My nightmare booking Preferred Hotels via Choice

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Oh the lengths I’ll go to secure a good deal…  Using Choice Privileges points, it’s possible to book Preferred Hotels & Resorts (some of which are considered to be the best hotels in the world).  With the new ability to double Citi points when converting to Choice, booking Preferred Hotels is a way to get excellent value from your Citi points.  Unfortunately, the booking process is a nightmare.  In the post “Preferred Hotels & Resorts via Choice: Value unlocked. Frustration assured,” I recounted my 3 hour ordeal in booking a single hotel stay.  Now, 3 months later, I had to change the dates of the stay.  Spoiler alert: Along with a second new booking, I got it done, and I’m excited about my upcoming stays, but the process was excruciating.

Cavallo Point Lodge

Cavallo Point Lodge looks amazing.  The property is just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, and downtown Sausalito is just two miles away in the other direction.  Reviews are outstanding.  Through Choice Privileges it’s possible to book a Cavallo Point Lodge “Historic Queen” room for 55,000 points per night.  The cash rate at the time of booking was $601 per night after taxes.  This would have given me decent value if I had started with Choice points (1.09 cents per point), but since I started with half as many Citi points, I got excellent value (2.18 cents per point).

Dolphin Bay Resort

The Dolphin Bay Resort, in Pismo Beach California, is a condo-style all-suite resort.  Each suite includes a kitchen, living & dining room, washer & dryer, etc.  Through Choice Privileges it’s possible to book a “One Bedroom Non-Ocean View” suite for 55,000 points per night.  The cash rate at the time of booking was $483 per night after taxes.  This would have given me average value if I had started with Choice points (0.88 cents per point), but since I started with half as many Citi points, I got good value (1.76 cents per point).  After booking, I called the resort to see if they’d let me pay to upgrade to an ocean view.  Yep.  I’ll pay $100 per night at check-out for the upgrade.

The (Re)-Booking Process

I absolutely dreaded the idea of calling Choice again, but I had a previous booking at Cavallo Point Lodge, and the dates I had booked weren’t going to work.  As our trip to California neared, I finally gave in.  I figured that if I had to do this, I might as well do it big, and so I picked out three additional Preferred Hotels to try to book.  I picked up the phone on a recent Friday afternoon, and I documented my pain in a private Slack channel with the Frequent Miler team…

Friday

I called Choice at 4:59 pm and finally got someone on the phone about 20 minutes later.  She clearly had no idea what I was talking about (few call reps know about the ability to book Preferred Hotels with Choice points), but was determined to pretend otherwise.

5:18 PM Greg via Slack:
On phone with Choice trying to change dates of my Preferred Hotel reservation. We need a plan in case I don’t make it out alive.

When the call rep couldn’t find my reservation in her system (yes, I told her that she had to check a different system for these reservations), she said that I needed to speak with “[garbled words].”  “Can you say that again?” I asked.  “I’m going to transfer you to [more garbled words].”  “Um… OK.”

5:25 PM Greg via Slack:
They shoved me off to Bluegreen vacations. I hope they don’t make me buy a timeshare.

5:28 PM Greg via Slack:
omg… got a call back with “press 1 to speak to a representative” but it won’t listen to the “1”!

5:33 PM Greg via Slack:
I’m apparently in an infinite callback loop. Since the computer couldn’t understand my phone when I pressed 1, it said it would call me back in 5 minutes.

Not surprisingly, when a rep from Bluegreen Vacation Rentals finally connected with me, we didn’t have a very productive call.  They have nothing to do with Preferred Hotels in any way.  I gave up for the day.

Saturday

1:24 PM Greg via Slack:
For better or worse, I’m diving back into Choice calls. Wish me luck.

I waited and waited for a rep to pick up.  When he finally did, he of course had no idea what a Preferred Hotel was or why I’d want to bother him about it.  He confidently told me that I needed to speak with Customer Relations…

1:48 PM Greg via Slack:
Now I’m being transferred to Choice Customer Relations. Seems more likely than BlueGreen Vacation Rentals to be helpful, but we’ll see. I get to listen to hold music for another 25 minutes. Yay!

My hold time was only 15 minutes before I got to speak with another person who didn’t know anything about Preferred Hotels.  I asked to speak with a manager…

2:06 PM Greg via Slack:
Only 15 minutes that time. Asked to be transferred to manager, now on hold again (but no music)

2:09 PM Greg via Slack:
And…. the system hung up. Restarting…

2:13 PM Greg via Slack:
Someone tried to call me, but before I could answer, they hung up. Great.

The transfer to a manager process lead nowhere but to more frustration.  I started over from the beginning with a new call to Choice.  This time, the rep said he knew about Preferred Hotels!

2:24 PM Greg via Slack:
Milton has heard of Preferred Hotels!

2:26 PM Greg via Slack:
And he was able to pull up my reservation! Please, please don’t disconnect!

2:34 PM Greg via Slack:
OK, before he put me on hold again I made him write down my phone number.

2:34 PM Greg via Slack:
Last time, the supervisor had to reboot his computer to get the Preferred Hotels system to work. I gave Milton that tip just in case.

Even with a rep who knows about Preferred Hotels, the process is painstakingly slow.  First, the rep has to go into a separate system, then they have to enter a bunch of info about the desired stay, then they have to transfer you to a specialist to make it actually happen (I kid you not).  At this point, I realized that it was crazy to plan four different Preferred Hotel stays. What if I had to make a change to one again?  I decided just to change the Cavallo Point reservation and book one more (Dolphin Bay Resort)…

2:46 PM Greg via Slack:
This might actually happen. Milton is transferring me to a specialist now to complete the transaction. If all goes well, I’ll have changed my existing reservation and booked a new one at another hotel. I was originally eyeing a couple more, but my heart can’t take it.

13 minutes later…

2:59 PM Greg via Slack:
Specialist is now on the phone. His name is Chris

3:03 PM Greg via Slack:
They had to cancel the original reservation and book a new one. Each step is painstakingly slow. He’s putting the points back in my account now (I think he’s manually moving the points one by one) in preparation for booking the new reservation.

It took Chris nearly 20 minutes just to cancel the old reservation and to restore my points…

3:20 PM Greg via Slack:
Chris is now trying to book the new dates. This is taking forever.  I think he had to walk to the hotel and discuss this with them directly.

Chris started to give me the confirmation number for the new booking at Cavallo Point lodge, but then he said “Uh oh…”

3:32 PM Greg via Slack:
And… just when Chris thought he was done with the first reservation he got an error message. Now he’s going to work on it and call me back.

I was really scared about getting off the phone with Chris.  Would he really call me back?  Did he have the right phone number?  I made him recite my number back to me before I’d let him go.  Fortunately he did call me back about half an hour later…

4:13 PM Greg via Slack:
Finally done with reservation #1! Started calling at 1:20pm ET and complete by 4:10pm ET. Less than 3 hours!

4:14 PM Greg via Slack:
Let’s see how long reservation #2 takes…

4:21 PM Greg via Slack:
What a great way to spend a weekend!

Next, we started the process of booking the Dolphin Bay Resort.  While it was still terribly slow, the only hiccup this time was with trying to transfer points from Citibank.  Citi was trying to confirm my identity by texting a code, but the texts I received didn’t include a code!  Finally, I chose to get a phone call instead of a text and that did the trick.

4:36 PM Greg via Slack:
Done! Second reservation complete in about 20 minutes!

Would I do it again?

This is crazy.  Why would I ever put myself through this pain to book (or re-book) a hotel?  Here’s the thing… I have hundreds of thousands of Citi ThankYou points that I rarely use.  Now, through Choice, there’s finally a great use of Citi points towards hotel stays.  I’d far rather use the points to book desirable Choice properties since that can be done easily and online, but… there are relatively few desirable Choice properties and many amazing looking Preferred Hotels that I want to try.

So, yes, unless things go horribly wrong with my upcoming stays, I probably will do this again.  I think I’ve learned the trick.  Next time, I’ll keep calling and hanging up until I get Milton back on the phone… or someone like Milton who knows what he/she is doing.  Yes, it will still be painful, but it’s all part of the game

If you’re interested in using your Citi points towards great value with Choice, I recommend checking out these posts as well:

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stvr

Looks like a few good properties have been pulled from this program… Ojai and Pismo Beach come to mind. How many people could have possibly booked Pismo Beach with Choice points before it was pulled? Did you do something naughty during your stay? Did you steal a bathrobe? (sarcasm)

slaven

@Greg “….I have hundreds of thousands of Citi ThankYou points that I rarely use.” Am jealous and need some ideas.

Trying to earn citi TY but is a slog as they have so few big SUB. Even their premier card is a 1 shot deal – they rejected me 2 yrs later when reapplying. i also have their double cash & rewards+ cards, but usually get better bonus offers when spending on other cards.

RickT

Hey Greg, this was a great post. I just booked several nights with a Preferred hotel in Asia. I followed your great instructions (in prior post) to say NO to a new reservation, to immediately ask the rep if she knew how to book a Preferred hotel (yes she did) and we were off to the races! The whole process took about 15 minutes and she apologized several times throughout the conversation because of delays. I asked if she had an extension or special number to call to reach her and she said unfortunately, no, but that there are now “many” people in the department who are aware of how this program works. I will follow up with the hotel in a week to make sure they actually got my reservation. Thanks again!

RickT

I was prepared to sit on hold on and off for hours while I was working but I’m grateful for the good luck! Also, the hotel I booked will apply my status benefits which makes a fantastic value even better!!

Samantha

If you have status with Preferred Hotels/I Prefer, do those benefits apply when you book a stay using Choice points? Thanks

Rekha

Half moon jamaica no avillability for 2022.really???

[…] It’s not easy booking Preferred Hotels (i.e. nice properties) using Choice points though it can be good value if you persevere. […]

JoeSchmo

Greg – curious. Did the Preferred website indicate that rooms were available? I’ve seen hotels that I’m interested in, but everyday has an X indicating that it’s not available.

MRS

I’ve seen that a decent amount of the 55k level properties that do not have any availability. The process to simply view properties and their availability is less than ideal, and this booking process seems even worse. Not looking forward to the day I need to go through it.

Oh well, the things we do for max value!

PS – Greg I will trade you any point or mile currency for Citi! I’m crushing it with Citi/C1 -> Wyndham ->Vacasa value.

Wes

It may not relevant but I transferred the Choice Points to United on 8/31/2021. The transfer still on PENDING……WTF

HoKo

Hey Greg, I think it would have been wise for you to ask what is the exact team name/department that Chris belongs to (and any other informal names that the team may use internally).

Then in the future you can tell the front line agent who answers your call that you have booked many of these types of reservations before and they need to transfer you to the “XYZ Team” for further assistance.

That would probably greatly increase your odds of success, instead of having to rely on random chance/HUCA.

HoKo

Sounds good. I’d also ask that specialist team if they have a direct phone number and/or specific extension they can give you.

I find a lot of times these specialist/escalation teams do not have direct numbers…but it certainly doesn’t hurt to ask.

Reno Joe

Greg, you LOST value. How much is your time worth? How much is your peace of mind worth? What were the frustration’s physical effects on your body . . . and your personal interactions with family and friends on those days? We’ve all done it. And, the type of experience is always going to be there — a nuanced application will always be beyond the average system operator. For me, it’s no longer worth it.

Brands

This is also Greg’s job, and this information adds value to this website. Hopefully we can learn through his frustrations to help make the process easier for everyone else.

Cavedweller

Correct that’s FM job. My points hotels are making out because now I’m paying because I liked them ..
As in No hassle but the good times will come back .

Reno Joe

I understand and appreciate what you say. My comments are not a criticism of Greg but an acknowledgement of a messed up system that will never change.

My sense is that 1) the system is not going to change — it will remain messed up — reps will remain clueless and 2) skilled users like Greg will still have an uphill battle while average users will get nowhere.

Reno Joe

PS Look at Mac’s response immediately below.

Mac

This matches verbatim my experiences booking these. Except for the cancellation/redeposit part – you are insane to even attempt that. Now just wait until you check in and the night clerk has no idea you are staying on a points stay and demands payment for the room (has happened to me – got sorted the following day by the manager). In the end though as you said….still worth it.

Reno Joe

Different scenario completely but this sounds like Amex’s “held table at select restaurants” for Centurion and Platinum card holders. If you ask a “select” restaurant’s reception about the “held table,” they will offer a puzzled look and say they don’t know what you’re talking about.

LarryInNYC

Think of it this way — instead of two weekends stays, you got to spend three weekends with Choice Hotels! Extra value!

Pam

omgosh I have anxiety just reading this!! Kudos to you for your willpower!! Oye – so painful… I too have Citi TY points that just sit there – but, I am gonna wait this out to see how your trip goes first!

Cavedweller

Pam
U going to ur Timeshare this winter or not worth the trouble ? I brought a beer there on a boardwalk trip west then took the shuttle back to my hotel.Going to Waikiki next week let’s hope nicer this trip then October..

Pam

wrong Pam – no timeshare here! lol

Cavedweller

OOP’s I was thinking u had one on Maui by my hotel..LOL

chris

WOW that is so unreal, I have a pile of citi points but your experience makes me think I should do something else with them, heck even cashing out for Gift Cards for stuff my kids need seems so much better then the hours spent on that. Thanks for the heads up of how difficult it can be to book.

Reno Joe

Chris, before you pull the trigger perhaps wait. Citi and AA are about to renew their credit card contract. (Note that the Barclays AA business card is on hold right now.) AA is pushing hard for Citi to allow TY points to be transferable to AA points. Citi doesn’t want to because it costs Citi for the privilege. But, there’s a chance that Citi will. Maybe AA is attractive to you and maybe it’s not. If it is, you’d receive far more value with AA points than cashing out. Hope this helps.

KC_Queso

I am literally the only person in my family that can even begin to handle that kind of stress/time commitment. No one else would even bother. Thanks for sharing the painful process so those who play can brace ourselves!

Reno Joe

KC Queso, you prove my point.

Lew

You have convinced me not to do this!! If you have so many thank you points, I would just book through thank you travel for 1.25. If you have the prestige card, fourth night free too. The game can be just too frustrating sometimes with out asking for it. I do appreciate though that you may do some of this for your reader’s benefit.

Brant

A word to the wise. Be sure to call the Preferred Hotels hotel directly before your stay to insure they actually have your Choice Privileges points reservation in file. You should ask them that question directly and clearly and get the name of the person who gave you the information. Otherwise, you could arrive to a nasty surprise, where they certainly have a reservation for you, but they know nothing about Choice. If you think working the phone for 2-3 hours from the comfort of home is brutal, wait until you have to do it from the lobby of a Preferred Hotel, wondering if your credit card will be charged the rack rate!

Brant

Preferred Hotels and Nordic Choice Hotels make the Choice Privileges program an extremely valuable ally in the travel hacking game. The fact that these brands can be very difficult to deal with means that if you are patient, you can always get oversized value from your points. 2¢ to 5¢ per Choice Privileges point is a fantastic return, but diligence and experience is often necessary to achieve the payoff. Think of it this way though. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it and they’d devalue these programs.

Brands

Great point, Brant. That is why I am sort of thankful for Turkish Airlines, though I wish they were just a little bit easier to work with.

Amy

I loved the Clarion near Copenhagen airport. Such great included breakfast and redemption value, not to mention the ease of redemption.

Travelbloggerbuzz

With so many points and other choices (pun intended)…I ain’t got time for Dat with these Choice points, life is too short for such pain imho.

Cavedweller

Takes the Fun out of Travel remember the Fun times ? I’m paying cash till this hassle stops with the hotels Click,Click Booked or canceled.I got a Singapore points (30k) flt. to HNL . I’ll just let go unused because u can’t get a call in. Lot’s of United points and that’s HASSLE FREE !!

Reno Joe

You prove my point as well. Thanks for sharing.

It is almost like these jokers (the hotels) sit around thinking about how to create some benefit that sounds great but simply can’t be realized by the average person. Uh, kind of like the elite breakfast benefit at some brands.

Cavedweller

Most can’t do any of this nor do they want to.The hotels should be spending time getting people in the hotel at break even if need be.Been on 3 trips in 4 months the hotels are 50% full at best.One gave me a bag breakfast instead of a hot one but u could pay for a hot one ? If u have people in a nice hotel they will spend money there.Once the nite is gone they lose the profit forever.LOL

BILL

Not sure where you’re traveling, but if it’s been in the US, domestic hotels have been doing much better than 50% at best.

Cavedweller

Waikiki in Oct. Vegas in Nov. and South Beach in Dec..Waikiki next week, tip the front desk or maids as I do and u will find out what’s true.When u see no one u ask and don’t believe the BS the hotel puts out they control the PR.. ALOHA