A couple months ago I wrote about getting into credit card point hacking and recently I came across an amazing deal using the Amtrak Mastercard in order to acquire Choice privileges points, it requires jumping through some hoops, but the value is certainly there. I like Choice hotels because they are extremely family friendly, especially when the points program is concerned. Typically if a suite is available it will cost the same amount of points to redeem as a normal room. With Hilton Honors, a suite usually costs 3X as many points as a normal room.
I currently have a Choice Privileges Visa card, which has no annual fee and came with a 32,000 point sign up bonus for spending $1,000. It gives 2X points for purchases and a bonus of 8,000 points if you spend 10,000 in a calendar year. Overall this is a great deal and I get a lot of value from the card, however since the goal is to maximize free nights at Choice hotels the Amtrak Mastercard might actually be an even better value.
The Nuts and Bolts of The Amtrak Mastercard:
- 20,000 or 30,000 bonus points, depending on time of sign up for $1K spend in 90 days.
- 3X points for Amtrak purchases
- 2X points for travel
- 1X points for everything else
- 1 free companion pass one way or round trip in coach per year
- Earn 1,000 TQP (Tier Qualifying Points) per $5,000 in card spend, up to 4,000 TQP
- Can transfer 25,000 points to Choice Priveleges with $20,000 in card spend per year
- Amtrak points transfer to Choice at a 1:3 ratio
- $79 annual fee
Comparing the Amtrak Mastercard to the Choice Privileges Card
The most glaring aspect of the Amtrak Mastercard is that you must spend $20,000 per year on credit card spending in order to transfer ANY points to Choice. If you aren’t going to naturally spend $20,000 on a card then this isn’t the right road to go down. We normally hit just over $20,000 per year, but it’s still a bit risky.
Assuming $20,000 of yearly card spending using the Amtrak Mastercard you would earn 20,000 Amtrak points. Transferring 25,000 Amtrak points (20,000 from card spend and 5,000 from the bonus points) to Choice Privileges will result in 75,000 Choice points, good for 7.5 nights at a 10,000 point hotel.
If you spent 20,000 on the Choice card you would get 40,000 points from 2X card spend and an 8,000 point bonus for hitting $10,000 in card spend for 48,000 points total. worth 4.8 nights in a 10,000 point hotel.
So the next question is…is the $79 annual fee worth 27,000 Choice points? Seeing as how this is worth 2.7 nights I would say a resounding yes, especially since you can routinely redeem Choice points for greater than 1 cent per point. This works out to about $30 per night, which is a great deal. At this point it absolutely makes sense to use the Amtrak card for Choice privileges points, but wouldn’t it be nice if there was an option to speed up your redemptions? After all you are locked into using the card for 4 – 6 years in order to transfer all the bonus points. Thankfully there is a way.
Becoming A Select Member
Amtrak Select Members can transfer 50,000 Amtrak points per year, which would become 150,000 Choice points. Great, so how do you become a select member? To become a select member one must hit 5,000 Tier Qualifying points. By spending $20,000 on your card you can hit 4,000 TQPs, but you have to earn the last 1,000 TQPs by actually using Amtrak services.
As a standard rate you earn 2 TQPs per dollar spent, so you would need to spend $500 on Amtrak services to become a select member. That is an awful lot of money to spend, especially if you don’t plan on using Amtrak for anything. This is where special deals come into play. Occasionally Amtrak will run a special where you will earn 4 TQPs per dollar spent, reducing your expense to $250.
Also, card members get 1 free companion pass per year. So if you can find a round trip ride that costs $250 that you want to go on, you get double value by using your companion pass.
Now by spending that $250 you can transfer all your bonus points and the 20,000 points you earned on card spend in the first year. This makes sense if you don’t plan on hitting $20,000 in card spend every year and/or don’t see the value in paying $79 to earn an additional 27,000 points per year.
Using The Amtrak Mastercard for Choice Privileges Through The Online Mall:
Many loyalty programs have an online mall that works similar to ebates. You go to their online mall, click on the retailer and you will get points awarded for any shopping you do. Here’s the thing. The Amtrak online mall awards the same amount of points as other programs do, however these points can still be redeemed for triple points with Choice Privileges. Here are a few examples:
- New Balance 6X = 18X Choice
- Wolverine 6X = 18X Choice
- Overstock.com 5X = 15X Choice
- Macys 4X = 12X Choice
- Ace Hardware 4X =12X Choice
- Seaworld 4X = 12X Choice
- Walmart 2X = 6X Choice
- Home Depot 2X = 6X Choice
I think I will ultimately get an Amtrak card to get the most out of my Choice Privileges account. I have found great Choice Hotels for family vacations in Orlando, Pennsylvania, Chicago, Cincinnati, and Washington D.C. Most of these hotels have a redemption rate better than 1 cent per point, with a couple exceeding 1.5 cents per point. This is the only hotel rewards program I have found that includes suites at no extra point charge.
Have you considered using the Amtrak card for Choice points? What do you think of Choice hotels overall?