Travelers often feel slighted when it comes to hotel and airline rewards programs, and new award changes proposed by Marriott (MAR) may leave some questioning their loyalty.
Starting March 6, more than a thousand properties in the Marriott Rewards and Starwood SPG program will change how they award points.
For Marriott, 1,330 properties will either move up or down in category. Within the company, each brand is put in a different reward category based on brand, location and type. The lower the category, the cheaper the nightly rate, and the easier it is to redeem points. For example, earning a free night at a category 1 hotel requires 7,500 points. A free night at a category 9 hotel requires 45,000 points.
The majority of Marriott’s 4,300 properties worldwide are staying in the same category; 21% (903) will move up in category, which means it will cost customers more points to earn a free night. Most of those properties are in the U.S.
The hiccup for consumers is that many of the hotels moving up in category are more budget-friendly options like Courtyard, Fairfield, Residence Inn, Springhill Suites and TownPlace Suites. Many of these hotels will climb by one category, so customers will have to earn an additional 5,000 points to get a free night.
For SPG members, about 18% (276) of Starwood’s 1,500 properties around the world are changing categories. This is down from 325 in 2017. From that overall number, about 8% of properties are moving to a higher category, 42 of which are in the U.S. This means that properties like the Sheraton Albuquerque Uptown, which was previously a category two and required 4,000 starpoints for a free night, is now a category three and requires 7,000 points for a free weekday stay. On the flip side, the Sheraton Anchorage Hotel and Spa is moving from a category four to a three, which will require 3,000 fewer points to earn a free night.
While these changes may affect your future travel plans, they weren’t totally unexpected. Airlines and hotels often update their loyalty programs with rules that affect how members earn points. The silver lining is that Marriott International gave consumers a month to maximize their points. If you’re planning to book at one of the properties moving up a category, you probably want to book your stay before March 6. That said, if your preferred property is dropping in category, it would be smart to wait so that you can take advantage of the cheaper price.
Marriott International acquired Starwood in 2016, becoming the largest lodging company in the world.
Brittany is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.