Last week I reported that Chase was no longer offering the Amtrak credit card (See: Chase kills the Amtrak card. Why you might care…). Then, I reported that working signup links had been found (See: Amtrak zombie links found; should you hop on?). Then, the next day, the last remaining links died. So what? Who would want an Amtrak credit card anyway? The answer is that the Amtrak credit card unlocks the ability to transfer points from Amtrak to Choice Privileges at a 1 to 3 ratio. 5,000 Amtrak points becomes 15,000 Choice points. That then begs the next question: why would anyone want Choice points?
Why Choice Privileges Points?
This question was answered in depth recently by Travel is Free: Best use of Choice points. To summarize:
- Redeem for low category Choice hotels. Travel is Free lists a few terrific (?) hotels around the world that cost just 6,000 to 12,000 points per night.
- Redeem for Preferred Hotel Group hotels. These are mostly luxury hotels that range from 30,000 to 60,000 points per night. A number of these were listed in Travel & Leisure’s Top 500 Hotels. Drew even created a Google Map to make it easy to find participating Preferred Hotels: Click here to view map.
- Transfer to Southwest Rapid Rewards in order to earn a Companion Pass. 6,000 Choice points can be converted to 1,800 Southwest points, and unlike transfers from Ultimate Rewards, these points do count towards the Southwest Companion Pass. For those with the Amtrak credit card or Amtrak elite status, this makes it possible to transfer from Ultimate Rewards in a way that is valid towards the Southwest Companion Pass. Drew gives the following example: 8,000 Chase points – > 8,000 Amtrak points -> 24,000 Choice points -> 7,200 Southwest points. With this approach you do lose 10% of your points, but you gain progress towards the Companion Pass.
Options for earning Choice points other than Amtrak
This is republished from last week’s post, with slight corrections:
- Credit card: I suppose you could get the Barclaycard Choice Privileges credit card (found here, scroll down a bit). It offers 5 points per dollar at Choice Hotels, but only 2 points per dollar elsewhere. I’ll pass.
- Stay at Choice Hotels: Point earnings are either 5 or 10 points per dollar plus a percent bonus if you have elite status. At 10 points per dollar earnings, one would have to spend $3,000 at Choice hotels to earn one free 30,000 point night. Yeah. No.
- Transfer from Diner’s Club: Found on my Transfer Partner Master List, one can transfer 1250 Diner’s Club points into 2400 Choice points. That’s pretty good except that Diners Club cards are no longer open to new applicants, and everyone many I know who had the card has been shut down.
- Transfer from Amex Membership Rewards: Also found on the Transfer Partner Master List, one can transfer from Membership Rewards to Choice at a one to one ratio. No thanks. Membership Rewards are much more valuable when transferred to airline programs.
- Points plus cash trick: Loyalty Traveler shows how to buy Choice points at the rate of $7.50 per 1,000 points. That means a 30,000 point stay would cost $225, and a 60,000 point stay would cost $450. I’m sure that those prices would be a big discount off the usual rate for these top hotels, but it doesn’t exactly seem like much of a bargain to me.
- Daily Getaways: Each year, Amex and the US Travel Association team up to sell “Daily Getaways.” (Note: this year Amex doesn’t appear to be a partner). These are often deals for buying hotel points cheaply. Last year, Choice points were available for as little as .42 cents per point. If the same deal returns this year, that would mean that 30,000 point nights would cost only $126 and 60,000 point nights would cost only $252. At those rates, it might be worth going for. Keep in mind, though, that Daily Getaway deals are usually available in extremely limited quantities so you have to be ready to buy the moment they go on sale (even then, you might not be quick enough with some deals).
Daily Getaways 2015
The first three weeks of this year’s Daily Getaways have now been announced. I’ll cover other deals in future posts, but for now we’ll look at the Choice Hotels deals available Friday, April 3rd. Each deal is advertised as a two or three night stay, but they’re really selling Choice Privileges points at a discount. Here are the details:
|Offer||# Available||Points||Cost Per Point|
At prices ranging from .4 to .45 cents per point, should you buy?
Compared to buying points directly from Choice (1.1 cents per point) or via the Points plus Cash trick (.75 cents per point), the Daily Getaway prices are a steal. But, are the points worth even that much?
Use for Choice Hotels:
We know from Drew that it’s possible to get great value from Choice points by cherry-picking the best value properties. However, Wandering Aramean shows us that Choice Privileges points are typically worth between .55 and .82 cents per point (these are the 25th and 75th percentiles, respectively). That means that buying points via the Daily Getaways is most likely going to give you between a 20% and 50% discount off a future stay (again, unless you cherry-pick the best value properties). And, that calculation works only if you use all of your purchased points. Choice points expire after 2 years, so if you leave any orphaned points around, they’ll be worthless soon enough. Unlike most other loyalty programs, Choice Privilege account activity does not extend the life of your points.
Use for Preferred Hotel Group hotels:
While I don’t have any concrete data about this option, my intuition tells me that redemption values for these luxury properties will likely range from about .5 to 1.5 cents per point. The reason is that awards vary from 30,000 to 60,000 points per night and my guess is that most of these hotels cost in the range of $150 to $900 per night. In other words, I’m guessing that the average value per point is 1 cent. After writing that last sentence, I spot checked 5 or 6 properties around the world with a random booking date and found that I was sort-of right except that hotels were a bit cheaper than I expected. Point values of the hotels/dates I checked tended to hover in the .5 to 1 cent per point range. So, similar to Choice Hotel redemptions, buying Choice points for Preferred Hotel Group stays will most likely result in a discount ranging from 20% to 60%.
Use to get (closer to) a Southwest Companion Pass:
Points can be transferred from Choice to Southwest in increments of 6,000 Choice Privilege points in exchange for 1,800 Southwest Rapid Rewards points. Among the Daily Getaway packages, only the Comfort Inn package delivers points in a perfect multiple of 6,000. For $155, you get 36,000 Choice Privilege points. Those points can be converted into 1,800 x 6 = 10,800 Southwest points. In other words, through this package, you can buy Southwest points that count towards the Companion Pass for $155 / 10,800 points = 1.435 cents per point. That’s actually a terrific rate since Southwest points are usually worth a bit more than that when used for Wanna Getaway fares (See: The new true value of Southwest points). Keep in mind, though, that Southwest is no longer promising a fixed redemption value for their points.
First, keep in mind that there are a limited number of packages available and they tend to sell out incredibly fast. Even if you want to buy a package, you may not be able to. That said, is it worth it anyway?
For those seeking to earn enough points for a Southwest Companion Pass, I think it’s a no-brainer to buy one of these packages and convert the points to Southwest Rapid Rewards. For those expecting to use the points for hotel stays, I recommend thinking twice. Yes, you can definitely save money with these deals, but only if you use the points. Choice points expire after two years regardless of whether or not you have account activity, so it wouldn’t surprise me at all to learn that many who buy these packages end up losing some or all of their points in the long run. That would obviously be a big waste. Another factor to consider is that Choice does not allow award bookings far in advance. Non-elite members can only book 30 days in advance. As you move up in elite status, you can book further in advance: Gold 50 days, Platinum 75 days, and Diamond 100 days. If you do buy points, I highly recommend requesting a status match from another program in order to unlock the ability to make earlier reservations.
Personally, I’m still on the fence as to whether or not to attempt to buy Choice points. On the one hand, I do think it is likely that I’ll find opportunities to use the points effectively for hotel stays. On the other hand, I already have plenty of points in other programs: Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt, IHG, and especially Club Carlson. Do I really need yet another program with which to worry about getting maximum value? And, I hate the idea that my Choice points will expire in two years. That’s almost a deal breaker for me, except that I could always transfer to Southwest as a backup plan. Even then, any remaining points less than 6,000 would be orphaned and lost. Yeah, maybe I’ll pass…