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Occasionally hotel programs will offer exceptional incentives to book, with the value of award points sometimes exceeding the cost of a stay. Today, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Nick Ewen shares his experience participating in one such opportunity with Club Carlson.
For a while, it seemed like Club Carlson wanted to play with the “big boys” of the hotel world. Then the program veered in the opposite direction earlier this year by announcing two huge devaluations: removing the bonus night award benefit on the Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa and Club Carlson Business Rewards Visa, and then changing categories on over 300 properties (with most going up at least one tier). The speed and magnitude at which the program changed rivaled Hilton’s 2013 devaluation, and I know many cardholders who have since canceled their cards.
To soften the blow of the first devaluation (and hopefully prevent many cardholders from canceling), Club Carlson announced a limited-time offer: When you book a stay now through August 31, 2015, and pay with your Club Carlson Visa, you’ll earn 30,000 bonus points. That bonus alone is worth $150 based on TPG’s most recent valuations, so I began thinking about making my first ever mattress run. After crunching the numbers I went for it. My question for you is as follows: Would you have done the same?
Let’s start with how I arrived at this conclusion. Obviously, the 30,000-point haul would be a big bonus, but I figured I could easily find a way to get those points for less than “face value” ($150). I would also earn points for the stay plus bonus points as a Gold Member (automatic for cardholders) and any regular bonuses in effect at the time of the stay. Finally, I would earn 10 additional points per dollar spent on the credit card for the entire purchase amount.
I started to look for hotels near my house but then realized I had a business meeting in Orlando coming up. I was already booked at one of my company’s preferred hotels (I have to charge business expenses to my corporate American Express), but wondered if I could snag a cheap Club Carlson stay for that same night. Since I knew Orlando had a variety of properties, I pulled up its website and searched for my specific date. Lo and behold, I found an AAA rate at the Park Inn by Radisson Resort & Conference Center Orlando for just $51.35 plus taxes & fees of $7.72 (and a pesky resort fee of $15). This property actually made my list of 7 awesome Club Carlson redemptions given that it’s right near Disney World and as of June 1st requires just 9,000 points for a free night. Total out-of-pocket cost: $74.07.
Here’s how my point earning broke down:
- Base earnings: $51.35 x 20 = 1,027 points
- 35% Gold bonus: 1,027 x 0.35 = 360 points
- Triple points promotion: 1,027 x 2 additional points per dollar = 2,054 points
- App booking promotion: 1,000 points
- Credit card earning: $74.07 x 10 = 741 points
- Credit card bonus: 30,000 points
As a result, my total haul was 35,182 points at a cost of $74.07. In essence (since I never even visited my room), I purchased Club Carlson points for just 0.21 cents apiece, a discount of 58%. Looking at it another way, I earned points worth a total of $175.91 by paying just $74.07 — a net “profit” to me of over $100!
Clearly, the idea of mattress running doesn’t work for everyone. For starters, you have to factor in the cost and time of traveling to a given destination, and you may not even be able to find a low rate. Sometimes, spending cash out of your pocket doesn’t make sense at all, even when you can snag a lucrative haul of points. You should also have a specific use in mind; earning points or miles just for the sake of it may not be the best strategy.
However, there are times when you might consider pursuing this strategy (in addition to my example of a one-time bonus offer):
- When you are just shy of an elite level. As TPG discovered back in 2012, mattress running can make sense if you are just shy of qualifying (or re-qualifying) for top-tier elite status. Of course, the closer you are the easier it is to justify, but if you need a handful of stays to extend these valuable benefits for another year, it may make sense. Just be sure that there isn’t a credit card that offers the same status; no point in booking a few $100-ish stays to earn Hilton Gold status when you can simply open the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card or the Hilton HHonors Surpass Card from American Express.
- When you are just shy of a bonus threshold. Many programs these days offer tiered promotions, where your bonuses increase as you complete more and more stays or nights. For example, Hyatt’s first promotion of 2015 gave different offers to different members, but TPG and I were actually targeted for the same one: 20,000 bonus points after 10 eligible nights. Unfortunately, I only had four eligible nights during the promotion period so I wasn’t even halfway to the requirement. However, if I already had eight or nine nights, I likely would’ve gone out of my way to find a cheap Hyatt Place or two to snag the 20,000 additional points (which would’ve been worth $360 based on TPG’s current valuations).
- When you have a specific redemption in mind. You may already have a trip planned in your head but need some additional points to make the hotel award reservation and are afraid that availability won’t last (note that this should never be the case with Marriott, which allows you to book awards even if you can’t cover the full redemption cost). Sure, you could purchase the points and hope that the program has a bonus like SPG’s current one, but these transactions are generally costly. A relatively inexpensive one- or two-night stay could make up the difference.
For me, the decision to mattress run in this case was actually a combination of factors. The big bonus was (obviously) the primary reason, but I also had a specific booking in mind. I had a trip planned to Iceland and wanted to stay at the Radisson Blu 1919 Hotel in Reykjavik (I am actually sitting in my upgraded business-class room as I type this sentence!). However, I only had enough points to cover three of the four nights.
I wound up making a Cash + Points reservation for the last night that required 10,000 Club Carlson points plus €162.71 ($181.35). With this haul of over 35,000 points, I could cancel this reservation and rebook the entire stay using points and still take advantage of the bonus award night benefit, making the stay 132,000 points instead of 176,000 points.
As a result, my one-night mattress run cost me $74.07 at the time but saved me $181.35 for a total savings of $107.28. I would much rather spend that money on activities and dining while in town! Fortunately, I had TPG’s recommendations to follow.
It’s nice that Club Carlson has thrown us cardholders a bone with the 30,000 bonus points to help ease the pain of the bonus award night disappearance. In my case, it simply made financial sense to book a one-night stay without ever setting foot in the room, as it allowed me to change my Reykjavik hotel plans to a straight-up award stay without any cash outlay.
However, given the low price I paid and the huge number of points I received, I am pretty sure I would’ve done this even without a specific need in mind.
Have any of you ever done a mattress run (or are thinking of doing one with Club Carlson)?