» This article is being updated.
If you’re a budget-conscious type who’s never paid much attention to all the travel rewards hullabaloo, you’ll want to pay attention.
On the rare occasions you’ve read up on how to earn free travel, all you could see was how expensive all that “free” travel was. After all, you have to spend money to earn points or miles. And because the travel rewards blogosphere seems obsessed with luxury experiences in places you can’t afford to get to anyway, you figured this whole rewards game just isn’t for you.
Well, you may be right. But you may be overlooking a lesser-known program that could let you become a world traveler without abandoning your frugal ways.
Choice Hotels, known for its Comfort Inn and Quality Inn brands, has its own loyalty program: Choice Privileges. It may be just what you need to get in on all those award travel perks everyone’s been talking about without breaking your budget. Here are six reasons why this rewards program might be right for you.
1. Joining is free
If all the talk these days about travel rewards has left you feeling out of the loop, you may have missed this fact: joining most frequent traveler programs, including Choice Privileges, is free.
You earn points redeemable for free nights every time you book through the Choice website and stay with a Choice-branded hotel. When you’re there, hotel staff recognize you as a valued repeat customer and not just some one-timer who booked through Expedia. Loyalty isn’t required. If you find a better price on Expedia and you don’t mind missing out on the Choice points, you can always book that lower rate.
2. Lots of places to earn points
Choice Hotels have more than 7,000 hotel properties in 40 countries. You may recognize some of Choice’s brands: Comfort Inn, Quality Inn, Clarion Hotels, Econo Lodge and Rodeway Inn are among their better-known offerings.
As a member, you earn points every time you and the kids stop for the night at a Rodeway Inn on the way to Grandma’s or every time you go on a business trip where you pay for your own hotel then get reimbursed by your employer. Just be sure to book directly through the Choice website after signing in with your member number.
3. Heavenly places to spend points
If you’ve ignored Choice Privileges because you just don’t care to earn free nights at some budget hotel in the middle of nowhere, you’re operating on a misconception. Choice Hotels include luxury Ascend Collection properties like the oceanfront Kohei Kai Maui and the Hotel Napa Valley, for example.
The main portfolio of Choice Hotel offerings includes lots of dream destinations, too, like Cabo San Lucas (on Mexico's Baja peninsula) and Rome. Your points are also good for stays at partner properties including luxury resorts like Grand Hotel Santa Lucia in Naples, Italy, and the Hotel Miramar Barcelona in Spain.
Prefer a condo for your brood? Choice partners with a wide array of vacation rentals, too.
4. It’s easy to earn bonus points with the Choice Hotels credit card
A lot of travel rewards credit cards pay you a big chunk of bonus points after you charge $3,000, $4,000 or more in qualifying purchases in the first three months. The Choice Privileges® Visa® Card will award you 32,000 Choice Privileges points if you spend just $1,000 in the first three months after opening the account. At an average of $333 per month, that’s less than many families spend at Costco.
» Learn more: Find the best hotel credit card for you
The cheapest redemptions in the Choice Privileges portfolio start at just 8,000 points per night, meaning those bonus points could be worth up to four free nights. Plus, the card earns 15 points per $1 spent on eligible Choice Hotels stays and 2 points per $1 everywhere else. Better yet, the card has no annual fee — meaning as long as you pay off your balance in full every month, you are that much closer to nearly free travel.
5. More ways to save
Choice wants to make membership worth your while. So they offer limited-time promotions that let you save with partners, like a recent deal (now expired) that offered 25% off Amtrak tickets for Choice Privileges members.
» Learn More: Find the best hotel credit card for you
Deals like these come and go, but for members who keep up with the latest offerings, there are deep savings to be had.
6. Points can be redeemed for gift cards or swapped for airline miles
Not sure you’ll want to spend your points on a hotel stay? No problem. You can redeem your Choice Privileges points for gift cards or transfer them to airline miles on United, Alaska or Qantas (though transfer to airlines can greatly diminish the value of your points, so tread carefully). You could even use your Choice points to book a cruise.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:
Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card
Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice: Travel loyalty program reviews Want to know how much your points and miles from these loyalty programs are worth? Earn more points and miles with these 6 strategies