Four years ago in 2010, I attended the Carlson Rezidor Hotels Group annual conference in Orlando, Florida. That was a significant year for the hotel chain consisting of Radisson and Radisson Blu, Park Inn, Country Inn & Suites and Park Plaza. The Orlando conference was centered around Ambition 2015, a five-year global plan to redesign the hotel loyalty program and establish the hotel chain as a major competitor with name recognition and high marks for customer satisfaction worldwide.
As a travel blogger focused primarily on hotel loyalty programs since 2008, being present for the announcement of a five-year initiative to upgrade a major hotel company was an opportunity to gain insight about the hotel industry. In the more than ten years I had followed hotel loyalty programs, goldpoints plus had seemed for social media buzz a second tier hotel loyalty program to me like Best Western, Choice Privileges and Wyndham Rewards when stacked up against Hilton, Marriott, IHG, Starwood and Hyatt.
In 2010 goldpoints plus operated like two different programs and hotel chains. A Radisson hotel or Country Inn & Suites in the USA earned Goldpoints plus per dollars. A Radisson, Park Inn and Park Plaza in Europe earned points per euro for hotel spend with no currency adjustment. The two-tier earn rate was bad for Americans heading to Europe looking at an exchange rate of 1 EUR = $1.50+.
Club Carlson, The Next Generation
The plan unveiled in Orlando included defining goldpoints plus next generation program evolution in Q4 2010. Club Carlson replaced goldpoints plus on March 31, 2011. The loyalty program remodel simplified earning and redeeming loyalty points. Hotel spend worldwide earned 20 points per US dollar. Hotel standard rewards were realigned in six categories with an overall lowering of reward night cost from the previous loyalty system. Club Carlson category-1 hotels became the fastest earning reward nights across the major hotel chains with only $450 in hotel spend base points needed to earn 9,000 points for a category-1 free reward night. Even less spend with online booking and elite status points.
Since then, Hilton regained the title in 2013 with the new 5,000 points category-1 reward requiring only $333 in base spend points. Borneo, anyone?
2011 and 2012 saw several big promotions for free nights and bonus points beginning with the Big Night Giveaway. Registered Club Carlson members who stayed one night at any Radisson in USA, Canada or Caribbean during November or December 2011 earned 50,000 points. A series of high value offers in 2012 supported each hotel brand and allowed members and households to earn hundreds of thousands of points inexpensively with one and two-night stays.
One of the initiatives announced in 2010 was a doubling of goldpoints plus hotel loyalty program membership from 5 million to 10 million by 2013. From the hotel chain’s point of view, data showed loyalty members generated more revenue per room night. Club Carlson is currently approaching 12 million members in early 2014.
Hotel loyalty program changes introduced in 2011 with elite membership levels,
online booking bonuses (these online booking bonuses will be retired March 15, 2014) and a variety of hotel rewards are the basic Club Carlson program today.
Traveling with Club Carlson Visa
The most significant development for the young Club Carlson program came December 2012 when a co-branded credit card was introduced in the U.S. market that offered sensational loyalty member benefits. The compelling benefit of Club Carlson Visa card is a card member-only offer for one free night on any reward stay of 2 or more nights.
No denying Club Carlson has been a good deal for the early adopters of the hotel loyalty program. I stayed in Berlin, London and Oslo at Radisson Blu and Park Plaza hotels in 2013. The European hotels were all top-notch, each with a fantastic tourist location in these cities. In the USA hotels where I earned my points, the places were not so memorable.
I have not traveled with a Club Carlson Visa. Perhaps I will when I decide to spend the few hundred thousand points in our household accounts. A free night on every reward stay is a compelling credit card benefit for Americans that greatly improves the redemption value of points when traveling in Europe and other places.
In retrospect, Club Carlson has had clever hotel loyalty marketing. They offered a year of big bonuses for potentially cheap hotel stays and targeted them across their different hotel brands. Tens of thousands of miles and points lovers flocked to Radisson, Country Inn, Park Inn and Park Plaza hotels to earn hotel stay bonuses potentially worth more than the price to earn these rewards. Then, Club Carlson launched a credit card with a benefit that potentially doubles the value of the hundreds of thousands of points members earned. Happy loyalty members make happy social media brand advocates.
[This article is one I wrote a few weeks ago for InsideFlyer March 2014. The announcement last week of Club Carlson changes on March 15, 2014 results in only three words needing to be deleted. Club Carlson program changes in 2014 eliminate the online booking bonus as a standard feature, reduce elite earning rates for Gold (50% to 35% bonus points) and Silver (25% to 15%), and change award nights to elite qualifying stays with points earned for incidental spend charged to the hotel room during an award stay. There are also hotel award category changes published with a new category 7 hotel award at 70,000 points.
This article provides an overview and review of Club Carlson through the Ambition 2015 years. My follow-up article will describe Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group hotel data and new brand announcements made at the annual Radisson Americas conference last week in Bloomington, Minnesota as the company transitions from Ambition 2015 to a new 5-year plan, Vision 2020.]
Ric Garrido of Monterey, California is writer and owner of Loyalty Traveler.
Loyalty Traveler shares news and views on hotels, hotel loyalty programs and vacation destinations for frequent guests.