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.