It is, apparently, hotel loyalty program devaluation season. Since the first of the year Priority Club introduced a new 9-tier reward chart, Starwood raised the price of cash and points awards, Marriott introduced a new more expensive award tier and a points price increase for 36% of their properties. Just this morning I shared news that we’ll get a new devalued Wyndham Rewards chart on March 14.
And in the coming days we should expect the annual category changes from Starwood. I would expect a whole lot more hotels to go up in category (and thus cost more points to redeem) than down, because their categories are tied to each hotel’s average room rates and prices have been on the rise.
That makes Hyatt’s changes — more hotels getting less expensive than more expensive and only 17 hotels affected overall — seem like a downright anomaly. Although as part of cleaning up little used benefits that are expensive to maintain they did Platinum Extras benefits and also eliminated Passport Escape awards.
Now it’s Hilton’s turn and their changes are really significant (i.e. bad).
Effective March 28 several changes go into effect.
- Like Starwood and Marriott they will be offering fifth night free on awards – for elite members only but the benefit simply requires Silver status to obtain.
- They will also be introducing a new award chart
- And they will be introducing seasonal award pricing.
Currently there are (7) categories for all of their brands except Waldorf=Astoria properties.
Now they are going to have (10) categories, and seven of those will have separate high and low season prices.
Here’s the new award chart that will be going into effect:
Previously a category 7 property topped out at 50,000 points per night. Some of those hotels will now be category 10, where high season rates are 95,000 points per night. That’s a whopping 90% increase. Wow.
Here are the new and old award chart prices side-by-side:
There go the great values in the program. I used to value Hilton HHonors points at roughly half a cent apiece, recognizing of course that at the very top end I could do much much better — grabbing a $700+ ocean villa with private pool at the Conrad Koh Samui for instance for just 50,000 points per night. With award pricing now going as high as 95,000 points per night those amazing values are no more. The hotel now runs 80,000 points per night in February and March and 95,000 points per night the rest of the year.
The Conrad Hong Kong goes from 50,000 points to 80,000 points per night, year-round.
Among the full-service Hiltons in New York, the Hilton New York will range from 60,000 to 80,000 points per night, the Conrad New York from 70,000 to 80,000 points per night, and the Doubletree Guest Suites Times Square from 70,000 to 95,000 points per night. (That’s more than the Waldorf=Astoria which tops out at 80,000.)
At least they’ve published what category each hotel will be in in advance of the changes, something that Wyndham has failed to do.
Not yet announced, but this has to affect the valuable ‘AXON’ awards which offer 4 nights at a category 7 hotel for 145,000 points. Especially since category 7 is no longer the top redemption tier.
Of course you can make bookings now — including speculative bookings — at the current rates for future stays. Make your reservations now, cancel them within the cancel rules for your points back if you wind up not needing the reeservations. I really should be dropping my current half million point HHonors bank on some hotel nights just in case I want them, before they become much less valuable.
Ultimately more reward categories, and multiple prices within most but not all of those categories, complicates the program. And Hilton HHonors is already – by far- the most complicated program. They have ‘premium room awards’ and ‘cash and points’ awards but the prices of those vary. You can choose to earn points and fixed miles, points and variable miles, or points and points. And you don’t earn fixed miles on award nights, if you don’t change your earning style away from that when redeeming points you’ll leave points on the table. Just to give a few examples of the complexities that exist in their program before adding this new layer.
But in some ways none of this should be a surprise. Three years ago, Jeff Diskin who runs the HHonors program said he learned that he needed to keep members on the treadmill — running bonus promotions to give them more points and then charging more for room nights. Because members didn’t ‘get’ actual value.