Blogs as Thought Leaders: How the World is Thinking About 2013’s Hotel Program Devaluations

USA Today offers a recap of hotel points devaluations in 2013 and focusing specifically on the big changes at Marriott and Hilton (and the less drastic changes at Starwood, like increasing the price of cash and points awards while making those awards more available).

Barbara DeLollis does a great job, and so the piece is pretty accurate communicating the changes and what they mean for travelers.

What I found interesting is the way that blogs have turned into thought leaders. The piece leads with Wandering Aramean’s commentary. It closes with commentary by The Points Guy. And Hilton defends itself using my analysis (while DeLollis parries back with counter arguments drawn from my post as well).

Hilton’s defense to increased point requirements are two-fold. First, the changes they’re making aren’t all bad.

Hilton spokesman Scott Carman notes that the changes give members new benefits, such as a fifth night free when they book four nights using loyalty points. The additional benefits, he says, “help us to stay competitive” with rival programs

Of course this benefit is for elites only and what Hilton offered before fifth night free was better. Elites receive multi-night discounts now, those are going away. No more discounts on 4 night stays, you have to stay 5 nights before receiving a points break. And no incremental discounts on 6, 7, or 8 night stays — the next discount level is 10 nights. I consider the introduction of fifth night free a devaluation, not an improvement.

Carmen then makes a totally valid point, that even with the devaluation you still have to spend less — substantially less — with Hilton before getting a free night than with any of the other major chains.

“Even after the program changes, Hilton HHonors members spend less for a free night than any of the major competitors,” Carman says, citing frequent traveler Gary Leff’s “View from the Wing” blog.

But while Leff notes that Hilton “is the cheapest for the lowest redemption category,” with a free night coming as quickly as spending $333 vs. $750 for Marriott and about $1,000 for the others, he also notes that the room may not fit everyone’s idea of a desirable award room.

An entry level night comes cheapest from Hilton. But Hilton’s top tier Conrad hotel properties such as in Tokyo, Koh Samui, and the Maldives used to be the best value of any major chain. With the changes that make these properties as much as 90% pricier to redeem, Hilton is bestest by both Hyatt and Priority Club in aspirational value.

I do think it’s important though to keep the relative values of the program in mind, since their base earning is still better than Marriott’s or Starwood’s for their priciest hotel redemtpions.

Still, DeLollis offers my conclusion,

When consumers pick loyalty programs, however, they consider a number of factors beyond how how lucrative rewards are in exchange for spending, Leff writes. Key considerations include whether a chain has hotels in places they travel, how well the hotels treat elite travelers and whether the hotels match their budget. Given all the factors, Leff says considers Hyatt’s loyalty program No. 1 and Starwood second when it comes to the best top-tier programs.

And I think that’s right. Unfortunately not everyone travels where Starwood and Hyatt have hotels. And not every hotel is within folks’ price points when their hotel properties are convenient. So I still think Hilton HHonors has a role to play (and I choose them over Marriott or Priority Club, even post-devaluation) with the recognition especially that simply getting a credit card gives you Gold status in the program which means free internet, breakfast, bonus points, and the occasional upgrade. So you still have some juice even when walking into a hotel that’s not a part of your preferred chain.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. When hotel chains make changes, we frequent flyers don’t like them. When hotels such as Hilton (and the others), put a positive spin on bad news, I find it insulting. I just burned points for a stay in Israel. Now Hilton has wiped those points off their books. They’ve also written off any future paying/reward stays.

    They won the battle, but lost the war.

  2. I have stopped using my citi hilton cards because really, I don’t want to spend so much to earn 60k points that is barely enough for one night at Hampton Inn.

    My wife & I both have 50k thank you points each on our citi thank you card, I don’t want to transfer to hilton or pay for airfare, is there anyway I can cash them out at rate of 1 cent per point?

    Will getting a check made out to CHASE MORTGAGE work?

    Few have told me about the trick but i think there is a risk of not being able to cash it out since I don’t have mortgage loan with chase.

  3. Only problem I see is when SPG and Hyatt raise their requirements who do you run to? Its fruitless to say you are no longer staying with one hotel chain vs another. What you can do is look at alternative methods to earning travel currency. Also be nimble and dont hold too many pts in your acct.

  4. I think the problem is that the chains have gotten away with this before. At some point it will be a bridge too far and they will suddenly wake up one day and realize the loyalty program is suffering a major loss of customers. Then again maybe they don’t care. I vaguely recall reading that is their attitude about their loyalty program.

    @DHammer – Totally agree. Marketing is doing what they have to do but really some of the spin they put out there is so over the top it’s insulting.

    @Mileage Update – I would bet Hyatt would be more likely to raise their requirements. You can earn a lot of points through Chase UR cards and transfer 1:1 to Hyatt. Hilton partly did what they did because they make it too easy to earn points so like any currency it got devalued. Starwood has not made any big moves to inflate the number of points you can earn.

  5. I was wondering why all of them did it at once over a period of one year. I wonder if there is collusion among the chains to do this. I do not think you can invoke any violation of anti trust laws in this particular case though.
    Maybe more likely in the field of consumer protection.

  6. Gray, thanks for pointing out that the “5th night free” change for Hilton is not an improvement. I can’t believe how many times this has been stated as an improvement to the program and it is totally insulting. I find this to be a very big devaluation with the program. I have utilized my points for 7 day stays many times and this one simple “enhancement” will now cost me an extra 37.5K points for this stay at a category 7 hotel even without any category adjustment. Overall Hilton’s changes are bad, but it really drives me crazy when they try to claim this feature as an improvement.

  7. i hope there is 1 just 1 chain that will come in & pick up the road kills. is there 1 & what will it be? given how big the big players are…

  8. […] blogs have turned into thought leaders

    Or another way to look at this is lazy journalism. Discussions happen on forums, content is skimmed off by bloggers, add a token “opinion” and credit card referral links, blog entries are picked up for filler news by lazy journalists with quotes from “experts”.

    The travel/mileage blogs that offer original content are few and far between, but the vast majority are rehashing forum content with endless HT’s.

  9. @21h21j – In this case the program — Hilton — is citing analysis (spreadsheets) from this blog on the value of the program. And the journalist is reading through the post in question and coming to a slightly different conclusion. I don’t think that qualifies as skimming content or being lazy. 🙂 But thanks for contributing!

  10. Gary, Another point not mentioned is people spend money on award stays. Use of lounges, spa, and resturants bring in additional income to the resort or hotel. This will be loss revenue. Hopefully Next year hilton and other will see this loss profit and restore some sensible award redemptions.

  11. I divorced the Philadelphia Doubletree and sent the manager a note why I would never set foot in their very average property when I now know it will cost me almost 100% more in points to stay at better properties. After suffering in the vastly mediocre Philadelphia Doubletree, vote with your dollars folks and let every Hilton Hotel you stayed in the reason why.

  12. Yes, Gary, you and your colleagues are thought leaders :).

    In essence, BoardingArea.com IS a think tank, specializing in travel.

    That is, a consortium of people with lots of knowledge depth and breadth across the travel industry, who attempts to make sense of the current environment and provide forward thinking as to what may come.

    Add to this some of the other independent bloggers (The Points Guy, Million Mile Secrets, etc) and the “amateur” think tanks of MilePoint and Flyer Talk, and it is definitely a group of thought leaders and experts covering the travel, credit card, and miles/points realm.

    In addition, of all within the think tank, you are probably the leader of those who are out in the public eye (along with TPG and FTG). Others more prominent may be behind the scenes, but you are the lead for those who speak to the masses on a daily/weekly basis.

    Keep up the good work!

  13. @dave. I would argue that Club Carlson is a good alternative. I have switched my travle Hampton Inn to Country Inn and Suites Sumped the Surpass card and got the CC card. They have some good properties in Europe and Asia with new ones coming. They have similar point sturcture and quality to pre devaluation hhonors.

  14. Can anyone point me to a Hilton announcement that AXON awards are ending? I called HHonors, and the CSR said they have definitely NOT been told that AXON is ending. She called AXON the “secret” award that HHonors does not like to promote. That’s why you can’t book it online, you have to call HHonors to book it. And when you do the confirming email lists the miles used at the VIP rate, even though the miles actually deducted from your account are at the lower AXON level.

    AXON is the major reason to keep the AMEX HHonors card after you get the sign up bonus. Ending AXON would not only piss off AMEX, it would probably mean more people would switch to the AMEX SPG, meaning lost business for Hilton in the long run. And with the recent devaluation that’s the last thing Hilton needs right now.

    The “secret” AXON award is not ending. Shhhh… don’t tell anyone. 😀

    As for Marriott, as a leisure traveler I find Marriott the cheapest source of free rooms. Well, up to 6 nights per quarter at least. They have been running various forms of the MegaBonus program for much of the last couple of years. Register, then stay twice at the least expensive of their hotels, and get a certificate good for a free night for any 1-4 hotel. We stayed several separate nights at a really quite nice Fairfield Inn in the California wine country for around a $100 a night at the AAA rate. I’m using those coupons this June in Madrid at an AC hotel that costs over $200 a night. Since I was going to stay those nights in the wine country anyway, the nights in Spain are genuinely free.

    You can only get 3 coupons per quarter, but a couple can each get them, meaning 6 free nights, plus 2 more if you each have the Marriott credit card. Perhaps not “fancy pants aspirational” 😀 in the Maldives sense. But we’re really looking forward to our first trip to Spain. And a totally free room in the center of town with excellent T/A reviews works for us.

    This may be the last time for that, 🙁 as the properties where we’ve been using the coupons, like the AC Madrid, and the Courtyard in Berlin, are going up to level 5. I can only hope the next MegaBonus coupons will be good for 1-5.

  15. @Robert Hanson, there are almost no Cat 4 properties stateside I want to stay after the devaluation. In the last 2 to 3 years they have inflated 90% of the good Cat 4’s to Cat 5 or 6’s.

    I know Starwood tries to paint SPG cash and Points as an enhancement as there should be increased inventory. But it really looses a lot of appeal, except during the busiest periods. Their only redeeming factor is that they have introduced some good benefits for plats in the last few months, unlike Marriott.

  16. Hilton has set a terrible precedent forever that will damage the value proposistion for a long time to come of all such major hotel loyalty programs in a monkey see monkey do world

    Jeff Diskin and Scott Carman have damaged the program and the reputation of Hilton and its program beyond repair
    Cant cut up my cards quick enough and burn my points
    Its criminal in so many ways.This was the final deal breaker of all times

    Done

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