Let’s face it, majority of people are drawn to miles and points hobby by the promise of free travel. It sounds good, but you know how the saying goes: “If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.” That said, with the right strategy, travel on the cheap is definitely within your grasp.
As I’ve mentioned in my Tuesday’s post, I currently plan to renew six hotel credit cards that come with annual certificates/points. For now, the value proposition makes sense to me, based on my family’s travel patterns. However, we are talking $386, a good bit of cash for a middle-class family. On top of it, I plan to renew two Hilton Ascend cards (only once) in order to collect our weekend night certificates. That’s another $190. Those annual fees are surely adding up, but I’m hoping that the juice will be worth the squeeze.
One card that I kept going back and forth on was Club Carlson Signature Visa. It’s a very quirky hotel program, but getting 40,000 points in exchange for paying an annual fee of $75 is still pretty darn cheap. Then again, I already plan to cough up $576 in card renewal fees in 2018.
Club Carlson has been very good to me, so I have zero complaints. They came through for us during hurricane Irma and I got tremendous value out of their points during BOGO days (RIP). I had about 24,000 points left and Nancy actually gifted me her stash of 66,000 points. Club Carlson lets you transfer points to anyone for free as long as you have elite status. And I happen to be a proud Gold via their co-branded credit card.
So, I went ahead and transferred my stash to Nancy and booked a two-night stay at Radisson Oceanfront hotel in Melbourne (see review) at the end of May. However, it looks like we’ll have to cancel. No worries, we’ll just go there in December instead.
So, the plan was to renew my Club Carlson credit card and add a third night to the reservation (the hotel costs 44,000 points). Unfortunately, it looks like that property has reclassified what rooms they make available via points. You can no longer book a suite with a sleeper sofa. Well, you can, but it will cost you 66,000 points per night. That’s just too high. They also now charge $10 per day for parking.
Factoring in all the issues the place has, it no longer seemed like a good option. So, that meant that I would have 90,000 Club Carlson points with no specific goal in mind. Nancy gave me access to her account so I can do as I please with her stash.
Is there any point in paying yet another annual fee? I decided to cancel the card. Sending the email to US Bank was easy through my online profile, they just asked me to confirm the cancellation via email. Done. Goodbye Club Carlson card and thanks for the memories.
Two days later
I was having a conversation with my sister-in-law and she mentioned that it’s been far too long since we have visited Asheville, NC as a family. Long story short, we decided to plan a trip there next May, as soon as the kids get out of school. We are going to rent a cabin in the mountains, so no hotel points will be needed. However, we’ve agreed to break up the long drive and spend one night in Georgia both ways.
If we are going to stay overnight, we may as well pick a place we are interested in. I looked on the map, and saw that Savannah is at a halfway point. Great! I’ve never been to that city and always wanted to go. So, why not spend two nights in the area? As it turns out, Club Carlson has several category 2 hotels (15,000 points per night) that are located right off the interstate: Country Inn and Suites Savannah Airport and Country Inn and Suites Savannah Gateway
Both properties go for around $100 all-in during summer months. We will need three rooms for two nights, so the 90,000 points stash in Nancy’s account will take care of it. That’s a pretty darn good deal. The reviews? They are OK.
On the way back we were talking about stopping at Warner Robins, GA for one night so the guys could visit Museum of Aviation There are quite a few chain hotels in the city, including Club Carlson. Unfortunately, that property costs 28,000 points, not quite as much of a bargain compared to Savannah.
Still, the website allows you to use 5,000 points and co-pay around $55 per room/per night. That’s still a better deal than burning 20,000 IHG points/per room on Holiday Inn Express. Plus, I like the breakfast at Country Inn and Suites properties better. Sure, there was one TripAdvisor review that gave me pause:
Well, the way I’m looking at it is by the time we stay in the hotel, the mushroom will most likely be removed. Hmm, maybe they will even incorporate it into a breakfast dish?
Too far? You can blame my Eastern European sense of humor.
Honestly though, you can have issues at any property. My cousin-in-law once stayed at Hyatt in Savannah, GA and the bed was full of hair. The housekeeper clearly didn’t change the sheets. This was a nice Hyatt that costs 15,000 points per night. For those who are new to our hobby, 15,000 Hyatt points are worth a LOT more than 15,000 Club Carlson points.
Obviously, if I see review after review mentioning the growing mushroom colony in the pool and feces on the toilet seats, that’s a red flag. I’m a simple gal, but I have limits on what I’ll put up with in a hotel.
So, as crazy as it may sound, I’m willing to take a chance on that property, especially if it’s only for one night. I started having regrets about canceling my Club Carlson card. After all, $75 would provide enough points for one room, plus, enough for Cash+Points rate for the other two. The rooms wouldn’t be free, but they would be deeply discounted, which is my goal.
I sent an email to US Bank and they responded that they could re-open the card, but I need to provide my income, housing situation etc. Yup, sounds like a hard pull. Pass. Honestly, our plans may change, so I’m not super upset. What’s done is done, plus, we can always use IHG points for Holiday Inn Express.
First, don’t cancel your credit cards hastily, especially if they provide renewal perks. Think about your plans and whether having these points/benefits may come in handy in a near future. Sure, Club Carlson currency is kind of weak, but it does have its strengths.
If you are planning on doing a US road trip and can easily utilize Category 1 and 2 properties, renewing Club Carlson card can make a lot of sense. After all, your 40,000 points will take care of two hotel rooms (at 15,000 points per night). Charge an additional $1,000 on the card, and you will have enough for a third night (since it earns 5 points per dollar). Factoring in forgone cash back from a 2% credit card, it’s an equivalent of paying $32 per night. That’s incredibly cheap, and breakfast is often included.
I assure you, not all Club Carlson properties are dumps. Some are, but many are on par with Holiday Inn Express. The color scheme is usually a bit wacky, but if you just need a place to sleep, do you really care about room’s decor?
Yes, the room is ugly. But having a hot shower and air-conditioning in this Club Carlson property was an amazing treat when our house had no power after hurricane Irma hit the area
See all category 1 Club Carlson properties (9,000 points per night) and all category 2 properties ( 15,000 points per night). Park Inn Radisson in Orlando costs 15,000 points and is located close to Disney parks. The reviews are somewhat mixed, but it is an affordable option for a family on a tight budget.
Few things to consider: Club Carlson could change categories without notice, your property may leave the chain, some places may require a 2-night reservation etc. I recommend you always have a Plan B and C for your hotel points.
I absolutely wouldn’t apply for Club Carlson card if you are collecting points speculatively, especially if you haven’t yet taken advantage of Hilton, IHG and Marriott cards. But if you are running out of options and like to go on road trips, it’s a solid candidate for applying AND renewing.
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.