Free hotel rooms require more points

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Here's another sign the economy is stronger: Several major hotel chains are significantly raising the number of loyalty reward points needed to book a free room.

It's a simple matter of supply and demand, said Joe Brancatelli, who writes an online column on business travel. An improving economy has spurred more travel, prompting hotels to raise rates.

"Demand is up, so they can charge more," he said of hotels adjusting their reward points programs.

Most of the chains adopting point increases are shifting hotels to a higher tier in their respective programs. Each tier designates the points needed to stay in that hotel. The higher the tier, the more points needed.

For example, Starwood Preferred Guests, the program for the Westin, Sheraton and W hotels, among others, raised the rate by at least 25 percent on nearly 250 hotels.

Wyndham Rewards, which includes Days Inn and Howard Johnson, raised the points requirement by as much as 66 percent on about 1,600 hotels around the world. At an additional 2,900 or so hotels the rates are dropping, and they are staying the same at about 2,700 hotels.

Hilton HHonors, which covers Hampton Inn, DoubleTree, Embassy Suites and Waldorf Astoria, among others, is raising the points requirement on many of its hotels 14 percent to 50 percent. The changes start March 28.

The Marriott Rewards program, which includes Fairfield, Courtyard, Ritz-Carlton and TownePlace Suites, will raise the points requirement by at least 33 percent for more than 1,300 of its hotels. The program also created a higher tier for its most expensive hotels. The changes take effect May 16.

Laurie Goldstein, a spokeswoman for Marriott, said hotels typically reevaluate their rewards program each year. "We make these changes every year based on market demand," she said.

But Mr. Brancatelli said the latest changes are atypical.

"Individually and taken together the changes this year are really draconian," he said.



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