Award price changes are a fact of loyalty program life. And history shows that when changes are made, the net effect is usually an overall increase in the price of a program's awards.
Among the major hotel programs, Marriott raised award prices at 350 hotels and lowered them at 100 hotels in March of 2011. And Hilton in early 2010 raised award prices at 82 percent of its properties.
But that's not the whole story. Even as Marriott was raising prices, Starwood revamped its award chart, moving 93 hotels into lower (cheaper) categories, and 84 hotels into higher (more expensive) categories. Net effect: an average price decrease, albeit a small one.
And while Hilton was ratcheting up its award prices, Carlson was cutting the prices of free stays at more than 300 of the 1,000-plus hotels participating in its goldpoints plus program, since renamed Club Carlson. Another price decrease.
Higher Priority Club Award Prices
On January 18, we can add InterContinental's Priority Club Rewards to the list of programs that have raised award prices. According to Don Berg, InterContinental's V.P. of loyalty programs, approximately 25 percent of the program's hotels will increase their award prices, 20 percent will decrease them, and 55 percent will keep them the same.
While the net effect is an increase in award prices overall, in terms of the number of affected hotels, it's pretty modest percentage-wise. What the numbers fail to clarify, however, is the change to the average award price, pre- and post-change. There's a troubling lack of transparency on Priority Club's part in not publishing a comprehensive before-and-after list of award prices. Anything less amounts to evasion and obfuscation.
Priority Club members who've already booked award stays at the current rates can re-book at the new lower rates, where applicable, by calling the customer service center within two months of the new rates' effect date.
Which raises another question. If there's effectively a two-month grace period, why not just make the effect date March 18, rather than give members such short notice? Or, for that matter, why not automatically convert existing award bookings to the lower prices instead of forcing program members to compare rates and call the service center?
All in all, this is an unfortunate move, if not an unexpected one. It's made doubly unfortunate by the lack of transparency, scant advance notice, and lackluster member communication.
Reader Reality Check
How do these changes affect your relationship with the Priority Club program?
This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.