So far in 2013 we have seen some pretty major devaluations in Priority Club, Marriott, Hilton, and Wyndham. There have been some moderate changes in the SPG program as well. Some are claiming it is the end of loyalty, or it is the end of points collecting and it is time to just switch to a cash-back card and rely on Priceline.com. Some say this is all inevitable and we should have all seen it coming, and this is why you only “earn and burn”. That way you don’t carry a balance of points and devaluations subsequently hurt less than they would if you were sitting on a half million hotel points that lose half their value overnight.
There is some truth in all of those sentiments, but the message I want to impart is it is a good time to re-evaluate your strategy, but it is not time to panic. Miles and points are not “over”…but this has been a rough couple of months. Here’s what I am doing, and what I recommend for you to do as well.
1. Sit down with your partner and map out your travel plans for the next 12-13 months. Then lock in hotel award nights now at the current levels. This will really delay most of the “pain” from the devaluations for at least a year.
- 3/5 deadline for SPG to use the old hotel categories and cash and points chart
- 3/14 deadline for Wyndham Rewards old chart
- 3/18 deadline to call and get Priority Club rooms at the pre-January 18th rates (see Loyalty Lobby’s chart for the old points prices)
- 3/28 to avoid the HHonors changes – including some properties going from 50K to 95K points per night
- 5/16 to book at the old Marriott categories and award the new Category 9 level
The way it works is that if you book at the levels before they increase, then you are safe even if your reservation is for after the rates increase. For example, if you want to stay at a property that is going up in points price with one of these chains for a trip in November 2013, then as long as you lock it in at the current rates before the dates listed above, you are golden. If you end up needing to change the dates of your trip after the deadlines listed above you may not be able to rebook without paying the higher points price (though it is always worth a call to the hotel directly to see if they will work with you). In most cases you can cancel until right before the trip, but always check the cancellation policy as some properties have a more strict policy than others regarding cancellation penalties.
2. Evaluate where you want to focus your earning potential going forward. It is possible that the recent devaluations have had very little impact on your own personal travel preferences – in fact the destinations you want may have even gotten cheaper. For example, as was pointed out by a commenter in this post, the Hilton Orlando near SeaWorld and Universal Studios is going from 40,000 points per night to a range of 30,000-50,000 points per night based on the new seasonal pricing (and in the summer it is only 30,000). So for a five night stay in the summer, it would be just 120,000 points for the five nights if you have Silver, Gold or Diamond elite status (which you can easily get). So it is a true bummer that some properties are now as high as 95K HHonors points a night. Truly, it is. I wanted to stay at a property like the Conrad Maldives at 50k per night, but at 95k per night it may or may not happen. However, more families head to Orlando than the Maldives, so these changes may not be near as big a deal to some traveling families as they are to some who focus purely on the high-end aspirational properties.
Once you have dug deeper into the award chart changes within each program, decide which one(s) suit your needs best. It may be that HHonors is no longer your best bet as you just want to earn points to stay at high-end places you otherwise couldn’t afford. In that case it may make sense to shift your attention to Hyatt where the top tier properties top out at 22,000 points per night, have great availability, and aren’t impacted by “seasonal” pricing.
Club Carlson is another “up and coming” program to consider. They may well face a devaluation in the future, but right now they are offering a very solid option – especially if you have their credit card that gives the second award night free. This makes your points twice as valuable for two night stays. This is a program that is really growing on me.
3. Look into different lodging options. I love my hotel loyalty programs and points, but I am not a slave to them. There are other options out there that I have relied on heavily in the past, and could do again. I used to frequently use Priceline and Hotwire, and got some very good rates at nice properties. I don’t use them as much now in part because I do find value in the loyalty programs, and you usually don’t earn points or stay credit via Priceline and Hotwire. However, they are very valid options to consider if the loyalty programs no longer make sense for your family either in general, or on any given trip.
Also don’t count out non-chain hotels, bed and breakfasts, or smaller programs like Kimpton. I have always had good stays with Kimpton (such as this one), but they don’t get much attention in the miles and points world. Especially for families, things like renting timeshares and getting lodging via sites like vrbo.com can make more sense than renting one or two small hotel rooms anyway. You can sometimes spend less money and have more space. We did that last summer in North Carolina, and had a great time for less money than if we relied on traditional hotel rooms.
4. Don’t turn down free nights. Even if you no longer want to be loyal to one or two hotel programs, it still makes sense to take the credit card sign-up bonuses for a couple free nights. Many of the hotel co-branded credit cards still either offer a couple free nights after meeting the spending requirement, or they offer enough points that you can easily get a free night or two at many of the available properties. The sign-up bonuses are still valuable – even if they are less valuable than they used to be for some properties.
5. Don’t panic. Devaluations may mean you have to adjust your future plans some, especially if you can’t lock your trip in before the rates change. However, the world is big, and the options are almost limitless. If the tropical destination you wanted is now out of reach, there is probably another tropical destination that is still within reach. If the hotel you wanted at the center of a big city is now too pricey, you may find a smaller and more friendly affordable option just a little off the beaten path. Or perhaps you just have to work a little harder at earning more points to go to the destination of your dreams. I hate devaluations, but it isn’t time to panic. Just adjust accordingly and keep moving….and don’t sit on a huge stash of miles and points. They are there to be used, so get to booking!