Should I bet on Choice?

13

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.

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