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We are in the peak of hotel award category change season. Imagine saving up hotel points to cover your next vacation, but now you suddenly need more points to book the same amount of free nights.
This happens every year and shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Yet, we still dread it because there are always some award category changes that are negative and affect our future personal travel plans.
If case you haven’t been following us on Facebook, here are some of the recent hotel award category changes:
IHG: In early January, IHG snuck in some changes with an effective date of January 25, 2019. See the list of changes here. 693 properties changed award categories, and almost 80% of those changes were negative.
Marriott/SPG: Earlier in February, Marriott announced category changes that will go into effect on March 5, 2019. 383 hotels are changing category, and again the majority (346) are negative.
Hyatt: Just last week, Hyatt announced category changes that go into effect March 18, 2019. 259 hotels are changing categories, with 130 increasing to a higher category and 129 decreasing.
Radisson: Not to be left out, Radisson also recently announced category changes effective March 1, 2019. Of the 140 hotels changing categories, 84 are negative changes.
Wyndham: Breaking news! This morning Wyndham announced changes starting April 3, 2019. Instead of flat redemptions of 15,000 points, Wyndham will move to a tiered redemption chart with some hotels costing 30,000 points.
Aside from the raw numbers, there are some individual properties increasing in category that are a real blow to many people’s travel plans. For folks who renew a hotel credit card year after year for the renewal certificate free night, some favorite properties are no longer eligible (like Hyatt Andaz Papagayo and Hyatt Regency Coconut Point).
After you throw a tantrum and scream “$%#&!” about the negative changes, take a few deep breaths and look at these coping options.
Lock in Reservations Under Old Award Category
The best thing to do when hotel category changes are announced is to book a hotel with points before the changes go into effect. Sometimes hotels change categories with little to no warning, but many times we have a few weeks before the increase.
Last month when I found out about IHG’s changes, I quickly booked a hotel in Sydney right before the deadline. And now that I know about the upcoming Hyatt changes, I reserved some days at the Hyatt Andaz Papagayo, just in case we decide to go there next year.
Since most hotels have generous cancellation policies for award bookings, it doesn’t hurt to book a hotel at the lower points price even if you’re not certain you will end up staying there. Every hotel has a different cancellation window, so make sure you pay attention to each booking. My reservation at the Hyatt Andaz Papagayo has a 7-day cancellation window, so I have a lot of time to figure out if we will keep our stay there.
Unfortunately, if you were planning to use a hotel renewal certificate for a free night, you might not be able to book a reservation at the old price if you don’t yet have the renewal cert.
Look for Alternative Redemptions
If you can’t book the hotel you had your heart set on, look for another option. This could be a property you’ve never visited before in the same area or a hotel in a completely different city for a change.
For example, Hyatt now made it harder to use a renewal cert in San Francisco and Seattle. Why not try the Andaz San Diego or the Grand Hyatt San Diego instead (both now Category 4 hotels)? If you don’t have enough points for Hyatt Regency Coconut Point, switch things up by staying at Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress or Hyatt Place Daytona Beach.
Diversify Your Miles and Points Stash
If you now suddenly find yourself short on hotel points for your ideal redemption, this is a great time to diversify your miles and points stash. Just like the stock market, it’s important to not put all your eggs in one basket.
Cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Citi Premier allow you to use points to book almost any hotel through a travel portal. The points price is dependent on the cash price of the hotel. This gives you more freedom in selecting hotels and also provides a way for you to add on an extra night in a different currency if you are short on hotel points.
You can also diversify by having flexible travel points from cards like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus Card or the Capital One Venture Rewards card. These cards essentially let you erase expenses from your credit card statement that are coded as travel.
Move Your Cheese
If you can’t lock in the lower price now, you are not excited about alternative redemptions and you’re out of flexible points, it might be time to move your cheese. What does that mean in this scenario?
Maybe it’s time to switch from your current hotel credit card and try a different brand. Or, maybe it means that you focus on airline miles and use other tools like Priceline and timeshare rentals to score a great deal on lodging. There’s more than one way to play this travel hacking game.
Readers, how has the latest round of hotel award category changes affected you?
Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids. Her favorite vacations include the beach, cruising and everything Disney.