Is Club Carlson considering a program revamp?

Club Carlson, the membership loyalty program of the Club Carlson chain of hotels, seems to be dipping its toes in the water to see if it could make a switch from a membership points and free nights oriented program to a benefits oriented program.

I recently received and completed a survey from Club Carlson, where they tested this concept and while they said this may or may not fly, they even had a name in place, calling it Members Club. Now, CC has been at the forefront of big lucrative promotions and giveaways for the past two years, inflating the number of enrolments in the program, and getting the eye of the road warrior and the leisure traveller alike, in case you’re a points collector that is. Even otherwise, the number of points they give away for stays and spends is generous. They also went ahead and launched a co-branded credit card in the USA to generate more of CC points going around.

However, benefits recognition is a weak point for their program, and you can forget an upgrade or a free-breakfast unless you’ve done 75 nights with them and attainted Concierge status. Which is a very high bar, as high as the Marriott Rewards program which also does not have too many benefits and status recognition over the tiers. SPG seems to be a balanced bet between status and points earning, and for the American folks, Hyatt is pretty good as well.

And now, Club Carlson are thinking of a paradigm shift in the way they look at loyalty. They want to grant you benefits, and those not only while you’re staying with them, but also when you’re not. Here is the new premise being tested in the survey (which may or may not fly):

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And to implement this, they are apparently going to go binary, i.e., you are either the Base Level member and get a certain set of facilities, or you’re the frequent visitor at their hotels and hence the “Premium Level” Member. What if you want status but are not so frequently staying with them? You could buy-up.

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What do you get if you are going to be a part of this new scheme of things which Club Carlson is considering? As per Carlson, you’ll get access to the following benefits, mostly soft but some hard benefits too:

  • Expertise
  • Access
  • Privileges
  • Connections

Here is what I remember of how they define these four buckets of benefits:

  • Expertise: The Concierge is arguably the most trusted man in a hotel to direct you around. And Carlson is considering to offer to give it away to you that experience even when you’re not staying at their hotels. Carlson will also throw in the travel expertise of theirs they’ve gained over the years, and help you make bookings.
  • Access: You want to swim but don’t know where to go? You could pop into your local Carlson branded hotel and use their pool. And while at it, use the health club too.
  • Privileges: Hey, you get that free breakfast as a SPG Platinum? Now you could get that privilege with Club Carlson, finally. Also, maybe shot at an upgrade.
  • Connections: This sounds like a private FourSquare to me. You get connected with deals, discounts and freebies at local hotel properties, whichever city you are in.

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The survey, at some points tested if you really wanted the points or you’d be better off with membership benefits, which leads me to believe, if this new concept is in, the old one is out. Also, if you read the first screenshot up there, it leans towards the same intent (or at least my reading of the situation is):

We know that for infrequent travelers, there is little opportunity to get real value out of your membership, and the promise of earning rewards in the distant future does not make your current trip a better experiences

The best part always comes in the end, and this one I am seriously impressed with. You can pass on your benefits to near and dear ones as well, under what they plan to call “Pass the Perks”.

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I have no idea why Carlson can’t match up to the other programs out there and has to think of flipping the switch. But if this happens, well, those points will be junk I suspect sooner than later. What are your views about what is in the future of the Club Calrson program?

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  1. Well I sure hope they don’t go towards a model exclusively like this. I do think that adding this type of program or these benefits to upper tiers would make them truly stand out. Perhaps have both running side by side but that benefits program requires actual nights to get status or something. If they do away with points I can’t imagine that helping them achieve their ambitious growth goals. I will probably try and email them to let them know my feelings!

  2. Programs like this are weak because they often leave out any meaningful benefits for fairly frequent travelers. For example if I stay at Carlson hotels 23 nights a year what will that get me? Not much I bet. I guess what I’m saying is I’d rather have a dozen business travelers that say with me 15 to 25 nights a year than 3 that say 75 each. Makes my customer base stronger in the long run.

  3. I think we need to consider that Curt Carlson pretty much wrote the book on loyalty programs back in the day with Gold Bond Stamps. A probe to evaluate whether instituting additional bases for brand loyalty is viable would have to include the impact on pre-existing segments, as well. It will be interesting to see what happens, but I’d argue the points wouldn’t necessarily have to be junk, particularly when one considers the credit card partnership with US Bank.

  4. I don’t know that the people after these benefits will be the same people that find most Club Carlson properties attractive (in the US at least).

    I am Concierge level, based on stays already this year, and always get the free breakfast and upgrade to suite, but without points (a free stay program) they wouldn’t be seeing me any more).

    Unless they are out for a whole different clientele I would say watch out screwing people on points. That would a sure road to lose trust and the customers.

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