Category Archives: Club Carlson

Review: Radisson Blu Hotel Champs Elysees, Paris, France

I had an expiring free night certificate due to keeping the Club Carlson credit card around for another year and paying the annual fee, in spite of their devaluations. So on a recent trip to Paris, I used the certificate at the Radisson Blu Hotel Champs Elysées. The Club Carlson footprint in Paris has gotten significantly smaller since some of the hotels have since left the Club Carlson umbrella (e.g. Le Dokhan Trocadero is now an SPG property instead of a Club Carlson one). If you’re redeeming points, this hotel costs 70k per night.

The location of the hotel is super convenient. It’s quite close to L’Arc de Triomphe and, of course, the Champs Elysées. This also means that it’s quite close to the Charles de Gaulle Étoile metro stop, so it’s pretty convenient to get around via public transportation.

I was assigned a small but perfectly functional room on the 4th floor of the hotel. There was a small hallway as I entered with the bathroom off to the side, and then there was another door that could be closed to enter the bedroom. The second door was helpful for blocking out what little noise there was coming from the hallway.

Bed

Bed

Furnishings

Furnishings

The room wasn’t particularly large, but the curtains blocked out the light, and it was quiet, so it was great to take a quick nap after the red eye from the US. The shower design could have been somewhat better, though. It was a bit awkward to reach the faucet given the pane of glass, but the pane of glass also didn’t do enough to block water from getting on the floor.

Bathroom

Bathroom

When I came back to the room at night after a day of exploring, there was a welcome amenity of a bottle of water and three macarons. The macarons weren’t anything special, but I’ve never been one to turn down a macaron.

Welcome amenity

Welcome amenity

Overall, I had a perfectly comfortable and competent stay at this hotel. Would I pay 70k points per night? Probably not, but Club Carlson points are relatively easy to come by.

Hotel Review: Radisson Blu Beke Hotel Budapest, Hungary

The Radisson Blu Beke Hotel has a great location not too far from Nyugati Palyaudvar (a train station that’s also on the blue M3 line, so easy to get to the airport on public transportation) and Oktogon (on the yellow line), so it’s easy to walk to a lot of interesting places as well as take public transit everywhere. It’s a Category 2 Club Carlson hotel, so it’s 15k points per night, and at the time of this stay, I had used two free award nights through the personal and business version of the Club Carlson credit card and thus paid 30k points for 4 nights.

When we checked in, we were originally given a normal room with no mention of status or an upgrade. The welcome amenity for being a gold member was a bottle of water. Honestly, a bit disappointing, both in the lack of recognition, lack of a better room (it wasn’t even a high-floor room), and the paltry welcome amenity, but it was such a steal at 30k points for 4 nights that I didn’t want to complain.

Beds in room number 1

Beds in room number 1

The only qualms I had with our room were the lack of electrical outlets and the fact that the air conditioning didn’t seem to work. Many people have complained about the furniture and decor of the hotel, but I thought it was a step up from the Park Inn Bratislava. The wifi was also pretty fast compared to the other Club Carlson hotels we stayed at on this trip.

On the second night of our stay, it was quite a bit warmer that day, so we ended up calling maintenance to look at the air conditioning since it wasn’t getting any cooler in our room. To make a long story short, apparently the air conditioning on some floors isn’t very good, so after visiting rooms on a couple of other floors, we ended up getting a suite on the 6th floor, and they put an extra twin bed in the living room. Cheers to the front desk agent working that night for really going the extra mile. The suite had a huge living room, and the air conditioning worked well.

Furniture in suite

Furniture in suite

Added bed and table in suite

Added bed and table in suite

Main bed in suite

Main bed in suite

Main bedroom in suite

Main bedroom in suite

Overall, I’d happily stay at this hotel again. Yes, it’s a bit dated, but it’s a comfortable hotel. The location is amazing, and it’s still a pretty good deal at 15k points per night.

Hotel Review: Park Inn Bratislava

The Park Inn Bratislava has a wonderful location on the Danube in the Old Town area of the city. You can walk to many of the tourist sites, it’s super close to a transport hub, and public transit is super cheap (less than one euro for a ride).

This is a category 1 Club Carlson hotel, so award nights go for 9,000 points each. At the time of this trip, I had used the old benefit from the Club Carlson credit card to get one free night on any award stay, so I only paid 9,000 points for 2 free nights. Crazy cheap.

Entrance to the hotel

Entrance to the hotel

I was upgraded to a junior suite. This wasn’t a typical suite, but rather, it was two rooms with a bed in each one and a hallway connecting the two. The rooms were not fancy at all–the mattresses could use improving, a curtain was missing from a window, the furniture was super basic–but I don’t want to complain given how cheap it was to book.

Bed

Bed

Desk and TV

Desk and TV

Second bed

Second bed

Bathroom

Bathroom

"View" of the UFO

“View” of the UFO

One thing that I found slightly strange about the hotel was the numerous unused common areas. There were locked rooms with furniture and amenities, but no one was using any of those areas during our stay, and I couldn’t access any of them.

Common areas

Common areas

Locked computer room

Locked computer room

Courtyard

Courtyard

Common area furniture

Common area furniture

One big plus of the hotel was the gym and pool. The gym in the hotel is an actual gym where people who aren’t staying at the hotel pay money to use the facilities, so it’s actually pretty nice with a large variety of equipment (including things for functional training!). There was also a smoothie bar in the gym.

Gym equipment

Gym equipment

Equipment for functional training

Equipment for functional training

Smoothie bar

Smoothie bar

Legit gym

Legit gym

Sauna

Sauna

Pool

Pool

We were offered free breakfast, and it was pretty decent for a hotel this affordable. They’ll make eggs to order if you ask.

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Dining room

Dining room

Throughout our stay, the front desk was very helpful. Maybe not the most friendly, but very service oriented. Overall, I’d happily stay here again, even without the free award night for every stay. It’s definitely an older hotel that could use some refurbishment, but if you don’t care that much about old furniture, it’s got a lot of pluses (e.g. location, service, gym) for only 9k points per night.

Hotel Review: Radisson Blu Style Hotel Vienna, Austria

I stayed at the Radisson Blu Style Hotel in Vienna on a trip to central Europe last year. I booked this hotel with points when Club Carlson was still offering a one award night free for every award booking and when the highest category of hotel was only 50k points (instead of 70k points). In spite of the devaluations on the award redemption side, Club Carlson can still offer some great values in Europe, especially if you’re into manufactured spending since the credit card still offers 5x points on all spend.

This hotel has a super great location. It’s conveniently located just steps from the Herrengasse station on the U3 subway line, and it’s within walking distance to much of the inner stadt. It’s also right next to Cafe Central (although I found that place to be overrated).

Entrance to the hotel

Entrance to the hotel

I tried to check in early to the hotel (a consequence of most flights from the US to Europe is the early morning arrival times). The agent at the front desk told me that the hotel room would be ready in 30 minutes, so I left my luggage and went for a short walk.

Hotel lobby

Hotel lobby

I was assigned a twin room. The room had a slightly odd shape, but it was comfortable and quiet. The furnishings were basic but perfectly adequate, and I enjoyed the decor of the room.

Twin beds

Twin beds

TV and desk

TV and desk

Bathroom

Bathroom

As a welcome amenity for being a Club Carlson Gold member (a benefit of the credit card), I received a small bottle of champagne.

Welcome amenity

Welcome amenity

Hotel bar

Hotel bar

The hotel had a small sauna as well as a very basic gym for guests to use.

Sauna

Sauna

Basic gym

Basic gym

In general, the staff was very friendly and attentive, and I enjoyed my stay. This hotel was a great deal at 50k Club Carlson points for 2 nights, but I’m not sure how I feel about 70k points per night now. But it’s a great location with comfortable rooms and good service.

Review: Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel Sydney

For my trip to Sydney, I decided to stay at the Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel. This hotel has a convenient downtown location that’s within walking distance of a lot of touristy places as well as a number of ferries to get to other touristy places.

To book this stay, I booked two 50k awards out of two different Club Carlson accounts, so I ended up getting a 4-night consecutive stay for 100k Club Carlson points. This stay happened in August 2014, so not only was this hotel only 50k points per night, but there was still the option to get the last night free on any award stay. Boo on Club Carlson for their subsequent devaluations 🙁

Outside of the Radisson Blu Sydney Hotel

Outside of the Radisson Blu Sydney Hotel

Since I was visiting in August which is low season for tourism in Australia, I got a pretty nice upgrade to a corner room at the hotel. The room was super spacious and the bathroom ridiculously large. No dice on getting free breakfast, which is probably what I would have preferred given that I was traveling alone and didn’t need the extra space, but I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining about free upgrades.

Bed

Bed

Sitting area

Sitting area

Desk and TV

Desk and TV

Large tub

Large tub

Standing shower

Standing shower

Floor map to give sense how big corner room is

Floor map to give sense how big corner room is

The hotel itself was pretty nice. The onsite restaurant is apparently supposed to be quite good (I did not try it, although I generally ate quite well in Sydney). They have a decently equipped gym as well as a spa and small pool and hot tub. The front desk staff and doormen were friendly.

Gym

Gym

More gym

More gym

More gym

More gym

Overall, I have no complaints about my stay, and the location is super, super convenient. I’m just sad that this hotel is no longer such a good deal after all of the Club Carlson devaluations.

Bratislava is the Most Underrated Travel Destination I’ve Been To

I’m currently in Bratislava, and it’s easily the most underrated place I’ve ever had the pleasure of traveling to.

When I told people I was visiting Bratislava, most people didn’t really understand why I would bother. One friend, in fact, gave me a searing look of derision, so I quickly explained that we were just going to spend two nights there passing through, and she told me that there wasn’t even enough in this city to occupy myself for one full day. And to be honest, I mostly added Bratislava on to my current itinerary to check another country off my list. But now I sincerely wish I had scheduled more time to spend here.

No, Bratislava is not nearly as picturesque as Vienna (or even Prague). And it’s not as large or as cosmopolitan as Budapest. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised throughout my short time here, and I would heartily recommend it as a travel destination to others.

For one, it’s super cheap. Like you can get a full meal at a sit-down restaurant for 5 euro cheap. Maybe the city is not as cheap as it once was (and there are plenty of places where you’ll spend much more than 5 euro per person), but compared to Vienna, you’ll feel like a king. There are also plenty of “touristy” sights to see: walk around the Old Town; take a stroll up to the castle that overlooks the city; take a longer trip to Devin castle; visit the blue church; hang out with Cumil; see a performance; etc.

But there are also hipster cafes and restaurants with great food (and cheap prices!) that wouldn’t be out of place in Portland or Austin (U Kubistu and Funki Punki are two specific recommendations that are also good for people with dietary restrictions; we received better service at U Kubistu than I have at many Michelin-starred restaurants). You can go wine tasting at typical/normal spots, but you can also randomly go into the cellars of people’s homes where they sell home-brewed black currant wine (like an old Slovak man served us tastes of his wines and liquors out of giant barrels that may or may not be legal in the US). And we’ve encountered some crazy awesome people.

And finally, from a points perspective, your devalued Club Carlson points will still be put to good use in Bratislava. Even though the Park Inn here isn’t fancy, it’s still got a great location and it’ll still be only 9k points per night. It also has an actual gym, and the elite status recognition was good (upgrade to a junior suite and free breakfast) for someone who only has status through the credit card.

Sydney 2014: Introduction + Trip Planning

Earlier in 2014, there was a brief period when Qantas released a bit of first class award space to Australia. Qantas first class is a pretty challenging redemption, so I jumped on the opportunity, even though it meant that I would be heading to Australia during its winter. I redeemed 72,500  American miles for a first class award to the South Pacific.

I thus had a ticket there, but no specific thoughts on how to get back. There wasn’t any award space in first class on Qantas, which meant that if I wanted to use my AA miles, I’d have to route through Asia. AA’s award routing rules don’t let you route through Asia to get to/from the South Pacific without paying for two awards, so I decided to stop in Kuala Lumpur on the way back for a couple of days. This means that I paid for a business class award from Australia to KL and paid for a separate award from KL back to the US, which I would have had to do anyway even if I hadn’t stopped at KL. I booked a business class award on Malaysia Airlines for 35k AA miles for the nonstop from Sydney to Kuala Lumpur, and then I spent 67.5k AA miles for a first class award on Cathay Pacific through Hong Kong to get back to San Francisco.

Then, I considered lodging for my trip. I would be spending 4 nights in Sydney, so I booked two reservations for the Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel in Sydney, one from my personal Club Carlson account and the other from my business Club Carlson account. Since I have both the personal and the business versions of the Club Carlson credit card, each reservation received one free night, so I essentially paid for two award nights and got four in return. This was 100k Club Carlson points for 4 nights at a great hotel in a great location in Sydney.

In Kuala Lumpur, I booked 2 nights at the Hilton Doubletree for 10k points per night or 20k points total.

So in total, I spent 175k American miles, 100k Club Carlson points, and 20k Hilton points for a pretty darn luxurious week-long trip to Sydney and KL.

Hotel Review: Radisson Miraflores Decapolis, Lima Peru

Disclosure: I’m really behind on trip reports, so this hotel stay actually happened in January 2014. Although I try to take good notes, some aspects of trip report might be a bit fuzzy.

I booked a weekend trip to Lima, Peru on a whim, largely because I saw a good fare on The Flight Deal (an awesome site that all travelers should subscribe to). Since I was just staying for a long weekend, I only needed 2 nights at a hotel, and I ended up booking at the Radisson Miraflores Decapolis for 38k Club Carlson points (last night free). From talking with my friends who had spent time in Lima, Miraflores was described as a hip area to be with lots of good food and shopping (not that I care about the latter), and I can confirm that it was a good location for me to walk around and explore.

My flight from the US arrived around 1am, so I jumped in a cab to the hotel. Since I was tired and don’t speak Spanish, I just got a fixed price taxi from the airport, which was 45 soles (~$15 USD), although they first tried to charge me more by pointing to a sign that was confusing.

At check-in, they gave me a room on the 11th floor, which is the highest floor of the hotel that still has rooms. But they didn’t tell me that only one set of elevators would get me to my room, and so I ended up wandering up the wrong set of elevators and getting lost when all I wanted to do was sleep. I had also inquired about late check-out since my return flight was departing at 2:30am, but the front desk refused to offer anything except on day of departure. In general, the front desk staff was extremely unhelpful throughout my stay.

It's a bed!

It’s a bed!

Other room furnishings

Other room furnishings

Bathroom

Bathroom

Welcome amenity (not very tasty)

Welcome amenity (not very tasty)

Breakfast in the morning was decent. The service was great and attentive, but the food itself was mediocre. There’s also a made-to-order menu, and it was fine for me to order multiple things off of that menu.

Breakfast spread

Breakfast spread

More breakfast

More breakfast

And more breakfast

And more breakfast

And more

And more

Restaurant seating area

Restaurant seating area

The roof of the hotel has a cool bar/lounge/pool area. There wasn’t that much usage during the day, but it was more busy at night. I’m not sure that I’d seek this place out if I weren’t staying at the hotel, but it could be a place for a chill night if you’re already there.

Hotel pool

Hotel pool

Lounge seating on the roof near the pool

Lounge seating on the roof near the pool

Fitness room

Fitness room

Numerous reviews online had also mentioned that you get a free $10 bar credit for staying at the hotel. I’m not really a drinker, but given that I was in Lima, I thought I might as well take advantage of it and get a Pisco Sour one night. Before I ordered, I confirmed with both the front desk and the bartender that I would get a $10 credit as a hotel guest. But at check out, I saw that I had a charge for the drink (which I drank approximately 10% of), which led to a somewhat awkward exchange. The person checking me out said that award stays weren’t eligible for the $10 bar credit, while I said that numerous people had confirmed that I was eligible, and then we just kinda stood there for 30 seconds with him looking exasperated at me. Granted, it was only $10, but I wouldn’t have ordered the drink otherwise… Anyway, after me looking pathetically at him, he waived the charge.

It was also an ordeal to get late check out. As I said before, every time I asked, the front desk said that I could only request it on the day of departure. So a little after midnight on my day of departure, I asked the front desk for late check out, and they said I needed to ask in the morning. So I asked when in the morning, and they said they weren’t sure, but the earlier the better as it’s first-come-first-served. I asked why they couldn’t take my request now, and they just kinda shrugged at me and were unhelpful, so I asked them to write down my request for the next shift. Granted, I don’t stay in hotels that frequently, but the whole situation seemed a bit ridiculous.

Finally, the internet in the hotel was painfully slow. I actually ended up using the 2G connection on my phone for all of my internet needs rather than the hotel wifi.

Overall, the hotel has a pretty good location in Miraflores and Club Carlson offers some awesome values with the last night free on award stays, but I probably wouldn’t stay at this hotel again. The service was generally pretty unhelpful, the wifi is not useful, and the hotel isn’t anything special. But perhaps my requests were unreasonable and my experience anomalous, as lots of the reviews of the hotel are pretty positive, so it’s probably a case of YMMV.

Review: Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel Helsinki Finland

The first redemption that I made with the Club Carlson points acquired from my credit card sign-up bonus (or rather, using my friend’s Club Carlson points since mine didn’t post quickly enough, but that’s another story) was at the Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel in Helsinki. For 44k points, I got a 2-night redemption, since the second night was free with my credit card.

The hotel is located very centrally, just steps away from the main train station in the city center. To get there, I took an airport bus that was 4.50 euro each way and took me straight to the train station.

Outside of the hotel

Outside of the hotel

Given that my flight arrived relatively early, by the time I got to the hotel, it was only around 10:00am, and they said that they were completely sold out and couldn’t offer me early check-in. But instead of telling me when they might be able to offer me a room, they told me to come back at 3pm and no earlier (3pm is the official check-in time). When I asked if they could offer me something earlier than 3pm due to my Gold status with Club Carlson, they said that they couldn’t. Throughout my stay, it seemed like having Gold status did nothing.

Check-in area

Check-in area

After exploring Helsinki for a couple of hours, I got back to the hotel at 2pm and the check-in agent at that time was happy to give me a room. But again, there was no acknowledgement of status, no welcome amenity, no upgrade, etc.

Hallway

Hallway

The bedroom itself was ample for just myself. The bed was large and comfortable, although the covers are only twin-sized, so they have two sets on the bed, which I found a little strange. I enjoyed the lounger in the room, as well as the numerous lighting options.

Nice bed, but oddly split into two

Nice bed, but oddly split into two

Seating area in the room

Seating area in the room

Smallish bathroom, but completely adequate

Smallish bathroom, but completely adequate

Breakfast is offered complimentary to all guests. It’s a buffet with a wide variety of hot and cold options, including some local specialities like karelian pasties with egg butter, herring, and elk pate, and an omelet station. Many things were labeled as gluten-free or lactose-free, which I found helpful. In general, I found the food to be good for a buffet, in particular the pancakes and the karelian pasties, which I had never had before.

DSC03778 DSC03780 DSC03781 DSC03782

Buffet features items like elk pate and herring

Buffet features items like elk pate and herring

DSC03784

Interesting pancakes and karelian pasties

Interesting pancakes and karelian pasties

Like any good Finnish hotel, this hotel had a sauna. There were separate saunas for men and women, and the men’s sauna had a changing area, a conference table, and showers located outside of the sauna. I used the sauna twice during my stay and only encountered one other person using the facilities in that time.

Conference room in the sauna?

Conference room in the sauna?

Sauna

Sauna

Overall, the room and bed were comfortable, breakfast was tasty, and the location was killer. There was essentially no recognition of elite status, though. But for 44k Club Carlson points for 2 nights, I would definitely stay there again.