pay for a top category Hilton hotel are equivalent to paying for an award that would cost 95/3.1 = 30.6K GP points at a Hyatt property, and lo and behold, that is exactly the same as the 30K points that one would pay for an award at a top category Hyatt hotel!

    95K HH points ~= 30K GP points. QED.

    The same thing can be said about Club Carlson’s string of devaluations. Anyone who has ever OBJECTIVELY compared the major hotel loyalty programs knows that Club Carlson’s awards have always been the lowest priced of any program in the business — and that was without taking into account perks like “second award night free” that have been discontinued. What that means is that Club Carlson could not possibly continue to remain as generous as they had been and be competitive. Hence their recent string of devaluations, which, in fact, won’t change significantly the cost of Club Carlson’s awards compared to the competition: they will remain, by far, the lowest priced in the business. The take home lesson then is that even with their string of devaluations, necessary to keep the program competitive, Club Carlson’s awards will continue to be, by far, the most affordable in the business.

    If after that perspective you still feel like ranting, then, by all means, knock yourself out. 😉

  13. I’ve been paying close attention to all the CC stuff this year since I have a sweet trip planned to Hong Kong (5 days) and then on to South Africa (10 days) for November. Used Alaska miles for Cathay first/business.

    I have just shy of 300,000 CC points from the card and promotions the last year and though I hate to try and plan this far out I made myself figure out how to best use these before June 1 for my November trip.

    Hong Kong is basically a no-go zone for CC, so I focused on Cape Town and was able to book in a 2 night stay at two different properties (same dates and I will decide later which to cancel) and a 3 night stay at the Blu Waterfront (They require a 3 night stay so 100,000 points for 3 nights instead of 150,000… and now it is on the list to go up to 70k)… I found one other use for points in the NYC area and that leaves me with just about 70,000 that I can’t pre book anywhere, so those will just be my emergency fund for a 1 night stay in the future.

  14. “Hong Kong is basically a no-go zone for CC”

    As are a good number of places, which is the problem this chain has. Take Seattle; you have one airport hotel, one hotel out in the comparative boonies. Neither hotel is within 10 miles of the city center. That’s pretty awful compared to Hyatt, IHG, Hilton, SPG, all of which have options in Seattle.

    Club Carlson isn’t as much of a joke in the USA as Accor is in terms of footprint (basically, Accor has 12 or 20 Sofitels scattered around North America), but they are very much an also-ran. Thus we see the near-universal approach the blogs have had: “Go use those points and benefits that CC rains on you on expensive European properties, and once you’re done getting $1000 of hotel for $200, you can safely go back to ignoring them”. Sic gloria transit mundi.

  15. It looks like some properties aren’t available for points: San Francisco Radisson Hotel Fisherman’s Wharf has no availability for the rest of 2015 & 2016 starting June 6, 2015. I find it very suspicious. Are they blocking some properties on purpose?

  16. After the 2-4-1 redemptions went away I decided to let the CC credit card go. Too many other options out there to bother accumulating points in a program where most of the properties are mediocre at best. Don’t get me wrong, I have had some good stays ie. St Gallen where points saved me 400 euros for 2 nights, Tromso and Oslo last year. However, I think CC may have misread their US based audience thinking that by being generous the past few years consumers would have tried their properties and loved them and will stay regardless of cost. As most people say, it’s hard to find a truly aspirational property in the CC portfolio.

  17. One of the biggest beneficiaries of this change will be the folks like me who are based in India. Most hotels have moved in the lower category mainly due to the currency devaluation. Club carlson just became even better loyalty program.

    Even earning on global promos is easier, since the rates are quite low.

  18. With the Star Megado next week and Club Carlson as the hotel sponsor, I’d bet on some interesting Q&A sessions.

  19. Hi Ben,

    If I made the the award booking (for stays in November) now using the last night free benefit from club carlson credit card, then canceled my card. Will my 2 for 1 award reservation be honored when checking in the hotel in November?

    Thanks,
    Yang

  20. @DCS
    I was just talking order of magnitude. Hilton went from 50k to 95k in one jump. Club Carlson is going from 50k for two nights to 140k for two nights in one jump. Just because a program is in line with others in the end doesn’t mean the devaluation wasn’t severe.

  21. @Tom — Before their “devaluation” the top award rate for Hilton properties was not 50K but 80K for the Waldorf=Astoria collection, which has always been part of the Hilton portfolio as far as I know.

    But my point remains. Regardless of the perceived cataclysmic “devaluation” of Hilton Honors points, Hilton awards are currently among the most competitively priced in the business. To keep talking about a non-existent “devaluation” that can easily be explained as a smart move that kept program competitive does not advance the conversation one bit.

    As @ eponymous coward correctly observed, their purported “devaluation” has given “Hilton record stock prices and occupancies”!

    The Club Carlson program could not have survived by continuing with their generosity; it was simply was unsustainable, just as the now defunct but highly “lucrative” Hyatt Diamond Challenge could not be sustained. It was a great business move by CC and I predict that as a result they will become more vibrant as program by getting rid of the “low hanging fruit” just as Hilton Honors had when many undesirable elements jumped ship because of their purported “devaluation” of the century 😉

    The dirty little secret about devaluations is that they paradoxically increase the value of points for those who know how to play the game. My HHonors points are now worth more to me than ever!

  22. Just spent two nights at the 1919 in Reykjavik. It was a nice place, but 75,000 points? That would be hard to justify.

  23. @DCS

    What you continue to not comprehend is most people on here earn their points for hotel stays through regular credit card spend and not paid hotel stays. It is easier to earn a free night through regular credit card spend for Hyatt and SPG than for hilton or marriott.

    Low end Hilton with credit card spend would cost 10,000 in spending earning 3 pts per dollar. I could stay 2 nights at a low end hyatt and 3 nights at a low end SPG (and still have 1,000 points left over) for 10,000 in spending. That is why people like their programs better on these blogs. Traveling for free is the name of the game.

  24. Sad to see the Al Mahary RB in Tripoli, Libya going up to 70,000 points. For me that ends any hopes of going on jihad next year. 🙂

    For those who commented on CC HQ being out of touch with US customers, that’s nothing compared to their apparent total ignorance of goings on in the ME.

    “The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of traveling to Libya and strongly advises against all but essential travel to Tripoli”.

    Just what are they smoking at CC these days?

  25. @ yang — As long as you have the card when you make the booking you should be fine.

  26. Make that: “Even for non-revenue spend, HHonors earns 6 times more points than SPG and 3 times more than Hyatt. The proportions are just like for revenue stays.”

  27. Couple of notes regarding some comments. DCS, neither the Hilton nor the Club Carlson were “devaluations”, they were actual devaluations. They may very well have brought them closer in line with the other programs, but a devaluation is real, whether it brings into a competitive position or makes them uncompetitive.
    and Mark O, you really need to get your math right if you are going to trash someone and explain to them how they don’t understand. You say that you need 10,000 spend at 3 point per dollar for a low end Hilton, except a low end Hilton is 5,000 points. Just a hint for you, 3 times 10,000 is 30,000, so that is 6 nights at a low end Hilton, versus your 2 or 3 nights at a low end Hyatt or SPG. You proved DCS’ point while telling him he was wrong. At the high end, Hilton, Hyatt and SPG card spend are pretty much equivalent ($30,000 spend on each credit card), which is what he has been trying to tell everyone.

  28. arnorthtrader — I use “devaluation” because of the special place that the 2013 Hilton devaluation has come to hold in the travel blogosphere, based on nothing more than ignorant bloggers’ perception of how bad it was. When one crunches the number, one finds that Hyatt’s subsequent devaluation later that same year was actually worse than Hilton’s…by a factor of two!

  29. Well, I think that, no matter what one’s view of the Hilton devaluation or the Hyatt devaluation or pretty much any previous devaluation, this one, for American card holders, is the worst we have seen. Effectively raising some hotels from 22,000 to 70,000 has to beat out pretty much anything seen before. For the redemptions I have done with Club Carlson, this reduces my redemption value from 1.68 cents per point to 0.57 cents per point. Having said that, a night at their low end takes $1800 spend on a credit card versus $2000 at SPG, $5000 at Hyatt and $1667 at Hilton so still competitive at the low end. A comparison at the high end is not really useful, as Carlson does not have hotels to match the top end of the other chains. Still, it seems like you are right, this is just Carlson setting their points to a competitive value, it is just that doing it all at once is a serious shock to the system!

  30. The problem with the CC award program was clearly a result of an unexperienced awards program manager. The wrong clientele were targeted. The 2-4-1 benefit was always going to be to good to true…..but with a $75 AF the credit card primarily would target U.S consumers that are middle class and up with solid credit and those that like free stays at nicer (Europe) hotels. Unfortunately most their us based hotels are country inns which are lower end…and their credit card 10k spend is only good for free U.S night. These devaluations lead to one thought….club Carlson should target the correct U.S market moving forward…..lower income households that would benefit from low spend free nights. They need to drop u.s bank and focus in on cc provider that will increase benefits that suit their properties here in the u.s

  31. @ farnorthtrader

    I consider Hilton cat 4 and 5 to be equivalent to category 1 hyatt and category 2 spg properties. I base that on personal experience. When searching for hotels I rarely see a lower level hilton that 4 or 5 and most hotels are 30-50 k where I am planning on going. I do see a lot of cat 1 hyatts and 2-3 level spg’s.

    Hyatt is by far the easiest to accrue points for using UR and 5pts per dollar with the ink. $1000 in spend gets me a night at a Hyatt place which is usually as nice if not nicer than a hilton garden inn that costs 40k per night. And that would take me $8000 using the amex hilton card at grocery stores and restaurants getting 5 pts per dollar. That is a huge difference to me for similar quality hotels in similar locations.

    SPG is a great value at a cat 2 for 3000 pts on weekends only taking 3k in spending. Even a level 3 would take 7k in spending – less than an equivalent level hotel (in terms of quality) as a hilton at 5 pts per dollar. That is why SPG is good for non bonus spend. Hilton non bonus gets 3 pts per dollar and would take at least 10k to get an equivalent hotel in the same location as level 3 spg.

    That is my experience anyway.

  32. Mark O, I think that you are injecting bias into your analysis. I actually have never stayed in a category 1 Hyatt or Hilton, so thought I would do some research. I found two cities in the US where there is both a Hilton and a Hyatt category 1 hotel, Jacksonville, FL and Columbus, OH. I checked their reviews in Tripadvisor (admittedly not perfect, but the best proxy for unbiased that I know of). In Columbus, the Hilton is rated #31 and the Hyatt #38. Close enough together that it doesn’t make the Hilton better, but pretty certainly makes them pretty equivalent. In Jacksonville, the Hilton is #9 and the Hyatt #22. Probably means that the Hilton is better, almost certainly ensures that the Hyatt is not better. Definitely a small sample, but from what I found, a category 1 Hilton seems to be at least as good as a category 1 Hyatt. Being fair, there are almost no category 1 Hiltons in the US, however, if you add in category 2, it is a pretty fair comparison in terms of numbers and if you look at every day spend, you are looking at $3333 of everyday spend for the Hiltons and $5000 of everyday spend for the Hyatt. Seems to me that Hilton is still on at least even footing with Hyatt, and seems to me to be a superior choice.
    I have to admit, although I tried to be unbiased, I have generally been better treated at Hiltons than at Hyatts. I have received upgrades 100% of the time at Hiltons (including 20% to a suite) as a gold and only 42% of the time at Hyatts (no suites) as either a platinum or a diamond.

  33. Just called to cancel my CC Visa. The service rep did not even try to ask why or talk me out of cancelling. I told her “I bet this has been a tough day for cancellations” and she said “you have no idea”.

    ’nuff said.

    Truth is I needed some motivation to get rid of this shitty credit card and I finally got it.

  34. the thing is though, that for $75 AF and spend $10,000 you are getting 90,000 points and a free night certificate. That’s still solid. Find another card where 10K in spend will pull 2 nights at their top tier level and still have 20,000 points left. Still a keeper in my book.

  35. @farnorthtrader

    You could be right – I do not travel a ton 3-4 times per year but rarely come across hilton awards for less than 30k in the us. There are some 20k in Orlando I might give a try but I am able to get a level one hyatt and I like Chase UR so it makes it easy to earn the nights. If I am doing a paid stay I usually end up at Hilton just because they are everywhere and pretty cheap.

    I am staying at the hilton in nassau next month at 36k per night ($250 ish with taxes) and was supposed to stay at Hyatt Baha Mar for 15k per night (now 20k) at $400 per night for a few nights. Using UR I got that 15k with $3000 of spend on my ink card which is pretty incredible (13% return on my spending). The Hilton was more around 3% return on my spending. I just find more value from hyatts – if they ever break from UR then I would probably start looking elsewhere.

  36. @Erik says: “Just called to cancel my CC Visa. The service rep did not even try to ask why or talk me out of cancelling. I told her “I bet this has been a tough day for cancellations” and she said “you have no idea”.”

    The service rep you spoke with works for USBank and not Club Carlson, which may be affected less by credit card cancellations than one may realize…

    Every once in a while a loyalty program must do a “course correction” that’s intentionally designed to (a) decrease their “liability” (i.e., decrease the number of points that they already awarded that would continue to count against their bottom line until redeemed or forfeited), (b) restore the competitiveness of their currency, (c) get rid of “hangers on” or “low-value” customers who get a lot more out of the program than they put into it. A devaluation achieves all of the above in one shot. Therefore, every program expects to lose customers when they devalue. This means that Club Carlson fully expected cancellations of their co-branded credit card, the extent of which we cannot know, but I suspect is greatly overestimated in the travel blogosphere. Let’s remember that Hilton’s 2013 “devaluation” was supposed to “destroy” that program, which instead seems to be undergoing a revival of sort…

    In short, cancelling the co-branded CC visa affects the issuing bank (USBank) more than it does the loyalty program, which may think of the cancellations under their objective to eliminate “hangers on” as a good riddance. 🙂

  37. @ Shawn — Do keep in mind that apparently the free night certificate is only valid at US properties, unfortunately. Also, while I agree about the 40,000 point anniversary bonus, the 50,000 points for spending $10,000 I view a bit differently. Ultimately I feel like there are better cards on which to put that spend, so there’s quite a bit of opportunity cost to that.

  38. Try that again: “Because of the clear disconnect between the “real world” and the travel blogopshere, I am going to go out on a limb AND predict that CC will come out of this devaluation leaner and meaner and more competitive than where they would LIKELY have wound up if they had continued with their unsustainable 2-4-1 perk.”

    Can this site implement the ability to EDIT posts for greater clarity of the exchanges?!

  39. The resolution seems like filing complaint with BBB & CFPB. Just include the card member agreement term where it says ” bonus award night exclusively for card mmebers and enjoy all the benefit after paying $75 AF” When they respond on phone, write follow up on the 2 complaints you filed and say you were scammed and want refund and bonuses

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