Transfer SPG 1 to 3 to… Choice?

You already knew that it’s possible to transfer SPG (Starwood Preferred Guest) points to Marriott at a rate of 1 to 3, but did you know that the same is possible with Choice?  This is another one of those Rube Goldberg approaches to miles & points, but this one actually works.

When Marriott bought Starwood and let loose 1 to 3 point conversions, all kinds of great things happened.  Suddenly, top tier Marriott properties (45K per night) became relatively cheap when measured in SPG points (15K per night).  And Marriott Rewards 270K travel packages became accessible to anyone with 90K SPG points.  For more, see Marriott SPG Complete Guide to Sweet Opportunities.

I’d argue that the ability to transfer 1 to 3 to Choice Privileges isn’t nearly as lucrative as with Marriott, but it does have its uses.  Every now and then it’s possible to find awesome value with Choice points.  For one example, see: Great hotel point value near LAX, and a magic mirror.  And, Loyalty Traveler frequently writes about getting great value from Choice points at Nordic Choice Hotels in Sweden, Norway and Denmark.  In most of the world, Choice free night awards top out at 35,000 points per night.  With a 1 to 3 transfer ratio, that amounts to fewer than 12,000 SPG points per night.  But, for some reason, in Australasia free night awards go as high as 75,000 points per night.  That’s just weird.  Maybe there are some awesome Choice properties down under?  I don’t know.

Unfortunately, transferring SPG to Choice is not exactly easy.  There’s a mighty hurdle in the middle.  Here are the steps:

1. Transfer SPG to Amtrak 1 to 1

This step is easy.  Transfers are 1 to 1.  Unfortunately, unlike transfers to airline miles, SPG does not throw in 5,000 bonus points when you transfer 20K points at a time.

Amtrak points are worth up to 2.9 cents each towards Amtrak travel, so this step alone can be a valuable use of SPG points.  If this is your goal, though, I recommend first comparing the number of points Amtrak wants to charge you to the best paid price you can get for the same trip.  If you ride Acela trains, or you are eligible for discounts, or Amtrak randomly charges more points than they should for a trip (as they’ve been known to do), then you won’t get the desired 2.9 cents per point value.

2. Get Amtrak Elite Status or Spend $20K on Amtrak card

In order to be allowed to transfer Amtrak points to Choice, you first need either Amtrak elite status or high credit card spend.

Option A: Get Amtrak Elite Status

From Amtrak: How many TQPs do I need to reach tier status?

  • To reach Select you need to earn 5,000 TQPs each year
  • To reach Select Plus you need to earn 10,000 TQPs each year
  • To reach Select Executive you need to earn 20,000 TQPs each year

Since paid Amtrak rides earn 2 TQPs (tier qualifying points) per dollar, you would need at least $2,500 in Amtrak paid travel per year to maintain bottom tier Select status, $5K per year for Select Plus, and $10K per year for Select Executive.

Once you get to those status levels, you can then transfer to Choice at a 1 to 3 ratio, but with the following limits:

  • Select or Select Plus status: Limited to transferring 50,000 Amtrak points per year
  • Select Executive status: No limit

Option B: Spend $20K on the Amtrak Guest Rewards World Mastercard

Amtrak’s terms say that if you spend “$20,000 or more per calendar year” on the Amtrak Guest Rewards World Mastercard issued by Bank of America (details of the card can be found here), then you can transfer up to 25,000 Amtrak points.

25,000 Amtrak points would give you 75,000 Choice points, which is enough for at least 3 nights at most properties.  Of course, you will earn at least 20,000 Amtrak points from the $20K spend.  If you don’t use those earned Amtrak points for Amtrak rides, then you might as well transfer them to Choice.  In other words, it seems that there would rarely be a reason to transfer more than 5,000 SPG points to Amtrak if you go this route.

It may be possible to transfer 50,000 points after $20,000 spend, depending upon how exactly this works.  Suppose you spend $20,000 early in 2017.  Does that mean that you have only until the end of 2017 to transfer points?  Or, could you transfer 25,000 points in 2017 and another 25,000 points in 2018?  If any readers know the answer to this, please let us know!  Otherwise, I might just try this to see what happens.

3. Transfer from Amtrak to Choice 1 to 3

If you meet the criteria explained in step 2, above, you can then transfer Amtrak points in 5K increments either to Choice or to Hilton.  Transfers to Choice are 1 to 3 (5,000 Amtrak points become 15,000 Choice points).  Transfers to Hilton are 1 to 2 (5,000 Amtrak points become 10,000 Hilton points, which I think is a poor value option).

You can initiate the transfer online at amtrakguestrewards.com or by phone (1-800-307-5000).  They say to “Please allow 6–8 weeks for points to transfer or show up on account.”  I don’t know if it really takes that long.  I hope not.

Keep in mind that transfers from Amtrak are one-way.  Once you initiate the transfer, you can’t get your Amtrak points back.

Should you do it?

First, only consider this if you are confident that you’ll find high value uses for your Choice points.  Also, it’s important to compare that value to value you could get from other faster and easier uses of SPG points.

Keep in mind, too, that as long as you have some Choice points, it is possible to buy more points for only .75 cents each by booking and cancelling points + cash stays.  In other words, instead of trading in 5,000 SPG points for 15,000 Choice points, you can buy those same 15,000 Choice points for $112.50.  Arguably, then, trading SPG points give you a maximum value of 2.25 cents per SPG point ($112.50 / 5,000).  That’s not bad, but it’s also far from an amazing value for your points.  In general, I prefer to hoard my SPG points for higher value awards, but maybe that’s just me.

Amtrak to Choice Transfer Terms

Short version: To be allowed to transfer points, you need Amtrak elite status or $20K spend on the Amtrak Guest Rewards World Mastercard.  And, even then, there are strict limits of how many you can transfer.

Here’s the actual text from Amtrak’s site:

The following members may redeem Amtrak Guest Rewards points for Choice Privileges points, Hilton Honors points, and Audience Rewards ShowPoints:

  • Current Amtrak Guest Rewards Select or Select Plus Members may redeem up to a total of 50,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards points per calendar year for Choice Privileges, Hilton Honors, and Audience Rewards points combined (cannot be combined with cardholder redemption limit below). Current Amtrak Guest Rewards Select Executive Members are exempt from these point redemption limits.
  • Current active cardholders of the Amtrak Guest Rewards® World Mastercard® issued by Bank of America with an annual Net Retail spend on the card of $20,000 or more per calendar year may redeem up to a total of 25,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards points per calendar year for Choice Privileges, Hilton Honors, and Audience Rewards points combined (cannot be combined with Select/Select Plus member redemption limit above).

These maximums include, but are not limited to, Choice Privileges points.

  1. Amtrak Guest Rewards members may redeem Amtrak Guest Rewards points in exchange for Choice Privileges points. Members requesting to exchange points must be a member of both Amtrak Guest Rewards and Choice Privileges to complete the exchange. Both the Amtrak Guest Rewards account and the Choice Privileges account must be in the same name.
  2. Amtrak Guest Rewards points can be exchanged for Choice Privileges points by contacting the Amtrak Guest Rewards service center at 1-800-307-5000 or online. Please have your Amtrak Guest Rewards and Choice Privileges member numbers on hand.
  3. Amtrak Guest Rewards points will be converted to Choice Privileges points in increments of 5,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards points to 15,000 Choice Privileges points.
  4. Once Choice Privileges points have been requested, points will automatically be transferred to the member’s Choice Privileges account and deducted from the member’s Amtrak Guest Rewards account. Please allow 6–8 weeks for points to transfer or show up on account.
  5. Once points are credited to the member’s Choice Privileges account, changes, reissuance or recredit of Amtrak Guest Rewards points are not allowed.
  6. Amtrak Guest Rewards points that are exchanged into the member’s Choice Privileges account are subject to the terms and conditions of the Choice Privileges program. Choice Privileges membership, earning of Points and Airline Rewards, and redemption of Choice Privileges points are subject to Choice Privileges Terms and Conditions.
  7. In the case of fraud, misrepresentation, abuse, or violation of applicable rules involving Amtrak Guest Rewards points or program rewards use, Amtrak reserves the right to take appropriate administrative and/or legal action, including the forfeiture of accumulated points and program rewards, and termination of participation in Amtrak Guest Rewards.
  8. All terms and conditions are subject to change without notice. Amtrak reserves the right to alter or cancel the Amtrak Guest Rewards program at any time. Amtrak Guest Rewards is not responsible for any products or services offered by other companies participating in the Amtrak Guest Rewards program (“Program Merchants”). Program Merchants are solely responsible for the quality and performance of the goods and services supplied. Any rules of the Program Merchants relating to returns and exchanges apply, but no points will be re-credited to a member’s Amtrak Guest Rewards account. Use of the Amtrak Guest Rewards does not, in any way, indicate that Amtrak recommends or endorses the Program Merchant, regardless of whether the Program Merchant participates in Amtrak Guest Rewards.
  9. Amtrak Guest Rewards point exchange is a benefit of the Amtrak Guest Rewards program, and is subject to all Amtrak Guest Rewards Terms & Conditions.

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. Long time followers of these programs know that Choice and Amtrak sometimes screw you without notice. Tread carefully.

  2. Hi Greg. I think you mean hurdle, not hurtle.

    Love the blog. And Nick’s articles are such a great improvement.

  3. Thanks for the Amtrak article, Gary – I’m a fan of this particular loyalty program 🙂 Should note that by the time you’ve spent $20,000 on the Amtrak World Mastercard, you would have earned 4,000 TQPs (every $5,000 spent on the Amtrak World gets you 1,000 TQPs). If you spent just $500 of that $20,000 spend on coach travel on Amtrak, you would have earned 1,000 TQPs, getting you to Select status.

    Amtrak Elite status can actually be pretty lucrative. I used my Select Plus status to get 750 Amtrak Rewards points (in addition to the Enterprise points) on 1-day Enterprise rentals for work. The rentals basically paid for themselves … The Amtrak points I find are best used for close-in booking when Value fares usually don’t exist, but I just saw the Choice option this morning as well and am thinking about using them for European travel as it can be hard to spend enough Amtrak points on personal travel each year!

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