Although it took a serious recession and the near-collapse of the world economy, hotel companies are making their loyalty programs more attractive. As a result, loyalty travelers will be the recipients of some of the best incentives we have seen in years.

Marriott, Hilton and Starwood have eliminated blackout dates for hotel reward redemption.

This year, Marriott also began allowing all loyalty program members to create their own awards and giving their top-level participants free membership in Clear, a service that helps registered travelers navigate bottlenecks at airport security.

Starwood announced a new twist to its program last month: It is letting members redeem points for airline tickets, on any flight they want whenever they want, as long as seats are available. A $300 plane ticket, for example, can be redeemed for 25,000 points.

These moves contrast starkly with recent initiatives by airlines that reduce the value of membership (e.g., new upgrade fees). As a result, the ?value gap? between hotel and airline programs is as wide as it?s ever been and continues to increase.

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