Maximizing Choice Hotels Privileges For European Travel
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.
How this program works:
- 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.