Unless London is Calling, Time to Check Out of the Club Carlson US Bank Credit Card

Unless London is Calling, Time to Check Out of the Club Carlson US Bank Credit Card

Unless you are a frequent traveler to London, it is time to discontinue your use of the Club Carlson Visa Signature Card from US Bank.

Club Carlson is the parent company of Radisson and several other hotels, and for the last several years it has had an attractive loyalty program, paired with an attractive credit card partner, that enabled valuable rewards to early by ramped up.  However, Club Carlson and US Bank recently announced that one of the most attractive features of the Club Carlson Visa Signature Card from US Bank is being discontinued at the end of May.  Previously, on a multi-night stay, your last night would be free.  This feature enabled many - myself included – to stay at some of their nicest hotels by redeeming only enough points for one night.  Now that benefit is quietly being removed (although apparently reservations may be made through May 28 that will not allow cardholders to take advantage of this feature through the end of 2016).

The removal of this feature is effectively a 50% devaluation of the program to cardholders who used it effectively by redeeming points for two night stays.   To make matters worse, it comes on the heels of a change in the number of points required to stay at their nicest hotels from 50,000 to 70,000 points (this change occurred in 2015 for most top tier European hotels like the May Fair in London, and is occurring this year for the Radisson Blu Chicago).

The experience with Radissons in the US is always hit-or-miss (actually, miss) and the Club Carlson website seems to date from 1997.  Nevertheless, the May Fair in London and some of the European Radisson Blu hotels are very, very comfortable hotels.  Less than one year ago, 50,000 Club Carlson points would get you a two night stay at one of these hotels.  At 5 points per dollar spent, this was an exceptional return for $10,000 of credit card spend.  When it was raised to 70,000 points for a two night stay, it continued to be a very good return on $14,000 of credit card spend.  After May 28, that two night stay requires points accumulated for $28,000 of credit card spend.

In London hotels are prohibitively expensive, and the May Fair is as good as any hotel (with rack rates regularly exceeding GBP 500).  I think that a two night stay there for points accumulated through $28,000 in credit card spend can make sense.   Additionally, some of the other Radisson Blus in London – including the Radisson Blu Edwardian Hampshire Hotel - can be redeemed for 50,000 points a night (or through $20,000 in credit card spend).  To boot, your sign up bonus will get you a free night and your annual renewal bonus will get you half of a free night.

But, those who don’t travel to London regularly will see little value going forward in the Club Carlson program.  But, even in the other European cities where Radisson Blu has comfortable hotels, Hyatt (Paris, Moscow) or Starwood (Amsterdam, Madrid) now provide much more value than Club Carlson for your spend on their credit cards.

Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are those of the author, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any bank advertiser, card issuer, airline or hotel.

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Follow This 5 Point Plan and You Will Be Earning Valuable Free Travel

Follow This 5 Point Plan and You Will Be Earning Valuable Free Travel

The use of credit cards that provide points in hotel and airline loyalty programs is far and away the most valuable reward available for your use of one or more credit cards.

When used effectively, the credit cards that give you hotel and airline loyalty points provide more value than the cash back that you can ordinarily achieve in a cash-back credit card. 

Here’s how to get started.

  1. If you do not have them, open accounts with the major loyalty programs that you intend to use.  This table shows how we value a point in each of the major hotel programs, and this table shows how we value a point in each of the major airline programs.  The tables also show the cards that accumulate points in each program.
  2. Recognize that many programs have miles and points that expire.  You will want to track your miles and use them as quickly as you can.  Prepare a means of tracking your balances and the expiration date of your points in each program.  Awardwallet.com and Tripit.com both offer mileage tracking programs.   Using the “Notes” application on your IPhone or Android device also works perfectly well.
  3. Choose the right credit cards.  The right credit card for you is the one that earns points that you are likely to redeem.  Cards that earn flexible points that can be transferred to any of a number of partners (such as Chase Sapphire Preferred where points can be transferred to United, British Airways, Singapore Airlines, Hyatt, Amtrak and others) often have significant embedded value in the flexibility that they provide.  While Chase is our favorite flexible card issuer, we also recommend the other programs listed on this page.   If you prefer a card that earns hotel points directly, the three best cards are listed here, as are those for airlines here.     This chart demonstrates the most valuable cards based on the point value across all categories.
  4. Meet the promotional spend requirement.  Most cards have promotional spend requirements that require that you to spend at a certain level over a certain period of time before you get the sign-up bonus.  If you do not believe that you can meet a promotional spend requirement for getting the points or miles that a card offers, delay applying for the card until such time as you will have bills that will allow you to meet them.  For example, the Amex Platinum Card ordinarily requires that you spend $10,000 within 3 months of opening the account in order to get 50,000 membership rewards points.  It also carries a $450 fee.  While the card has many benefits that may justify the $450 fee, you are passing up one of the biggest if you open it during a period where you will not be running the spend levels required to get these points.  By the same token, you should use credit cards over cash, but always pay your balances on time.  If you fail to pay your balances, interests that you will owe will outweigh any points you will receive.  Do not pay a premium to use your credit cards (such as at a gas station) as the premium you are paying will outweigh any points you will receive.
  5. Begin to familiarize yourself with the ways to redeem points or miles.   By doing so, you will be able to get the rewards which are most valuable among those that are most useful to you.  On most airlines, you will get the most value for your points by redeeming for long haul flights in Business or First class (British Airways is an outlier here, and the best value in their program is often in coach class on short haul flights operated by American or Iberia, its partners).    At hotel chains such as Hyatt, your points may go further if used to stay at some of the lower category hotels.   For example, the Hyatt Regency in Greenville, South Carolina and the Park Hyatt in Mendoza, Argentina are both outstanding properties where the rack rate can be quite high, but they are also both category 2 hotels where a room can be had for 8,000 Hyatt points per night.   Flexible point programs may offer more strategies for maximizing value.  See, for example, this recent article details how to get tremendous value by transferring Chase, Citibank or American Express points to Singapore Airlines’ frequent flier program.

Once you have committed to a strategy of earning hotel points and airline miles for your spend, you should also have a look at these 10 rules.

Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are those of the author, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any bank advertiser, card issuer, airline or hotel.

Advertising Disclosure: This site may be compensated for hosting offers.


Consider Singapore KrisFlyer for Your Chase, Citibank and American Express Points

Consider Singapore KrisFlyer for Your Chase, Citibank and American Express Points

Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer is now the only airline frequent flier program allowing you to transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points, Citibank Thank You points and American Express Membership Rewards points on a 1-to-1 basis. In many cases, more value can be extracted through KrisFlyer than through virtually any other transfer opportunity.

Author's Note: On March 1, 2017, Singapore announced a devaluation of their Krisflyer program with effect from March 23, 2017.  It is unclear if redemption opportunities 1, 2 and 4, below, will be adversely affected, but redeeming directly on Singapore (redemption opportunity 3, below) will now require more Krisflyer miles.  Read more here.  

Singapore Airlines is known as one of the best and safest airlines, but it is also a partner with Star Alliance (together with United) as well as with several other airlines (including Air India, TAM, and all of the Virgins).  The KrisFlyer program releases exponentially more saver award availability on Singapore Airlines and discounts online redemptions by 15%, making it the clear choice for booking travel on Singapore (versus trying to redeem free travel on Singapore through United or Lufthansa). 

Since it has a very favorable award chart (especially compared to United) and does not charge last minute ticketing fees KrisFlyer can also be a great way to redeem for travel on United and other Star Alliance partners.  When booking on Singapore itself or a travel partner, you may redeem points for one way travel or round trip, and if you redeem for round trip travel, you are allowed one free stop over.

Here is the KrisFlyer Award Chart.  

The most valuable redemptions for US-based travelers on KrisFlyer are as follows:

  1. Traveling from the US Mainland to Hawaii: Singapore charges 35,000/60,000 points in economy/business for travel round trip on United to Hawaii with no last minute ticketing fees so long as United Mileage Saver awards are available on the dates and times that you are intending to fly (i.e., check on United's website before calling Singapore).  Booking directly with United’s program will cost you 45,000/80,000.
  2. Traveling on United in Business in the US: Singapore charges 40,000 points for domestic business class round trips on United or Virgin America.  Again, if booking on United, Mileage Saver awards must be available on the dates and times that you are intending to fly so check the United website first. Booking directly with United or Virgin America will cost you 50,000 points.
  3. Traveling to Frankfurt from JFK on Singapore Airlines’ flight: Assuming you book online for the 15% discount, one way travel on that flight will cost you 17,000 points in coach, 48,900 points in Business and 57,400 points in First plus fees of between $180 and $220.  It will be a more comfortable and less expensive way to get from New York to Frankfurt than by booking through United’s program on United or Lufthansa metal.  Likewise, traveling from LA to Tokyo or San Francisco to Seoul or Hong Kong in a Singapore First Class Suite is only 140,250 miles plus fees of $300 roundtrip, again less taxing and less expensive than your alternatives.
  4. Getting an Around-the-World Ticket: Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Around the World tickets are only 180k/240k/360k in economy/business/first and allow seven stops.  United is the only US carrier still allowing these rewards and charges 200k/350k/450k, allowing only five stops.

Singapore is not the only frequent flier program that you will want to be part of, but you will want to open an account and use it for the above redemptions with your Chase, Citibank and Amex points.  Moreover, if you even find yourself paying to fly on United, you will also want to get credit through KrisFlyer for all of your travel, unless you are purchasing full fare tickets, as United has now moved to a revenue-based point system.   

There are, however, some pitfalls to avoid with Singapore.  First, some have reported that it may take several days to transfer points to Singapore, whereas other transfers are instantaneous.  Second, your points expire two years after they are accrued or transferred (and unlike with United and American, you cannot generate activity to keep them active).

See our list of the best credit cards for travel rewards.

Happy travels.      

Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are those of the author, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any bank advertiser, card issuer, airline or hotel.

Advertising Disclosure: This site may be compensated for hosting offers.