The Best Hotel Credit Card? A Review of the US Bank Club Carlson Visa
While I certainly prefer credit cards that earn airline miles over hotel points, mostly because of the fact that I prefer to stay at local guesthouses and hostels over “big box” hotels, there comes a point in every frequent flyer addict’s life where the airline cards become few and far between and hotel cards are all that’s left.
And when that time comes, I certainly won’t pass up the chance to earn a few free nights at some properties that I normally couldn’t afford to stay in!
And while the old standby hotel cards, like the Chase Marriott, Chase Hyatt, and the Amex Hilton, are still around and offer some good value, a new card on the block is making a strong push for the title of Best Hotel Credit Card.
To be honest, prior to my April 2013 AoR post, I didn’t pay much attention to it. But multiple readers tipped me off to it’s awesome power in the comments and after their compelling arguments, I was sold!
So, what makes this card so great?
Let’s break it down below.
The Quick Details
- 50,000 points after first purchase, 35,000 additional points after spending $2,500 in 3 months.
- $75 annual fee, not waived the first year.
- 10x per $1 at Club Carlson properties, 5x per $1 on everything else.
- 3% foreign transaction fee.
The sign up bonus for this card is a fat 85,000 points! You’ll receive 50k points after first purchase and then the additional 35k after spending $2,500 in 3 months.
That’s enough to make me take notice.
Of course, the value of hotels points can vary dramatically. While 40k Marriott points can get you the highest category Marriott, it now takes 95k Hilton points to get you a top notch Hilton.
So the most important question isn’t how many points is the sign up bonus, but what do those points get you?
Club Carlson Award Chart
On the surface, the 85k sign up bonus only looks decent. Check out the Club Carlson award chart:
You’d be able to get 2 free nights at Category 4 or 1 night at Category 5 or 6 with some points left over.
There’s a kicker that is what makes this deal so great.
Free Award Nights
You receive 1 free award night when you redeem points for 2 or more consecutive award nights at the same hotel.
The wording is a little weird, and so originally, I took this to mean that if I booked 2 nights, I’d receive a 3rd night free.
But I was wrong…
Turns out, it’s even better!
If you book 2 nights at the same hotel, you will actually get the 2nd night free! Basically, this is a buy one get one free offer.
This makes the 85k MUCH MORE valuable.
Since you earn 5x per $1 spent, you’d also earn an additional 12.5k extra points for making the minimum spend. This would give you a total of 97,500 points.
With those points, you could actually do the following:
- Stay 20 nights at a Category 1 (10 paid with points, 10 free)
- Stay 12 nights at a Category 2 (6 paid, 6 free)
- Stay 6 nights at a Category 3 (3 paid, 3 free)
- Stay 4 nights at a Category 4 (2 paid, 2 free)
- Stay 4 nights at a Category 5 (2 paid, 2 free)
- Stay 2 nights at a Category 6 (1 paid, 1 free) and only be 2,500 short of staying 4 nights
This is some amazing value!
And not only that, but it offers amazing flexibility. Whether you prefer more nights at cheaper accommodations or less nights at ritzier places, you can find some real gems.
The Park Inn Budapest is a Category 1 and costs $90 a night. 20 free nights there is equal to $1,800!
The Radisson Blu Resort in Dubrovnik, Croatia is a category 5 hotel. The standard room rate is $263. 4 free nights at Dubrovnik Radisson Blu is worth over $1,000!
So no matter what category you want to stay at, this card is great.
How to Maximize The Free Award Nights Offer
To fully take advantage of this offer, you’d only ever want to book 2 night stays, which would mean you’d pay for 1 night and get the 2nd free.
Unfortunately, the terms and conditions state that “only one Bonus Award Night will be available for a stay of two or more consecutive nights at the same hotel, regardless of the total length of stay, the total number of reservations or the number of check-in/check-outs.”
What this means is that you can’t book a 2 night stay at the a hotel for Wednesday and Thursday, get Thursday free, and then book a separate stay at the same hotel Friday and Saturday and get Saturday free.
So while this is still an amazing offer, especially people who like to jump around from place to place every few days or so, it does have it’s limitations.
A Great Anniversary Bonus
If the “buy one get one free” promotion wasn’t enough, this card also offers a 40k point anniversary bonus, which is good for a stay at Category 4 and almost good enough for a Category 5.
This more than offsets the $75 annual fee, making this a card you can keep open year after year.
Free Gold Status
The last perk of this card is that it offers free Gold Status for as long as you hold the card. With Gold status, you’ll get free internet, early check in and late check out, and complimentary room upgrades, among other things.
Overall, these perks are pretty phenomenal. However, there are a few downsides to this card that warrant mentioning.
First, the annual fee of $75 is not waived the first year. While $75 is not much to pay for 85k worth of Club Carlson points, it is a bummer it isn’t waived.
Second, the issuing bank is US Bank, which can be pretty tough to get approved. This is especially true for people who have applied for many cards in the last year or so, like myself.
Currently, I’m waiting to hear if I am approved on the application I submitted last week as part of my April 2013 App-o-Rama.
If I’m not approved, I’ll be trying to get reconsidered using my 6 Rules to Crush Your Reconsideration Phone Call.
Club Carlson Business Card
There is also a business version of the Club Carlson card with offers almost the exact same perks, with the only difference being that the annual fee is $60 instead of $75.
Normally, I would apply for both the personal and business versions of the card, but it seems that very few people have had luck getting both.
I have heard from one reader who was able to get both of them, but according to this Flyertalk thread, it seems like most people are getting denied at least one of them.
This is a great hotel card and is certainly one of the best deals out there. The sign up bonus is pretty good in its own right, and if you couple it with the free nights promotion, it becomes amazing!
Add the anniversary bonus and free gold status, and I’d call this the most underrated hotel card in the frequent flyer world. Why it doesn’t get much publicity, I’m not sure.
If I do get approved for this card (crossing my fingers), I may even consider using it as an every day spend card here and there.
By using the free nights promotion correctly, you’re really getting a 10x per $1 spent (because you are in essence doubling your points), and if I have a specific destination in mind where there is Club Carlson property, I’ll definitely rack up some spend on it.
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Does anyone have experience in getting approved or denied for this card? For those of you with Club Carlson points and experience, what are some hotels you recommend? Let us know in the comments below!