Last year was my first time buying points to redeem for hotel stays. I had previously purchased small amounts of points for a seldom used loyalty account to prevent the balance from expiring due to inactivity. This was the first time buying a rather large amount. It goes against my general mindset when it comes to points – their accumulation should be a result of regular spending, a good promotion or an incentive to sign up for a credit card. It turned out to be the right move and saved us money. On May 15th this opportunity will appear again.
Many loyalty programs have promos to buy points at a discount and bloggers typically advise collectors not to buy speculatively. You should have a specific redemption in mind where you know the value you get will exceed the price you paid for the points while factoring in the points you would have earned from a paid stay. This is good advice.
We had a trip idea in mind involving cities with Choice hotels that typically have good point rates in late September and October. Eventually we booked a trip to Dresden and Prague and saved a lot of money by redeeming the purchased Choice points. The rooms we booked ranged from 10,000 to 12,000 points per night when the best available cancellable rates at the time were over $200 per night.
First, a little background on Choice Privileges. It’s the loyalty program associated with Choice Hotels. Member brands include Quality Inn, Comfort Inn, Clarion, Cambria, Econolodge, Rodeway Inn, Sleep Inn etc. The Ascend Collection is also part of Choice Hotels. These are properties one might not immediately recognize as part of a chain such as Inn on the Lake outside Halifax.
Point rates at most Choice Hotels are seasonal so they change depending on the time of year. They can also vary from weekday to weekend as well. The big drawback for using Choice points is the inability to book with points more than 100 days in advance. There is also no point rate calendar available beyond a few months into the future. Right now, it shows rates till September 15th. That’s annoying. To see current and near future point rates while on the Choice Hotels website, click on the name of the hotel and scroll down the page. They should be displayed immediately below the driving directions to the hotel.
Choice Privileges occasionally sells points at a discount of 30% off or with a bonus of 40%. The most recent one was a 50% bonus if you bought at least 30,000 points. Note that Canadian residents must pay HST and most credit cards charge a 2.5% foreign exchange fee to convert from US dollars.
However, if you’re in the market for Choice points then next Wednesday, May 15th is the date to remember. That’s when the US Travel Assoc. Daily Getaways sale will happen. It’s an organization that sells various travel points and packages once a year. This round began May 6th and it’s the third year it will be open to Canadians. In 2017 I was at the gate in an airport waiting for a flight when the sale went live. The points packages were gone in an instant. But last year I was able to buy 42,000 points for $205 USD. Luckily, there was a decent amount of time to buy points and the website worked fine for me. Still, you have to be at your computer ready to go and watch the clock count down to the points buying bonanza.
This year the following are available with a limit of 2 for each package option, per person, priced in USD:
14,000 – $80
28,000 – $144
42,000 – $205
55,000 – $265
Note that Choice Privileges normally limits your annual purchased points to 50,000 but these ones are not included in that total. It’s the same with the percentage bonuses offered occasionally through the year.
The Sweet Spots
Great opportunities for hotel savings using Choice points exist in various places but especially in Europe. Point rates are currently quite low in some cities but many will take a big jump July 1st. They typically go down again after September 15th. However, Choice hotels in Scandinavia tend not to be subject to seasonal rate changes which is great because summer is a good time to visit those countries.
Here are a few examples comparing the points rate on a sample date with a cash rate in CAD before tax that includes free cancellation. This is not an exhaustive list but a few that I have come across while searching. Most are in June when point rates are lower but there are a few in July as well.
Quality Inn & Suites Garden of the Gulf
St. John’s, NL
Quality Inn Harbourview
Belfast, N. Ireland
Ten Square Hotel
The House Hotel
Quality Hotel Star Inn Premium
V8 Hotel Koln @ Motorworld
Prague, Czech Republic
Clarion Prague City Hotel
Comfort Hotel Gardenia Sorrento Coast
Clarion Hotel Sign
Many hotel loyalty programs limit point bookings to the lowest priced rooms. With Choice you might get lucky and be able to book an upgraded room or suite on points. The big problem with the website is that one cannot see which room types are available on points if you don’t have enough points in your account to make the booking. Therefore, if you need a certain room type, buying points is a bit riskier since you can’t see in advance what rooms are typically available. If you know someone with a sufficient balance in their account you can ask them to check for you. If you know a US resident with a Choice account and a balance of at least 6000 points they can also check as they have access to a points + cash feature that sadly we Canadians do not.
Choice Hotels has a handy feature on their sitemap that allows one to see what hotels exist in a province or country. Unfortunately, it may not be up to date. Still, it’s better than nothing. As I mentioned above, when you click on the link for a specific hotel you can scroll down the page to see the point rates for the coming period.
If your travels will happen beyond September 15th there is no way to know for sure what the point rates will be. Loyalty programs are always devaluing their points. That’s why it’s usually not a good idea to hoard large amounts of them. However, in this situation I think buying speculatively can be a wise decision if you have a number of ideas of how you might use them. Flexibility is always good if you’re using points or miles. If you decide you cannot use the points yourself be advised that the Choice Privileges terms and conditions address redeeming points for others and they are restricted to certain family members.
If this sounds appealing then take some time to do the math to see what you might be able to save on a future trip. If you want to purchase points then be at your computer right at 2 PM Atlantic and be sure to have your Choice Privileges membership number ready. My family members and I are still contemplating how many points we will try to buy this time around. Good luck to anyone who will be giving it a shot.