How does the Club Carlson annual free night benefit work?


On June 1, the US Bank Club Carlson co-branded credit cards underwent a serious devaluation: the last-night-free benefit was eliminated, and replaced with a single, domestic award night each year cardholders spend $10,000 on the credit cards.

I wrote in April that I would keep the card, spending exactly $10,000 on the card in order to earn 50,000 Gold Points from spend, 40,000 anniversary Gold Points, and an annual free night, all of which I'd redeem at the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel Chicago for a long weekend.

Then Club Carlson devalued again, lifting many of their 50,000-point properties into the 70,000-point tier, including the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel, Chicago and Radisson Blu Warwick Hotel, Philadelphia. That meant my 90,000 annual Gold Points would barely cover a second night at those properties, let alone a third.

Since I never actually received any new terms and conditions for the annual free night benefit, yesterday I decided to call US Bank and find out how the annual free night benefit actually works.

The annual free night benefit was implemented in an obvious, but disastrous, way

The annual free night eCertificate is awarded on your first, post-devaluation anniversary, if you spent $10,000 in the preceding 12 months. That means that if, like me, you paid your annual fee in April, you won't receive your first annual domestic free night certificate until April, 2016.

This is a terrible way to reward high-spending customers, since it detaches the reward (a free night) from the spend, which could have occurred as many as 12 months earlier.

I cancelled my Club Carlson Business Rewards card

Even after the dual devaluation, I fully expected to keep my US Bank Club Carlson credit card. It still earned 5 Gold Points per dollar spent, it still offered 40,000 anniversary Gold Points, and spending $10,000 on the card would get me an additional free domestic award night each year.

But I haven't spent a dime on the card since May, and once I found out that I won't see my annual free night certificate until next April, I lost what was left of my interest in the card.

Foregoing $200 in cash back on $10,000 in manufactured spend, plus paying a $60 annual fee, for 2 nights in Chicago or Philadelphia doesn't make any sense in a world where Hilton and Hyatt points are so easy to come by; I would have to start planning my Club Carlson redemptions years in advance, even while my Hilton and Ultimate Rewards accounts are being continually replenished.

I'm getting some kind of annual fee refund

It's been over 3 months since I paid my annual fee, so I don't expect a refund of the full $60 annual fee, but I asked my phone agent and he said that I'd receive some kind of refund check as soon as the annual fee refund hits my account.

I couldn't product change to the much better Business Edge Cash Rewards card

Likewise in April, I wrote that a phone representative had told me I could product change my Club Carlson card to a Business Edge Cash Rewards card. Once I decided to cancel my Club Carlson card, I asked whether that was possible, and my agent yesterday told me it was not — I'd have to apply for a new card. Needless to say, I passed.


The best case scenario for the dual devaluation was folks who had account anniversaries after June 1 and who could fit $10,000 in manufactured spend in before that anniversary. They got to maximize the last-night-free benefit, run up spend one last time, then get another 40,000 Gold Points and a free domestic night certificate.

As for me, I don't trust Club Carlson enough to keep the card, let alone put any spend on it, knowing that anything could happen between now and April, 2016.