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Have Hotel Chains Ruined Your Credit Card Rewards?

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Have Hotel Chains Ruined Your Credit Card Rewards?There are many reward credit cards that offer points in hotels’ loyalty programs. But how much are these points worth?

The answer: only as much as the hotel rooms you can actually book.

And unfortunately for hotel reward card users, the points awarded by many of the major programs were just severely devalued within the past few weeks.

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What Just Happened?

Marriott announced significant changes to its Marriott Rewards program. It went from having eight categories of awards to nine, and increased the categories of 36% of its properties by one or more categories, while decreasing categories at a paltry 1% of its hotels. Members have until May 16 to book award nights at the lower rates.

Free Credit Check & MonitoringHilton made major changes to their HHonor loyalty program. It went from seven award categories, to an even more confusing 10. But when you sort through the announced changes, many of their properties will now require 40%-100% more points for a free night when guests take into consideration the new seasonal pricing scheme. Their inclusion of a fifth night free benefit softens the blow somewhat, but it is clear that the value Hilton HHonors points has plummeted. Members have until March 28 to book award nights at the lower rates.

The Wyndham Rewards program had historically been a good value, with nearly all award nights available for 16,000 points a night or less. But earlier this year it began silently charging as many as 45,000 points per night for awards at some hotels.

But in a master stroke of creative public relations, it later announced that it would make it easier for customers to redeem awards by reducing the highest point tier to 30,000 points. It was like a store tripling its prices only to promote a “sale” with 30% off.

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What You Can Do About It

Maximizing the value received from a rewards credit card has always been a challenging task as loyalty programs reserve the right to change their terms and conditions from time to time, and cardholders must expect them to do exactly that.

But at the same time, cardholders should always question their own loyalty when companies make such drastic changes to their programs. Now is the time for holders of hotel rewards cards to examine any changes made to their cards’ affiliated loyalty program. Look at how many points are now required for a free night at a desired property, and how much spending will be necessary to earn that particular award.

Next, compare the value of your current cards to some of the competing offers available from other hotel chains. Thankfully, not all major hotel programs decided to slash the value of their points this winter. For example, the Starwood Preferred Guest program made few significant changes beyond what it normally does each year, and members of the Hyatt Gold Passport program actually saw more properties drop down in categories.

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Conclusions

Credit cards that earn rewards in hotel loyalty programs used to be an easy way to earn a more valuable return than cash-back credit cards. Unlike airline miles, many hotel programs offered awards with no capacity controls or blackout dates. But for many cardholders, the free ride might now be over.

We still enjoy an extremely competitive market for credit cards. If the value of your hotel credit card rewards have just plummeted, quickly redeem your points at the old levels, and then look for a new card. Thankfully, there are plenty of banks eager to offer you more competitive reward cards that feature points, miles, or cash back.

Image: iStockphoto

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