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The Best Hotel Credit Card? A Review of the US Bank Club Carlson Visa

Club Carlson 85k offer

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.

Introducing…

The US Bank Club Carlson Visa!

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

US Bank Club Carlson Application Link

  • 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.

Signup Bonus

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:

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.

But wait…

There’s a kicker that is what makes this deal so great.

Free Award Nights

Club Carlson 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.

For example:

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.

You can check all the hotels and categories they fall in here.

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.

The Downsides

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

Club Carlson Business card application link

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.

Bottom Line

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.

US Bank Club Carlson Application Link

(Note: This is an affiliate link.  I’ll receive a small referral fee if you use it.  Thanks for the support, amigos!)

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!

 

 

 

 


Comments

  1. Trav – I’m still confused by the wording here. If it says “Redeem for a minimum of 2 award nights and your last is free,” that sounds like you have to have enough points to book 2 nights even if they only actually charge you for 1. Is that right? If I wanted to stay in a category 6 hotel for 50k points/night, to book 2 nights I’d need 100k points in my account but only be charged for 50k?

    Or am I overthinking it and I only need 50k in my account?

    Also, if gold status gets you a 50% bonus on points, do you end up with 40 points/$ spent at their properties (20 + 50% bonus + 10 for using the card)?

    • You only need to have enough points for 1 night,
      I did a 2 night stay at a category 6 without enough points for 2 nights

    • @Pete- Good questions. The wording is weird, here is what I think (but maybe someone can correct me if I’m wrong).

      1. It states: “you will receive the last of the Award Nights of that stay free without deduction of any Gold Points from your Club Carlson account”. This leads me to believe that you can book 2 nights even if you only have enough points for 1 night. This means you’d only need 50k in your account to book 2 nights at a cat. 6. \

      Again, I’m not sure, and since I don’t have the points in my account yet, I can’t check.

      2. Yes, you should be getting 40x per $1 spent with the three promotions all used in conjunction.

      • @Pete- Quick follow up. Just did a scan of the comments on Ric’s post over at Loyalty Lobby (the best hotel points blog out there!) and he said that he called Club Carlson and they confirmed that the last night should automatically be deducted when you go to book your hotel. That means that if you are booking 2 nights in a Category 6, you’d only need 50k in your account, not 100k, because the system will automatically recognize you get the last night free.

        Hooray for that!

        • That’s correct. Two weeks ago, my husband and I stayed 2 nights in Park Plaza (category 3), Bangkok for 28000 pts. The second night was free. Without this card, one has to redeem 56000 pts.

  2. My wife and i both applied for the personal and business and we were approved for both.
    now we can do back to back stays at the same hotel.

    • @sruly- You and your wife both applied for the personal and business each? For 4 separate cards? That’s awesome, congrats on all those approvals!

      That is true, you can go back to back at the same hotel by simply using different names. Could you do 8 total nights (2 in your name, 2 in her name, 2 on your business card, 2 on her business card)?

      • The Stay Free Night is tied to your Carlson account, not your credit card. So you’d only be able to do 4 nights total (2 for wife, 2 for husband). Unless, of course, you find a way to have each CC tied to its own Carlson account and Carlson doesn’t catch you.

        • @Ken- Oh, ok, thanks for the info on that. Wasn’t sure if it was tied to the card or the account. Wonder if it would be possible to create a different account for your business card?

          • You can create a new account, but I don’t know if the system is smart enough to deny the 2nd reservation for a different account but same name. Definitely worth trying if you can get both cards. I have the Business card for my business, but I’ll try for the personal card over the summer.

  3. Andy Bruner says:

    I was just approved for it last week. I have the USBank Cash Plus card too. I got it for my wife a few month’s ago and couldn’t resist getting it for myself.

    • @Andy Bruner- Congrats! As sruly discussed above, if you and your wife both have it, you can go do 2 stays on your card, then 2 stays on her card for a total of 4 nights at one place, with 2 of them free.

  4. While you are not allowed to do back-to-back 2-night reservations for free nights, you could do Wed-Thurs, book a separate hotel for Friday, then return for Sat-Sun at the first Club Carlson hotel to get two free nights at the same hotel on two separate reservations over 5 nights.

    • @Ric Garrido- Great point! I guess you could even do Wed-Thurs at one Club Carlson, Friday-Sat at another Club Carlson, and then back to the original one for Sun-Mon.

      Then, you’d pay for 3 nights and get 3 free. Of course, there’d have to be Club Carlson hotels that are close enough to each other, but if that was the case, that’d be a good way to maximize.

  5. Hey Trav, I was wondering, if I wanted to stay 4 nights, say, from April 23rd to April 26th…Could I book one night on April 23rd-get the 24th for free, and then book another night on the 25th?

    Or would they not allow that?

    • @Jay K- You can’t do “back to back” bookings at the same hotel and receive the free night. So, for the 23rd to the 26th, you’d have to book 3 nights paid and get the 4th free.

      The only loopholes are if you are with someone else who has Club Carlson points, you can book the first 2 nights (and get 1 free) with your account, and then have them book the 2nd set of nights (and get 1 free).

      Or, you can break it up and do 2 nights at one place (get 1 free), go somewhere else for a night, and come back to the same hotel and do 2 more nights (and get 1 free). This would work because they are not consecutive.

  6. Jay – I think they would officially say it’s one stay, no matter how many bookings it was done in. But…I have booked two one night stays as seperate bookings (had to stay one more day than planned) and they did treat it like two stays, giving me the internet booking bonus on both. It may have helped that only booked the second day after checking out the first day (it really was unplanned).

    • @Carl B- Yeah, you’re right, they would count it as 1 stay, no matter how many bookings you do, at least according to the T&C’s.

      However, looks like you may have found a loophole to the system, even if it was inadvertent. I certainly wouldn’t put stock in it happening again, but wow, that is a nice surprise!

  7. I got this card in January and indeed it is a great card. I don’t plan on putting too much spend on it but will do some as I’d love to use more of their foreign properties. The downside to the Carlson program to me is the lack of truly great properties in the US (only two Blu’s). The biggest downside to the card is that it has foreign transaction fees. I got hit with one that cost me about $20 when I used my card on ba.com to pay for taxes on a reward flight. Even though BA quoted me in US Dollars, I got hit with the fee. Oh well it helped me meet the minimum spend. However I have an upcoming award stay in London for two nights. I probably won’t spend much at the hotel but will definitely not put it on the Carlson card when I have a CSP.

    • @Jeremy, Yeah, agreed that the foreign transaction fee stinks, but as long as you have a card without one, like the CSP, then no worries. I just don’t plan on using it abroad.

      Stinks that BA charged you…that happens sometimes with sites even if they give the price in USD, it gets routed through whatever country the site is in.

  8. Oh and I agree the free night feature is awesome! I’m in London for three nights total but only staying two at a Radisson Blu since I found a great cash rate at a Hotel Indigo for the third night, I thought 50K points are worth more than the $180 I’m paying cash.

    Another awesome feature is how easy it is to get points. I spent about $350 for three nights in February at the Lake Buena Vista Radisson hotel. As a result of being gold, the Q1 triple point promotion, online booking bonus, and welcome to Club Carlson bonus I earned a bit over 25,000 points. Plus the 3,500 from the spend on the card and that’s practically half the cost of two reward nights anywhere! Now granted the triple point bonus got me 12K points but still getting approx 13-14K points on $300 of spend is pretty amazing.

    I guess I hope they dial down the crazy promos in the future to prevent runaway inflation.

    • @Jeremy- Wow, that’s quite a score! Looks like you hit it at the right time.

      Yeah, it is easy to rack up some Club Carlson points right now. Like you said, let’s hope that doesn’t lead to inflation of the points, just like it did with Hilton. Guess that’s why it pays to burn them sooner rather than later….we never know what the future holds!

  9. Hi Trav: Two things; I have a “Club Carlson” membership, wonder if that would enhance my chances of approval, and secondly, some hotel chains let you combine cash and points for a night’s stay. Carlson may also. Great write up. Doug

    • @Douglas Garner- I don’t really can’t say whether having a Club Carlson membership will enhance your chances. I actually had one, tried to input it when applying for the card, and it said it wasn’t a valid number, so who knows.

      Turns out, I left that section blank and ended up getting approved for the card.

      As far as the cash and points, Club Carlson does have one and it’s fairly decent. I didn’t want to go too much in depth about it in the post, but you can find the information here:

      http://www.clubcarlson.com/specialoffers/offerdetail.jsp?offerId=3129203

  10. Hope you’re approved. I hear that people have not had much luck we reconideration (no official reconsideration. I’ve had the card since it came out. I really like it and the Club Carlson program itself. So far I have been earning more tham burning (836K points earned in less than a year). I guess I can run from Radisson Blu to Radisson Blu for a month or so (strictly 2 night stays of course) or stay in 9K hotels for a looong time. 50 Award Bonus Nights per year max as I recall, but that’s a lot.

    • @Carl B- Just got word, and I was approved. Woohoo! I’m definitely glad because like you said I’ve heard reconsideration is basically nonexistent.

      836k in one year? Wow, you must just be using it for everything, huh? That’s a pretty amazing number…let’s hope you can use them before some crazy devaluation.

      Yep, Award bonus nights are 50 a year. I actually thought to myself “who the heck will hit 50 in one year?”. Guess now I know my answer!

  11. Club Carlson does sometimes offer cash and points. It’s usually the best option (when offered).

    $100 spent at property would give you 2000 points (regular) + 1000 points (credit card) + 1000 points (50% bonus for Gold) to equal 4000 points.

    You also get 2,000 internet booking bonus when Gold.

    For Conciege level I get 3,000 internet booking bonus and 75% bonus, $100 night gives me 7500 points.

    • @Carl B.- Yeah, cash and points seems good, but unfortunately not all offer it. At concierge level, they are almost paying you to stay there!

  12. Forgive me for sounding like a snob, but why would anyone ever aspire to stay at a Club Carlson property? This doesn’t sound like that great of a deal if it means all you can really redeem it for is a Radisson and the rare Radisson Blu. Part of the analysis of this has got to be usefulness, and this is where this program has zero appeal to me. With a Chase Hyatt card, you get 2 free nights at any Hyatt (even Park Hyatts), anywhere in the world, and there are a LOT more aspirational Hyatt properties than there are Carlson properties. Even your middle of the road Hyatt Regency is leaps and bounds better than a Radisson. This is like trying to push the AirTran frequent flyer program– good god, why would anyone want that??

    • @ndtla- You are completely right, the best Hyatts are definitely way better than the best Radisson’s, and Radissons aren’t necessarily an aspirational property, although there are a few nice Radisson Blus.

      For me, one of the reasons I like this card so much is that it gives you great value across the board. If you are someone who wants the maximum amount of stays, you can stay 20 times at a worse hotel. If you want something nicer, you can stay 4 times at a top notch Radisson, like a Blu. So while I agree with you that the Hyatt card, and it’s two free nights, are much better if you want to spoil yourself somewhere awesome (and there are a lot of awesome Hyatts), the Club Carlson card is more versatile. No, you won’t stay at one of the nicest hotels in the world, but you can still stay at some decent properties, and you also have the choice of stretching out the points or not. With the Hyatt, you don’t have any option. It’s 2 nights, whether its a $800 a night Hyatt or a $100 a night Hyatt.

      In the end, it just comes down to what you prefer. Since my travel plans aren’t always concrete, I like the versatility. But of course, I’ll be eyeing the Chase Hyatt at some point so I can really pamper myself!

  13. avidtraveler says:

    Are you eligible for the second free night if you’re room is booked as a Cash+Points booking?

    • @avidtraveler- No,cash+points bookings are not eligible for a second free night. Has to be booked completely with points.

  14. Just to clarify most of that is from stays. When they had the triple promotion it was easy to get 13K+ in one night. I actually didn’t hear about Club Carlson time to get the bg 55K and 44K bonuses they were running for one stay at each brand.

    If that comes up again I’ll treat some people to a room as long as they transfer me their points. Club Calson has o cost transfers from anybody to anybody (no family/household restrictions, etc.).

    • @Carl B.- Wow, I didn’t realize that they had no restrictions on transfer of points. Man, you are a wealth of Club Carlson knowledge. Looks like I know who I’m going to when I have a question about them. Thanks for that nugget of wisdom!

  15. JetsettingEric says:

    I’m pretty sure it’s book 2 nights get 1 free.. that’s how the business card works. I’m pretty sure the personal one works the same way. Buy 1 get 1 is way too good.

    • @JetsettingEric- According to everything I hear from people, it is book 2, get the 2nd free, meaning buy 1 get 1. I’m not sure if it is different for the business card, and I’m not sure what card all these people have been using, but it seems that for at least the personal card, its buy 1 get 1.

  16. This card is great for Europe where you can spend 2 nights in each city and then move onto another city. If Italy has enough Calson hotels it would make a tour of the country very affordable!

    • @Ken- Indeed, Europe is a great place to hop around since its so easy to get from place to place and there are so many places to see!

  17. How does getting 4 nights for the price of 2 work in practice? I know that you can book seperately, but how do you explain the fact that you have 2 reservations in the same hotel, back to back. I think it would raise suspicions/flags. What is your experience in doing this?

    • @Jonathan- YOu can’t book back to back and get 4 nights for the price of 2. If they are back to back, the computer will recognize that and only give the 4th night free, meaning you are paying for 3 of them.

      What you need to do is go for 2 nights (getting 1 free), then spend the 3rd night at a different hotel, and then come back and do two more nights (getting 1 free). You can’t go back to back, but you can go get 4 nights for the price of 2 if split it up with the gap of one night somewhere else.

      Or, if you have a spouse or friend that has the card, you can do 2 night reservation in your name (getting 1 free) and then do a 2 night reservation in their name on their Club Carlson account (getting 1 night free).

      • Jonathan says:

        Thank you for your reply. I should have been more explicit. I was specifically wondering how it works when both you and your spouse make back to back reservations. How do you explain that to the front desk? I would assume they’d be suspicious, especially if you have to check out then check back in (and possibly store your luggage).

        • That’s easy. Just tell them you each had points in your accounts and you didn’t have enough points in your account to book the entire stay.

          • @Jonathan @Ken- Yeah, I’m not sure it matters what they think as long as the computer lets you do it. I doubt they will be sticklers, since it doesn’t really matter to them, but if you did have to come up with an excuse, or it made you feel better, I’d just say what Ken said.

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