The latest bad news is all over FlyerTalk and the travel blogosphere – Hilton is the latest hotel chain to devalue their points. This isn’t a chain I paid much attention to, I only joined it for the US Grand Slam hits a few years ago. Other chains were easier to earn points in and what I earned in Hilton came mostly from E-Rewards and Topguest (until my account and my husband’s got “Celested” last year).
So are hotel chains worth it? It’s getting harder to earn points for leisure travelers with fewer promos on offer. The only deals that are even worth it are the credit cards that give a free night or generous anniversary point bonus. Eco-lodges where I can see wild birds is my #1 priority and they need to be booked either direct with the lodge or sometimes via online TA’s such as Expedia, Travelocity and Hotels.com which you may need to do to use a credit card. You can’t get them with points, need cash! True, we still need accommodation at gateway cities and hotel points can come in handy for that.
For non-eco-trips such as big cities or beach resorts hotels points are useful but Priceline and Hotwire could also be an option or Wotif for Aussies. Fortunately for me, I still have a decent supply of points in Club Carlson and Priority Club and have a shiny new SPG Amex so we will be pretty well set for the next few years.
Moving forward, this is my strategy which will work better for people who can get USA credit cards and don’t have other issues such as travel for work and getting elite status. I will still keep chasing airline miles but for accommodation, I can see a shifting of focus to cash-back cards and promos to help pay for eco-lodges in my future.
FIRST CHOICE PROGRAMS
1. CLUB CARLSON – they have properties in some good areas for eco-tourists such as Panama, India, Puerto Rico and others. We did last year’s promo for the Big Night Giveaway and my new Club Carlson visa gives a free award night with redemption of 2 or more nights and 25k annual bonus.
2. PRIORITY CLUB – their best deal is the Pointbreaks but it’s luck of the draw if they will have one at a hotel you are planning to stay at and I am not the sort who will go somewhere JUST because there is a Pointbreak there. The Chase Visa gives an annual free night and with my previously earned stash, we’re pretty well fixed.
3. SPG – All points will come from either the SPG Amex or can be transferred in from my Aussie Amex. This is a very flexible program because if you can’t find a hotel to spend your points on, you can always transfer them to an airline at 20,000 SPG = 25,000 airline miles.
POTENTIALLY USEFUL PROGRAMS
4. CHOICE – good value in Europe, Australia is a bit pricey. I have a good stash from last year’s Discover America program but not planning to chase more points here. When they are gone, goodbye!
5. WYNDHAM – just had a devaluation, I personally don’t find much value in their hotel rewards and you have to call to book international awards which is a pita. This program is only useful if they have a good promo (can do phantom stays) and then I would transfer the points to an airline for 8000 Wyndham = 3200 airline.
NOT PLANNING TO USE (UNLESS I CAN PRICELINE THEM)
6. HYATT – nothing wrong with this program and they have great hotels, they are just more expensive for me than Club Carlson and Priority Club. Business travelers seem to really love Hyatt so your needs may be different. I did use some Chase Ultimate Rewards to book Hyatt Regency Maui for later this year because my main chains don’t serve Maui or in SPG’s case, they didn’t have cash & points.
7. MARRIOTT – nice hotels but just not good value for redemptions and hard to get points.
8. HILTON – again, nice hotels but just not good value for redemptions and hard to get points
9. BEST WESTERN – good coverage and reasonably priced for cash but points redemptions not good. I’d stay at a BW but use a portal like UR, Hotels.com or similar and not bother accruing to the BW program.