Beware the Ides of March. Hotel loyalty VP’s must have been reading Shakespeare over the holidays, as we’ve seen major
changes devaluations for Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt, as well as a complete revamp of IHG’s credit cards and rewards program. That’s not counting Caesars going all Brutus on status matchers. And we’re not even into April yet.
Each of these changes has had at least some impact on the free night certificates that are awarded by the respective programs for elite status, co-branded credit cards, or both. Marriott and IHG both expanded redemption options directly, while Hyatt and Hilton made indirect changes via program devaluations.
So let’s take a quick look at each program’s free night awards, how they’ve changed, and if those changes make the certificates more or less valuable.
- Certificate Value: Good for one night at almost any Hilton in the world, up to 120,000 points per night. These certificates used to be limited to weekend nights, but during the pandemic have changed to being able to be used any night of the week.
- How certificate is awarded: Anniversary bonus of Hilton Aspire card. Current part of welcome offer on Hilton Aspire, Surpass, No-fee Honors and Business cards. Annual spend of $15,000 on Surpass or $60,000 on Aspire
Stock Report: ↗️ Hilton snuck into the March fiesta with a stealth devaluation of their top-tier properties. While Hilton uses dynamic pricing, traditionally the highest-end properties topped out at 95,000 points. These would often be the best value awards. My wife and I used a couple at the Conrad Maldives; Nick and his family used a couple at the Conrad Bora Bora. Both of these properties would have been $800-1000+/night in cash at the time, making the certificate very valuable. When the Waldorf-Astoria Maldives opened, Hilton created a new price-level of 120,000 points for a standard room, but it was the only property in the world that reached that level…until this month. Now, there are multiple high-end properties that are pricing out at 120,000 points a night.
So how does a devaluation positively affect the value of the certificate? Because, unlike Hyatt, Hilton isn’t excluding these properties from their free night certs, meaning that a certificate can now be redeemed for these 120,000 points properties. In absolute terms, the value of the certificate hasn’t changed, but relative to points redemptions it has…making one certificate almost as valuable as a sign-up bonus of 100,000-120,000 points. I recently chose to upgrade three no-fee Hilton cards to Aspires with no upgrade bonus for that very reason.
- Certificate #1 Value: Good for a standard room at any category 1-4 Hyatt property.
- How certificate is awarded: Anniversary bonus of World of Hyatt Card. Annual spend of $15,000 on WOH card. Up to 3x as a “Brand Explorer” award for staying at 5 different brands. Also awarded after receiving 30 elite night credits in one year.
- Certificate #2 Value: Good for a standard room at any category 1-7 Hyatt property.
- How certificate is awarded: Awarded after receiving 60 elite night credits in one year.
Stock Report: ↘️Hyatt’s category changes take affect tomorrow inspiring a wave of fevered booking from all of us today. Category 8 is a big reason why. Much like Hilton, Hyatt introduced Category 8 when they added Destination Hotels and Small Luxury Hotels into the portfolio, the idea being that these included many boutique properties whose cash rates necessitated a higher category. Hyatt’s own properties were entirely contained in categories 1-7. Until tomorrow, that is. Nine of Hyatt’s most sought-after properties will be going up to category 8 and, in contrast to Hilton, Hyatt’s 1-7 certs will not be usable at these properties. That’s a huge devaluation for top-tier elites.
The ubiquitous Category 1-4 certs are more mixed. For folks who use these certs primarily domestically, it’s a gut-punch. The US is losing 11 properties that are moving to category 5, including sought-after properties in Manhattan, Miami Beach and California, a serious blow to its domestic utility. Internationally, on the other hand, there is a net gain of 17 additional 1-4 properties. It’s actually a nice list, with some very desirable properties in Amsterdam, Hong Kong, Sydney and other normally high-demand areas.
Still though, for most US holders, both of these certificates will be less valuable starting tomorrow, especially the cat. 1-7.
- Certificate Value: Good for one night at any IHG property costing up to 40,000 points per night. Starting March 24th, can be “topped up” with additional points and used for any property systemwide if awarded from IHG Premier Card.
- How certificate is awarded: Anniversary bonus of IHG Premier and Select cards. Current part of welcome offer on IHG Premier.
Stock Report: ↗️ IHG is unique among programs this year as the changes that they’ve announced have been broadly positive…especially with free night certificates. IHG is dynamically-priced, so there’s no sure way of knowing that there won’t be a stealth devaluation. That said, they have announced that the free night certificates awarded from the IHG Premier card will be able to be “topped up” with additional points, like Marriott. Unlike Marriott, there’s no cap on how many additional points can be redeemed, meaning that these certificates are now a 40,000 point rebate on any property systemwide.
This is a substantial increase in redemption flexibility and will make it MUCH easier to maximize the value of the certificate. Holders of the Select card with a 10% redemption rebate will have that rebate applied to the top-up amount as well. I’m much more excited about these certs than I was last year and will be changing my IHG credit card strategy because of it.
- Certificate #1 Value: Good for a standard room at any Marriott property, up to 35,000 points per night. Starting later this month, these can be “topped up” with as much as 15,000 additional points for a higher-priced property
- How certificate is awarded: Anniversary bonus of Marriott Boundless and Business Cards. Annual spend of $60,000 on Business card.
- Certificate #2 Value: Good for a standard room at any Marriott property, up to 40,000 points per night. Starting later this month, it can be “topped up” with as much as 15,000 additional points for a higher-priced property
- How certificate is awarded: Elite choice benefit after 75 credited nights
- Certificate #3 Value: Good for a standard room at any Marriott property, up to 50,000 points per night. Starting later this month, it can be “topped up” with as much as 15,000 additional points for a higher-priced property
- How certificate is awarded: Anniversary bonus of Bonvoy Brilliant Card
Stock Report: 🔃 If there’s one certainty in life, it’s that Marriott’s gonna Bonvoy. And they sure Bonvoyed with their long-awaited switch to dynamic pricing, coming at the end of the this month. “Most” hotels are spending the rest of this year within a price-band around their current category level….except for 200 properties that will vary beyond their current pricing bands. Unfortunately, many of the most popular properties in the Marriott portfolio are in this group and some will see increases of up to 20,000 or 30,000 points per night above current redemption levels, which doesn’t bode well for next year when all bets are off. Blech.
On the plus side, Marriott is increasing the flexibility of their certificates as well, allowing them to be topped with up to 15,000 additional points in order to reach more expensive awards. While it would have been nice to see them allow for uncapped additional point usage like IHG, this undoubtedly make them easier to use.
So, the combination of more flexible awards and increased award pricing makes the Marriott certificates a push, we’ll know more once 2023 lands and we see the full impact of the dynamic devaluation.
Book your domestic Hyatt certs now!
Outside of that, it’s a mixed bag for hotel certs. I will personally value the IHG and Hilton certs more and the Hyatt certs less. Marriott is a bit TBD, but sitting here trying to remember the last time Bonvoy surprised me pleasantly has me…still thinking.
In the big picture, I think these certificates are all still good value in relation to their annual fees, especially now that they are becoming useable again. The one overall plus is that, with the possible exception of Hyatt, they are all easier to use AND easier to maximize (no more irritatingly priced 41,000 points IHG hotels). That will be a welcome change among the chaos of March Madness 2022.