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Hotel points changing -- might be time to get a new rewards credit card

Written by Maryalene LaPonsie
Posted On: March 15, 2013

By now, you may have heard a number of hotel chains either have revamped their loyalty programs or will be very soon. The changes are not particularly good news for consumers either. For the most part, points are being devalued, and consumers will need to save up more to earn free nights and upgrades.

While the changes typically mean you need more points to book a room, you may be able to offset the lowered value of points by leveraging bonuses offered by travel credit cards.

5 hotel loyalty programs adjusted

From the start of the year through May, five hotel loyalty point programs have changed their terms. Although point requirements have gone down for some properties, most programs will be requiring more points in exchange for free rooms or upgrades in popular locales.

  • Intercontinental Hotel Group: The IHG Priority Club Rewards allows travelers to earn points for visits to popular hotel chains including Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza and Candlewood Suites. Point requirements increased for approximately 30 percent of IHG properties. Changes to the club were effective January 18, although members had the opportunity to redeem points under the old reward levels through mid-March.
  • Starwood: On March 5, the Starwood Cash & Points program, which covers Westin, Sheraton and W hotels among others, increased its points requirements for most properties. However, to be fair, the company also expanded the program worldwide and made suites eligible for point upgrades.
  • Wyndham: Wyndham properties has the one program in which consumers may come out ahead because of the changes. Implemented on March 14, the new point system eliminated the two highest categories and reduced points in the lowest categories. The result is lower point requirements for 40 percent of Wyndham properties compared to an increase for 22 percent of its hotels.
  • Hilton: The Hilton program changes on March 28, and its points seem to be undergoing the greatest devaluation. According to some estimates, it will take nearly double the points to secure a room at top-tier properties. However, those looking for economy rooms will be pleased to see the redemption level for budget hotels was dropped from 7,500 points to 5,000 points.
  • Marriot: Marriot Rewards members have until May 16 to redeem points under the current program. Then, hotels get reshuffled into new categories which means stays at most Marriot branded properties will cost more points.

Boost points with a travel rewards credit card

So what should be your response to these changes? Well, if you haven't already got one, now might be the time to sign up for a travel credit card.

Hotel rewards programs are free to join and offer points based upon your hotels stays. However, many also have affiliated credit cards. The Starwood Preferred Guest credit card and the Marriot Rewards Premier credit card are two examples. Not only do these cards offer points per dollar spent, they often come with significant sign-on bonuses that can be redeemed immediately toward nights at a participating hotel.

Another option may be to consider getting a general purpose cash back card. Rebates from a cash back credit card may be competitive when compared to the value of points under the revamped hotel programs. In addition, since these cards aren't brand specific, they can expand your travel options.

For travelers, the hotel program changes are most certainly a letdown. However, the right travel credit card can help ensure you still have plenty of reward nights in your future.

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