Blackout Dates When Redeeming Hotel Points: How Policies Compare

Blackout Dates When Redeeming Hotel Points: How Policies Compare

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Some people get frustrated by how complicated it can be to redeem airline miles, given blackout dates and capacity controls. By comparison, this is something that’s awesome about hotel points, at least on the surface.

Most hotel loyalty programs don’t have blackout dates on award redemptions. However, not all policies are created equal, so in this post I wanted to compare the blackout dates policies of the four most popular hotel loyalty programs among OMAAT readers.

Which hotel programs have no blackout dates?

Among the four biggest hotel loyalty programs in the Americas, there are very different policies when it comes to blackout dates on award stays. Some programs let you redeem points as long as a standard room is available for sale, while other programs let you redeem points only for a subset of standard rooms. So let’s go over the policies of Hilton Honors, IHG Rewards Club, Marriott Bonvoy, and World of Hyatt, and see how they compare.

Hilton Honors blackout dates policy

Hilton Honors has no blackout dates or capacity controls on award redemptions — this includes if you’re redeeming for a standard room (typically the best value), or if you’re using Points & Money awards for a premium room. Of the major hotel groups, Hilton Honors has the most straightforward policy.

Hilton Honors has no blackout dates or capacity controls

IHG Rewards Club blackout dates policy

IHG Rewards Club has no blackout dates on reward nights, but does have capacity controls. What this means is that some number of standard rooms will be made available for award redemptions every night, but that doesn’t mean that all standard rooms are available for award redemptions (as is the policy with Hilton Honors and World of Hyatt). In other words, if a hotel has 100 standard rooms, it could choose to make just 10 of them available for reward nights.

Note however that there are capacity controls and/or blackout dates for Six Senses and Mr. & Mrs. Smith properties, as these are just slowly being integrated into IHG Rewards Club.

IHG Rewards Club doesn’t have blackout dates, but does have capacity controls

Marriott Bonvoy blackout dates policy

Marriott Bonvoy has a “limited blackout dates” policy, which I’d basically view as meaning there are no blackout dates but there are some limited capacity controls. On most days most Marriott properties will make all standard rooms available for awards, though “on a limited number of days,” hotels can limit the number of standard rooms available for awards.

In other words, for some number of dates over peak season, hotels can choose to make only a subset of standard rooms available for points. This isn’t as generous as the policies of Hilton Honors or World of Hyatt, but compares favorably to IHG Rewards Club, which allows hotels to always only make a subset of standard rooms available for awards.

In the interest of being thorough, also note that the following properties don’t fully participate in Marriott Bonvoy when it comes to redeeming points:

  • JW Marriott Scottsdale Camelback Inn® Resort & Spa, Scottsdale, AZ
  • Vistana Signature Network and Vistana Residence Network – all properties
  • Marriott Vacation Club and Marriott Grand Residence Club – all properties
  • Rome Marriott Grand Hotel Flora, Rome, Italy
  • Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, Hawaii
  • Wailea Beach Resort – Marriott – Maui, Hawaii
  • Hotel Cala di Volpe, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Costa Smeralda, Italy
  • Hotel Pitrizza, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Costa Smeralda, Italy
  • Hotel Romazzino, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Costa Smeralda, Italy
  • Homes & Villas by Marriott International
  • North Island, a Luxury Collection Resort, Seychelles
Marriott Bonvoy doesn’t have blackout dates, but does have limited capacity controls

World of Hyatt blackout dates policy

World of Hyatt has no blackout dates on free night points redemptions, as long as a standard room is available for sale, with the standard rate also bookable. However, note that there are capacity controls on Small Luxury Hotels of the World properties, as well as on points redemptions for suites.

Furthermore, note that Destination Residences, along with the following properties, don’t typically have standard room redemptions available (due to the types of accommodations these properties offer):

  • Hyatt Windward Pointe
  • Hyatt Beach House
  • Hyatt Sierra Lodge
  • Hyatt Siesta Key Beach
  • Puunoa Beach Estates
  • The Islands at Mauna Lani
  • Wailea Beach Villas
  • Ventana Campground
World of Hyatt has no blackout dates or capacity controls

How do hotels get paid for award stays?

To understand these varying policies, it’s worth being aware of the general business model behind award stays. Individual hotels are typically owned by individual investment firms, and simply managed by the major hotel groups. Hotels get reimbursed by the loyalty programs when members redeem their points for a stay. The reimbursement rate is typically based on how full the hotel ends up being. Very generally speaking:

  • If a hotel isn’t close to being full (less than 90% full, give or take), the hotel receives fairly low reimbursement, that covers the costs the hotel incurs for having a guest, but doesn’t cover any revenue loss from an award guest displacing a cash guest
  • If a hotel is full (more than 90% full, give or take), the hotel is reimbursed significantly more, typically close to the average daily rate, to account for the possible revenue loss

As you might imagine, loyalty programs love when people redeem points at hotels that are empty, while hotels like when guests redeem points at hotels that are full (especially when award bookings contribute to such high occupancy).

Hotels have varying attitudes towards award guests, regardless of circumstances. Some hotels make a point of being welcoming to award guests, and even view them as an important part of their business model and revenue, while other hotels make award guests feel like an inconvenience.

Hotels get reimbursed for awards based on occupancy levels

How some hotels game “no blackout dates” rules

Unfortunately don’t expect to always be able to find a standard room available, even among hotel loyalty programs with no blackout dates and no capacity controls. Individual hotels have creative ways to restrict award availability.

While loyalty programs may require hotels to make all standard rooms available for awards, they don’t dictate how hotels define standard rooms. The most common practice we’ve seen is hotels essentially creating a small subset of rooms that are considered “standard.” Previously maybe 50 rooms at a particular hotel were considered standard, while now maybe five rooms are considered “standard,” perhaps because they have a slightly different view, are on a different floor, or something else.

For example, the Andaz Maui is notorious for this. Only “1 King Bed” and “2 Queen Beds” rooms are available for points. A vast majority of the hotel’s rooms are resort view, partial ocean view, or ocean view, so it seems that several years back some rooms were put in this subcategory so that award availability could be limited.

The Andaz Maui is notorious for playing games with awards

That’s just one example, but there are plenty of hotels that have done something similar.

Furthermore, over the next year I don’t see a single five day period where the Conrad Bora Bora, Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos, or Waldorf Astoria Maldives, are bookable with points at the standard award cost (these are three of Hilton’s most aspirational properties). I’m not suggesting games are being played here, but clearly there are few standard rooms and they’re being snagged early on, so it can be tough to lock these in otherwise (except last minute, when many rooms are often made available).

My point is simply to say that while a no blackout dates and no capacity controls policy is as good as it gets, that still doesn’t guarantee easy award availability.

Good luck finding awards at the Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos

Bottom line

Hotel loyalty programs have varying policies when it comes to blackout dates and capacity controls. As you can see, Hilton Honors and World of Hyatt have the best policies, followed by Marriott Bonvoy, followed by IHG Rewards Club.

While no blackout dates policies are great, unfortunately some hotels still play games with award availability, by recategorizing rooms so that there aren’t many standard rooms. Hopefully with some persistence you can still snag the award room you want.

What has your experience been with hotel policies around award blackout dates?

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  1. TJ

    So if IHG has no blackout dates how is it that virtually all their properties in Tahiti never jave any award available? Even when standard rooms are plentiful. It doesn't matter how far out one looks, the Intercontinental Tahiti never ever has anything.

    1. khatl

      Often because they limit it to a specific type of bed in a standard room... so they'll have say, one standard room with two double beds, and that will be the only room they make available for redemption. i.e., they won't make any standard rooms with queen or king beds available. Or, as Ben notes, they'll only make a max number of rooms available for redemption

  2. Taylor

    Yet another reason to miss SPG! I remember booking a room at the Louisville Sheraton for Kentucky Derby weekend for only 10,000 points per night when the room was going for $800+

  3. BlackHill

    Hilton(at least some hotels) seems to be playing games recently. I had an award reservation with Hampton Inn Acadia National Park and wanted to extend another night. Exact same room is available. Both king and 2 queen with non smoking are available . Except that they are priced as premium room this around for 265,000 points/night. I had the exact same issue with another hotel in wells, ME

  4. Steve

    Ever think that hotel owners with properties with such limited to no room availible for points might just use a personal account to reserve the rooms only to cancel them last minute to ensure people are directed to paid rates? Im probably overthinking this but is there a chance this is going on, wouldnt they know exactly when the dates become availible then immediately book the biggest weekends. For example if i owned a hotel...

    Ever think that hotel owners with properties with such limited to no room availible for points might just use a personal account to reserve the rooms only to cancel them last minute to ensure people are directed to paid rates? Im probably overthinking this but is there a chance this is going on, wouldnt they know exactly when the dates become availible then immediately book the biggest weekends. For example if i owned a hotel in a college town or augusta GA where every night of the year your hotel is $89 except of game related weekends where prices are $500+ easy wouldnt you just use a personal account to block these rooms so you get someone to pay $500.

    1. pstm91

      I wouldn't think they would need to do it with a personal account. Hotels hold/block rooms all the time for various reasons. They may appear to be sold out, but in reality they have several rooms blocked for VIP bookings and things like that.

  5. khatl

    Had this happen to me - seen an Element play that game - the hotel will only make, say, two doubles available as a standard redemption, and everything else such as 2 queens or a king are not classified as standard redemptions, despite it being the exact same room otherwise.

    IHG plays the game that I'm seeing more recently that all redemptions are max occupancy of two people even if there are beds to...

    Had this happen to me - seen an Element play that game - the hotel will only make, say, two doubles available as a standard redemption, and everything else such as 2 queens or a king are not classified as standard redemptions, despite it being the exact same room otherwise.

    IHG plays the game that I'm seeing more recently that all redemptions are max occupancy of two people even if there are beds to support more than two. I've also seen it at a Protea (part of Marriott) where the room is described as a king bed + sofa bed, yet the room has a max. occupancy of 2.

    I've also recently had three issues with Hyatt redemptions, albeit two are suite redemptions, but a similar issue, one SLH, one a Grand Hyatt and one a Hyatt Regency all playing games on no blackout dates/redemption options. And my concierge could do nothing to help on any of them.

    An SLH required a minimum 5 night stay at any time of the year... and apparently Hyatt lets them do whatever they want, given the nature of the partnership.

    A Grand Hyatt basically would sell me a standard suite on points+cash, but would not allow a suite redemption on points alone.

    And a Hyatt Regency basically had standard suites at the hotel, but they were never listed as available for redemption.

    All of which make me long for the customer-centric days of SPG! While Hyatt is the closest to the old SPG, the power shift to hotel owners and away from the people staying there is unfortunately becoming more and more common.

    1. khatl

      I would add that Marriott is also allowing hotels to make their pricing using points redemptions more flexible. The same Protea (Kruger Park) has weekends priced higher than weekdays for multiple weeks in a row. i.e. the hotel is taking the peak/standard/off-peak to the extreme.

  6. Ken

    The Ritz-Carlton Maui, Kapalua seems to be another example of a hotel playing games. There is not even *one single* night available at the standard rates published in the marriott award chart right now, but there is very wide spread availability for rooms with an "upgrade" surcharge, which is incredibly cheap. So it would seem this hotel successfully managed to classify every single room as "premium" and literally have 0 standard rooms available on any...

    The Ritz-Carlton Maui, Kapalua seems to be another example of a hotel playing games. There is not even *one single* night available at the standard rates published in the marriott award chart right now, but there is very wide spread availability for rooms with an "upgrade" surcharge, which is incredibly cheap. So it would seem this hotel successfully managed to classify every single room as "premium" and literally have 0 standard rooms available on any night. Sure makes me glad I redeemed 240k points for 5 nights there a few years ago! These days, that gets you 1 single night in the same room we stayed in, and genuinely premium rooms can go for 300k-1M points *per night*.

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Steve

Ever think that hotel owners with properties with such limited to no room availible for points might just use a personal account to reserve the rooms only to cancel them last minute to ensure people are directed to paid rates? Im probably overthinking this but is there a chance this is going on, wouldnt they know exactly when the dates become availible then immediately book the biggest weekends. For example if i owned a hotel in a college town or augusta GA where every night of the year your hotel is $89 except of game related weekends where prices are $500+ easy wouldnt you just use a personal account to block these rooms so you get someone to pay $500.

khatl

Often because they limit it to a specific type of bed in a standard room... so they'll have say, one standard room with two double beds, and that will be the only room they make available for redemption. i.e., they won't make any standard rooms with queen or king beds available. Or, as Ben notes, they'll only make a max number of rooms available for redemption

pstm91

I wouldn't think they would need to do it with a personal account. Hotels hold/block rooms all the time for various reasons. They may appear to be sold out, but in reality they have several rooms blocked for VIP bookings and things like that.

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