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Loyalty programs are constantly changing, usually for the worse. Sometimes, however, the changes work in our favor, as TPG Contributor Richard Kerr explains.
Around the end of each year, it’s common for the major hotel chains to announce category reassignments for various properties. This is typically a source of much consternation and anxiety among award travelers, as it’s painful to see your favorite vacation spot suddenly become more costly.
However, not all properties increase in price, and there’s usually plenty of good news to go with the bad. With 2015’s category changes complete, I want to recap the recent shifts in each of the major hotel chains, and look at properties that moved to a lower category to help you find the bright spots.
Hyatt gave us a nice surprise and reprieve from the hotel devaluations of recent years. Hyatt announced that 22 properties would increase by one category, while 48 properties would decrease by one category (the Grand Hyatt Shenyang decreased 2 categories). Hyatt already has a very reasonable award chart, so it’s a win for points and miles enthusiasts when more properties decrease than increase.
Here are some top Hyatt redemptions that got cheaper:
- Park Hyatt Washington (Category 6 to 5) — Anytime a Park Hyatt moves to a lower category is an opportunity for a great points redemption. TPG considered this hotel his new go to property in Washington, D.C. after his visit in 2011.
- Hyatt Regency Osaka (Category 3 to 2) — As a resident and frequent traveler in Japan, I know how expensive Japanese hotels can get. Despite being a bit south of central Osaka, this property is only a 15 minute drive from Universal Studios Japan and sits on Osaka Bay.
- Honorable Mentions — Hyatt Place Orlando/Universal, Hyatt Regency Montreal, Hyatt Capital Gate Abu Dhabi, MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay.
The current Hilton award chart is difficult to stomach, but at least things aren’t any worse than they already were after Hilton’s 2013 devaluation. For the 2nd quarter of 2015, Hilton announced that 0.6% of the chain’s properties would change categories, with 10 properties going down one category and 14 going up. Several properties are also increasing or decreasing more than one category, like the DoubleTree Hilton Qingdao, which went down 3 categories.
Because there’s such a wide range within some of the Hilton categories — for example, the cost of a free night in categories 7-9 can vary by 30,000 points per night — category changes are mostly insignificant. If a Hilton property is 40,000 points for a free night, it could be in category 5, 6, 7, or 8.
These are the best Hilton redemptions that got cheaper:
- DoubleTree by Hilton Kusadasi, Turkey (Category 6 to 4) — I had the opportunity to visit Kusadasi in 2013, where I took a tour of Ephesus, visited the House of Virgin Mary, and walked the local markets. It was a fantastic introduction to Turkey. A free night at this convenient location now costs just 20,000 points, and the property is favorably reviewed positive reviews on Tripadvisor.
- Hilton Mainz City, Germany (Catergory 5 to 4) — Located only 25 minutes from Frankfurt International, the property has rates starting at 200 euros or now only 30,000 points. You can walk through the historic old town and view the scenery of the Rhine.
- Honorable Mentions — Hilton London Syon Park, DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Williamsburg, VA.
Marriott’s category changes for 2015 are an ugly ordeal. When increasing the categories of 27% of its properties, Marriott probably could have found a more logical way to present the changes. In 2014, Marriott increased 21% of its properties. Coupled with the most recent changes, you can infer that either Marriott is very bad at identifying how properties should be categorized, or that the chain believes there are too many Marriott Rewards points in the world, and it’s time to rein things in a bit.
I’m a fan of Marriott’s properties and usually enjoy my stays, but my loyalty lies elsewhere due to the constant devaluations and poor value offered by the rewards program. One thing I find particularly questionable is the vast number of Springhill Suites, Fairfield Inns, and Residence Inns there are in categories 6 and 7. These aren’t even full service hotels, and don’t belong in the upper tiers. At any rate, there were some quality properties that moved down a category. Here are my picks:
- JW Marriott Hotel Zhengzhou (Category 3 to 2) — Anytime you can catch a JW property at category 2 prices, you’ve found a good deal. The brand new hotel has very positive initial reviews. Rates start at $150 before taxes, or only 10,000 points for a free night. It looks like a luxurious property in a landmark tower, and is ranked #1 of 1,211 hotels in Zhengzhon.
- JW Marriott Hotel Hanoi (Category 4 to 3) — Along the same lines as the JW Zhengzhon, this is a brand new hotel that is now a JW Marriott as a category 3 property. I love Vietnam, and wish this property had been around when I visited in 2013. Rates start near $150 before taxes, or cost just 15,000 Marriott Rewards points.
- Honorable Mentions— Beijing Marriott Hotel Central, JW Marriott New Dehli Aerocity, Osaka Marriott Miyako.
22% of properties are changing categories with almost a 50/50 split in properties increasing vs decreasing. Like Hyatt, Starwood has a pretty reasonable award chart, and most changes are occurring in the middle tiers, where price differences between categories aren’t too steep.
I would focus my efforts on properties entering into or exiting from categories 3 and 4, as those properties are eligible for Starwood’s Nights & Flights packages.
Here are my picks for the best Starwood redemptions that got cheaper:
- W Paris – Opéra (Category 7 to 6) — Dropping just one category is enough to save you 10,000 points per night, which is a sizable number of SPG points. Anyone who has looked for hotels in Europe’s capital cities knows how expensive they can be. Catching a break at a quality property in one of the most visited cities in the world is a huge plus.
- Le Méridien Vienna (Category 5 to 4) — Now eligible for Nights & Flights, you can come out far ahead when using points at this property. I’m finding rates that start at 404 euros a night, or now only 10,000 points. I have been trying to find an excuse to get to Vienna, and at least now I know where I’m going to stay.
- Honorable mentions — St. Regis Rome, Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa, Sheraton Langkawi Beach Resort.
Marriott gives us the toughest pill to swallow with the incredible number of properties rising in category. In my opinion, Marriott already has the second worst award chart (after Hilton). I don’t think the chain is doing itself any favors with these moves, which are unlikely to gain or maintain any brand loyalty.
Of the properties I’ve highlighted, the Le Méridien Vienna is my choice for the best property across all brands to go down in category, but there are plenty of other strong candidates!
Among the properties that changed category, which ones caught your eye?