Buying hotel points — is it ever a good idea? Overall, speculative hotel point purchases seldom make sense due to various unpredictable factors (i.e., potential point devaluations in the future or difficulty redeeming on your desired dates).
However, if you have a specific redemption in mind that makes sense from a cents-per-point (CPP) perspective, then a points purchase could be advantageous. For my upcoming two-night stay in London in late September, I decided to take advantage of a Choice Privileges 30% off sale to purchase 20,000 points.
Given that this will be such a short trip, I decided on a few non-negotiables when looking for accomodations:
- Location must be convenient to Kings Cross, because I am taking the Eurostar to my next destination.
- Ideal price under $80/night including fees.
- Prefer a property near Paddington Station, since I like to take the Heathrow Express from the airport (only 15 minutes to central London vs. over an hour on the Tube).
Accommodation search process
I decided to consider hostels, Airbnbs and hotels. A quick search of hostels revealed that many rooms didn’t have air conditioning or windows that opened. This is one of my frustrations with traveling in Europe — air conditioning isn’t always guaranteed. No air conditioning and no ability to open windows was a no-go for me.
At first glance, I found a few Airbnbs that were reasonable. However, in some cases the additional cleaning and service fees were more than the price of a night. This took Airbnb out of the running for such a short stay. (Airbnbs can be great for longer-term stays, because the fees aren’t as impactful in relation to the total price.)
Hotels were also pretty pricey in the prime areas I was looking at ($100+ per night). Although I could have opted to stay in a less central area, for this short stay convenience was paramount. Plus, if I stayed farther away, I’d likely spend any savings on transportation.
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I scanned all my available points balances (Hilton, Marriott and IHG) but didn’t find any reasonable redemptions. For example, several Hilton properties in central London priced out at 50,000 points per night. I could have considered this option, but I have something against “wasting” a lot of hotel points on stay when I won’t be spending a lot of time in the room. I like saving hotel points for aspirational redemptions, like a five-night stay in a new city or a one-night stay in a luxurious destination. This visit to London (where I’ve been more than 10 times) did not fit the bill.
While trying to figure out my next move, a friend mentioned that he stayed at a Choice Hotel in London and only spent 10,000 points per night. Although I was familiar with the program, I’d never considered using Choice points. Choice is a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express, but I am always wary of transferring these points to hotels — generally, I deem Membership Rewards points much more valuable than hotel points.
However, with Choice Hotels running a 30% sale on points purchases at the time, I was intrigued. I did a quick search on the Choice Hotels website, and found the Comfort Inn Hyde Park available for 10,000 points per night for the dates I needed. The hotel is conveniently located near Paddington while being a 25-minute Tube ride from Kings Cross and offering free breakfast. (The latter is a huge perk given that breakfast in London can cost more than $12 a day.)
Comparatively, the cheapest nightly cash rate at the hotel was $159 for a double bed ($318 for the entire stay) or $171 for a queen bed ($342 for the entire stay).
Although the price of a queen and double differed for a cash reservation, both room types cost the same at 10,000 points. This illustrates how there’s not always a direct correlation between the room type and the points required. In this instance, having hotel points as a currency was extremely useful.
A quick calculation to determine the CPP demonstrates that using points for this redemption results in value of at least 1.6 cents for each point spent.
With that said, the 30% off points sale couldn’t have come at a better time. Taking advantage of this promotion meant it would only cost me $154 to purchase the 20,000 points needed for my entire two-night stay.
With the 30% discount, I purchased these points for .77 cents each, but redeemed them for at least 1.6 cents a piece — more than double. Given that NerdWallet values Choice Hotel points at 0.7 cents each, this purchase and subsequent redemption is an excellent value.
Choice Hotels has previously sold points for up to a 56% discount, so although this 30% discount isn’t the highest we’ve seen, it’s still a respectable promotion.
After I input my credit card details into the purchase page and hit submit, the purchase was annoyingly blocked by my credit card as a fraud alert. I tried three times, and finally on the third try (after confirming this was a valid charge via an automatic email sent by my card issuer) the transaction was successful. Shortly thereafter, I received an email confirmation.
Two details worth noting:
- The transaction was administered by Points.com (Points International) and would take up to 24 hours to post. This comment was not in the confirmation email, but was stated on the purchase page.
- The charge showed up as “Points Choice Rewardpoints.com” on my statement and as such would not code as spending in the travel bonus category on my credit card.
In addition to not coding as travel, another drawback of points purchases can be a delay in posting. Unlike direct transfers from Chase or AMEX (which are usually instantaneous), point purchases can take time. This always makes me nervous, because award availability is not guaranteed until the room is booked.
As soon as I purchased these points, I called Choice customer service and explained the situation. The representative suggested I book a refundable hotel stay for the dates I needed to guarantee the room. She instructed me to call back once the points posted to my account so the booking could be converted from cash to a points reservation.
I called customer service when about three days had passed and the points still weren’t in my account. After some back and forth between Choice Hotels and Points.com, the points finally posted, and I was able to finalize my stay.
Interestingly enough, I couldn’t modify the reservation like the representative claimed. I simply booked a new reservation using my points and cancelled my existing cash reservation. I was lucky to have made this plan — when I booked my award stay, the system was showing only two rooms remained for booking with points.
About Choice Hotels
Choice Hotels is a large hotel franchise group with over 7,000 properties in 40 countries, ranging from economy to upscale. Here are the hotel brands in Choice’s portfolio:
Choice Privileges is the company’s loyalty program, which includes four elite tiers: Member, Gold, Platinum and Diamond.
If you want to earn Choice points with a co-branded credit card, you only have one option: The Choice Privileges® Visa® Card, which is available through Barclays.
Although I experienced some frustration while waiting for my points to post, overall I am happy with my purchase. I’m excited to try a new hotel property and glad that a two-night hotel stay in a prime London location (with breakfast!) only cost me 20,000 points, or $154.
As always, the miles and points hobby is more of an art than a science, and we usually don’t advise purchasing points without a specific redemption in mind. However, since I had a use for these points immediately that more than doubled their value, it made a lot of sense for me.
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