To me, one of the best things about miles and points hobby is being able to share the gift of travel with family and friends. I know it sounds corny, but it gives me a fuzzy feeling when I’m able to live vicariously through someone else’s trip. Of course, you can always give money to a person instead, but it can get awkward and have a “charity” like feel.
With miles and points it’s different. Most normal people don’t understand the dynamics and automatically assume they are free (most of the time that’s not really the case). So, it can actually work to your advantage.
My mom feels weird asking me for money, though she knows I’m always willing to help if she needs it. And she most certainly wouldn’t approach me for assistance with covering travel, something she views as luxury. But it’s a different ballgame when it comes to points.
We regularly bring my parents here to US, but they never go on trips otherwise. So, as soon as I got a nice stash of miles and points, I decided it was time to change things up. Over the last few years I’ve been able to treat my family to a few getaways near Baltic sea (read trip reports here and here). Apparently, my mom got hooked. Oh, speaking of, she figured out how to copy and paste my posts in Google translate. I need to be careful what I say around here…
So, the other day we were talking over Skype and she asked me if I had any extra hotel points. She has several weeks off in August, so she wanted to take my oldest nephew somewhere. I said that my points are her points, and I meant it. Unfortunately, all I had was a pathetic Club Carlson stash. I’ve mentioned before that I decided to renew the credit card and speculatively collect 40,000 points in exchange for paying $75 annual fee. I didn’t have any clear use in mind, but I figured for that price, why not?
And it looks like opportunity presented itself. My mom said she didn’t want to fly anywhere and didn’t want to spend several days on a train. So, the best options were: Poland, Russia or Baltic countries of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. I had 90,000 Club Carlson points to work with.
In order to find the best bargain I looked on this Club Carlson page that sorts all hotels by categories. Since my mom wanted to spend 4-6 nights, the only options were a category 1 or 2 properties. I could send her back to Lithuania because it has several bargains on points. However, my mom said she wanted to do something different this time. Fair enough.
One category 2 property that stood out was Park Inn by Radisson Meriton Conference & Spa Hotel Tallinn. Tallinn is considered the most beautiful city in the Baltic region, and this property is located near old town. On top of it, there is free spa access. My mom would love it. Score! Unfortunately, it looks like I’m not the only one who thinks it’s a bargain. There is absolutely no availability for regular or premium rooms (22,500 points) during the month of August. And those are the only ones bookable via points.
I turned to Russia. My mom has been to Moscow a few times, so I checked on various options in St. Petersburg. All the hotels in historic center are quite expensive, but there was one Soviet era hotel on the Gulf of Finland:
Click on the link to see the size of this monster! Soviet Union culture was into “bigly”, big time. Well, I know my mom, and she will love it. The rate for regular room (15,000 points per night) includes breakfast and there is an indoor waterpark located across the street that my nephew will definitely enjoy. I think we found a winner.
While I would never pay $138 per night to stay on the outskirts of the city, 15,000 mediocre points is as close to “almost free” as it gets. This is why I renew my Club Carlson credit card. I’ll keep an eye on other deals, including IHG PointBreaks promo, but for now, this is the plan.
Researching various lodging options in St. Petersburg brought back some memories. It was late eighties and I was nine years old. We were en route to Kandapoga (city in the far northern part of Russia) to visit my estranged grandfather. We had to change trains in St. Petersburg or Leningrad, as it was known back in the days of Soviet Union.
We had an entire day to explore the city, so we wondered the streets and my mom tried to book a tour of Hermitage. I was a weird kid who loved art, and she knew that. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get in, and I remember being super disappointed. My mom tried to buy some gifts to make me feel better, but I just wanted to see those darn paintings. I still haven’t made it back to St. Petersburg to visit Hermitage, but maybe I can live vicariously through my nephew…
Club Carlson credit card: a decent choice for grizzled hobby vets
Club Carlson credit card was at one time the belle of the ball in the miles and points hobby. No more. Now, hardly any blogger talks about it. There are two reasons: it no longer pays commission, but more importantly, the program was gutted due to various devaluations and murder of “two for one” redemption. Additionally, it has a lousy footprint in US.
While I’m the first one to admit that the program is indeed mediocre, there are deals to be had. Well, as long as you are not picky and are willing to stay in Soviet-era hotels on the outskirts of the city. No? How about just a place to sleep before the flight?
There are many airport hotels in US that cost 15,000 points per night. So, your 85,000 points from the sign-up bonus can go a long way. Just don’t expect a Hyatt Place, and you’ll be fine. Oh, and check TripAdvisor because some properties have seen better days, to put it mildly.
To be clear, if you are relatively new to the hobby, there are MUCH better options. If you are looking for hotel points, there are currently limited-time offers on Amex SPG and Hilton Honors Surpass. Also, the official bonus on Marriott co-branded card has been recently increased to 100K points, though it’s subject to 5/24 rule. You can read about all hotel credit card offers here.
But if you are a grizzled hobby vet who has applied for every offer under the sun, maybe it’s time to consider Club Carlson. Soviet hotels, here we come!
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.