"An important update from Club Carlson."
That was the subject line in today's mass email from Carlson. It likely sent chills up the spines of many loyalty-program aficionados, who know all too well that "update" is all too often code for devaluation.
And so it was with today's announcement, although much of the worst news wasn't even included in the email.
Here's a summary of the positive and negative program changes, scheduled to take effect on March 15:
- Award stays count toward elite status
- Points awarded for food and beverage purchased during award stays
- Points can be used for room upgrades
- Reduction of elite bonus points: Silver from 25 percent to 15 percent; Gold from 50 percent to 35 percent
- New Category 7 award level at 70,000 points
- Online booking bonus discontinued
- Award-price changes (more increases than decreases)
The net effect of the changes is overwhelmingly negative. Most program members will find themselves earning fewer points, and redeeming more points for award nights.
Of the program's 99 hotels in the Americas, 64 will be shifted into higher award Categories (i.e., a price increase), and 35 will be shifted into lower Categories (i.e., a price decrease). Overall, around 114 hotels will be more expensive, against just 67 that will go down in price.
Since its launch in 2011, Club Carlson had been on a mostly positive trajectory, with notably consumer-friendly award changes and some particularly generous bonus promotions. But Carlson began squandering the goodwill it had amassed last summer when it devalued Club Carlson points by as much as 44 percent. In fact, many hotel programs suffered significant devaluations in 2013. And if Carlson had limited the damage to that single change, it might have retained some semblance of front-runner generosity. But with this new batch of downgrades, Club Carlson opted for also-ran status instead.
This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.