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2019 — so far it has been the year of pig, the longest government shutdown on record, yet another Patriots Super Bowl win and also, the year of hotel award chart devaluations. To be fair, it seems like every single year around this time there are cries of “the miles and points sky is falling” and “loyalty programs are dead” as some favorite redemptions jump in price or program benefits change. But as the economy is generally good and the hotel industry is seeing the highest occupancy rates in decades, 2019 has stung more than some for those who like to travel using their hotel points.
Almost across the board, we are seeing the top of the award charts get pricier, annual credit card award nights become harder to maximize and a couple of programs have stepped away from their award chart or are gone for good.
It’s only February, and here are some of painful cuts and devaluations that have already happened in 2019 to hotel loyalty programs.
SPG Is Dead
An entire popular loyalty program is officially dead. That alone makes this year a bit dark on the hotel program front. Fewer programs means fewer promos and options, less competition and a reduction in available hotel credit cards. While SPG and Marriott merged award charts in August 2018, the last dying breaths of the SPG program met its final demise in February 2019. The SPG credit cards are no more, the name is in the history books and it is all just Marriott Bonvoy from here on out.
85,000 Marriott Points Are the New 60,000
We knew this one was coming, but a silver lining of the Marriott and SPG merger was that, temporarily, you could book top-tier St. Regis and Ritz-Carlton properties for just 60,000 points per night. However, on March 5, that silver lining changes to black as a new Marriott Category 8 tier is introduced. Want a three-day weekend at the St. Regis Punta Mita or St. Regis New York? You better pack 255,000 Marriott Bonvoy points instead of “just” the 180,000 points currently required for those three nights beginning March 5.
But wait — it’ll get worse. It is expected that Marriott will introduce peak and off-peak award prices at some point this year. This will take the properties that currently top out at 60,000 points per night and peg their cost as high as 100,000 points per night during peak nights (probably like during school breaks when families can travel). Ouch. That’ll make that current 180k long weekend cost as much as 300k points. Sure a redemption at a St. Regis Maldives or Bora Bora type of property may not be something you do every single year, but those aspirational destinations are exactly the ones that points are made for. In 2019, these high-end redemptions will shoot back out of reach for many.
Use points advance to lock in these stays at current award rates before March 5.
Flat Award Chart Falls Apart
For the last several years, Wyndham Rewards has had a very cool, albeit niche, award chart where all properties cost just 15,000 points per night. This even included family rooms at hotels in expensive places like NYC. A family of up to eight could stay in a room in the middle of Manhattan for a cool 15,000 Wyndham points.
But — as 2019 is the year of the hotel devaluation, that is changing. Beginning April 3, the currently unique flat chart will have three tiers: 7,500 points, 15,000 points or 30,000 points. Wyndham has said that on that date, 3,000 properties (roughly a third of the program’s portfolio) will drop to the 7,500-point rate, while approximately 200 properties will double in cost to 30,000 points per night. That math is decent on the lower end — but I’ll let you guess which 200 properties will double in award cost. While Wyndham hasn’t given us a list, I’d wager my own Wyndham points that doubling in award cost will be the properties in NYC, Aspen, South Beach, the Caribbean all-inclusives and similar places where you’d want to redeem points.
Popular Hotel Credit Card Redemptions Drying Up
Both the World Of Hyatt Credit Card and several of the Marriott cobranded cards, such as the Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card and Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card convey annual award nights at each account anniversary that can be used at hotels up to a certain award category. Some very popular redemption options with these cards included Hyatt Coconut Point in Florida (with waterpark!), Andaz Costa Rica, Grand Hyatt DFW (my favorite airport hotel), Hyatt at Olive 8 in Seattle and Hyatt Centric South Beach Miami. But — in 2019, all of these are going out of range with the annual award night that comes with the Hyatt credit card as they increase from a Category 4 to a 5.
It’s not just Hyatt — things are arguably worse with the Marriott credit cards given the number of properties moving up from a Category 5 to a 6 in that program. Category 5 is the current threshold for Marriott’s annual up to 35k certificates that come with several Marriott cards. With Hyatt, at least some properties are also moving down in the annual hotel award reorg but, with Marriott, most of the changes are only upward. Seventy-two Marriott properties are going from a Category 5 to a 6 — thus out of range of those annual credit card awards. Only three are coming down into range.
Moving out of range of the Marriott annual 35k certificates are hotels such as: Residence Inn at Anaheim Resort/Convention Center, Sheraton Niagara Falls, Residence Inn Maui Wailea, Courtyard Waikiki Beach, Residence Inn New York Manhattan/Central Park, Delta Hotels Whistler Village Suites, London Marriott Hotel Regents Park, Ritz-Carlton Coconut Grove, JW Marriott Miami and dozens more.
Again, things will be worse with the Marriott 35k certificates once the program introduces peak and off-peak prices later in 2019 as there will then be peak times when even Marriott Category 5 properties cannot be booked with those awards.
In 2019, those with the IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card that comes with an anniversary free night valid at properties that cost 40,000 IHG points per night or fewer saw 38 hotels move out of range and only one singular property fall down to the 40,000-point level.
The Great IHG Migration
IHG already instituted its 2019 hotel category changes back in January, but it wasn’t pretty from a numbers perspective. There was a great migration to the top as 543 of the 693 IHG properties that changed category moved up in award cost. That represents 78.8% of the hotels changing categories, which feels a lot more like a migration than an annual resorting.
Aspirational Moves Out of Range
We’ve already covered what is happening to the top-tier Marriott properties effective March 5 (so lock in reservations using Points Advance before then), but it’s not just Marriott. Radisson Rewards properties in Mauritius, Fiji, Gran Canaria and Dublin are jumping 20k points per night to their highest tier of 70,000 points per night. Sure, they had some properties move out of the highest category, but I’m not sure a Radisson in Minneapolis dropping out of the highest tier is a fair trade for what moved up.
Hyatt is also seeing some painful upward trends at the aspirational end of things — resorts in Maui, the Maldives, Playa del Carmen, Lake Tahoe and Park City are getting more expensive. Those are exactly the type of destinations where people want to use their points, but in 2019 it’s going to cost more points to make the same stay happen than it would have in 2018.
Multiple Programs Add New Top Award Chart Categories
Properties moving around an existing award chart is one thing, but new top tier categories getting added by loyalty programs is even worse. There’s no quicker way to kill an aspirational redemption than move it up to a brand-new award tier. In 2019, it isn’t just Marriott adding a new highest tier. When Hyatt added the Small Luxury Hotels of the World to its stable of properties, the program also introduced a new eighth tier that costs 40,000 points per night (previous highest tier topped out at 30,000 points). Hyatt contends that only a few of the Small Luxury Hotels will be in that category but once a category exists, it is a lot easier to move hotels upward.
Now in February 2019, as Hilton opened up award bookings at the new Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi, the program also introduced a new 120,000 point per night standard award price. Previously, the (unpublished) Hilton award chart stopped at 95,000 points per night. For now, only the new Maldives property is pricing standard rooms starting at 120k Hilton points, emphasis on for now.
With various tech problems and the final nail going into the coffin of the much beloved SPG program, Marriott Bonvoy has received lots of the attention in 2019. But the hotel program devaluations this year were widespread, though it isn’t because these programs want to be ‘mean’ or dislike travelers who use points.
In 2008, we saw Hyatt give away an award night to use anywhere in the world (even top tier properties) after just two paid stay. The economy wasn’t great, occupancy was down and “Faster Free Nights” was music to points travelers ears. Hyatt needed to incentivize travel and opportunistic travelers stood to benefit.
But now, the tables have turned a bit. Occupancy is up, promotions worthy of a “mattress run” (a stay you didn’t really need, but did for the points) have largely disappeared and if you want to use your points, it’ll cost you more across almost all of the loyalty programs.
All that said, it’s not total doom and gloom for hotel loyalty. You can still use points to have vacations that would otherwise be out of range of most people. I’m very much still chasing hotel elite status in a program or two, just this week we upgraded a former SPG Amex to the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex for the 100,000 bonus points and I still value my hotel points highly. In fact, stay tuned for a TPG story tomorrow by a contributor who has a very different perspective on why 2019 isn’t the year of the hotel devaluation at all.
But, facts and facts, and the fact is that it’s going to take more hotel points to stay at some of our favorite spots in 2019 than it did in 2018. So, get to booking advance award reservations while you can before the great hotel devaluations of 2019 are final.
- March 1: Radisson Rewards Award Chart Changes
- March 5: Marriott Bonvoy Award Chart Changes
- March 18: World of Hyatt Award Chart Changes
- April 3: Wyndham Rewards Award Chart Changes
Featured image by Abbie Winters
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