To be blunt, hotel loyalty programs are getting hammered. Devaluations are coming left and right for all of the major hotel chains. The Marriott Bonvoy program is live, full of hotels going up in points. For example, a top tier property will move from 60K to 85K points overnight effective March 5th, representing a 42% devaluation for luxury properties in the portfolio.
Hilton has now launched a new hotel in the Maldives, effectively raising the bar on a standard points redemption night from 95K to 125K points per night, introducing a 26% devaluation. The two largest players in the space that hold the lion’s share of the market are making it hard for consumers to attain solid value out of currencies promised to unlock the vacation of our dreams.
Hyatt is the one leader in the space that has not devalued charts to the level of Marriott or Hilton. It’s still possible to redeem only 30K points for a stay at a top tier property like the Park Hyatt in New York City. A truly luxurious experience.
And forget about IHG. Their program died years ago, offering no real way to accrue points unless you want to stay often at crappy Holiday Inns, or spend a ton of money exclusively on Intercontinental hotel experiences.
In 1.5 years, the market has turned sour for hotel loyalty. Point devaluations are one thing, but decreased benefits for putting real money into a corporation’s pocket is another. Marriott elite status across the board has been devalued, especially for SPG members. Hilton gives away Diamond status with the Hilton Aspire card, allowing for every Tom, Dick and Harry to acquire elite status.
For some reason, there is a big pull to a hotel loyalty program if it provides the free breakfast benefit. I actually was all about the free breakfast benefit, too. But I’ve changed my mind, for a couple of reasons. Accuring status and paying extra money for a benefit used perhaps a dozen times a year for the average traveler isn’t that lucrative (i.e. breakfast at $15 / person * 2 people for 12 stays will equal roughly $360). $360 is the cost of an annual fee on a credit card that could help get more value from additional nights somewhere as opposed to banking hotel credit cards for perks like free breakfast.
On a personal level, I tend to not want many hotel breakfasts simply because they are filled with foods I shouldn’t be eating often: bagels, pastries, toast, cereal, etc. Not only is avoiding breakfast good for my health, it’s also helpful in getting away from feeling loyal to a hotel simply because they offer free breakfast. Let’s discuss more important criteria of a hotel stay, like quality of sleep and aesthetics of the room. Don’t those matter?
To end my rant, I really do believe that accruing for hotel points is rather meaningless unless you want to experience the best top tier properties. Opting for transferrable currencies with cash back equivalents (think Chase Sapphire Reserve or Citi Premier) likely will get you equivalent or better value if you are aiming to stay in low to mid tier hotel properties. I will not dive into the math because this is highly debatable, but the thinking here is that hotel points aside from Hyatt will now range in the .4-.6 cent range. On the higher end you can get close to 1 cent on a top tier property at Marriott or Hilton, but they are largely few and far between post devaluation.
Largely, I believe hotel elite status is overrated due to the heavily weighted free breakfast benefit. When you take this out of the equation, what are you really left with? Increased points earning and a chance to receive an upgrade. Note I say “chance” because it’s clear upgrades are not doled out frequently.
As for my hotel elite status, I will continue to hold the Hyatt card, and the IHG card for the annual free nights. They do their job, and they get me “status”, but that largely offers no benefit. At Hilton, I hold the Aspire Card to get the free annual night and the math works out that the card virtually pays for itself. However, Hilton Diamond status does not offer me anything I yearn to earn.
Marriott is the one program where I earned status organically in 2018. I am a Platinum Elite member and will not actively choose to maintain this status unless I have stays for work where Marriott is the logical choice. As of now, I have 39 nights planned this year, largely two trips, credit card elite credits, and elite bonuses. If I happen to stay an additional 11 nights in Marriott hotels this year, great. If not, I won’t be losing sleep over falling to Gold.