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Maximizing Choice Hotels Privileges For European Travel

by on June 2, 2014 · 26 comments

in Barclays, Choice Hotels, Europe, Southwest

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Let’s face it, the Choice Hotel brands don’t have the best reputation here in the United States. In fact, two of them made TripAdvisor’s list of the America’s Dirtiest Hotels.

But as is often the case, American budget hotel chains can offer some pretty nice properties overseas, and even a few luxury hotels here at home. This seems to hold true with Choice Hotels, which offer some incredible values in Europe, especially for families.

Choice Hotels points can be used for hotels or transferred to airlines.

The Choice Hotels family.

How this program works:

Earning points

  • Hotel stays. Travelers can earn 10 points per dollar at most Choice Hotel brands, including Comfort, Clarion, Quality, Cambria and Sleep Inns. Five points per dollar spent is earned at their economy brands EconoLodge and Rodeway Inn, as well as at their extended stay properties, MainStay Suites and Suburban.
  • The Choice Privileges Credit card. Another way to earn points is through their Choice Privileges credit card from Barclaycard. Cardholders receive another 15 points per dollar spent at Choice properties, and two points per dollar spent on all other purchases. The current sign-up bonus for this card is 8,000 points after making your first purchase, and another 24,000 points after you pay for your first stay at one of their properties. With some budget locations having rates of about $40 a night, it might be worth buying a room and not even staying, just to receive these points. Cardmembers also receive Gold elite status.
  • Travel partners. Both Avis and Budget offer bonus points for car rentals, and you can also earn 10 points per dollar spent on major cruise lines. See more information here.
  • Online shopping mall. Like many credit cards and travel providers, Choice has its own online shopping mall where you can earn bonus points for purchases from major retailers. For example, five points per dollar spent is currently offered at Macy’s, Nordstrom’s, JC Penny, and Saks Fifth Avenue.
  • Buying points. This might be the only program that I’m aware of where it can make sense to buy points, absent any special promotion. Choice sells points for 1.1 cents each in 1,000 point increments. There is a 20,000 point purchase limit per person, per year, but since you can buy points for other people (or others can buy points for you), this limitation is easy to circumnavigate. Points are sold through Points.com, so you won’t receive any additional rewards for using a particular credit card. As I’ll demonstrate in the next section, these points can be worth far more than 1.1 cents each, especially for families. Points are available for even less during the annual Amex Daily Getaways, but the Choice packages for this year sold out last week.
  • Refer a friend bonuses. If you sign up using someone’s referral link, both people will receive a 500 point bonus after their first stay. Feel free to use my link.

Using points

One of the quirks of the Choice Hotel program is that members without status can only reserve awards within 30 days of the check-in date in the U.S. and Canada, and 60 days elsewhere.

Nevertheless, Choice points can be used to book any available room at any of their properties, and the number of points is the same regardless of the room size (although suites are often excluded). So, unlike other hotel programs, families can book larger rooms without paying more.

For example, we booked three award nights at the Comfort Inn Bolivar in Rome, Italy this summer using just 10,000 points per night. Best of all, it’s in a room that sleeps four people in one double bed and two singles. This room normally sells for over $450 per night, but I was able to purchase 32,000 points during the Amex Daily Getaway last week for just $118. Even buying points at 1.1 cents each would have resulted in us staying in this room for $110 per night,  a spectacular deal!

The Comfort Inn Bolivar in Rome: just 10,000 points per night.

Another example of  a nice European property and a good use of points is the Comfort Inn Buckingham Palace Road in London.  It offers rooms that sleep four for $343 a night, but award nights are just 25,000 points. This works out to $12,500 in spending on their credit card, and a return of 2.7 cents in value per dollar spent. I’m unaware of any other credit card that could offer a room for four in the heart of London for a mere $12,500 in spending. Purchasing points would also result in a significant discount on this room.

The Comfort Inn Buckingham Palace Road: 25,000 points per night.

Stockholm, Sweden is another European capital where Choice Hotels offers valuable award nights. For example, the Clarion Hotel Sign has a room for four people that sells for $325 a night, but costs only 10,000 points for an award. This works out to a value of just over three cents per point, so buying points allows you to purchase this room for nearly a third of the regular price.

The Clarion Hotel Sign in Stockholm goes for just 10,000 points per night.

Another option for award nights is the Preferred Hotel Group. These are luxury properties around the world that allow you to book awards for 30,000 to 60,000 points per night; however, all rewards are for standard rooms with single or double occupancy. The value per point is not as high as in the examples above, but these are truly luxury properties and can be a good use of points in some situations.

Elite Status

Choice has an elite status program, but it doesn’t offer the kind of perks seen at the more upscale brands. Thankfully, award nights count towards status.

  • Gold status is earned after 10 nights in a calendar year. It offers a 10% bonus on points, and allows members to book award nights 50 days in advance.
  • Platinum status is reached after 20 nights. It offers a 25% points bonus and the option to book award nights 75 days out.
  • Diamond status requires 40 nights. It offers a 50% points bonus and the option to book book awards 100 days in advance. Diamond members also can receive room upgrades.

So, one could earn 15 points per dollar spent on lodging using their credit card, and another 15 points per dollar for being a Diamond member.  That’s 30 points per dollar spent, which often equates to a dollar or more at their best overseas properties.

Status matches

Choice seems to be eager to match your status in other major programs, but only up to the Platinum level. Simply contact their customer service to inquire.

Ah, the Southwest Companion Pass - only Rapid Rewards membership and a Southwest card will get you one - NOT Chase Sapphire Preferred

You can transfer Choice Privileges points to Southwest to help you earn the Companion Pass.

Other redemption options

Choice offers a wide array of gift cards and travel awards, but don’t waste your time with them. The vast majority offer less than a third of a cent in value per point, and most of the airline transfer options are terrible. The best is the Southwest Rapid Rewards transfer that requires 6,000 Choice points for 1,800 Rapid Rewards points. It’s still not great, except that the transferred points count towards the Southwest Companion Pass.

Conclusions

We would love to have booked an award stay at the Hyatt Regency in Rome. Unfortunately, there are no Hyatt properties in Rome! When I learned that the Westin downtown required 20,000 Starpoints for a room with bedding for just two, and received poor reviews, I started looking for alternative programs and found Choice Privileges. Perhaps their Rome properties offer the best value per point, but there are some other great deals to be found in Europe and elsewhere. By choosing the nicest properties at a budget brand like Choice, you’ll often receive more value from your points than you will with some luxury hotel programs.

How do you maximize the Choice Privileges program?  Please share your own tips and questions in the comments below.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Andrew

    Interesting. I’ve got 35k Amtrak Guest Rewards points from when I live in the northeast and used Amtrak from time to time. I now live away from Amtrak’s markets, and it looks like I can redeem the AGR point for 105,000 Choice Privileges points (theoretically, anyway, given the 25k point per year redemption limit for non-credit card holders).

    Do you think that’s the most practical redemption/use for my AGR points?

  • Varun

    Is the Comfort Inn bolivar better than the Principessa Isabella in Rome ?

  • Jason Steele

    Don’t know, I haven’t gone yet, but the Bolivar has a great location and gets pretty good reviews.

  • Jason Steele

    This would be a great option, but it does appear that you must now have Amtrak elite status or be a current Amtrak credit card holder to transfer points to Choice. But if so, you get 3 Choice points per AGR Pt. Since AGR is a Chase UR partner, that would be like booking my Rome example for 3,333 UR points, pretty good indeed. Nice find!

  • Andrew

    I’m going to jump on it then. I’m Amtrak Select through 2/28/2015. Do you know if the limit of 25k per year is based on a rolling 365 days period or is it tied to the calendar year?

  • dee seiffer

    Great article, Jason. Would Choice match my Hyatt Platinum status? The most convenient hotel near my son in Boulder, CO is a Choice property and it is a pain to wait to 30 days before to book rooms with points.

  • Joe

    Nice to see a more budget-oriented post here. Finally!

  • Jeff

    Good article. But Google Park Hyatt Milan and get back to us.

    “Unfortunately, there are no Hyatt properties in Rome, or in all of Italy!”

  • leah, Best Travel Gear

    Love the status match. And that room in Sweden…nice clean design.

  • SeattleDemo

    Hi. Thanks for the posting. I wanted to offer some alternative options regarding London or many other large/expensive cities for hotels.

    While we have used the Choice program (including transfer of Amtrak for Southwest Companion Pass status) before, by far our favorite is the Club Carlson program.

    We just spent four nights at the Mayfair in central London for a total of 100,000 points. Both my wife and I have cards/accounts. Club Carlson which covers all the Radisson chain (which is a very nice brand in Europe although less so in the USA) and offers rooms in POSH London hotels for 50,000 or 70,000 points per night.

    But the key details are: 1) you get 5 points per dollar spent on the card meaning that your spending per night is either $10,000 or $14,000, 2) with the card you get your second night FREE of any points at all meaning that your per night spending is now either $5,000 or $7,000 and 3) the sign up bonus after a minimum spend of $2,500 is 85,000 points. Additionally, they offer an annual renewal bonus of 40,000 points and they do have a business card along with personal cards.

    The Mayfair is an elegant hotel which routinely goes for $500 per night or higher. There are numerous very nice, central properties for $300 to $400 per night and, again, they can be had for an effective spending of $5,000 per night or a rate of between 6 and 8 cents per dollar…a fantastic and unequaled deal!

  • Jason Steele

    Calendar year

  • Jason Steele

    I agree, Club Carlson is an other example of a chain known for budget properties in the US, that has some more attractive offers in Europe.

  • Jason Steele

    You are right, my mistake!

  • Jason Steele

    I believe they will, give it a try!

  • Andrew

    Brilliant. Thanks, Jason!

  • SeattleDemo

    I guess my point was mainly in response to your comment that “I am unaware of any other credit card which could offer a room for four in the heart of London for a mere $12,500 in spending.” You can actually get a much nicer room for far less in spending…that’s the point I was trying to make, not simply that “has some more attractive offers in Europe.”

    In fact it would be a mistake to opt for Choice when Club Carlson is a much better option.

  • Bob

    Based on transfering from Chase UR, not sure why I’d fork over 25k points to book a room at Comfort Inn Buckingham Palace in London when for same # of points can get the 5 star Andaz at Liverpool Street or Hyatt Regency Churchill London

  • Jason Steele

    The point of the Amtrak xfer is that you get 3 Choice pts per UR pt. So you are only looking at 8,333 UR. So then the question becomes, 3 nights at the Comfort Inn Buckingham Palace, or one night at Andaz

  • dee seiffer

    I called and they had me send in my latest Hyatt statement. Thanks!

  • james watson

    Enjoy the particular position match. Knowning that bedroom throughout Sweden… great fresh layout.
    http://tiny.cc/wk5tgx

  • Lily

    Thank you TPG for the timely post! Just bought 20,000 points and booked a room for 3 people for 2 nights at the Clarion Hotel Sign next week. Canceled my other $300/night booking, so you’ve just saved me ~$400 =)

  • donr1

    bolivar is in a more convenient location, 5 minute walk to forum and coliseum , 10 minutes to Trevi fountains, pantheon but the room are budget style rooms. However, the Isabella is a clarion and has much nicer rooms.

  • Travis

    i tried transfering from Amex rewards to Choice and when the window pops up to tell me the rules after entering my points i can’t scroll down to click anything. does anyone know a work around. i haven’t been able to get in touch with customer service and will try when they open.

  • Margaret

    Great Post! We are going to Spain this summer and I have a ton of Marriott points. They seem to offer the most properties. Any thoughts on which chains are best in Spain? I’ll also check TripAdvisor.

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  • Cynthia

    Hi Jason, I’m looking at booking a hotel in Rome mid-September and the Bolivar came up. I was just wondering if you’ve had a chance to stay there yet, and what you thought of it.

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