What are Choice points worth? And, should we buy points?

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As I write this, the Choice Privileges credit card is out with a unique welcome bonus: Earn up to 75,000 bonus points after $2K spend plus earn an extra 2 points per dollar for all spend this year.  Since the card usually earns 2 points per dollar for base spend, this means earning 4X everywhere for the rest of this year.  Thanks to this offer, many may be wondering what Choice points are worth?  And, should we put all of our spend on this card this year?  In order to try to answer those questions, I analyzed Choice point values…

Even within the U.S., Choice hotels aren’t limited to budget hotels. Shown here is the Peacock Inn.  A couple of years ago, I got great value from my Choice points when staying here.  See my review: The Peacock Inn: A charming inn and great point value in Princeton, NJ.

For years, our Reasonable Redemption Value (RRV) for Choice points was 0.81 cents per point.  This was based on data collected in 2017 by a website called Hotel Hustle (no longer available).  And so, with data over 3 years old, it was far past time to come up with a new RRV.

In order to determine the value of Choice points, I collected real-world cash prices and point prices.  As I’ve done previously in analyses of other hotel loyalty programs, I examined 7 major hotel markets in the U.S. (Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, and Seattle).  Within each market, I used the Choice hotel website to find qualifying hotels and sorted results by Guest Rating, with the highest rated hotels on top. For each of the top 3 hotels in each market, I recorded both cash and award prices for three dates each: a weekday, a weekend, and a holiday weekend.

  • Why U.S. only? U.S. consumers are known to spend most of their points and miles on domestic travel.  Since the majority of this blog’s audience resides in the U.S. we opted for a U.S. centric view of point values.  Choice Privileges is known to have especially good value in some locations outside of the U.S., so this analysis undervalues Choice points for those who plan to use points internationally.
  • Why Top 3 by Guest Rating? The goal wasn’t to find the 3 best Choice hotels in each market. Instead, the goal was to find the 3 Choice bookable hotels that are popular. Since many people use guest ratings to pick hotels, this seems like a good way to identify those hotels.
  • Which paid rates were selected?  I always picked the best refundable paid rate shown on Choice’s website, but without applying any discounts like AAA, military, government, etc.
  • What about point earnings on paid rates? An ideal analysis may include the value of point earnings on paid rates.  For simplicity, this was not considered in this analysis.  This decision has the effect of over-valuing Choice points.
  • What about taxes and fees? For simplicity, taxes, resort fees, and other fees are not included in this analysis.  This decision has the effect of under-valuing Choice points.
  • Which specific dates did I use?  In recent similar analyses of other hotel chains, I looked at dates in September and October.  With Choice, though, you can only book with points 100 days in advance.  This meant that I couldn’t book anything later than mid August.  So, I chose different dates for this analysis:
    • Weekday: Wednesday June 9th
    • Weekend Day: Friday June 18th
    • Holiday Weekend Day: Friday July 2nd.  If that date wasn’t available for both points and cash, the plan was to look next at Saturday July 3rd, and if that wasn’t available I would look at Friday May 28th (Memorial Day weekend).  This only happened two times: With one property I used July 3rd and one May 28th.

Results

May 8th 2021 Analysis
Point Value (Median) 0.68 cents
Point Value (Mean) 0.69 cents
Cash Price (Median) $133
Cash Price (Mean) $141
Point Price (Median) 25,000
Point Price (Mean) 21,857

The median observed point value was 0.68 cents per point.  This means that half of the observed results offered equal or better point value and half offered equal or worse value.  Another way to think about it is that without trying to cherry pick good awards, you have a 50/50 chance of getting 0.68 cents or better value from your Choice points when booking free night awards.

Buying Points for 0.8 Cents Each

Choice offers Points + Cash rates which make it possible to indirectly buy Choice points for 0.80 cents each.  For example, as shown above, a hotel may cost either 12,000 points for a free night or 6,000 points plus $48.  If you book the latter and then cancel, Choice keeps your $48 and you get back 12,000 points.  The result is that you would have indirectly bought 6,000 points for $48.  That works out to buying points for 0.80 cents each ($48 / 6000).

Is buying Choice points for 0.80 cents each a good deal?

If you have a specific award in mind where points are worth more than 0.8 cents each, then it makes sense to buy points for that award.  The question I wanted to address here was whether it makes sense to buy Choice points prospectively just to have enough around for whatever you need.  The answer seems to be no.

Value when buying points at 0.8 cents each Percent
Good Value: Percent greater than 0.90 cents per point 17%
OK Value: Percent greater than 0.80 cents per point 25%
Not Tragic Value: Percent greater than 0.70 cents per point 47%

In the table above, I showed the percentage of observations where the observed awards offered good value, OK value, and not-tragic value (you won’t have lost much) if you had purchased points at 0.8 cents each.  I defined good value as anytime the award offered better than 0.9 cents per point value.  I defined OK value as anytime the award offered better than 0.8 cents per point value.  And I defined not-tragic value as anytime the award offered better than 0.7 cents per point value.

As you can see above, you actually have a pretty good chance (47%) of at least not losing much by buying points at 0.8 cents each.  And if you target your use of points towards situations where good value is available, it shouldn’t be too hard to find good value.

My conclusion here is that I don’t recommend buying points for 0.8 cents each without any plan for how to use the points.  However, if you have experience with using Choice points and you’re confident that you can find opportunities to get more than 0.8 cents per point value, it’s not a terrible idea to buy points prospectively.  If you pay with a card that earns extra points on hotel stays (or offers a travel rebate for hotel spend), it might even be a good idea.

New Reasonable Redemption Value

Our Reasonable Redemption Value (RRV) for Choice points was previously set to 0.81 cents per point.  RRV’s are intended to be the point at which it is reasonable to get that much value or better for your points.  Therefore, I believe that the median observed value is a good choice for our RRV…

Reasonable Redemption Value for Choice: 0.68 cents per point

Hotel RRV methodology

A number of people have argued that I should include taxes in the hotel rates used for analyses like this one because leaving out taxes means undervaluing points (since free night awards do not incur most taxes).  However, there are many factors besides taxes that are equally important and also, for the sake of simplicity, are not included in my analyses.  My hope is that these factors roughly balance each other out…

Factors that cause us to undervalue points

  • We do not include hotel taxes in our analyses.  Most taxes are charged on paid stays but not award stays.
  • With hotel programs that waive resort fees on award stays (Hilton and Hyatt), we do not include resort fees in our analyses.
  • With hotel programs that offer 4th Night Free Awards (IHG, with some credit cards), or 5th Night Free Awards (Hilton & Marriott), we do not consider the point savings in our analyses.
  • With hotel programs that offer free parking on award stays to top-tier elites (Hyatt), we do not factor this in.

Factors that cause us to overvalue points

  • We do not use discount rates (other than member rates) in our analyses.  In real-life, many people book hotels cheaper (and sometimes far cheaper) by using AAA rates, government & military rates, senior rates, etc.
  • We do not use hotel promotional rates.  Often, individual hotels have deals such as “Stay 2 Nights, Get 1 Night Free” which can greatly reduce the cost of a stay.
  • We do not use prepaid rates in our analyses.  Sometimes these rates are significantly lower than refundable rates.
  • We do not factor in rebates which can be earned from booking hotels through shopping portals.
  • We do not factor in points earned from paid stays.  These points can be thought of as a rebate on paid stays only.
  • We do not factor in extra points earned on paid stays for those with elite status.
  • We do not factor in hotel loyalty program promotions: Most promotions, but not all, only offer incentives for paid stays.  We often see promos offering bonus points, double or triple points, free night awards, etc.

Given the factors listed above, I think that including taxes in our analyses would lead us to over-value points.

Conclusion

Based on the latest analysis, I’ve dropped our Choice RRV to 0.68 cents per point.  The idea is that you have equal chance of getting that much value or more from your award stays.

Additionally, my usual recommendation against buying points without a plan for using them stands: The chance of randomly getting much better than 0.8 cents per point value from Choice points is low (17%).  That said, for those who cherry-pick the best awards, I think that 17% actually offers quite a bit of opportunity.  So, if you’re a Choice Privileges fan and know how to find good value, prospectively buying points isn’t a terrible idea (but even then, I’d recommend waiting until you need the points to buy them).

And what about that credit card?  If you use the new RRV, earning 4 points per dollar this year is like getting 0.68 x 4 = 2.72% return for your spend.  That’s good, but not good enough for me to suggest running out to get this card.  However, if you decide that buying points for 0.80 cents each is a good idea for you (see above), then you can estimate your value as: 0.80 x 4 = 3.2% return for your spend.  That’s better!  Either way, the card also offers 8,000 bonus points after $10K annual spend.  So, your first $8K of spend, after the $2K for the welcome bonus, gets the equivalent of 5X rewards.  0.80 x 5 = 4% return using the 0.80 value or 0.68 x 5 = 3.5% return on spend.  Either way, that’s an excellent return on spend.  I’d look at it this way: if you sign up for the card now, you obviously want to spend $2K in order to earn the 75K bonus.  Then, you most likely would want to spend $8K more before the end of the year in order to earn 4X plus the 8K annual spend bonus.  After that, if you have more spend to do this year while the card earns 4X rewards, this card may offer better value than your other cards for un-bonused spend, but not necessarily.  There are other cards that offer rewards in the 2.5% to 3% range for all spend.  See this post for more: Best cards for everyday spend.

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