Is Club Carlson Considering Making You Redeem Points to Earn Elite Status?

A reader (who prefers that I don’t thank them by name) passes along details of an interesting survey they took for the Club Carlson (Radisson, Country Inns, Park Inn, etc) program.

I just want to drop a line about a.. 20 minute survey I just took on behalf of Club Carlson. C[lub] C[arlson] is toying with the idea of doing away with award night/free stays for points, and instead allowing guests who earn points to be treated as an elite, by paying with points (or cash).

The ideas presented in the survey were great–until I got to the ..very end of the survey, which asked me if I would prefer the new system of “elite treatment” (my words) or free award stays. Naturally I said I would prefer the free award stays!

This is an interesting survey. And I should begin by cautioning that airline and hotel programs survey lots of ideas, all the time Most of those ideas never see the light of day.

So let’s take away any specific speculation about things that Club Carlson might actually be ready to do differently. And just play with the idea for a moment.

I can’t imagine Club Carlson actually giving up award stays as part of their program — or as an option for guests — but I could see a program offering a choice of either (1) more bonus points, or (2) better in-hotel treatment.

A program has a budget, and benefits cost money (for the most part). Figuring out how to prioritize is something all programs do. an the really creative programs figure out ways of letting the member decide, personalizing the investment, or put a different way of directing the spend themselves to the things they value most. That’s the idea behind elite programs that give choices of benefits. It’s the idea behind Starwood asking Platinums to choose their 500 point check-in amenity or breakfast (well, ok, it’s also a way of offering breakfast and partially funding the benefit at the same time!).

While i don’t expect Club Carlson to make the earning side of their program more generous than it already is, one could imagine a program that increasing bonus points earning and did not automatically offer elite stay credit. Then members who care about elite benefits could ‘spend’ their points on better in-hotel treatment… including better options than Club Carlson hotels currently offer to elites (eg restaurant breakfast, whether for a single stay or for a year).

I don’t think this is actually a good tradeoff for a hotel to make, the points used for stays cost quite a bit more than elite stay credits in the accounts of members who never make status (so they incur a real cost that many more members actually use).

But some variant of the idea of “figuring out what matters most to our members” is nothing new for a hotel chain to survey. And I find the most interesting things about these surveys often comes from seeing several of them over time, to see what kinds of questions a single program is asking and also across chains what sorts of questions the entire industry seems to be asking, and to a certain extent that’s how I develop my own point of view about what direction programs and the industry are headed.

I asked my correspondent for some more detail, and received this followup about the survey.

All throughout the survey I was asked if I would like to spend my points towards becoming a member in the “Executive Club”, which would entitle me to: concierge benefits, i.e. a dedicated Carlson rep online or on ‘phone, who could offer me assistance in finding out more local info; discounts with local partners like restaurants…being recognized by name (!); and allowed access to hotel facilities, even when not staying on property. These would include access to the fitness room, meeting room, and swimming pool. These benefits would also be available to anyone traveling in my party and/or immediate family members.

Clearly Club Carlson seens that while they’re currently generous on the earning and burning portion of the program, elite benefits and recognition are a weakness.

It was interesting to me to see them talking about the value of on-property benefits “even when not staying on property” — because that’s something that the old Radisson program used to offer in the Europe, Middle East, and Africa program to all of their elites. They called it “Our World, Your Lounge” and let elites feel welcome in hotel lobbies any time they wished, to use free internet and have a coffee.

I’ve always been intrigued the idea of being welcomed any time, as a person and a valued guest, regardless of your rate (and indeed even when not paying on that given day) if you’re in fact an important and valued customer. And I’ve wished that other hotel chains would pick up on the idea. Instead, it went by the wayside even with Radisson with the introduction of the Club Carlson program two years ago.

So thanks, anonymous reader, for passing this one along. And to the rest of you, I always appreciate your tips — especially the juicy ones!

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Also completed a survey for CC this week (free points!). My survey seems to have somewhat different content from the one described above.

    Key points:

    More “unexpected” ways to earn points. This included earning bonus points from the cleaning service for keeping your room tidy, for the number of different CC brands that you had stayed at in a particular country, or for the distance between CC properties that you had stayed at around the world.

    More ways to redeem points. They did not go into much detail but suggested that guests that do not travel as much would have more point redemption options since it was more difficult for them to save up for a free night. They did say that those guests could use their points for extra perks during their stays.

    Customized elite benefits. Each guest can select which perks they will have at the hotel out of a larger selection. The more you stay, the more options you can unlock or select within three categories. A few of the options included early check-in and free wi-fi.

    Lastly, it did sneak in a question at the end about whether I would rather have points or a better stay at the hotel. All throughout the survey they claimed that the new program would get free nights faster, so this question came out of left field.

    Of course I picked points since I am addicted to them.

  2. That doesn’t sound like a bad idea, for example: if someone only has mid tier status, they could buy top tier status for a set number of points. I mean, some people travel for work and don’t want to travel on vacation, and don’t have any use for their points. If those points meant better treatment when they are staying at a hotel, why not?
    And isn’t it better than mattress running?

  3. me too … the “unexpected” and personalized rewards version. Seemed like a through the looking glass trip into marketing world schemes and dreams, the resulting impression being they’re going to end up more on a level with the Big Lots reward system than the Hyatt program. As someone who does survey and data collection research, it was a silly experience in round and round we go with the same three or four questions eleventeen different ways. Ugh.

  4. I got a survey like Elizabeth, and could not find one positive aspect of the idea they were pitching. Extra points if I do the housekeepers’job before they enter my room? Really? Teenage boys across the globe would rejoice, but not this paying customer!

  5. My survey was like Elizabeth’s–unexpected rewards and more redemption options other than free nights. Also sounded like you get to choose from a number of perks for any stay, with more selections allowed for higher elite members, and you can redeem points to have more selections. Maybe this is what the reader was seeing.,

  6. Considering they’ve been making a HUGE splash with the credit card, there’s no way that award nights are going anywhere soon. Carlson is to invested at this point.

    Sure, elite treatment could be better, but when they are basically offering GOLD for $65 / year (along with a bunch of points) how can you argue that GOLD’s deserve anything special?

  7. All I can say is I’ve liked Club Carlson since I got the credit card a while back. I’m not even familiar with elite statuses in the various programs since normally I never have enough stays at the same chain to earn them, but I got a complimentary upgrade in Istanbul to an executive suite. (And I don’t know if that was because of any status, all they had available at the moment, or a goof – maybe someone expert in the program can comment.) Too bad I didn’t really get to enjoy it since it was just a short night between connecting flights on Turkish Airlines rather than a real stay in Istanbul. Obviously with their very heavy promotion of their card, they are seeing lots more people in the program, and it’s understandable they’re trying to survey to find out more about what people value.

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