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Family travel is worth it, but there are many challenges that come along with it that you might not have thought about pre-kids. For starters, most hotel rooms just aren’t built for more than four guests. Even then, it can be a stretch. If you have a larger family, or are one that likes to spread out, you are often forced to book two rooms or pay more for a larger room or suite. This can get quite expensive, even if you have points. (Here are two-bedroom suites families can book with points or learn how to book hotels for large families in Hawaii, California and Florida.)
Some hotel brands are better matches for families than others, but there is one hotel loyalty program that makes family travel not only more affordable, but much more comfortable. Believe it or not, my recommendation isn’t a Hyatt or St. Regis or whatnot. It’s the Choice Hotels and the Choice Privileges program.
Why Choice Is a Great Program for Families
While Choice isn’t known for having the most aspirational properties, it does have more than 7,000 properties and allows you to book larger rooms for reasonable numbers of points. In fact, in cities like Rome and Paris, Choice redemptions are often your best bet if you want to just spend a reasonable number of points on a room large enough for a family.
But beyond that, there’s also a vacation club component to Choice called Bluegreen Vacations, part of its Ascend Collection (Choice’s higher-end properties). It consists of 36 properties throughout the United States and one property in Aruba — all with rooms you can book using Choice Privileges points.
What is so wonderful about vacation clubs like those with Bluegreen Vacations is that typically the properties offer way more than just your usual studio hotel room. Bluegreen Vacation properties include hotels with up to three-bedroom suites, and many have a full kitchen and washer/dryer. I know my family would much prefer to spread out in a suite versus a standard hotel room any day of the week — especially when we can use our points.
What’s so unique about the Choice Privileges program is that the number of points required for a particular property is fixed regardless of room size. This means the same number of points will book you into a standard room or that three-bedroom suite, when available This can allow your family to book an extremely comfortable room for no upcharge when using points. Most Bluegreen Vacations resorts range between 16,000 to 30,000 points per night, depending on the season.
Book a 3-Bedroom Suite for 30k Points
Let’s say your family wants to head to the waterpark capital of America in Wisconsin Dells. You can stay at the Bluegreen Vacations Christmas Mountain Village in a three-bedroom suite for just 30,000 points a night. (Here’s a roundup of the Midwest’s best waterparks.)
Or, if you want visit Mickey Mouse or Harry Potter this summer, the Bluegreen Vacations Fountains in Orlando can actually fit 10 guests, which is ideal for a large family. Again, you’ll pay the same 30,000 points a night as you would for any of its other available rooms. Why book a two-bedroom suite, if a three-bedroom suite is available for the exact same number of points?
A visit to Cape Cod is also a family favorite over the summer and there are two Bluegreen Vacations properties available. Both The Soundings and The Breakers cost the same 30,000 points a night and are our top picks out of all the hotel point options in Cape Cod. Here you can book a two-bedroom suite with a queen bed in each room and a pull-out sofa.
How to Earn Choice Privileges Points
Earning Choice Privileges points is fairly easy. Aside from actually staying at its properties, there are a few more opportunities to increase your account balance:
Choice Privileges Credit Card
The Choice Privileges Visa Credit Card is currently offering 50,000 bonus points if you spend $1,000 in 90 days. This no annual fee card will earn you 15x Choice Privileges properties, 5x on purchases of Choice Privileges points or Choice Hotel gift cards and 2x on other purchases.
Transfer American Express Membership Rewards
Choice is a 1:1 transfer partner to American Express Membership Rewards and cards such as the American Express® Gold Card with instant transfers. This is an easy way to top up Choice Privileges points for an immediate redemption, but of course do the math to make sure it’s a good use of your Membership Rewards points — and that won’t always be the case.
Purchasing Points Promotions
It is very common to see a promotion on purchasing Choice points. The typical offer is a 30% discount, which means you are purchasing points at 0.77 cents per point, although we’ve seen as high as a 50% discount in the past (0.73 cents per point). With the 120,000 purchasing point limit, these promotions allow you to stay at some of the Bluegreen Vacations hotels at a potentially reduced rate — 30,000 points will cost you $231 with a 30% discount offer.
If you are planning to stay at one of the properties during an off-peak time, the award cost will be significantly reduced. For example, the Bluegreen Vacations South Mountain Resort was just 16,000 points per night last winter. Funny enough, off-peak doesn’t always correlate to a not-desirable time to stay at a property. The South Mountain Resort is just a half-mile from a large New Hampshire ski mountain but during peak winter season it was still considered “off-peak.” To purchase these points would cost just $123 per night with a 30% discount offer. I don’t know of too many higher-end resorts where you’d be able to book a two- or three-bedroom room for that low a price.
An even cheaper way to purchase Choice Privileges points is during the annual Daily Getaways sales, when these points sell for as low as 0.48 cents per point, which is an unbelievable rate. (Unfortunately, these packages are now sold out, but fingers crossed we will see them again next year.)
Transfer Amtrak Guest Rewards Points
The Amtrak Guest Rewards program has very few transfer partners, but Choice Privileges is one of them. With this partnership, every 5,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards points transferred equals 15,000 Choice Privileges points. This is actually a great transfer ratio, but unfortunately you must have Amtrak status to transfer to partners.
Using Choice Points Isn’t Perfect
While all of the above probably sounds beyond ideal, there are definitely some issues when using your Choice Privilege points at these properties. For starters, since these are vacation clubs, availability can be limited. Members who own at these resorts book close to a year out, which means peak dates might be hard to find — although by no means impossible.
The other main issue is that, when redeeming Choice Privilege points, you can only book 100 days in advance. This is just not for Bluegreen Vacations resorts, but for all Choice properties. This is a huge deal-breaker for families who like to plan ahead of time, especially since there is no guarantee of the hotels’ availability.
Lastly, Choice Hotels offers both peak and off-peak awards. If you are looking to stay over the winter, you will be in the dark about how many points you’ll need per night at the moment since the award booking calendar doesn’t go that far. (The number of points might also change from one year to the next as there is no award chart.)
Bluegreen Vacations within the Choice family is the perfect fit for many families’ needs. It offers quality family-friendly properties while allowing you to stay in comfort and not have to dig too deep into your point balances. Whether you have a large family, or are one that prefers more space, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with what’s available.
Featured photo by kevin delvecchio/Unsplash.
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