This time last year, Choice Hotels wasn’t even a contender in NerdWallet’s annual analysis of hotel brands and their loyalty programs.
In past years, we didn’t collect data on Choice because its award search didn’t show enough availability. (As part of our analysis, we collect data on bookings eight months from the time of search.)
But technology updates addressed booking issues, and Choice’s recent acquisition of Radisson brought new interest to the program. In 2022, the $675 million deal brought nine Radisson brands into the Choice portfolio, adding some higher-end brands to a company that was more known for budget brands like Quality Inn and Sleep Inn.
The merger went into full effect when the Choice Privileges rewards program absorbed the Radisson Rewards Americas program in July 2023. According to the press release after the merger, the Choice Privileges program had grown to 60 million members. That’s about half of the members enrolled in the Marriott Bonvoy or the Hilton Honors programs, and about double the number in World of Hyatt.
So for our most recent analysis on best hotel brands and rewards programs, Choice was too big to ignore. How does it stack up against competitors? And should you consider switching loyalty?
What factors we considered
In NerdWallet’s 2024 analysis of best hotel brands, we collected data on hundreds of hotel bookings across seven hotel brands. Each one had to have properties in the majority of states in the U.S. and offer a loyalty program with a publicly available rewards search calendar with rewards booking availability from 15 days to eight months from the time of the search.
We rated each company on a five-point scale (with five being the highest) on four factors:
Fees: the cost of resort fees and parking fees compared with the room rate.
Pet policies: the percentage of hotels that allow pets, pet fees and other policies.
Rewards rate: how quickly visitors earn points and the value relative to dollars spent.
Elite rewards: the value of elite status benefits compared with the amount of money members would have to spend to earn elite status.
Here’s how Best Western, Choice, Hilton, Hyatt, IHG, Marriott and Wyndham performed across these categories.
So how did newcomer Choice fit in? The brand shined in one area in particular: lack of fees. On the five-point scale, Choice scored a perfect 5.0. The next closest brands didn’t crack 4.0.
Choice Privileges also rated respectably in the middle for its rewards rate.
These factors combined led it to be named NerdWallet’s best hotel brand of 2024.
The lowest fees
Finding a hotel with reasonable fees is a challenge. Even President Joe Biden is calling for the end of “junk fees” in travel and other industries. According to the American Hotel and Lodging Association, 6% of hotels charge resort fees, and the average resort fee is $26 per night.
Of the sample stays we analyzed, the average resort fee at Choice properties hovered closer to $22, beating the industry average. Other brands were charging an average of up to $60 per night for resort fees.
Choice also keeps parking fees to a minimum, averaging less than 3% of the room rate. Meanwhile, Marriott and Hilton parking fees are closer to 12% and 13%, respectively. That means you could save up to 10% on similarly priced rooms by staying at a Choice hotel with a lower parking fee.
A decent rewards rate
Choice Privileges members can accumulate points for a future award stay relatively quickly. Choice is one of only three hotel programs that offer rewards rates of at least 10% (meaning if you spend $100 at the hotel, you’ll earn at least $10 in points).
Wyndham Rewards, World of Hyatt and Choice Privileges offer the highest rewards rates, at 12%, 11.5% and 10%. Comparatively, Marriott Bonvoy and IHG One Rewards members can expect to earn 8% back in value. Hilton Honors members earn 5% back.
Should you choose Choice for your loyalty?
Choice’s low fees and high rewards rate suggest that it shouldn’t be overlooked, particularly for travelers who are searching for affordable accommodations and want to earn more hotel points with less spending on stays. These are great features, but they don’t apply to everyone.
Here are some things to consider.
Do you like staying at Choice properties?
If you frequently stay at brands like Cambria Hotels, then strategizing your spending to take advantage of Choice Privileges benefits would be useful. It might be worth familiarizing yourself with some of Choice’s lesser-known brands, like the boutique Ascend Hotel Collection.
Here’s a full list of Choice brands:
Are there Choice properties where you travel?
Choice Privileges has more than 7,400 hotels around the world. Marriott, meanwhile, has almost 8,900 locations, which means you’ll likely have more options in more places with Marriott loyalty. That said, the size of a hotel’s footprint isn’t everything. Hyatt, NerdWallet’s 2024 winner for the best hotel rewards program, has only 1,300 hotels.
One important caveat is that a different company owns Radisson properties outside of North and South America. If you plan on using hotel points for international travel, you might want to check availability with other Choice brands.
Can you earn Choice points with credit card spending?
A well-rounded hotel loyalty strategy often includes travel credit cards. Choice Hotels offers its own co-branded hotel credit cards, and the newest launched in spring 2023.
Choice Privileges transfer partners include American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards and Capital One miles. If you already have a credit card that earns one of those types of points, you already have a way to start booking Choice hotels with travel rewards.
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