The final hotel programs strolling onto the platform for your consideration are a mismatched pair indeed, like Angela Lansbury sitting next to Selena Gomez at a Beverly Hills dinner party. Up first, we’ll look at Marriott Rewards, yet another large global chain that’s just announced a round of reward price increases. Then we’ll look at the smaller Club Carlson Gold Points, which has lit the rewards world on fire with spectacular promotions and credit card offerings. One of our contestants has the flashbulbs going off like firecrackers, with legions of bloggers singing her praises; the other generates all the excitement of a bowl of oatmeal.
Marriott Rewards – 0.93 cents per point
Marriott is one the largest chains in the world, and they dot the American landscape like freckles on a redhead. If you travel domestically, you’re bound to wind up in a Marriott, Courtyard, or a Residence Inn sometime – or you might be fortunate enough to splurge for a few nights at the Ritz-Carlton. Marriott also owns many resort properties in popular holiday destinations, making them a good option for the family’s annual spring break sojourn. So for such a prominent brand, it’s curious that – in my humble opinion – no major hotel rewards program seems to generate less buzz than Marriott/Ritz-Carlton Rewards. They have decent credit card offerings; they run frequent promotions under two different names (Marriott and Ritz-Carlton); heck, their points are worth double what a Hilton HHonors point is worth. But Marriott Rewards are kind of like the Cincinnati Bengals; decent, but not something to get that excited about (Ohio readers, don’t blame me, blame Mike Brown).
As I mentioned above, Marriott has unfortunately devalued its currency this year by adding a new Category for its top-end properties that will run you 45,000 points per night. On the Ritz-Carlton side, free nights cost up to 70,000 points per night, using a different price and category scale. Yeah, two different price charts; it’s a little confusing. Both rewards programs give you a fifth night free, for a four-night redemption. There’s also a PointSavers program that saves you 5,000 to 10,000 points a night on a constantly-changing list of hotels, giving you a chance to squeeze a little more toothpaste out of that tube.
The Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card from Chase, which gives you a 50,000 point signup bonus with your first purchase (it has been as high as 70,000 in the past), also comes with a fifteen-night credit applicable towards your elite status, which is good for instant Marriott Silver. It’s not really clear how valuable that Silver status is; I think part of the reason for the general apathy towards Marriott Rewards is its reputation for being less than stellar towards its elite members. Basic perks like breakfast, Internet, or upgrades are either restricted or inconsistent. The credit card is a solid offering though, and comes with a nice perk of a free night in a Category 1-4 room every year.
Club Carlson Gold Points – 0.46 cents per point
Our final contestant has generated plenty of blog headlines since splashing onto the rewards scene with an amazing 50,000 point-per-night promotion last year. While Gold Points are technically the least valuable hotel points in our survey, Club Carlson tosses ‘em out like beads at a Mardi Gras parade. With a pair of 85,000 point credit card offers, 20 points per dollar spent at their hotels, online reservation bonuses, and a ridiculous ongoing promotion that pays out as many as sixty (!) points per dollar spent, Club Carlson has quickly gained a reputation in the points community as a program that gets you free nights in a hurry. When you add in the program’s incredibly liberal point sharing policy, it’s easy to imagine a couple racking up half a million Gold Points in a couple of weeks.
Comprised of the Radisson, Radisson Blu, Country Inn & Suites, and Park Inn brands, Club Carlson only has about one-third of the properties that behemoth Hilton does. So it’s pretty obvious that they’re using these aggressive Gold Points promotions to gain some exposure and generate a little positive PR, and with the big hotel chains’ rewards programs following a strategy of watering down the drinks, the timing couldn’t be better. And like Starwood and Hilton, Club Carlson also has a Cash & Points option that lets you stretch out the value of your points.
Club Carlson also has one of the more valuable credit card offerings to come out in the last few years. Not only does it give you 85,000 Gold Points after $2,500 in spending, but it also gives you Gold Status for as long as you hold the card. So for every dollar you spend at a Carlson hotel with your Club Carlson Visa, you get 20 points from the hotel, plus a 50% Gold status bonus, plus another 10 for using the card … dang, they just dump a bucket of points over your head, like Gatorade on a winning football coach. Perhaps the most amazing benefit is the Last Night Free bonus for all multi-night award reservations. You only have to book a two-night stay to get the last night free. It’s definitely a card to consider when you’re planning out your next app-a-palooza.