Choice Privileges is the loyalty program for Choice Hotels which includes mostly low-end brands such as Comfort Inn, Quality Inn, Econo Lodge, etc. I can’t remember the last time I’ve stayed at a Choice property, but I am interested in their loyalty program. In addition to the normal ways of earning points (such as staying at hotels, for example), points can be purchased cheaply through the “points plus cash trick,” or you can transfer points from Amtrak at a favorable 1 to 3 ratio if you have Amtrak elite status or you spend heavily on the new Amtrak World Mastercard.
Choice Privileges is interesting to me, not just because there are hacks for earning miles, but also because they have interesting redemption options. There’s the upscale Ascend collection, for example. And there’s the ability to redeem points at Preferred Hotels & Resorts, a number of which were listed in Travel & Leisure’s Top 500 Hotels (and award prices were recently lowered by 5,000 points).
New Choice Privileges point expiration policy
The thing that I’ve hated about Choice’s loyalty program was their point expiration policy. Until now, points would expire on December 31, two years after the year in which they were deposited into your account. Unlike almost every other loyalty program, there was no way to extend the life of your points.
Now, as reported by Loyalty Traveler, Choice has adopted a new expiration policy. Basically, all points expire after 18 months of account inactivity. Or, put the other way, as long as you have some activity in your account (either earning or spending points) every 18 months, your points will live on. Here are details from Choice Privileges website:
Choice Privileges members must remain active in the Program to retain the Choice Privileges points they accumulate. If a member is not active within 18 consecutive calendar months, that member will forfeit all accumulated Choice Privileges points. To maintain an active status in the Choice Privileges Rewards Program and retain accumulated Choice Privileges points, you must engage in qualifying activity, such as completing a qualified point-eligible stay, earning points, airline miles or Amtrak Guest Rewards points, redeeming Choice Privileges points, earning points from a purchase using your Choice Privileges Visa® card*, earning points with one of our partner programs, purchasing points, and referring a friend**.
Beginning February 1, 2016, members have until August 1, 2017 at 12:00 a.m. Pacific Time to engage in a qualifying activity before this forfeiture policy is enforced. Any qualifying activity after February 1, 2016 will keep members’ points active for an 18 additional months.
Points vs. Free Night Certificates
My wife and I have been struggling with what to do with our various free night certificates. We have one free SPG night (thanks to the promo I described here) that expires in May. We have an IHG free night from my wife’s credit card that has to be booked by today, and another one that expires a year from now. We had three free Club Carlson nights thanks to complaining to US Bank about their credit card changes. And so on. Free nights are great, but they’re also a problem. They’re a problem because they can expire before you’re ready to use them. That’s why I always prefer points over free nights. With most programs, points do not expire as long as you maintain some level of activity in your account. Choice was an exception to this rule, but now they’ve joined the party!
Sure, points can (and likely will) devalue over time when unused, but at least their value won’t drop to zero (unlike an unused free night certificate). And, points are better for points hoarders, like me. They can be kept around for those moments when they’ll offer outsized value. See: The earn and burn fallacy. Shall we give hoarding and cherry picking a try instead?
One more thing they need to change…
Now that Choice has fixed the expiring points problem, I’m hoping they’ll fix their award booking rules too. Here are the booking rules as found on the Choice website:
- Book up to 30 days in advance for hotels in the U.S. or Canada or 60 days in advance for hotels outside of the U.S. and Canada.
- Reward nights can be booked 50 days in advance for Elite Gold members staying in the U.S. and Canada or 60 days in advance for hotels outside of the U.S. and Canada.
- Reward nights can be booked 75 days in advance for Elite Platinum members and 100 days for Elite Diamond members.
Most hotel chains let you book award nights about a year in advance. Choice gives you only 30 to 60 days, or up to 100 days for top level elite members. That stinks if you like to plan ahead. And, its especially irksome if your goal is to book award nights at a popular hotel during high season. Chances are that paying customers will have filled up the base room options before you can book an award.