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Award travel enthusiasts often focus on redeeming for first-class flights and stays at five-star hotels, but sometimes the best value can be found further down the award chart. Today, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Nick Ewen shares his favorite redemptions for lower-tier properties in the Club Carlson program.
The top awards tend to be the most expensive, but that doesn’t mean they offer the best value. While premium flights and hotels are memorable, many travelers aren’t interested in these “aspirational” redemptions, and focus instead on keeping cash in their pockets. Over the past few months I’ve looked at SPG’s best Category 1-4 properties, Hyatt’s top Category 1-3 properties, Hilton’s top Category 1-2 properties, Marriott’s best Category 1-3 properties and IHG’s top Category 1-3 properties. Today I’ll continue this series with a look at Club Carlson and its best Category 1-2 properties for award stays.
In compiling this list, I considered a number of factors to determine which lower-tier Club Carlson properties offer the “best” value:
- Typical revenue rates
- Uniqueness (amenities, location, etc.)
Remember that you can extend the value of your award stays even further simply by holding the Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature Card, which offers automatic Gold status in addition to the current sign-up bonus of 85,000 points after spending $2,500 in the first 90 days. Club Carlson Gold gives you bonus points, late checkout and space-available upgrades (among other benefits). Unfortunately, the card lost its bonus award night benefit in June, but you still earn 40,000 points on your cardmember anniversary. This bonus is worth $160 based on TPG’s most recent valuations, and would thus more than cover the $75 annual fee.
The loss of the bonus award night benefit wasn’t the only devaluation from Club Carlson this year. Over 200 properties jumped up at least one category in June, but most of these changes took place in the top 2-3 categories. As a result, even though the overall value of your Club Carlson points may have dropped, their utility at lower-tier properties has remained largely unchanged.
Note that the values below include room rates plus all taxes and fees that are covered on an award reservation (including resort fees where applicable, as Club Carlson’s booking engine indicates that these are not charged on award reservations). I chose to focus on the lowest flexible rates rather than prepaid, nonrefundable rates for an “apples-to-apples” comparison, since award nights can also be canceled without penalty. If you tend to book rooms with discounted advance purchase rates (or have access to other discounts such as AAA, AARP or government rates), the redemption value for each property may be slightly lower.
Of course, you likely have a different way of defining what makes a redemption valuable, so feel free to include your favorite low-tier Club Carlson properties in the comments below! These are my picks:
European Club Carlson properties took a beating with the category changes last month, but fortunately, this gem remained in Category 1. Situated on the Danube River in Bratislava, the hotel offers beautiful skyline views and is a great jumping-off point for exploring the medieval city. The 261 rooms include free high-speed internet and minibars along with complimentary access to the Freja Sports Club (including an indoor pool and sauna). You can fuel up for the day at Il Gusto and wind down with a drink or dinner at Le Square Bar & Restaurant.
This is a Category 1 property, requiring 9,000 points for a free night. Rates in August start around €61 (about $66) per night, giving you a value of 0.73 cents per point.
The Radisson Blu brand also saw a ton of properties rise in category, but the location in El Quseir, Egypt remains a great value as a Category 1 hotel. The luxurious resort is situated right on the banks of the Red Sea, and boasts extensive amenities like 2 pools, an on-site spa (complete with sauna, steam room and plunge pool) and a dive center to explore the area’s marine life. You’ll have a variety of restaurants to choose from, and the 250 rooms and suites offer Red Sea views and decor meant to evoke the local culture.
This is a Category 1 property, requiring 9,000 points for a free night. Rates in August start at $110 per night, giving you a value of 1.22 cents per point.
This property actually made my list of 7 awesome Club Carlson award redemptions, which included all categories. The Park Inn Resort Orlando is situated less than two miles from Walt Disney World, and offers complimentary shuttle service to the theme parks. The 434 stylish rooms provide contemporary furnishings and amenities, including mini-refrigerators and garden tubs, while “Magical View Rooms” offer views of Disney’s Animal Kingdom and the park’s nightly fireworks display. Other on-site amenities include an outdoor heated pool, fitness center, all-day restaurant and an Avis rental-car facility. I actually did a mattress run here in May to capitalize on various bonus offers at the time, but it’s a great spot for redeeming your points.
This is a Category 2 property, requiring 15,000 points for a free night. Rates in August start at $106 per night (including a $15 resort fee), giving you a value of 0.7 cents per point.
Another great European option is the Radisson Blu Beke Hotel in Budapest, Hungary. Built in 1913, the hotel stands in the center of the shopping and business areas of the city with easy access to transportation and many popular sites. The 247 guest rooms and suites provide contemporary accommodations in a historic setting, complete with bright colors and modern amenities like free high-speed internet and minibars. You can enjoy traditional Hungarian food at Olive’s Restaurant, or grab dessert and a drink at Zsolnay Cafe.
This is a Category 2 property, requiring 15,000 points for a free night. Rates in August start at €90 (about $98) per night, giving you a value of 0.65 cents per point.
The Baltics are becoming more popular by the day, so if your travels take you to Estonia, you’ll get great value out of your Club Carlson points at this Park Inn location. Situated in the heart of the capital city, the property is close to the Old Town as well as the airport and main train station. The decor of the 465 rooms is split between a boldly colored modern style and a more muted classic style, though all include amenities like minibars, free internet and city views. You can also try out the two on-site restaurants (plus a pastry shop), two bars, and extensive spa and sauna areas. Both standard (paid) rates and award stays include free breakfast.
This is a Category 2 property, requiring 15,000 points for a free night. Rates in August start at €79 ($86), giving you a value of 0.57 cents per point.
This final property also made my list of top Club Carlson redemptions, but it’s worth including here again. Even though you’re surrounded by 160 acres of lush rainforest, you’re still just 30 minutes from Panama City, and even closer to the Panama Canal (accessible via the hotel’s shuttle service). The property has 103 spacious rooms, all of which include free Wi-Fi, LCD TVs and a complimentary buffet breakfast every morning. Other amenities include two restaurants, a bar, two outdoor pools and a professional golf course overlooking the Panama Canal and Camino de Cruces National Park.
This is a Category 2 property, requiring 15,000 points for a free night. Rates in August start at $99 per night, giving you a value of 0.66 cents per point. It’s also worth noting that this hotel is participating in the program’s Get There Quicker promotion, which offers 25% off award reservations in Latin America for stays through December 31, 2015 (though you must book by July 31). This brings your standard room down to just 11,250 points for each free night.
For a while, Club Carlson looked like it wanted to compete with the likes of Marriott, Hilton and IHG as a big player in the hotel loyalty game. Unfortunately, much of the program’s value was wiped away with last month’s double devaluation. Still, there are some great values to be had with your Club Carlson points, and I hope this post has given you some inspiration for planning your next trip!
What are your favorite lower-tier Club Carlson properties for award redemptions?