My husband travels to New York quite often for work and since we live in Boston, taking the Acela is by far the easiest method for him to get to and from the city. Over the years he has actually racked up quite a big Amtrak Rewards balance. I’ve used some of the points on a few different occasions for my daughter and I to take some mommy/daughter trips into NYC, but for the most part, the points have just been sitting there with a no real redemption need in mind. And in my opinion, the only reason to travel for work is to earn points and miles that my family can then use for free travel!
I always knew Amtrak had some transfer partners, but I never really looked into it much. The problem is that you must have Amtrak status to be able to transfer your points OUT of your account. Fortunately my husband was able to snag status last year, but it doesn’t look like he will maintain this status again this year. His client lists have changed and instead of trips to NYC he might be flying elsewhere across the country. No complaint to me as he will now be earning more JetBlue points and I prefer JetBlue Mosaic status anyways, but I will now need to actually decide what to do with his points before his Amtrak status runs up. While we can always use the points to take Amtrak, if I want to transfer them to a partner program, I will have to do it this year.
Amtrak Transfers to 3 Partner Programs
As long as you have Amtrak status, you can transfer your points into three different partner programs—Audience Rewards, Choice Privileges, and Hilton Honors. I am not really interested in earning “ShowPoints” and the Hilton transfer ratio isn’t too favorable since it costs a ton of Hilton points to redeem for a free night award.
The third transfer partner is Choice Privileges. I’ve always written them off as I typically do not stay at Choice properties. But that is about to change! I just learned about Choice’s partnership with Bluegreen Vacations timeshare properties which is part of the Ascend collection. While there aren’t too many of them throughout the US, they do have some pretty awesome locations. I personally have stayed at their property in Cape Cod (without even knowing about the affiliation) and just recently stayed at their property in New Hampshire which is about a mile away from the ski slopes. Both were great properties and I would 100% stay there again, especially if I can use points!
When transferring points from Amtrak to Choice, they actually transfer at an extremely favorable ratio. For every 5,000 Amtrak Guest Reward points transferred over, you’ll receive 15,000 Choice Privileges points—a 1:3 ratio I will take any day! With Choice Hotels, the amount of points you need to redeem for a free night is typically pretty low. For example, for the Bluegreen Vacation resort in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, it only requires 16,000 points for a free night over the winter! That means for every 5,000 points you transfer over you are essentially getting a free night! If you need more points, you can also purchase Choice points when they are offering a bonus promotion for a minimal amount. You can always purchase 1,000 points for just $11.
Amtrak Guest Reward points are worth about 2.5 cents per point (although there are slight variations depending on the fare type or train type). That means 5,000 points is worth about $125. If I were to transfer those same points over to Choice Hotels and redeem for the property in the White Mountains in New Hampshire, it would cost around $300 a night during peak dates and that is just for a regular studio room. The real value here is that you can redeem the same amount of points regardless if you are booking a studio or a 2-bedroom suite!
For my family, being able to book a 2-bedroom suite for the exact same cost as a studio is amazing! No need to beg at the front desk for a complementary upgrade—if a suite is available while making the reservation, it is yours to book! And it seems like this is the case for many of their properties as I checked a handful of them and saw the same results! On top of snagging a large suite, since they are timeshare properties you’ll also have a kitchen which is great for breakfast in the morning!
Choice Hotels Program Isn’t Perfect
The big issue with the Choice Hotels program is that when you go to redeem your Chase Privileges points you can only look at point availability 100 days out. This absolutely can be a problem if you are looking to redeem during peak times, i.e., July 4th in Cape Cod or during Presidents Weekend at a ski mountain. So you definitely need to be ready 100 days out on the button to book if you want any hope. And then there is still no guarantee.
The other thing is that they have peak and off-peak pricing. And since you can only look 100 days you might not be able to check the number of points required during your particular stay. For example, the White Mountain hotel that I stayed at is 16,000 points over the winter and while I would consider that peak time due to ski season, the summer time is considered peak and costs 30,000 points. If I didn’t search for some random date a few months out I might not have realized that and would have been in for a rude awakening if I went to redeem points at a later time and they were asking for almost double the amount of points. However, if you look at the specific hotels overview page, it will list out the number of points required throughout the year.
For those that have a large stash of Amtrak points hanging around (and status), this can absolutely be a great opportunity to use your points! Just remember that you can only transfer a maximum of 50,000 points in a calendar year and in 5,000 point increments.