Choice Privileges Deep Dive – Reliable Value and Unique Opportunities
I love mid- and lower-tier lodging. Some of that is nostalgia; I vividly remember family road trips and how my parents would jump from one motel to the other at night checking for vacancies. If there was a pool, I had hit the jackpot. Another reason are the often-overlooked, solid values at these lodging tiers. Choice Hotels, along with Wyndham, Best Western, and many Radisson properties (particularly Country Inn & Suites) give us plenty to choose from in this tier. Today, let’s take a Choice Privileges deep dive and see what we discover!
Choice Hotels Lineup
Choice Hotels is comprised of the following property lines:
- Econo Lodge
- Rodeway Inn
- Suburban Extended Stay Hotels
- Woodspring Suites
- MainStay Suites
- Quality Inn
- Clarion/Clarion Pointe
- Comfort Inn/Comfort Suites
- Sleep Inn
- Cambria Hotels
- Ascend Hotel Collection
Choice Privileges members can earn and redeem points at all of the above properties. Notably, members can also redeem at Preferred Hotels and Resorts properties.
Earning Choice Points
Like many other hotel programs, individuals can earn substantial points with the chain’s credit card. Currently, Barclays is offering an elevated 50k point welcome offer on the Choice Privileges Visa Signature Card. This is a significantly higher welcome offer than the normal 32k point welcome offer. Here are the card specifics:
- Welcome Offer: Earn 50k Choice points after spending $1k within the first 90 days of cardmembership.
- Earn an additional 5 points per dollar on spend at Choice Hotels.
- Earn 2 points per dollar on all other spending.
- After $10k spend in the previous year, earn 8k points as a cardmember anniversary bonus.
- Gold status in the Choice Privileges rewards program.
- No annual fee.
Choice Hotels Stays
Choice Privileges members earn 10 base points per dollar spent at Choice hotels. Elite members at the Gold, Platinum, and Diamond levels earn 10%, 25%, and 60% more points respectively.
Other Earning Opportunities
Choice points can also be accrued via the following:
- Rental car partners: Earn up to 2k points per rental currently.
- Cruises: Earn up to 5 points per dollar spent (Norwegian, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Princess).
- Exchange Points: The best exchange I’ve seen is 1 Amtrak point for 3 Choice points, but this requires Amtrak elite status or holding an Amtrak credit card.
Redeeming Choice Points
Naturally, the best use of Choice points are reward stays at their properties. Unfortunately, rewards rates are constantly subject to change. There is seemingly no reliable award chart for stays. The fine print on the Choice website (notably) states the following:
- A free night at most Choice locations requires more than 8,000 points; reward nights at locations worldwide are available from 6,000 to 35,000 points (excluding Asia-Pac, where reward nights require up to 75,000 points). Point requirements may vary based on time of year.
- Members must make their free night reservation no more than 100 days prior to planned arrival for all locations worldwide.
Like other programs, Choice leaves the heavy lifting for determining redemption amounts to customers. Also, a huge wrinkle in the program is that an individual cannot book award stays far in advance. Reward nights can only be booked up to 100 days in advance, and this limitation may be reason enough for many travelers to ignore this program. Also, Choice points expire after 18 months of inactivity.
Choice Privileges Deep Dive – Elite Status
The Choice Privileges program involves the following levels and required nights per calendar year:
- Member: No requirement
- Gold: 7 nights
- Platinum: 15 nights
- Diamond: 25 nights
From my perspective, the most prominent benefit of the elite program is the elevated points earning on paid stays. Gold status earns 10%, Platinum status earns 25%, and Diamond earns 60% more base points. Beyond that, the enhanced value of elite benefits is negligible. I’ve included the elite benefits chart above, but access a more robust view here. In my situation, I would never bother trying to reach any elite status via normal stays – since I primarily use award nights, my stays wouldn’t count, anyway. However, you can request a status match via a fairly simple process here. I have never done this with Choice, but I plan to do so once travel gets back closer to normal.
Preferred Hotels and Resorts
The Choice Privileges program provides access to Preferred Hotels and Resorts properties. You can view the list of participating properties here, but members must call 888-770-6800 to book these award stays. Award nights at these properties range from 25k to 55k points per night. I enjoy the mix of boutique, modest, and high-end properties. While redemption rates highly vary, it’s great to have the option to book such aspirational properties and locations with points. Here are a few Preferred properties that caught my eye:
Ascend Hotel Collection
Another unique redemption opportunity is booking Choice’s Ascend Hotel Collection properties online. Again, hotel award rates vary widely but are much easier to gauge with Choice’s online booking capability. Each property has unique character – here are a few examples:
- Ridgeline Hotel, Estes Park, CO – 20k points/night
- The Pine Lodge on Whitefish River, Whitefish, MT – 16k points/night
- Hotel Belmont, Vancouver, British Columbia – 30k points/night
Choice Hotels – My Overall Take and Preferences
I’m a big fan of the Choice Hotels family of brands, and their program does provide solid value. Particularly, I enjoy the consistency of quality and service from Comfort Inn and Comfort Suites properties. Importantly, they seemingly have locations everywhere. I easily find award nights at the 8k-12k level for these properties, and usually get a value in the 0.6-0.8 cent per point range. You can also get similar or better value internationally. While one can do better or worse in terms of value, I’m more focused on my goals than outsized valuations. We haven’t stayed at Ascend properties often, but I like the option of using points there or at the Preferred locations.
I don’t rack up lots of Choice points since I don’t usually pay for hotel rooms, but leisure and business travelers with moderate to frequent paid stays can easily drive up their points balances. Also, Choice has been known to be very generous with promos; they have often offered 8k bonus points for just two stays.
What About the Credit Card?
Would I apply for the Choice Privileges Visa? Yes, and I have! I held the card years ago. Would I put spend on the card? Yes; I would particularly focus on reaching exactly $10k spend per cardmember year to obtain the 8k anniversary bonus points. This would reflect earning 2.8x points on all spend. That’s not bad for a no annual fee hotel card! Putting more than $10k on the card is a highly personal decision based on one’s specific travel and redemption goals.
When planning for and making redemptions, compare the cash versus points rates. You may find that you get better value using cash back rewards for Choice hotels rather than points for a given situation. Ultimately, though, don’t let your Choice points (or other rewards currencies, for that matter) sit in your account indefinitely without a plan.
Finally, as with any mid- and lower-tier hotel stay, do plenty of research on the property in advance. Quality of certain hotel lines can vary widely, and you do not want to be disappointed. On the flip side, your research can unearth some true hidden gems on the lower end.
Choice Privileges Deep Dive – Conclusion
Bring up Choice Hotels with anyone, and you will definitely get plenty of “meh” responses. Some of you might roll their eyes at this Choice Privileges deep dive. All of that is fine. The points and miles masses ignoring a seemingly bland hotel chain can lead to more opportunity for me. Regardless, there will routinely be a spot in my travel itineraries for a Choice Hotel stay. Are you a fan of Choice Hotels? What are your favorite properties and redemptions?