Loyalty programs in the hotel industry have taken a beating over the last several years as one program after another slashed its benefits. With new changes coming from Marriott Rewards though, the bottom may now be behind us.

The changes to Marriott awards announced late last week involve improvement through four main features:

  1. Points Advance: Marriott will “advance” a limited number of points to consumers in order to book a reward night
  2. Points Sharing: Friends and family can now share points
  3. Redemption Stay Credit: Award nights will now accrue towards annual elite status
  4. Cash + Points: Award nights can now be booked with a combination of cash and points

Many of the changes have been incorporated to bring Marriott up to speed with the current industry standards. Starwood’s Preferred Guest program (SPG), for example, has a healthy cash+points program while Hilton Honors allows award nights to accrue for elite status.

What the updates from Marriott Rewards perhaps better represent is the turn in the industry away from the cost-cutting measures of the recession and towards growth and competition for new business travelers. Like many of its competitors, Marriott spent the last several years devaluing its loyalty program and effectively limiting the volume of free nights available to rewards members. With the loyalty herd reasonably culled and business travel back the rise, however, Marriott and its competitors can now focus on building up their rewards programs as the economy and their business dictates.

In the airline industry, United Airlines is in a similar position. Reeling from a rocky merger and a tough recession, that airline and its CEO are currently in the process of restoring facets of the business traveler’s experience and improving passenger loyalty. In United’s case, that means better meals and lounges.

With the new changes to its loyalty program, Marriott has shown that it has a competitive product for any returning business travel to consider. Provided the economy continues to grow, look for more improvements from across the board in the industry.

Marriott’s program updates are slated to unroll through the fall. A full schedule, including concise benefit updates, is available at Marriott’s Insiders hub.