Who should join the Choice Privileges hotel rewards program?

Choice Privileges is the rewards program of Choice Hotels and has been rated the second best hotel rewards program by US News & World Travel, coming in behind budget competitor Wyndham Rewards, but ahead of Marriott! Similar to Wyndham, this program has been widely ignored by travel bloggers and point enthusiasts, but Choice has made a number of changes and with 25 Million members, they must be doing something right. As part of my “Battle of the Budget Hotels”, I looked at the program, participated in promotions, stayed at hotels and earned points – read my detailed review of the Choice Privileges program to see what I found in my personal experience!

choice-privileges-overview-tableWho are they? Choice is the second largest hotel company in the world by properties with more than 6,400 hotels in 32 countries, that’s a lot of hotels – but in a select number of destinations. 94% of the hotels are in the US, Canada, Australia, France and Norway – if those countries are your primary travel destinations, Choice Privileges is great for you. If you are planning to travel to Asia, Africa or the Middle-East – you are out of luck! Most of the hotels are budget or lower midscale properties – which explains why a lot of bloggers are ignoring them – there are very few aspirational properties to redeem your hard-earned points at! You can find all the brands, price category and regional information in my post Choice – Facts & Figures!

Why should I care? You will find Choice Hotels all around the US and in many 2nd or 3rd tier towns, Choice, Wyndham and Best Western might be the only game in town. If you are traveling through rural America, participating in one of those programs is a good idea. I found Choice to offer more consistent hotels experiences than Wyndham or Best Western, giving you a more reliable choice of hotels than Wyndham!
cal-qualityinn-woodland-bed1Choice also has strength in Scandinavia and offers great value there. Oddly, they have a separate program – Nordic Choice – in the region, but you can redeem your Choice Privileges points for hotels there (but not earn any!).
Choice has also made a lot of changes to the program in an effort to catch up with the programs of the more upscale brands, so if you haven’t checked them out in a while, read on for their innovations!

Earning Points: Choice Privileges members earn 10 points per US Dollar spend at more than 5,500 of their hotels, hotels in Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Sweden, as well as Guayana and Ecuador are excluded! You can also earn points at timeshares and on vacation rentals. Elite members receive bonus points – Gold 10%, Platinum 25% and Diamond 50%. You can earn more points through shopping partners and with the Choice Privileges Visa credit card (signup bonus of 32,000 points, up to 4 free nights).
You can purchase up to 50,000 points per year to top of your account, but the price is very high at 1.1 cents/point. InsiderTip: Similar to IHG Rewards Club, there is a trick to purchase them cheaper: Choice offers cash & points rates and you in effect purchase points at 0.75/ct/p. By cancelling your reservation and keeping the points, you can buy them at a more reasonable price!
I value Choice Privileges points at 0.6ct/p, so the earn rate of 10p/$ reflects a value of 6% of your spend – that’s only average in the industry and a lot less than Wyndham at 10%!
Choice introduced “Extras” earlier this year – offering 500 bonus points for midweek stays or other instant awards. That can add up with the many cheaper hotels in the portfolio and is a valuable bonus. You can also earn bonus points in promotions. Choice frequently offers a “stay twice, earn 5,000/8,000 points” promotions, which can significantly increase your earning ratio and is worth looking out for!
Choice Privileges points expire after 18 months without activity, like paid stays or point redemptions. Fortunately, using the Choice Visa card or buying points counts, too, so it’s easy to extend the life of the points, even without hotel stays.

Redeeming Points: Choice Privileges doesn’t publish an award chart. The hotel redemptions range from 6,000 – 35,000 points for most hotels and up to 75,000 points in Australasia. Choice introduced “FlexRewards” this year, promising to make redemptions cheaper during low demand periods. Reports from Choice fans suggest that instead they increased points at participating hotels in high-demand periods instead, making it more expensive to redeem during peak season or on weekends in tourist destinations.
Choice Privileges is the only reward program I know that limits award redemption to a very short time period: You can book hotels in the US & Canada (almost 90% of all properties) only 30 days in advance, which makes it really hard to plan any trips. You have 60 days for international hotels and Gold/Platinum/Diamond elite members get more time (50/75/100 days). While Choice promises “no blackouts” , there doesn’t seem to be any enforcement of that rule with the independently operated hotels – I often couldn’t find any rooms on points within two months of travel, making this a very serious limitation of the program!
As part of my “Battle of the Budget Hotels” research, I tried to book an award night with Choice, but could either not find availability or the point prices were so high that it was not worth redeeming points. I was not able to use any of my points to date and booked with cash or through other rewards programs in every single case! Between the poor redemption value and the limited booking window, I found it hard to get any value out of the program!
One of the issues for many bloggers is the limited number of upscale or luxury hotels in the Choice portfolio (only 170), making it less attractive for dream vacations. Choice addressed that by creating a partnership with Preferred Hotels & Resorts, allowing to redeem points for stay at their more than 500 luxury hotel. Redemptions start at 25,000 points per night or 10,000 points + cash! I found redemption rates to be very high, making it very poor value. While I didn’t book one of the hotels due to the poor value, I do appreciate the access to more upscale hotels and think it’s a plus for the program!

Elite Membership Levels & Benefits: Just recently, Choice Privileges introduced elite membership levels, offering additional benefits for frequent guests. There are four levels of membership, with the basic level being available by signing up, “Gold” after 10 nights, “Platinum” after 20 nights and the highest level “Diamond” after 40 nights –  a little more than Wyndham requires.
The benefits are very minimal and hardly a reason to chase status in the program:  The main benefit being the points bonus for elite members, although you are still getting less value as a Diamond at Choice than a basic member at Wyndham. The additional time window to book awards is the most important benefit – but in my mind it’s an artificial benefit, because the standard policy of only 30 days is so bad!
choice-privileges-elite-benefits-table
As a Diamond member you may receive an upgrade at the hotel’s discretion, but it includes standard rooms on higher floors or with a better view, so don’t expect any suite upgrades!
Choice does offer a free status match with proof of status in another program and recent stay history. My Accor top level status Platinum (requiring 60 nights) was matched to Choice Platinum (mid-level, 20 nights). I received no benefits on any of my stays other than the points bonus. One hotel apparently instructed to make elite members welcome and greeted me with a loud bell and a cheer from the team – it was about as funny as it was awkward, certainly not a “perk” I’d want to be subjected to on every visit!

Who should sign up? If you are traveling a lot on business in rural America and want to redeem points in secondary US destinations, or in Scandinavia and Australia, you might be able to find great value in the Choice Privileges program. Especially Scandinavian properties offer reasonable reward rates with sky-high cash rates, making for high-value redemptions.
I generally liked the Choice hotels like Quality Inn or Comfort Inn better than the Wyndham competitors – they seemed to manage brand standards more tightly and are more consistent from property to property! If you are looking for consistency in the budget and rural markets, Choice is a better choice than Wyndham!
The biggest limitations are the too-short time window to make award redemptions, the limited number of hotels outside the US and the poor redemption value during my nine months of trying this out! For me personally, Choice Privileges loses to Wyndham Rewards as my “budget program” and I won’t make an effort to renew my elite status or direct stays towards the program. I will remain a member and try to keep my account active to safe all the points I earned so far.


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