Rewards Program Changes Coming in 2017

The new year is off to a shaky start, with many upcoming changes in the points and miles world. Some of them are good, while others you really have to put your rose-colored glasses on to see in a positive light. If you’ve been out of the loop for the past few weeks and are just catching up, here’s a list of reward program changes you should be aware of that will be implemented in 2017:

A New World of Hyatt

On March 1, Hyatt Gold Passport will be renamed World of Hyatt and top-tier elite level renamed Globalist status. Furthermore, earning top-tier Hyatt Globalist status is going to get a bit more difficult, to say the least. Gone are the days of status challenges and 25-stay requirements. Going forward, members will need to stay 60 nights, spend $20,000 or earn 100,000 base points to earn top-tier Globalist status. In addition, the Chase Hyatt Credit Card no longer offers credit towards status, making top-tier Hyatt elite status even more unattainable. 

This has already made some people reconsider their loyalty. My solution is to switch to Hilton HHonors or Starwood/Marriott, where select credit cardholders can still spend their way to top-tier hotel elite status. You might also want to consider using points to upgrade standard rooms. This will get you “elite” perks like club lounge access, premium rooms, and breakfast during hotel stays.

Starwood-Marriott Merger

The Starwood-Marriott merger was set into motion last year, with largely positive results. Members can match their elite status across all three programs. Plus, SPG points can be converted to Marriott at a favorable 1:3 ratio. Positive developments are typical during the beginning of a merger, when companies are trying to keep their members from taking off for greener pastures.

In 2017, I fully expect a devaluation of some sort. Perhaps redemption rates for the new rewards program will skyrocket. Marriott might take a page out of Hyatt’s book and make elite status more difficult to achieve. Not to be a Debby Downer, but we should all be prepared for an SPG/Marriott devaluation of some sort. 

Changes to the Southwest Companion Pass

The Southwest Companion Pass is often dubbed one of the best “travel hacks” out there. There was a bit of panic last week when bloggers started covering changes to the Southwest Companion Pass, making it sound more serious than it was. Starting March 31, points transferred from hotel and car rental partners will no longer count towards the Southwest Companion Pass. That’s not a huge loss, considering the sign-up bonus (and spending) from the Southwest Credit Cards will continue to count towards the 110,000 point requirement to earn the Companion Pass.

Overall, the changes aren’t as bad as I had imagined when the headlines first hit. The important thing is that credit card sign-up bonuses still count towards earning the Southwest Companion Pass.

Alaska Airlines Virgin America Merger

My favorite rewards program is merging with my favorite domestic airline and its making me nervous. The initial changes have been positive: Alaska Airlines announced cheap distance-based award redemption rates while making award travel eligible for upgrades. Then a bunch of people who were members woke up to 10,000 Alaska miles in their accounts. As of yesterday, members can even transfer Virgin America Elevate points to Alaska miles at a favorable ratio. 

Korean Airlines Allows Online Partner Bookings

A couple of weeks ago I nearly lost my mind trying to book an award on Etihad Airways using Korean Skypass miles. After a long, painful hold, the agent informed me that the return flight I wanted to book was gone. Since Korean Skypass requires the same number of miles for a one-way as a roundtrip, this made things slightly stressful for me. Luckily it all worked out thanks to a few awesome folks who let me borrow their AAdvantage miles. The news that Korean Airlines will now allow members to book partner awards online is welcome. Korean Airlines actually has really good redemption rates for award bookings. Since Chase Ultimate Rewards points are easily attained, this is a good program to get familiar with. 

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