No, 2019 Is Not the Year of Loyalty Devaluations — It’s the Year to Be More Strategic

Feb 20, 2019

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Let’s begin the common refrain: Hotel chains are making it more expensive to redeem our hotel points. All the great properties are getting more expensive. It’s just plain difficult to use hotel points to get a great free(ish) vacation in a beautiful, far away land. My partner-in-crime Summer Hull, Mommy Points, wrote a piece yesterday detailing why this year is the year of hotel award chart “devaluations.” Maybe my descriptions of the relative outrage on recent changes is a bit exaggerated, but probably not by much.

Devaluation is a term I hear thrown around quite a bit, anytime something negative happens in the points and miles world. No doubt, as a general rule, your miles and points won’t be worth more five years from now than they are today. But, we all earn points in different ways and many of us have different goals. While the value may be getting worse for some, others will find gold when they go mining for ways to redeem their points.

Photo by Ben Zucker/The Points Guy
There are always new redemption doors to open. (Photo by Ben Zucker / The Points Guy)

Maybe I’m oblivious (which I’m sure folks will point out in the comment section) but I don’t feel like the sky is falling at all. If it has, it doesn’t appear to have landed on me when it comes to getting value for my hotel points. Mommy Points talked about the sting of early 2019 devaluations and some of the painful changes we’ve already seen. Because we like to tag team projects from different approaches, I’m going to focus more on the positives and how we can be strategic with our points. After all, if we spend time being burned by changes, that’s just less time to plan and enjoy vacations. I won’t go point-for-point through Summer’s piece but we will touch on a number of specifics, starting with …

SPG Is Dead. Really Dead

OK, maybe she’s got a point on this whole devaluation thing. I’m kidding, sort of. But, on SPG, Mommy Points and I agree. I was an honest to goodness, dyed in the wool, get me the tattoo SPG loyalist. The last dying breath has been squeezed out of SPG. And, while some parts of Marriott are improved over where they were before, it’s not the same as it used to be.

(Illustration by Abbie Winters)
(Illustration by Abbie Winters)

The only silver lining I can see here is that the addition of peak and off-peak rates for award redemptions may be the mojo we need to get properties to be a bit less stingy with award availability. I’ve heard from a few grizzly SPG veterans who have noted some pretty sad results for properties offering cash and points rates.

You’ll need to review the Marriott award chart and find the sweet spots that work for your family. I guarantee that they are there if you look.

Un-Flat Is Back

To fully evaluate the impact of recent negative Wyndham Rewards changes, we need to look at the past. Just about four years ago, the company made a radical change to its award chart. Every property was assigned a price of 15,000 Wyndham Rewards points per night. There were winners and losers, with the previous range being 5,500 to 50,000 points per night.

Wyndham has decided to end the experiment. I applaud them for giving this a try. The change made award redemption ridiculously easy to understand for folks who don’t spend all day studying loyalty programs.

Photo courtesy of Wyndham V Heavens
Photo courtesy of Wyndham V Heavens

So, are these most recent changes a devaluation? From a month ago, absolutely. From four years ago, likely not. For starters, the new top-tier is 30,000 points. That’s a full 20,000 points lower than it was in 2015. As a general rule, points and miles don’t get more valuable over time. But, I think it’s reasonable to argue that your Wyndham Rewards points are still more valuable today than they were four years ago.

At a bare minimum, I’d tap the brakes on calling this a full-fledged devaluation, since Wyndham says only 200 hotels are increasing to the 30,000 point level out of a total of more than 9,000. Mommy Points is right, those 200 are likely to be properties we want to redeem our points at. But, it’s just not enough to get agitated about just yet, especially without knowing which properties are getting more expensive.

Once we know which properties are in what category, we can all be strategic about where we decide to use our Wyndham Rewards points.

(Photo courtesy of the Wyndham Aspen Meadows Resort)
(Photo courtesy of the Wyndham Aspen Meadows Resort)

Hyatt Isn’t As Dry As It Seems

When compared to Marriott, where roughly 90% of the changes this year were properties increasing in category, Hyatt’s award changes are much more balanced. Mommy Points cites properties such as Hyatt Coconut Point in Florida, Andaz Costa Rica and Hyatt at Olive 8 as examples of the shrinking pool that you could dive into with your Category 1–4 free award nights. Whether you earn these through the World of Hyatt Credit Card or the new Milestone rewards the company rolled out last year, there are plenty of them floating around. But, I don’t think we’re sinking quite yet. I’ve stayed at two of the three Hyatt hotels noted above, and I really want to get to Andaz Costa Rica. I’m a bit bummed that those properties are no longer eligible for those Category 1–4 free award nights.

Andaz Costa Rica (Summer Hull / The Points Guy)
Andaz Costa Rica (Summer Hull / The Points Guy)

However, I tend to use my free night awards for single night stays. One of the best benefits of Hyatt’s top-tier Globalist status are confirmed suite upgrades. I’ve had trouble combining free night awards with award stays and suite upgrades at the same time. So, I tend to use those at properties where I’m only staying one night to make things easier. The Grand Hyatt DFW definitely falls into that category, but there’s another Hyatt at DFW also pretty much connected to the terminal that’ll work just fine.

What I am happy about are the properties that are dropping from a Category 5 down to Category 4. These Hyatt properties are solid additions. Some of my favorites:

  • Andaz San Diego
  • Hyatt Centric Chicago Magnificent Mile
  • Hyatt Centric Waikiki Beach (free nights in Hawaii!)
  • Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay (lovely property for families that TPG will review soon)
  • Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego
  • Park Hyatt Istanbul – Macka Palas

I’ve personally had a reservation booked at that Park Hyatt in Istanbul that I had to cancel, a heartbreaker. These are all great additions to Category 4 awards. The reward gods taketh, but they also giveth, keeping us feeling plenty bountiful. You should still be able to find some solid Hyatt Category 4 properties at which to use your free night certificate.

Image courtesy of the Park Hyatt Istanbul
Image courtesy of the Park Hyatt Istanbul

Some Recent Changes Aren’t Bad (Yet)

I may be eating my words soon, but I think it’s worth noting the somewhat speculative nature of Mommy Points’ concern on two changes: the decision to add a Category 8 to the Hyatt award chart and the discovery that a single Hilton hotel has increased beyond an unpublished “maximum” Hilton established.

As she noted, 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. So far, Hyatt has said that the category is just for SLH hotels. Previous history has shown that Category 8 will inevitably include an actual Hyatt hotel. But, it doesn’t today, and I’m not going to lose sleep over it just yet. Keep in mind that Hyatt has added more than 100 SLH properties to the mix for earning and redeeming. That’s a huge plus for your Hyatt points. I’d even make the bold statement that getting 100 (and potentially a few hundred more) SLH properties in the Hyatt system is worth having a few existing hotels slide into Category 8.

Image courtesy of Sailrock Resort in Turks and Caicos
Image courtesy of Sailrock Resort in Turks and Caicos – Small Luxury Hotels of the World

As for Hilton, I really can’t get agitated because one property (that looks oh my gosh, holy cow, totally wonderful) out of more than 5,500 is increasing in price. To me, both of these observations are data points, not trends. They could certainly become trends. I’d prefer to wait until then to worry.

Be More Strategic in 2019

Marriott’s new Category 8 pricing is probably the clearest example of something really bad to hit hotel loyalty programs in 2019. Many other areas are shades of gray. Keep in mind, along with this booming economy come bigger credit card sign-up bonuses. Hyatt added benefits with its new Milestone Rewards that didn’t exist before, such as a $100 certificate redeemable on a hotel stay. Those aren’t points, but it is a return on “investment” for your loyalty. And, for loyal customers that were never getting to 60 nights with Hyatt but can get to 50, they get two suite upgrade awards that might save them from having to redeem points for two rooms to fit their family.

Suite at Grand Hyatt Kauai (image courtesy of hotel)
Suite at Grand Hyatt Kauai (image courtesy of hotel)

Wyndham is dropping thousands of properties from 15,000 points a night to 7,500. They’re probably not in Maui or the ski mountains. But, you might be able to find a good deal when you take the kids to visit grandma and don’t need much more than a comfortable bed in your own space.

Bottom Line

The game of miles and points is constantly changing. Smart travelers like Mommy Points and me evolve. You will, too. There are undoubtedly changes here that are bad for all of us. But, there are upsides. And, there’s still the enduring value of the programs and the ability they give normal(ish?) folks like me to travel places with my family that I could probably never afford on my own.

As Summer says in her closing, facts are facts. There are some awards that are cheaper to lock in now than they will be in a month, so be strategic and do just that.

The times, they are a-changin’, just as they tend to do. But, it’s not all bad. Be smart, strategize and you can still win. It is the Year of the Pig, but we’re not ready to get slaughtered just yet.

Featured image by Summer Hull / The Points Guy

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