Choice Privileges is a weird loyalty program

On Monday I wrote for the first time about Choice Privileges, the loyalty program of Choice Hotels International. They have a seemingly generous rewards program, with their Barclaycard-issued Choice Privileges Visa Signature card earning 2 Choice Privileges points per dollar spent everywhere, and reward nights starting at just 6,000 points, but the program is weird enough to explore in depth before diving in.

Choice Privileges does not have an award chart

The range of points required for redemptions at Choice Privileges hotels is located nowhere on the Choice Privileges website.

But the points required for an award night at any given hotel is not a secret! Anyone can search for Choice Privileges hotels in a given city and select "Choice Privileges Reward Night" as the rate type. You'll see all the Choice properties in the city and their points cost (if rooms are available).

Choice Privileges reward nights cannot be booked far in advance

Choice Privileges includes in their "Rules and Regulations" the following restriction:

"Members who have not yet achieved Elite Status must make their free night reservation personally through the Program Line or through their online account no more than 30 days prior to planned arrival for stays in their country of residence. Sixty days prior to their planned arrival at all other locations worldwide."

Needless to say, this is not how most hotel loyalty programs work.

Co-branded credit cardholders do get to book nights 50 days in advance, which may allow them to steal a march on non-elite, non-cardholders.

Choice Privileges has hotels everywhere

It is genuinely weird looking at how many properties this chain I've never had any interest in has all over the world. Use Award Mapper to check out cities you're interested in and marvel at all the little orange dots.

Choice's "no blackout date" policy is meaningless

Many hotel chains have poorly-enforced or disingenuous "no blackout date" policies. Here is Choice's (although from context it apparently only applies to "Points Plus Cash" reservations):

"There are no blackout dates.  Restrictions, taxes and fees apply.  There are over 1,500 Choice hotels with reward nights available at 8,000 points or less.  Reward night locations worldwide are available from 6,000 to 35,000 points (excluding Australasia, where reward nights are available up to 75,000 points)."

There's no enforcement mechanism. There's no explanation. There's no guarantee at all. And indeed, it can be pretty tough to find award availability at some properties, especially within 30 days.

Choice Privileges could be the best loyalty program for many travelers

I don't have the same focus on luxury travel many bloggers — and, to be honest, many of my readers — do. But I also don't have the attitude of those who say "I don't care about my hotel — it's just somewhere to sleep." I care about my hotels a lot because I spend a lot of time in them! Hotels are fun! And after spending a week researching Choice properties around the world, I don't think Choice hotels are for me.

But if you're looking for a single loyalty program that will have properties virtually everywhere you go, and a credit card that doesn't require you to navigate bonus categories, you could do a lot worse than Choice Privileges and its co-branded Barclaycard-issued Visa Signature card. Here's the imputed redemption value table I posted on Monday:

Those imputed redemption values are low, and they're especially low in the context of where properties fall within the Choice Privileges category distribution. Here are some downtown properties in Sydney, Australia, according to Award Mapper:

The 16,000 point Econo Lodge (actually the Hotel Harry, an Ascend Hotel Collection member — I believe Award Mapper's Choice Privileges database is out-of-date) wins with a $178 IRV, compared to the Hilton's $222-$259 (depending on season) IRV, the Park Hyatt's $666 IRV (or $300 in Ultimate Rewards points), and the Radisson's $222 IRV.

It's easy to find cheaper hotels in Sydney in July (it's winter down there), but in the Southern summer paying $178 for what seems like a perfectly nice downtown hotel will seem like a steal — if you can find award availability at that rate!