A week at the beach? A Caribbean cruise? Europe by train?
If you’re like most Americans, you’ve already begun to daydream about your big summer trip. But before you pack your bags, make sure that you’re getting the most for your money—no matter where you’re planning to go.
To help you plan wisely, we’ve rounded up the major industry changes in hotel rewards, cruises and transportation that will affect summer travel this year—some may have you jumping to book that getaway, while others might make a staycation look better and better.
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If there were a Sad-Trombone Award for summer travel, this year’s first-place prize would go to hotel rewards points. Three major brands—Marriott, Hilton and Starwood—have increased the amount of points needed to book a free hotel room.
Marriott Hotels, which includes Ritz Carlton and Fairfield Inn & Suites, among others, has moved 36% of its properties (more than 1,000 hotels) into higher rewards categories. This means that some hotels that used to require 15,000 points per night to book a free room now require 20,000 points; others that used to require 30,000 points now demand 35,000. What’s more, 13 of the brand’s properties have been placed in Category 9—a new designation requiring 45,000 points for a free room.
If you have points to redeem, and want to get the best deal, book your room now. The changes go into effect on May 15, but all rewards points bookings made before that date will be honored at the price point at which they were booked.
Hilton’s most significant changes come in the form of what they’re calling Seasonal Pricing. Previously, the amount of rewards points needed to book a free room was the same throughout the year, but it now varies based on demand. This is good news for people who want to travel during the shoulder season, when demand for rooms is low, explains public relations executive Matt Kochis. “For example, you had to use the same amount of points to stay in Park City, Utah, in the summer as in the winter,” he says. “With seasonal pricing, members have the opportunity to book at a number of hotels using [fewer] points, depending on the time of year.”
“It’s the first partnership of its kind in hotel-airline history,” says Maire Griffin of Starwood’s SPG program.
Although this is true, for those traveling during the summer months when demand peaks, seasonal pricing means shelling out significantly more rewards points as was previously required. The changes span the entire brand, including Waldorf Astoria, Doubletree, Hampton Inn and more.
Members of Starwood Hotels and Resort’s loyalty program—including Sheraton, Westin and W Hotels—will notice that 20% to 25% more points and cash are required to book rooms via the brand’s Cash & Points program. For example, before the change, a room in a category 6 hotel, like the W New York in Times Square, would have required 8,000 points, plus $150. Now the same room requires 10,000 points, plus $180. On the upside, the new model lets members use their points for upgraded rooms and suites, an option that wasn’t available before.