What to do Post Hotel Points Devaluation

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So far in 2013 we have seen some pretty major devaluations in Priority Club, Marriott, Hilton, and Wyndham.  There have been some moderate changes in the SPG program as well.  Some are claiming it is the end of loyalty, or it is the end of points collecting and it is time to just switch to a cash-back card and rely on Priceline.com.  Some say this is all inevitable and we should have all seen it coming, and this is why you only “earn and burn”.  That way you don’t carry a balance of points and devaluations subsequently hurt less than they would if you were sitting on a half million hotel points that lose half their value overnight.

There is some truth in all of those sentiments, but the message I want to impart is it is a good time to re-evaluate your strategy, but it is not time to panic.  Miles and points are not “over”…but this has been a rough couple of months.  Here’s what I am doing, and what I recommend for you to do as well.

1.  Sit down with your partner and map out your travel plans for the next 12-13 months.  Then lock in hotel award nights now at the current levels.  This will really delay most of the “pain” from the devaluations for at least a year.

The way it works is that if you book at the levels before they increase, then you are safe even if your reservation is for after the rates increase.  For example, if you want to stay at a property that is going up in points price with one of these chains for a trip in November 2013, then as long as you lock it in at the current rates before the dates listed above, you are golden.  If you end up needing to change the dates of your trip after the deadlines listed above you may not be able to rebook without paying the higher points price (though it is always worth a call to the hotel directly to see if they will work with you).  In most cases you can cancel until right before the trip, but always check the cancellation policy as some properties have a more strict policy than others regarding cancellation penalties.

2.  Evaluate where you want to focus your earning potential going forward.  It is possible that the recent devaluations have had very little impact on your own personal travel preferences – in fact the destinations you want may have even gotten cheaper.  For example, as was pointed out by a commenter in this post, the Hilton Orlando near SeaWorld and Universal Studios is going from 40,000 points per night to a range of 30,000-50,000 points per night based on the new seasonal pricing (and in the summer it is only 30,000). So for a five night stay in the summer, it would be just 120,000 points for the five nights if you have Silver, Gold or Diamond elite status (which you can easily get).  So it is a true bummer that some properties are now as high as 95K HHonors points a night.  Truly, it is.  I wanted to stay at a property like the Conrad Maldives at 50k per night, but at 95k per night it may or may not happen.  However, more families head to Orlando than the Maldives, so these changes may not be near as big a deal to some traveling families as they are to some who focus purely on the high-end aspirational properties.

Once you have dug deeper into the award chart changes within each program, decide which one(s) suit your needs best.  It may be that HHonors is no longer your best bet as you just want to earn points to stay at high-end places you otherwise couldn’t afford.  In that case it may make sense to shift your attention to Hyatt where the top tier properties top out at 22,000 points per night, have great availability, and aren’t impacted by “seasonal” pricing.

Club Carlson is another “up and coming” program to consider.  They may well face a devaluation in the future, but right now they are offering a very solid option – especially if you have their credit card that gives the second award night free.  This makes your points twice as valuable for two night stays.  This is a program that is really growing on me.

3.  Look into different lodging options.  I love my hotel loyalty programs and points, but I am not a slave to them.  There are other options out there that I have relied on heavily in the past, and could do again.  I used to frequently use Priceline and Hotwire, and got some very good rates at nice properties.  I don’t use them as much now in part because I do find value in the loyalty programs, and you usually don’t earn points or stay credit via Priceline and Hotwire.  However, they are very valid options to consider if the loyalty programs no longer make sense for your family either in general, or on any given trip.

Also don’t count out non-chain hotels, bed and breakfasts, or smaller programs like Kimpton.  I have always had good stays with Kimpton (such as this one), but they don’t get much attention in the miles and points world.  Especially for families, things like renting timeshares and getting lodging via sites like vrbo.com can make more sense than renting one or two small hotel rooms anyway.  You can sometimes spend less money and have more space.  We did that last summer in North Carolina, and had a great time for less money than if we relied on traditional hotel rooms.

4.  Don’t turn down free nights.  Even if you no longer want to be loyal to one or two hotel programs, it still makes sense to take the credit card sign-up bonuses for a couple free nights.  Many of the hotel co-branded credit cards still either offer a couple free nights after meeting the spending requirement, or they offer enough points that you can easily get a free night or two at many of the available properties.  The sign-up bonuses are still valuable – even if they are less valuable than they used to be for some properties.

5.  Don’t panic.  Devaluations may mean you have to adjust your future plans some, especially if you can’t lock your trip in before the rates change.  However, the world is big, and the options are almost limitless.  If the tropical destination you wanted is now out of reach, there is probably another tropical destination that is still within reach.  If the hotel you wanted at the center of a big city is now too pricey, you may find a smaller and more friendly affordable option just a little off the beaten path.  Or perhaps you just have to work a little harder at earning more points to go to the destination of your dreams.  I hate devaluations, but it isn’t time to panic.  Just adjust accordingly and keep moving….and don’t sit on a huge stash of miles and points.  They are there to be used, so get to booking!

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  1. I am going to make sure I use every single Hilton HHonors point I have on at least a speculative booking by March 28. For example, I am booking 4 nights at Conrad Koh Samui, not knowing whether I am going there. I am also booking 2 nights at Conrad Tokyo for my trip there in December. I just need to get all my points together for this.

    I am meeting spending requirements I have to get points to post ASAP, maximizing the current Hilton HHonors promotion to get 40 points per dollar this quarter (details on my site) and transferring in points from Virgin Atlantic. There will be 300k+ HHonors points worth of bookings from me in the next few weeks!

  2. I don’t have huge balances, probably enough for 3-5 nights between Marriott Rewards, Priority Club, and HHonors. I’m going through all the new and old award charts to find the best values for my points, and booking whatever fits into my plans. I’ve a bit of travel coming up, I’ve identified a few hotels that fit into my itineraries, so the bookings won’t be that speculative.
    Oh well, after this, I don’t see myself participating in hotel loyalty programs much. The devaluations are too quick, and they make it impossible to plan big trips if you accumulate the points as slowly as I do.

  3. Good advice – I have been thinking about switching from HH to Hyatt, this might be the tipping point. Already booked at Hong Kong Conrad and Shanghai WA Both go to Category 9

  4. Thank you so much for the reminder! I had booked the Intercontinental Madrid for at 40k a night for 4 nights earlier this month. Because of this post I found the previous rate was only 30k a night – that’s a total savings of 40k – or a free night back in my pocket! Thanks!

  5. Mommy Points, I think this was one of the most thought out, clear, and logical posts on the subject. You did an excellent job laying out the dates to help people and then talking about why it’s not the end of the world (as much as people, even myself, overreacted at first).

    The most important point, in my opinion, was point 3 about looking at different lodging options. Anyone who reads my blog knows that I”m not a major fan of hotel chains anyway, but even if you are, I think it’s really important that you consider other options, and now is a great time to do so!

    I’ve stayed at 100’s of locally owned guesthouses, hostels (no, they aren’t like the hostels of old, trust me), apartments, etc and almost always had a wonderful experience.

    If you’re looking at where to start, check out hostelbookers.com for hostels or airbnb or roomarama for apartments (especially in Europe). Usually, these are much cheaper than hotels for long stays anyway.

    Thanks for the clarity of the post!

  6. Great post. Kimpton is an interesting option for
    some. They offer a status match to their Inner
    Circle level if you have status with another
    program. Look forward to checking out some
    of Kimpton’s hotels.

  7. Kimpton is fantastic. Earlier this year, I status-matched with them to their top-tier Inner Circle status. Since mid-January, I’ve stayed at three Kimpton properties in NYC, Boston, and Cambridge, MA, and I’ve loved each one.

    You get a free one night stay and $50 credit at each of their new properties (this year, in Phoenix, Philadelphia, DC, La Jolla, Portland, and Santa Barbara) as an Inner Circle member. You also get incredible upgrades at the hotels (I was 2/3 on suite upgrades; the other was a top-floor deluxe room). The welcome amenities are amazing; you put your favorite food/drink/etc on their website, and they usually do a good job of delivering.

    Since they don’t do points, you earn free nights through stays. And since they have incredible last minute deals, you can earn a $300 night through seven very inexpensive stays. Additionally, if you stay at 10 properties in a year, you get two free nights!

    That’s huge! Super huge! And they don’t have nearly as many loyalty members as the other chains, so they treat folks right!

  8. Outstanding job, MP!!

    I agree with Trav, as this was exactly the info and context we need on the subject in one neat package!

    I really appreciate your putting this together and onto the web for all to reference. As a newbie to the miles/points game, I joined simply to reduce the costs of transportation for our semi-annual Disney excursions. Since I have a new found understanding and lexicon for the travel side of the house, I’ve been trying to help my fellow Disney fanatics with their travel questions, as they relate to aircraft, rental cars, and “off-site” hotels (they can break down all the Disney hotels to the wallpaper :P) on the DISboards. This great post gives me the tools to explain any concern that may arise from them (along with your United posts, such as the car seat issue which also came up on the Disboards).

    This post is perfect, and I hope you are able to share this with the Travel Channel group, too. Thanks again for your hard work! …and being there for us.

  9. I have more than half a million HH points. Cannot dump them prior to the changes since I don’t have time for family vacation before that date. I plan to keep the points and use when I can if at that time they don’t charge 1 million points for 1 night at a Hampton Inn. I will not stay at Hilton properties anymore if I can. Many people are talking about Hyatt but I am concerned they will be the next to devalue their points.

  10. @MP: I envy you that you can plan that far ahead! With two kids at home (one of them a 2 year old now in pre-school and the other just 6 months old), I find that I can’t even plan for the coming weekend!! How do you do it?

    • AS, well I have the advantage in that department of just one kid. Plus she is already over three, so I am not planning trips out for when she is 4…which is way easier than 6 months and 2 years. 😉 It honestly is easier for me to map out where I am going far in advance. The downside is not really being able to add trips that pop up, but it’s a give and take. I will say I canned some “big trips” I was going to do early next year because they take more time to plan than I have right now, and I decided to keep things simple.

      To others considering Hyatt – I am sure they will devalue at some point, but I think they are a more stable points “currency” than some of the others. At least if you focus on them via Ultimate Rewards then you have options if they do devalue – you can use your points elsewhere assuming you haven’t transferred them into Hyatt.

  11. The Hilton devaluation is outrageous really and just does not seem to be legal to me. I have directed a huge amount of credit card spend to AMEX with the agreement that I get a certain number of points for that spend, and that those points are worth a certain value. Now that value has been halved overnight. Although credit card companies- and for that matter hotel chains- do have the right to change their programs, my American Express card agreement stipulates a certain number of points awarded for certain spend. Now if those points can be halved in value with NO CHANGE to the cardholder agreement- is that even legal?? So, if all of us went out and purchased 100,000 American Airlines miles for example today, knowing that those 100,000 miles could be exchanged for a certain airline ticket with a certain monetary value, and suddenly tomorrow American Airlines would decide that an international F ticket now requires 200,000 miles instead of 100,000 when I purchased those miles yesterday for cash- is that legal? This would be a perfect example of suddenly changing redemption values and the implied associated monetary value- I ask you, would this be legal??
    I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that people are really outraged- from families saving up for a year and directing stays and spend for those points, to friends planning honeymoons, to those wanting aspirational stays- everyone really. The outrage is palpable. And most of all, it makes companies associating with this Hilton devaluation look UNTRUSTWORTHY. Hey American Express- take everyone for suckers for the past year, and now halve the value? Hmm Chase doesn’t have any programs that have decreased by half in value- why didn’t we spend with them? My point is: I think class action is entirely justified here, and I think that everyone should make a big stink about all of this. Really.

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