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2013 in review – Part 2 – ‘The Year of Devaluations’

This is the second part of my look back at 2013.  Last year I touched on some of my personal travel highlights and looked back at some of the biggest promotions.  Today I want to look at the (unwelcome) trend of the year – devaluations.

A good loyalty programme should work both ways.  In return for your loyalty to them, I believe that you are owed some ‘loyalty’ in return – and that should mean no sudden detrimental changes.  In a broader sense, it should also mean no major changes at all – there is nothing ‘loyal’ about saving points over months or years only to have the rug pulled from under you with a huge devaluation.

Hotel programmes

Let’s start with the hotel programmes.  Pretty much every major scheme announced a devaluation this year. 

Calendar

The winner of ‘worst’ devaluation depends on how you redeem.  If you prefer to redeem for luxury properties, then the Hilton devaluation in February set some new benchmark.  Top hotels jumped, in some cases, from 50,000 points to 95,000 points overnight.  What was laughable was that even the owners of some top Hilton properties complained, because redemptions fell off a cliff and the hotel relied on them to fill their rooms.

Hilton also raised the number of nights and stays required to reach Gold and Diamond.  The biggest jump was for Gold, which went from 16 stays to 20 stays.

For those who prefer to redeem in mid-scale hotels, the IHG Rewards Club / Priority Club devaluation was worse.  Whilst InterContinental redemptions remained at 50,000 points, cheaper hotels in big cities were pushed up sharply.  This led to a similar sort of madness – who would redeem 35,000 points for a Holiday Inn Express in London when the InterContinental Park Lane is only 50,000?!

More importantly, IHG made it almost impossible to retain Platinum purely from hotel spend by only counting ‘base spending’.  You now need to spend $4,000, pre-tax, in their hotels to reach Platinum – or spend £99 on the fee for the Priority Club Black credit card.

Marriott and Hyatt carried out a devaluation by stealth.  Both chains added a new ‘top category’ of redemption – with a new points level – and shuffled the other hotels around, generally upwards.  Marriott (read here) was more aggressive than Hyatt (read here), although Hyatt also cut back their fantastic ’6000 points for a 4-night suite upgrade’ award.

Club Carlson did not devalue.  However, they blotted their copybook by slashing the conversion rate to airline miles overnight, with no warning.  Similarly, Starwood did not devalue either.  They did increase the ‘cash’ element of ‘cash and points’ redemptions, but the upside of this was that (theoretically) more hotels would now offer these.

Part of the problem is the inflationary pressure caused by credit card bonuses in the USA.  Whilst UK residents cannot apply for these, we suffer because we get caught up in the inflationary aftermath.

Hyatt, for example, after having avoided all credit card deals for years, suddenly launched its own US card (with a sign-up bonus of 2 free nights) and became a transfer partner for Chase and their credit card points.  In the US, people are now swimming in Hyatt points via multiple Chase credit card sign-up bonuses.  In Europe, the ONLY way to earn Hyatt points is very slowly, via stays.

At least UK residents can apply for the IHG Rewards Club credit card, which comes (£99 version) with free Platinum status.  Outside the UK and US, Platinum status now requires $4,000 of pre-tax in-hotel spend.

Airline devaluations

The airlines have been well behaved this year, at least in Europe.  (In the US, there have been some nasty devaluations, with an expected AA one to come following the US Airways merger.)

Avios pushed up Reward Flight Saver fees by another £5.  That was offset by the benefits of Qatar, Malaysian and (coming soon) SriLankan and US Airways joining the oneworld alliance.

Virgin Flying Club cut the number of miles needed for economy redemptions AND cut taxes.  You will now pay over £100 less per person than the same economy redemption booked using Avios – and use a few less miles as well.  Initiatives like ‘Combi Fare’ also show that Virgin is not letting BA make the running on innovation, and scrapping their archaic and draconian cancellation policy was a real step forward.

Flying Blue cut the taxes required for economy redemptions, but this was outweighed by ludicrous increases to business class redemptions.  Most serious flyers have abandoned the scheme already, though.

Miles & More didn’t do much, but effectively stopping redemptions in Swiss First Class is a shame.

Transfer bonuses have been harder to come by, though.  This is an effective devaluation if you regularly use them.  The last Tesco to Avios bonus was July 2012, although there was a Virgin one this year.  The last three Amex to Avios transfer bonuses have been targeted, and the bonus has dropped – the last one offered just 20% to most people.

For me, the biggest upside was Emirates Skywards becoming an Amex partner, although I admit this is a minority interest!  This offset the annoyance of Jumeirah being dropped, although oddly it remains a partner for the Amex International Dollar / Euro Cards.

Conclusion

As you can see from the above moves, loyalty schemes are not really a two-way street.  As the economy picks up and occupancy rates (hotels) and load factors (airlines) improve, redemption opportunities will be tougher than they were.   That said, good deals will always be there for the taking, if you know where to look.  The aim of Head for Points is to point you in the right direction!

Tomorrow, in the last part of this look back, I take a look at the credit card scene in 2013.

Hyatt announces its Spring promotion - 'Endless Possibilities'
Avios 'sale' launching 6th January!
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Comments

  1. Hello,

    How do You get To the 4000 spent?

    40 nights and 4-5 brands are enough and reward nights count.

    • gnarlyoldgoatdude says:

      I now only use IHG as a fallback, whereas in 2012 they were my chain of choice. The devaluation that occurred last year with bonus points no longer counting towards status scared me away.

      This year’s Big Win was meaningless for me as a IHG Gold (the most useless elite status in hoteldom). Only 1100 out of my potential 123000 points were achievable. Strangely, next year (as a club member) my 83k bonus looks doable.

    • 60,000 points for Plat would require $6,000 of spending (excluding tax, so more in reality) so £4,000. The alternative is 50 nights, but you’d struggle to get that for less than £4,000 anyway if you were a business traveller booking flexible rooms at short notice.

      Whilst you can also do it with 4 brands and 40 nights, in reality 40 nights would still get you close to £4,000 of spending in any event. 4 brands is also tricky for a business traveller – if your company pays for InterContinentals, you are unlikely to stay in a HIX. And if your usual budget only runs to Holiday Inn / HIX then you will struggle to get the more expensive brands in.

      • Ok raffles, but not every reader of your wonderful blog is a business guy paid by his company.

        I got with 27 nights more than 40.000 points and 5 brands.

  2. BA communications have frequently referred to fortcoming exciting changes. I am convinced a devaluation is on the way. 7th January seems to be some sort of nilestone in the AA/US merger so I am hoping the devaluation does not hit that early and waits until US joins OW or later.Cha ges at IHG have been sweetened by very generous promotions and IMO remains best hotel scheme.

  3. This will affect a small number of people, but a partnership between CET and SPG has just been announced.

    Not seen much of the details yet but apparently will allow cross-brand redemptions.

    CET are big in Vegas (Caesars, Planet Hollywood, Paris, Ballys, Harrahs) etc whilst there are no longer any on-strip SPG redemptions available there.

    • So, for the majority of people who use this site, it becomes more useful knowing the above CET / SPG link if you can utilise it… right?

      More info is here: http://www.vegaschatter.com/story/2013/12/22/212845/21/vegas-travel/Total+Rewards+Partners+With+Starwood+Hotels

      I suggest that people sign up to Total Rewards (CET points program) using this link: http://bit.ly/NYAmVT (this is my refferal link raffles – hope that’s ok?)

      Once you’ve signed up to Total Rewards, as long as you have a Facebook and / or a Twitter account, you can then sign up for Social Rewards – http://web.socialrewards.com/totalrewards/ – which on linking to your twitter / Facebook account will earn you points for watching short videos, and posting links to your timeline / twitter feed (max of ’3′ activities per day which will earn ~75 points = $0.75). You can easily rack up the points over the first month or so.

      I signed up just over a year ago (IIRC), and have hit about $300 on it.

      • Ah, my follow up post (still “awaiting moderation” as I type this) is slightly inaccurate – there wasn’t much detail around when I first heard the above, and I anticipated it would allow the use of Total Reward “Reward Credits” (earned via. Social Rewards) against SPG… it doesn’t seem it does from the signup page link on Vegas Chatter tho:

        “As an SPG member you’ll earn two Starpoints for every $1 spent on eligible rooms and on-property spend at participating hotels. Total Rewards Platinum, Diamond and Seven Stars members earn one Reward Credit for every $1 spent on eligible rooms at over 1,100 Starwood locations.”

        Though if you’re going Vegas, at least you can credit to SPG points now for staying at a CET hotel (2 points per $1)…

    • its a little odd though, have to be a CET Seven Star member to get comp SPG Gold, given that 7* is their top tier (criteria is $1m coin in over a year in slots) its pretty feeble. Point earning and redemptions are better then nothing I guess though!

      MGM group have a similar tie in with Hyatt group too

  4. On your point about the potential of an AA devaluation… I have 50,000 miles sitting in my account thanks to the MBNA sign up – should we look to redeem these points sooner rather than later? First in Etihad looks tempting – will this be affected or will it only be AA redemptions that will be devalued?

    • If you believe AA to jump on the United and Delta bandwagon that may be a good idea. If you need to top up and SPG transfer is not an option the current AA buy miles promo is as generous as it ever gets but annoyingly you need to wait until January to grt the extra 20% this year which will postdate any 7/1 changes that may or may not occur.

    • Whole lot would be devalued. Actually a greater risk of partner rewards being devalued, because these require AA to pay real cash to Etihad for your flight, as opposed to just taking up an otherwise empty seat on an AA plane.

  5. I have an MBNA supermarket and fuel amex, which gave 1.5% cash back in supermarkets, which was a good deal, especially when buying 3V or other gift cards. A £200 deposit into NSandI only cost me £197, and gave me 1440 avios
    Just had a letter to say that they are changing the rate to 1%,. :(
    Maybe we have all just got TOO good at using our points, and not so many points are left in suspense(unused or expired)

  6. Agree 100% re inflationary pressures from US CC deals – the sign-up bonuses (and ongoing earning rates) they have are just staggering compared to what we have over here (and the UK is probably better placed than many other countries) – when they keep putting redemption levels up like this it means that only US CC owners can really still afford to redeem!

    AA will be an interesting one – the merger with US will no doubt lead to some rejig, but US had some pretty good deals on their award chart too so will they try and keep things relatively stable to avoid peeing off too many customers from either AA or US? I’m now up past 55k on my AA miles but don’t have an immediate need/free time to redeem them so will probably just have to see what happens!

  7. Chilibenny says:

    Hi there,

    Slightly OT but in relation to IHG devaluation I have 160k IHG Rewards Club Points and am going to New York with my wife and five year old in August.
    We want to stay for 3 nights so would HFP readers recommend the Intercontinental Times Square? Or would they recommend any other IHG properties and use the remaining points in something else?
    Regards

    • Times Square is the nicest property, rooms are a decent size (rollaway bed would fit in OK), relative bargain at 50,000 points. However, Staybridge Suites and Candlewood Suites properties are usually set up better for families (sofa beds usually in place, possibly a kitchen unit) – they won’t be as nice as IC TS but may be more convenient.

      Note that IC TS doesn’t really have any facilities suitable for a 5-year old – only one restaurant (celebrity chef run), no pool etc. That said, plenty of eating options very close including a Shake Shack next door and Juniors diner across the road opposite the side entrance to the theatre.

      • What are the benefits of platinum status with IHG. Is it worth the £99 fee for their credit card ?

        • See the table at http://www.ihg.com/rewardsclub/gb/en/enjoy-rewards#scmisc=wallet_enjoy-rewards_6c

          50% bonus on points is the only real ‘hard’ benefit. Free internet is available to all IHG members from Jan (watch the speeds get even more glacial!)

          Room upgrades is very hit or miss – I’ve had excellent treatment with some properties, including Club Lounge access. Others you might get some water and a KitKat, others nothing at all. Contacting them in advance to check re. what Platinum benefits they offer is worth doing as they’ll often amend your booking in advance (you can see the room type change on your confirmation in your account).

          Personally combined with the sign-up bonus (fingers-crossed 40k points) I think the £99 is fair value, I’m less convinced on a recurring basis though – you need to put £10k a year on the card to get the free night certificate, plus the £99 fee – this makes it a bit unfavourable in my mind to putting £10k on another card – even 1% cashback would give you £100 and no fee = £199. I’m probably going to take the card this coming year then try and get a status match the following year. I’m not sure when your status gets downgraded after you stop holding the Black VISA card.

          Of course now they’ve made Platinum more difficult to achieve on the stays front (by excluding bonus points from counting towards status) there’s always a chance they enhance the benefits a bit – free breakfast would be my top request!

          • If you don’t have a 0% FX fees credit card, PC Black is pretty good for overseas use as its 4 points per £1 (effectively 2% back). I ensure my £10k is made up entirely on foreign spend.

            • Agree that certainly makes it much better VFM that way – although I tend to use my 0% PO MC for forex spend that doesn’t have to go on my Amex Plat for insurance purposes. Will keep that in mind though.

        • Make sure you actually get Plat status. Three months after getting the card I’d got neither points or status. After a couple of chasing emails (during which I was initially told it would take 6-8 months!) I now have the points but only Gold status. I’m still chasing them for Plat.

  8. I think this is how blogs such as HFP and MSE directly affect corporate offerings. If they say something is a good/bad deal, the deal normalises.

    How many times was it repeated here that the Reward Flight Saver was a superb use of Avios? Result, the cash component has increased very significantly in percentage terms twice in one year.

    The loyalty schemes and facets of which harshly criticized here, and there were many, have, on average, improved – something not yet acknowledged in this series of reflections.

    All big corporates now employ full-time staff to at least monitor social media. What we discuss here will eventually feed in to corporate policy.

    On that ‘big brother’ note, I would just say be careful for what you wish for because you may get the opposite.

    Tim.

    • Correlation does not equal causation… The RFS charge is generally less than the cash BA has to pay out in taxes etc for you, its hardly surprising the fee is slowly rising, blog mentions or not.

      • We know, via those in the official Avios Advisory Hub, that BA’s biggest worry is that people are not redeming for RFS because they don’t understand it.

  9. Another devaluation: looks like Tesco have now reduced the number of clubcard points issued for fuel purchases when using their credit card as a clubcard but not as payment card. I spent £44 on regular unleaded yesterday and only got 22 CC points. Two weeks ago I got 44 clubcard points.

    • If you buy momentum, currently works out the same with 5p off a litre on a £40 spend, you get double c c points using your tesco credit card as a clubcard, on going v good deal always. I would call club card about your case, could be an error, and they will credit them for you, maybe. Unless its a secret devaluation that only HFP readers noticed.