A number of hotel loyalty programs have recently suffered major devaluations. Here is a summary borrowed from One Mile at a Time:
- Hilton has literally destroyed their award chart for high end redemptions by adding three new hotel categories and introducing seasonal pricing
- Marriott has added a new hotel category, and 36% of properties went up in price
- Over the past couple of months Wyndham has more than doubled the cost for redemptions at their top end properties
- Starwood just announced their 2013 hotel category changes, whereby less than 50 properties went down in price while over 200 properties went up in price, and also increased the cost of cash & points by 20-25%
- Priority Club introduced a nine category award chart, which resulted in many aspirational properties going up in price
All of the above changes have made your points less valuable. But, in most cases, there are still arguments to be made to keep the associated credit cards. With the Marriott card, I’m no longer so sure.
In my post, “To have and to hold,” I described a few hotel credit cards that I like to keep around, not to use for spend, but for their annual free night benefits. In that post, I listed the Marriott Premier Visa card right after the Priority Club Visa. At the time I felt that the annual free category 1 through 5 hotel night more than made up for the $85 annual fee. Now, I’m not so sure.
In May, Marriott will introduce a new top tier category 9 and reassign many existing hotels to different categories. According to Loyalty Traveler, of the current 344 category 5 hotels, more than half will increase to a higher category. This means that those hotels will no longer be available for the annual free night benefit of the Marriott Premier card.
The downside of getting free nights rather than points is that free night certificates expire. If you don’t use them, they’re worthless. With most hotel credit cards, the associated free night certificates are good for a year. With the Marriott card, though, the free nights are only valid for 6 months.
Now that there will be fewer nice properties to use the free nights on, the chance of the certificates going unused increases.
The $85 annual fee is not worth it to me
I used to be able to count on staying in a nice property with Marriott’s free night certificate. Now, though, I think chances are good that the certificate will go unused. I don’t plan to renew my Marriott card when the annual fee comes due later this year.
I still love the Priority Club card. For only $49 per year, you get a free night certificate (after your first year) for any Priority Club property in the world regardless of what category it is in. It also offers other great perks like automatic Platinum status and 10% point rebates on awards.
An even better option for some is the new Club Carlson Premier Rewards card and its twin business card. In addition to fantastic perks, these cards give 40,000 points each year upon card renewal. For $75 for the personal card or $60 for the business card, you automatically earn almost enough points each year for a free night at any of their properties. Even better, the bonus award night feature (Note: The Bonus Award Night feature was discontinued as of 6/1/2015.) means that you earn almost enough for two nights! And, unlike free night certificates, Club Carlson points don’t expire as long as you have activity in your account every two years (which happens automatically by keeping the card).
Summary of annual costs and benefits
Here is a summary of hotel credit card costs & benefits (ignoring signup bonuses). The point here is to look at hotel cards that offer sign-up-like bonuses every year after the first year simply by paying the annual fee. These are roughly sorted in the order starting with the card I like most to the one I like least:
- Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa: $75 per year. 40,000 bonus points each year upon card renewal. Automatic Gold status. Bonus Award Nights practically double the value of your points. (Note: The Bonus Award Night feature was discontinued as of 6/1/2015.)
- Priority Club Select Visa: $49 per year. Free night at any Priority Club hotel. Automatic Priority Club Platinum Status. 10% rebate on point redemptions.
- Hyatt Visa Signature: $75 per year. Free night at any category 1 through 4 Hyatt. Automatic Platinum status (free internet!).
- Fairmont Visa Signature: $95 per year. Free night at any Fairmont after $12K annual spend. Two free lounge visits per year. Automatic Premier status.
- Hilton HHonors Reserve: $95 per year. Free weekend night at almost any Hilton property after $10K annual spend. Automatic Hilton Gold status (free internet, and free breakfast and room upgrades at many properties). This card is notable as the only one on the list that is not a Chase card (this one is from Citibank).
- Marriott Rewards Premier Visa: $85 per year. Free night at any category 1 through 5 Marriott. Free night expires after 6 months. 15 nights elite status credit (enough for Silver status which isn’t worth much).