The Dust Settles: Where Are We Left in the Aftermath of the Hotel Devaluation Bloodbath?

Joe Brancatelli has a good summary piece explaining where we are now after most of the major chains have taken a chainsaw to their award charts.

While I’ve done deep dives like spreadsheets to tease out which hotel programs remain most rewarding for free nights, Joe’s approach is far more accessible to the casual reader.

After Marriott, Priority Club and especially Wyndham and Hilton has devalued (and to a lesser extent Starwood, as part of their usual annual adjustments), Joe explains

“There’s a certain feeling that the power has shifted” from frequent travelers to the lodging industry, one high-level hotel executive told me earlier this month. “Nightly rates are up, demand is up and we also offer more hotels in more segments in more places around the world than ever before.”

Translation: hotels think they have the hammer and needn’t be as generous in rewarding loyalty in 2013 as they were during the Great Recession. And while competition between the chains for our loyalty remains keen, hoteliers believe they can safely trim their frequent guest perks without too much blowback.

Brancatelli concludes similarly to my thinking — that right now Hyatt is the most rewarding program (in addition to being almost alone in not gutting its program this year), both for free nights and for elite benefits. But Hyatt has just 500 properties — half of Starwood even. So the geography doesn’t work for everyone.

Starwood didn’t devalue nearly as much as Marriott, Hilton, Priority Club or Wyndham. But they start off far less rewarding for in-hotel spend. The value from the chain comes from elite benefits that are in my view second only to Hyatt, and from offering by far the most valuable points earned from a hotel credit card. The Starwood Preferred Guest American Express has been one of the very most rewarding rewards cards for years, and remains so (I’ve had it for over a decade).

But as Gary Leff of the invaluable View from The Wing Blog notes, the $65-a-year Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Card is “the gold standard for earning valuable points through credit card spend.” SPG is also quite free with suite upgrades for elite guests, although the perk cannot be confirmed in advance. And SPG super-elites get to choose their check-in and check-out times in 24-hour windows.

The other chains? Several orders of magnitude less rewarding. But they’re big enough that folks need to pay attention to them still.

My advice – similar to Joe’s it would seem – is to focus on one of the most rewarding programs for your loyalty to the extent you can, and then just get the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve card which gives you Gold status just for having the card (free internet, some upgrades, free breakfast) to ensure you aren’t a nobody on those occasions you can’t stay with your preferred program.

If a wide range of lodging options almost anywhere in the world is what you need from your hotel family, then you’ve got to look first at Hilton HHonors, Marriott Rewards and Priority Club Rewards. Given the decline of HHonors, I’d suggest spending $95 for the Hilton Reserve Visa from Citibank. That will get you HHonors Gold elite status (on-premise perks like free WiFi, continental breakfast and snacks) without working for it.

Joe finally notes that Club Carlson has been pretty generous on the points earning side of things, and with their new US Bank-issued credit card. The downsides to the program are weak elite benefits and that many of their US hotel properties are subpar at best.

What we’ve seen overall is that the best hotel programs have stayed pretty good while the programs that were already less rewarding have gotten even less valuable in 2013. So the advice for approaching hotels actually remains the same as it was before — pick Hyatt (if you can) or Starwood, and supplement it with free Hilton status to fill in the coverage gaps those programs leave behind.

(Do note that links to the Starwood and Hilton credit cards in this post are my referral links, so if you are approved when applying through those I will receive a referral credit which I greatly appreciate.)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Coming from the casual traveler perspective, I would’ve thought that Airbnb and services like it had hurt hotel’s overall prospects, but that must be outweighed by an increase in business travel. Which I also don’t get given how many of my meetings I have to attend by webex now.

  2. what we’ve seen is bloggers destroying deal after deal, I dont blame yall though…the internet is too powerful to hide deals…and learned a lot from yall

  3. An across-the-board hotel program devaluation has nothing whatsoever with ‘ruining deals’. But thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  4. I was all ready to blow off Marriott (specifically the BocaRaton Renaissance, 12-15stays a year) for Hyatt (Delray beach Hyatt Place).
    Until my last stay at a Marriott, a mind blowing upgrade and platinum treatment at the JW Marriott Kuala Lumper, all on Megabonus certs.. That plus keeping me at platinum for the second year in a row with only 50 nights (including the credit card nights). will keep me in for another year.

  5. I’m in agreement with Seth/Wandering Aramean that the Marriott devaluation was probably the worst of the lot, while Starwood has introduced some real benefits for Platinum’s over the last year or so, Marriott has just cut & cut.

    So I’m cutting my Marriott stays and am giving Starwood a go despite their huge C&P devaluation. Signed up the SPG Amex and I may well hit the 100 night mark. I may look at a Hyatt Match as well later in the year.

  6. Ok, Gary, I need your help. I’m sold on the Hyatt brand, and I would love to be able to spend my vacations in a Hyatt, which is the ultimate goal for my interactions with the hotel programs, family vacation stays.

    So here is the crux, how would a person with low or no hotels stays be able to effectively utilize their spend to be able to have a nice vacation at a Hyatt (not aspirational, rather in DC, Florida beaches, New England during fall, etc)?

    In my instance, I am able to stay two nights per month in a hotel. Unfortunately, the Hyatt hotels are at least an 30min to an hour from this work destination. However, there are Hampton Inns, Holiday Inn Express, and Choice/La Quintas nearby the site. As such, I’m staying in the Hilton properties.

    Mixing stay points, with regular bonus points, with credit card spend, I am able to get at least 100k HHonors points in a year with about $15k-$20k annual spend (depending on category bonus). This is a four night cash-point room at a nice destination the same rate as Choice/La Quinta brands but with a few elite benefits mixed in.

    As such, I have no idea how to accomplish this on a recurring basis with Hyatt, especially without hotel stay credit and the bonuses attached to this. The credit card is ok, but geared toward travel spend, while the Hilton card is set for everyday spend.

    As I said, I would be nice, and Hyatt is my “back up” program (with the Chase card I have Platinum status, and currently have the stay certificates for this year).

    So, how do I aspire with these limitations?

    Oh, and I think the idea of having 500 properties is fine, but it doesn’t really explain their footprint, since many major cities have four to five of them.

  7. Barcelona four pt on weekend went from 3k points to 7k points. Same thing in Padua four points. That’s 133% inflation. Points and cash went up 37- 55%. That’s significant raise imho

  8. Lots of limitations if you can’t stay there for work, but Chase Ultimate Rewards points do transfer to Hyatt

  9. Sorry Gary but I disagree with your answer post #3. To an extent the Bloggers have helped bring the Devaluations to be

    After all their main concern is filling their own pockets with Ca$h. So by telling everyone dont cash in for the small stuff use it for the Top of the Line Hotels where you will max out your cpp (cents per pt). Yes that makes sense but when every blogger keeps posting that and people stop cashing in when it pays to pay $$ and use the Pts instead to max out its Return.

    Well the Chains see where the Pts are being spent and no doubt will raise the Cats for those Hotels

    If I posted how a person can get a free weekend in Albany,Ny not too many (if even 1 person) will do it. Post how I got a long weekend for free in Paris,London, Hawaii etc etc then everyone goes for the CCs etc and the demand for those few Hotels to cash in for jumps way high. Its not only $$ Rate that will help determine what Cat a Hotel will be

    So its not Only the Bloggers fault (far from that) but they do in fact help kill the few golden gooses that still exist just so they can turn their own pockets into Gold

  10. yes, hyatt is the most rewarding hotel now, but they are surely going to devalue their program in 2014. so think ahead and dont put everything in the same basket.

  11. With all the cheap points one has been able to earn with Club Carlson, I’m wondering if theyr’e going to be the next big devaluation in the points earning/spending game?
    My thinking on this is that they probably won’t, at least not right now, since their change in philosphy about earning and winning new customers over is a fairly recent event.
    Time will tell.

  12. I decided I would attempt a status match from Starwood this summer with Hyatt (planned a big 1.5 month vacation throughout Asia and Europe). I didn’t think it would be that big of a deal to find 12 nights, but ultimately factoring in Cash and Points Rates (pre-change) with Starwood or paid rates Starwood has all but 5 of my 50 or so stays (Hong Kong and Osaka)! I’d even pay more within reason but it just doesn’t make sense.

    Then I came to the realization there are only 5 Hyatt’s in Canada. It honestly seems like a great program, but unless you are US based it just simply does not have the coverage.

    Ultimately I will probably do the status challenge anyways to cover the five nights I have and end up failing it but enjoy the perks.

  13. I feel betrayed here. This is not a game. We earn points towards stays. I don’t care what the T&C say as they are one sided by a big corporation (uniform contract). Clearly they are out there to destroy their liabilities.

    SPG’s devaluation is horrible. For example, I just booked flights to Qauai. I wanted to spend 4 nights at the Westin and one night at the St. Regis. Westin went from 12,000 points to 20,000 points. No longer can afford it. I had an award weekend up to category 6 but the St. Regis was moved to category 7. I was not aware of this devaluation. When I looked on the 4th to book, nothing was mentioned that just a few hours later I will not be able to do it.

    This is stealing, dishonesty, disloyalty.

    Calls to SPG today didn’t help. I will burn the points and trash them forever.

  14. No question devaluations are driven by an economic upturn and higher occupancy and rates. If hotels can sell a room they are loathe to give it away for free. However the inflation of award currency aka points certainly increases demand for award nights, so that was part of the equation as well. And the inflation was mainly driven by credit card bonuses, which in turn are driven by bloggers exhorting the benefits of churning cards.

    Does this mean we can blame the bloggers for devaluation. I don’t think so. But there is no question that the sale of points to credit card companies and their customers has the effect of devaluing the points received by those of us who earn them by actually purchasing hotel rooms.

    The bottom line is that we all have a choice, speak with your money and don’t patronize programs that provide inferior ROI.

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