Should I bet on Choice?

In March, I wrote that the Chase Amtrak card was no longer being offered to new customers.  This was disappointing because the credit card is key to unlocking a special redemption option:  Once you’ve racked up $200 in Amtrak charges, the credit card gives you the ability to convert Amtrak points to Choice Privilege hotel points at a terrific 1 to 3 ratio (5,000 Amtrak points become 15,000 Choice points).  Even without Amtrak points, one could take advantage of this by transferring points 1 to 1 from Ultimate Rewards or SPG to Amtrak, and then from Amtrak to Choice.

Soon after I wrote about the demise of the Amtrak card, a working application link was found: Amtrak zombie links found; should you hop on?  Unsurprisingly, that link soon stopped working, but I had impulsively signed up just in time.

Obviously, Choice points can be used to book Choice hotels.  And, in some cases, it’s possible to get fantastic value from those points.  See, for example, this Loyalty Traveler post: Clarion Collection Hotel Temperance Malmo, Sweden food alone worth 8,000 points.  And, as Travel Is Free documented, it’s also possible to use Choice points to book many of Travel & Leisure’s Top 500 hotels thanks to the ability to redeem Choice points for Preferred Hotel & Resorts properties.

Choice PreferredHotels

The end is near

Chase sent letters to cardholders to let them know that the Amtrak card would be discontinued.  Most people were told that their card would be converted to a Chase Freedom card — which is a pretty good swap in my opinion.  We have until the end of September to use our cards as Amtrak cards.  After that, they will function as Freedom cards while we wait for our replacement cards to arrive in the mail “approximately 6 to 8 weeks after September 30th”.

It appears that Bank of America will very soon offer new Amtrak credit cards.  I think it is likely that Amtrak’s Choice transfer option will be extended to those who signup for these new cards.  I doubt, though, that I’ll signup for one anytime soon… unless they surprise me with a very large signup bonus.

Choice  Amtrak new credit cards

Preparing for the transfer

Just in case I decide to transfer Amtrak points to Choice before my card turns into a Freedom pumpkin, I called Amtrak to find out more about their $200 spend criteria.  To date, I had only spent $5 on Amtrak with my credit card.  I asked the Amtrak agent the following question: if I spent $200 today, when would I be able to make the Choice transfer?  The answer given was that it is tied to the credit card’s statement closing date: once you meet the spend criteria, you can make the transfer after the current statement closes.  I looked up my card’s closing date: September 12th.  So there was still time for me to charge something to the card and for the charge to clear before the statement closed.  I immediately bought a refundable $200+ round trip ticket for next summer.  Theoretically, after my statement closes on September 12th, and until my card changes to a Freedom card at the end of the month, I’ll have the ability to transfer points to Choice.

Is it worth doing without a redemption plan?

The biggest problem with Choice points is that they expire on December 31, two years after the year in which they were deposited into your account.  I believe that means that if I transfer points from Amtrak to Choice this month, any remaining points will expire at the end of 2017.  Unlike most other points programs, account activity (e.g. earning or using points) doesn’t reset the clock on your existing points.  That alone is a good reason not to acquire Choice points without a good plan for how you’ll use them.

Another huge issue with Choice points is that bookings for the US and Canada can be made no more than 30 days in advance of your stay, and bookings for other locations can be made no more than 60 days in advance.  Choice Privileges elite members get expanded booking windows, but even top tier Diamond members must book within 100 days of arrival.  That too, in my opinion, is a terrible policy that may make it difficult to use your points.

Decision

I bought a refundable Amtrak ticket in order to meet the $200 spend criteria for transfers to Choice, but its very unlikely that I’ll actually make the transfer.  If something comes up before the end of September in which Choice points prove to be a good option, then I’ll go for it.  Otherwise, I’ll let this one go.  Care to convince me otherwise?  Please comment below.

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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Comments

  1. Love choice hotels – they are much better in europe then in the states – I just stayed in norway in both bergen and Stavanger 16,000 a night great locations and before that I stayed in Diana comfort Inn in Venice and also in rome both at the airport and center city with amazing location very similar to Diana comfort Inn great location
    2 years in plenty of time to use the points and when traveling to Japan they offer many 8,000 to 10,000 a night reward nights

  2. If you don’t already have a stash of just-in-case Choice points (and why not?), you should build one. Having them is handy for last-minute needs even in the US. Otherwise, just clear out your Amtrak balance.

    If your Choice points are close to expiring you can transfer them to airline miles rather than let them expire. Something’s better than nothing. And I don’t know about you but I don’t know what my travel plans will be six months from now, let alone 2+ years. You may find a valuable use for them before they expire.

  3. You should definitely make the transfer! 75K Choice points is not hard at all to use up within the next 2 yrs if you have any travel planned, and besides the options you highlighted, Choice points are pretty valuable for small towns in the USA. You just need to check tripadvisor reviews, since hotels can be inconsistent, but many (especially those in small towns) are fine.

    I don’t have an issue with finding award space, unless you are traveling during peak demand dates. But “regular” high season is okay.

    And even if in the worst case scenario (eg no ability to use some remaining points), you can always transfer to Southwest or other airline miles at a not bad ratio (okay, worse by ~20% vs if you transferred directly from UR, but still not that bad).

  4. With the Amtrak devalue I’d use your points now in that program.

    Choice hotels are typically crappy in the USA but if you travel in Europe or can use them at one of the newer Cambria hotels then go for it. I find more value in IHG, Starwood, Hyatt and Marriott.

  5. I just checked and my next statement date is Oct 1st. 🙁

    Could I get a refresh on changing payment dates with chase? I have done it in the past to get my signup bonus to post sooner, but I do not remember, does it change immediately or will I need to wait until the next cycle?

  6. Mentioned already to transfer Choice points to Southwest but these transferred points have also helped me make progress to get the companion pass.

  7. Congrats on being one of the lucky ones to even have the Chase/Amtrak card…. and now you’ve got the pending under-the-wire option to transfer CUR points via Amtrak to Choice at the “terrific” (and it is) rate of 1 to 3 points.

    IF I were in your shoes — and I really in this case wish I was — then YES, I’d be doing the transfer to choice, ASAP. (if I had a stash of CUR points I didn’t mind a mere tripling of their #’s — and as you noted, Drew/TIF did indeed show us the way to some fantastic Choice affiliated properties to stay at on the cheap.

    About this new BA/Amtrak card relationship, do we even have any idea if it also will preserve the 1-3 transfer rate of their points?

    Bird-in-hand — what you’re fortunate to have access — vs. ?

  8. Thanks everyone. You have nudged me a bit towards transferring the points, but I’m still not convinced. I know that I’ll be booking an Amtrak trip or two. I don’t know that I’ll book a Choice hotel in the next two years.

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