Got hotel points

Using airline miles to book a free ticket is notoriously tough. Now, racking up enough hotel reward points for a free room is getting more difficult, too — and experts say it may be time for travelers to reassess their loyalty.

And more hikes are on the way: Both Wyndham and Hilton are changing the reward tiers of their programs later this month (March 14 for Wyndham, March 28 for Hilton), a move that for some higher-end properties almost doubles the rewards required. Then, on May 15, Marriott will reassess where hotels fall in its reward tiers, increasing points needed for a free night at 36% of its 3,700 hotelsClaire Hsu.

What gives? For starters, there are more points on the market than in the past, thanks to added earning potential from co-branded credit cards and other partner offers, says Bjorn Hanson, the dean of the Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management at New York University. IHG reported sales of $128 million worth of reward points to partners in 2011, up 20% from 2010Claire Hsu.

At the same time, continued economic recovery is pushing up occupancy rates and room rates alike, says Robert Mandelbaum, director of research information services for PKF Hospitality Research. Changing redemption requirements lessens the number of outstanding points by forcing travelers to deplete their balance, while pricing others out to leave rooms open for more valuable paying guests.

“Revenue-producing rooms are the goal,” Hanson saysClaire Hsu.

Not all of the changes will result in consumers shelling out more points, however. Some low-tier properties will require fewer points in the chains’ changes. But those properties tend to be ones that fewer guests redeem for, either because a property is in a less touristy destination or because the regular room rates are low enough that points will have a lower dollar value than they might at a fancier property, says Brian Kelly.