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Travel Hacking: US Bank Club Carlson

Power Rankings

Currently #9 in Aaron’s Credit Card Power Rankings

Signup Bonus 

50,000 points after the first purchase, then an additional 35,000 after spending $2,500 in 90 days

Annual Fee

$75  (NOT waived for first year)


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Minimum Credit Score

720+

Specs

  • 10x on eligible purchases at Club Carlson Hotels
  • 5x on everything else
  • 40,000 anniversary points every account renewal
  • Upgraded to Gold Elite Status
  • 3% foreign transaction fees (Really?)

A Quick Word

US Bank Club Carlson is one of two hotel-branded cards on NomadsNation Power Rankings, (the other being the Amex SPG at #11). While I can’t promote it as a primary card, responsibly Travel Hacking with the US Bank Club Carlson can be great. It has one of the larger signup bonuses on the market – and there’s a lot you can do with those points.

The Good

     1) 5x Points on EVERYTHING

This is not the most important aspect of the card, but it transitions nicely into my next point, so I’m going to lead with it. While 5x on every purchase is extremely generous in the credit card world, it doesn’t mean you should use it as a primary spending card. No. What it does mean, is that when you hit the minimum spend ($2,500) you’ll get an additional 12,500 points. Transition…

     2) HUGE Signup Bonus

50,000 points (after first purchase) + 35,000 points (after spending $2,500) + 12,500 points (5x’s points on the $2,500 spent) = 97,500 points!

That’s a f**k-ton of points! 90 days and a doable $2,500 minimum spend gets you nearly 100,000 Gold Points. But what are these Gold Points and what can you do with them… (Strong transition game today)

     2) Versatility

First off, Club Carlson is a chain of hotels spanning the world, mostly targeting mid-range buyers. Some of the more well known brands are Radisson, Park Plaza and Country Inn . They aren’t as expensive or as swanky as the Hilton or Marriott… but NomadsNation doesn’t typically write about expensive or swanky.

But that’s why we like the Club Carlson card! If you want to be swanky, you can! If you want to spread out the points a bit more, that’s a viable option as well!

Club Carlson has 7 different property categories.

  • Category 1 property – 9,000 points per night (Basically a motel)
  • Category 2 property – 15,000 points per night (Still basically a motel)
  • Category 3 property – 28,000 points per night (A motel that will feel nicer than a motel)
  • Category 4 property – 38,000 points per night (A hotel)
  • Category 5 property – 44,000 points per night (Gettin’ classier)
  • Category 6 property – 50,000 points per night (Probably the exact same as category 5)
  • Category 7 property – 70,000 points per night ( Nice! Entering the realm of entry-level SPG properties)

So it’s your choice! Your 100k Gold Points can be redeemed for one luxurious night in a 5 star hotel. Or you can make your points stretch a bit by staying multiple nights in 1 star budget accommodations.

     4) More Versatility

While it’s best to prepare for your travels – s**t happens! I’ve cancelled my Club Carlson reservations a few times. You can cancel your reservation up to 24 hours before the reservation date, with no penalties! It’s literally that easy. You click ‘cancel reservation’ and the points are immediately re-deposited back into your account. No fees. No nothing.

     5) No Blackout Dates! (On Standard Rooms)

When using Club Carlson’s site, all properties are offered as Standard Rooms. The price is based on the category of the property (bullet list above). Premium Rooms come into play during checkout, when they try to up-sell you.

So, when you book a Standard Room (aka any room) there are no blackout dates (similar to this card). If there is a room available, you can use your hard-earned points to redeem that room. Very, very important.

     6) Ease of Use

One of the best parts about Travel Hacking with the US Bank Club Carlson is the ease of redemption. Straight up – it’s very simple to book!

      7) Gold Status

The free upgrade to Gold Status is another nice perk that should be taken advantage of. Some of the perks include 15% off food in Club Carlson properties, complimentary room upgrades (where available), and early check-in and late check-out (obviously a must do). These perks are small, but definitely appreciated, and should be capitalized upon.

     8) 40,000 Point Anniversary Bonus

Every year, Club Carlson rewards cardmembers for their loyalty by hooking them up with 40,000 anniversary points! It’s basically a way of them saying “the annual fee is coming up, please don’t cancel the card!“, and hell, it works.

You’ll still have to pay the $75 annual fee, but the 40k annual bonus has a value of $200-$300, which can make it worth it.

The Bad

     1) Value

100,000 points seems like a ton, and it is, but the value of these points are a bit lower than they would be in other point systems.

Not to say you can’t get save some dough. A 9,000 point room would probably cost around $40-80 cash. A 70,000 point room will cost anywhere from $150-350 a night. Not the greatest ratio… but savings nonetheless.

The 100,000 points can be worth up to $400-600, which makes the annual fee not being waved, much more bearable. Speaking of which…

     2) Annual Fee

It’s not the only card that doesn’t wave it’s annual fee the first year. But it doesn’t make it okay.

     3) 3% Foreign Transaction Fees

Back in the day, credit cards offering no foreign transaction fees were very rare… very chic. Now? It’s strange to find a travel card that does charge a foreign transaction fee. Club Carlson is one of the exceptions (which is kind of surprising considering that over half of their properties are located in Asia, and Europe.)

Bottom line. Do not use this card overseas. The 3% will cut into the overall value of your points. Come on!

 

    4) Excellent Credit Needed

720+ credit score recommended.

     5) No More Bonus Award Nights

Typically I won’t lament about promotions of the past, but this one was particularly awesome. It significantly devalued this card for most of the best Travel Blogs.

Strategy

I reiterate – unless you are a loyal Club Carlson-er, there are better choices for your primary credit card. Carlson points are not life-changing points. Carlson points are fun points!

My first recommendation is to turn it and burn it. Get the 100k points, enjoy nine free nights at category one hotels, or have a few epic nights in a setting that is more chic. (Definitely recommended for couples looking for a nice date night or two while on the road.)

Another idea? … you can keep the card permanently. This is possible because of the aforementioned 40k anniversary bonus. It’s a bit less conventional, but still a viable option.

Me? I recommend getting the points, and either A) saving them for a rainy day. You can redeem a hotel last minute, and doing so can save you big bucks. Or B) Redeem the miles when hotel prices are significantly higher due to high season or an important event. 

For example -while backpacking Europe with my sister and cousin, I redeemed my 150,000 Club Carlson Points in London for three nights at the Radisson Blu Edwardian Grafton. It was the weekend of the Rugby World Cup Finals (in London) and as you could imagine, hotel prices were through the roof ($350 a night). It was a much-needed break from hostel life, and saved us a ton of money.

Conclusion

This is a fun card. Typically at NomadsNation, we gravitate towards credit cards that give us free flights because we don’t mind staying in crappy hostels to save a dime. But Travel Hacking with the US Bank Club Carlson is the exception. The sign up bonus is enormous, the perks are noteworthy, and the annual fee pays for itself a few times over. It isn’t a card you’ll need, but it’s a card you’ll be pleased to have. 

What do you think? Is Club Carlson worth it? Comment below!

Written by Aaron Radcliffe

City dweller. Dumpling crusher. Aaron is a serial entrepreneur, and the founder of Nomads Nation. Connect with Aaron Radcliffe -