We talk about how underrated the Choice Privileges program is so often, it might be time to acknowledge that it’s finally getting its due. In other words, the secret’s out.
But you knew that already if you’re reading this article, because you’re sitting on a pile of Choice points, looking for advice on how to use them.
In this article we lay out everything you need to know about using Choice Privileges points, including how to book rooms, vacation rentals and even cruises. We also provide strategies for working with Choice’s troublesome limitation, which doesn’t allow award bookings more than 100 days out.
Book hotel nights
This is the most common-sense way to use Choice points, and probably the most common as well. Reward nights “start” at 8,000 points apiece, but you’re more likely to find domestic rates in the 12,000-20,000 range.
To search for award availability, select “reward nights” in the “special rate” dropdown:
Choice doesn’t publish an official award chart, meaning the number of points needed to book a specific property varies by time of year (and day of the week). For example, this Comfort Inn in Missoula, Montana, cost 12,000 points for a weekday stay in March:
And 20,000 for a weekend stay in April:
Unfortunately, there’s no way to see a calendar view of award availability to determine which dates have the lowest prices in points. So finding this “baseline” price requires repeated queries on Choice’s clunky search tool.
Once you find the date and price that works for you, click “check availability” and reserve your room just as you would with a cash rate.
Note: Choice won’t let you start this checkout flow unless you already have enough Choice points in your account. Otherwise, you’ll get an error message saying, “You do not have enough points to make this reservation using points. Please choose another rate.”
But that’s not the most frustrating reward limitation …
Dealing with Choice’s 100-day limit
You won’t see this anywhere on their site or marketing materials, but Choice limits reward bookings to within 100 days or less from the time of booking. That is, if you’re looking for availability on the first day of the year (January 1) you won’t see anything available past the 100th day (April 8 or 9).
Is this a serious drawback of Choice’s rewards compared to other programs? Yes. In fact, it was such a limiting factor that we omitted Choice Privileges from our annual point valuations in 2020.
However, remember that many Choice hotels are more likely to be stops on a road trip than destinations in their own right. Keeping their program in mind for last-minute travel (and forgetting about it for long-term plans) is a good way to avoid the frustrations of the 100-day limit.
Pay with points and cash
If you have at least 8,000 points in your Privileges account, you can access the “Points Plus Cash” option, which is just what it sounds like. You’ll pay 8,000 points plus some lower cash price for a room.
We didn’t have that many Choice points in our account, so we couldn’t grab screenshots to show how this works, but it’s very similar to the points-only approach above. Make sure to select “Reward Points” under the Special Rate drop-down. You’ll see the points plus cash option as well as the normal points option.
Is using points plus cash a good idea? That depends. If you’re trying to get rid of your last 8,000 points and don’t expect to earn many Choice points in the future, it’s a good way to knock down the price of a room. Otherwise, these options are rarely the “best” use of any hotel points.
Book vacation rentals
Choice has entered the vacation rental game, along with Marriott and (of course) Airbnb. Impressively, they allow points bookings on their vacation rental properties, though the system works differently from the hotel booking process.
After making a search on Choice’s vacation rental page, you’ll see a toggle button like this:
Switch over to Choice Privileges Points to see the rate instantly change.
You’ll see some wacky points numbers like the ones below, unlike the multiple-of-1,000 numbers for hotel bookings:
It looks like Choice is applying a fixed value of 0.4 cent per point here, and simply converting the cash price into points at this rate.
Is this a good use of Choice points? As mentioned above, we don’t have a formal valuation for Choice points, but 0.4 cent is a pretty lousy rate for most hotel point redemptions.
Book a cruise (or don’t)
Now we’re getting into the “sucker” redemptions that you can almost always skip.
Choice partners with over 20 different cruise lines that can be booked directly with points, but they offer an even worse value than vacation rentals:
85,000 points gets $250 in cruise credit (0.29 cent per point value).
160,000 points gets $500 in cruise credit (0.31 cent per point value).
Given that 160,000 points can also get you a week’s worth of stays at plenty of Choice hotels, it’s hard to see how this could offer better value. Still, sometimes you just have to take that cruise …
Buy gift cards (or don’t)
Like most rewards programs, Choice Privileges lets you convert your points into gift cards. And like most rewards programs, this option doesn’t offer great value.
16,000 points are needed for a $50 gift card, which shakes out to 0.31 cent per point.
Donate your points
We get it, sometimes finding a way to use points is more hassle than it’s worth, and you just want somebody — anybody — to take them off your hands and out of your account.
Choice lets you donate to dozens of charities at a fixed rate of 0.5 cent per point. So a 1,000-point donation provides $5 to the charity of your choice. That’s much better than many of the redemption rates above, and it will probably make you feel a lot better than buying a Cheesecake Factory gift card, to boot.
The bottom line
Choice doesn’t exactly make it easy to use their points. Redemption options can’t be viewed without enough points, points plus cash options don’t appear unless you have at least 8,000 points in your account and (worst of all) hotels can’t be booked more than 100 days out.
That said, Choice Privileges is a budget program at its core, and just as you wouldn’t expect plush robes at a Sleep Inn, you shouldn’t expect many bells and whistles in their reward offerings.
Generally, though, using Choice points for last-minute pit stops is a great way to save some cash on your next cross-country adventure.
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: Find the best hotel credit card for you 6 reasons why the Choice Privileges rewards program might be right for you Earning Choice Privileges points: The complete guide