Marriott Bonvoy Adds Capacity Controls At More Hotels

Filed Under: Hotels, Marriott

Want to redeem Marriott Bonvoy points for a hotel stay? Well, the number of properties with capacity controls on award stays has just been increased significantly.

Marriott’s “no blackout dates” policy

Marriott Bonvoy advertises “no blackout dates” when redeeming points, but that doesn’t necessarily mean what you think it means. Actually, when Marriott took over Starwood, this policy caught me off guard.

Up until now, here’s the way the policy has worked:

  • For legacy Starwood brands (Sheraton, St. Regis, Westin, etc.), all standard rooms on all dates have been bookable with points; in other words, if there has been a standard room available for sale, you could redeem points for it
  • For legacy Marriott brands (Courtyard, Renaissance, Ritz-Carlton, etc.), all hotels need to have some standard rooms bookable with points on all nights, though during periods of high demand, hotels can make just a subset of standard rooms available on points

To give an extreme example, if a Sheraton (legacy Starwood brand) and Renaissance (legacy Marriott brand) each had 200 standard rooms:

  • All 200 of those Sheraton rooms would be bookable with points
  • During periods of exceptionally high demand, the Renaissance could make a small subset of standard rooms bookable with points (say 20 rooms out of 200)

Historically only legacy Marriott brands have been able to capacity control awards

Marriott extends capacity controls to more hotels

As noted by View from the Wing, the Marriott Bonvoy terms have now been updated to indicate that all Marriott brands — including legacy Starwood brands — can now have capacity controls on award stays. In other words, now legacy Starwood hotels don’t need to make all standard rooms available using points on all nights of the year.

As Marriott describes it:

  • During the busiest times of the year, participating properties may limit the number of standard rooms available for redemption, but only for a predetermined number of nights annually
  • Legacy Starwood hotels have the ability to block awards as of today
  • With the implementation of this, Marriott has also modified their restrictions associated with blocking nights — the number of days properties can use inventory controls is being reduced
  • Marriott says that this will result in fewer days in total subject to inventory controls portfolio-wide in 2020 compared to 2019
  • It is Marriott’s goal to eliminate inventory controls in the future

Historically Marriott brands have been able to designate 10 nights per year where they could limit redemptions, though they could ask for that to be increased to up to 60 nights. With these changes it sounds like the limit will be 10 nights across the board, for both legacy Marriott and Starwood properties.

All Marriott brands can now have capacity controls on awards

Bottom line

All Marriott brands now have the ability to impose capacity controls on Bonvoy award nights. Historically legacy Starwood properties haven’t been able to do this, while legacy Marriott properties have been able to.

Marriott claims that legacy Marriott properties will be able to impose these restrictions on fewer nights, and that long term they hope to eliminate these. We’ll see if that’s the case.

Personally it seems unreasonable to me that Marriott has peak and off-peak award pricing, and then also has capacity controls on top of that. Isn’t the whole point of peak pricing to allow awards to be released in periods of extremely high demand?

That’s not the only negative change, though, as Marriott has also announced some negative award category changes for 2020.

  1. 10 nights may sound a lot better than 60, but in practice this can be used to kill pretty much any peak redemption period. For example, take the Thanksgiving period. Most people traveling would probably go away on the Wednesday night or Thursday morning, and return likely Sunday. All you need to do is block one night, the Friday say, to have everyone looking for point redemptions be frustrated as nothing from wed-sun would show up. Thus one night ruins thanksgiving redemptions. The other nine nights similarly, one for around July 4th, the long weekends in january and February, the winter springs breaks, basically any peak family travel period. This is pure and simple bonvoying of the program and a way to makes good headline mask a nasty underlying aspect

  2. Frustrating experience with Marriott yesterday. Planning a last minute trip to the southwest and looking for a hotel by Phoenix airport for tonight. My first attempt at I believe Residence Inn had rooms available, but none available on points because only HIGH FLOORS remaining. Rates were outrageous, found the Aloft, the cash price was about $375 with tax.

  3. @Kate: Some of these room searches are ridiculous! Apparently “room floor 1-7” is different from 8-15 and 16-22, and then you split them out by “garden view”, “partial ocean view”, “ocean view”, “corner room”, “cozy room”, “bathroom with tub”, “room with large desk”, and so on, and you’re left with maybe 10 rooms in the whole building that are considered base level while the rest are upgrades.

  4. “Isn’t the whole point of peak pricing to allow awards to be released in periods of extremely high demand?”

    Since hotels receive their average daily room rate as compensation for award nights when they’re close to fully booked, the whole point of peak pricing is to compensate BONVOY more for nights that the program expects to increase its payout to hotels.

    The hotels themselves don’t get more of a payout from peak pricing, just as a result of whether they do in fact wind up fully booked.

    However on peak demand dates hotels can sell rooms for higher than their average daily room rate, so they do not want ADR. Instead they want to block award redemption since ADR is the most they can get from a redemption stay.

    Owners of SPG brands were angry that they didn’t get ‘as good a deal’ as legacy Marriott brand owners [of course sometimes the owners are the same!] even though it’s the same deal they had under Starwood, note though that on non-sell out nights Marriott compensates hotels less than Starwood did.

    It’s sort of like members being unhappy that the best they could do in lifetime status as a Starwood member was Platinum, while legacy Marriott members could achieve lifetime Titanium. SPG members were getting the level achievable under the old SPG program. Marriott capitulated to the fairness argument for members, and now have capitulated to the fairness argument for hotels.

    Members, of course, get a bit hosed here and Marriott hasn’t informed members in the change to how the program works. That’s the saddest part IMHO. There’s been a consistent pattern of changes without any notice (let alone advance notice) to members.

  5. If their goal is to eliminate capacity controls in the future, how exactly does expanding it to more hotels accomplish that?

  6. Ben – think of hotels in small university towns. The Courtyard may average $120/night, except for parents weekends and home football games (think Gainesville and your Florida Gators). Having only 10 nights lets them at least get top dollar on all rooms for a larger chunk of those weekends (think 7 home football games @ maybe $400/night) with fewer points redemptions. It’s not great for the consumer, but totally get it for the hotels.

  7. Why do hotels bother issuing points at all if their customers cannot use them?

    Isn’t the point to give the customer a free night or two around thanksgiving in exchange for them being a loyal customer year round while they are traveling for work?

    Isn’t the incremental revenue of a ton of paid stays year round better than the revenue from charging a peak rate on a holiday?

  8. I work at a legacy Starwood resort and we now only allocate 50% of our entry level room category for point redemptions, which actually has hurt the hotel significantly as that was a main demand generator for us. Shame to see the program continually be diminished.

  9. @ Robert — Very interesting, any chance you’d be able to share any more details, either here or off the record by email? Presumably Marriott has forced the property to make fewer rooms available as awards?

  10. @Gary Gee it turns out you knew the real answer the whole time. It is amazing what some people will pay for popular rooms at the last minute. Giving a sold out hotel 10 nights/year with no redemptions can be enormously valuable to the hotel. I’ve read, but have no proof, that Marriott deliberately prices their rooms a few dollars higher than a market’s competition in order to be the last one to sell out.


    Dear members, our hotels are full. Buzz off.

    However, if you are a travelblogger, please keep hawking our cards.

    — Sincerely, the management

  11. Jeff

    The point of any rewards or loyalty program is not to give you free rooms or flights at peak times, but rather to give you free rooms when the hotel or airline can’t sell them anyway.

  12. This is so frustrating, but I actually got lucky. I have tickets for 2 different weekends in October to see The Music Man with Hugh Jackman in NYC. Wanted to stay at the St Regis so booked both weekends with points last Sunday. After this news came out yesterday I was curious so tried to book them again. You guessed it!! Even though you could book a standard room for over $1000, there were no point redemptions for either weekend. This is so wrong on so many levels. These 2 weekends can’t both be high capacity days for this hotel already.

  13. @Lucky, the policy quoted above is not explicitly correct.

    The Bonvoy Terms & Conditions were actually a little more vague in the past few months when it came to legacy SPG brands.

    All it said was that “standard rooms are available every day for award redemptions.” Not that every standard room would be available with points, which is how SPG operated before Marriott, or even under Marriott before Bonvoy. That means that legacy SPG brands could make a subset of their standard rooms for sale with cash also available with points. When that subset of standard rooms was booked, you would get the classic “This hotel is not taking award reservations at this time.”

    There was a further specific carveout that exempted legacy Marriott brands from even this, allowing them to have blackout dates. Essentially, they were exempted from the no blackout date policy.

    Effectively, the “all standard rooms are available with points” at legacy SPG brands has been dead for a LONG time.

  14. @ DMPHL — I have a different read on the previous terms. As recently as a couple of weeks ago, the terms stated that “Participating Properties have standard rooms available every day for Award Redemptions.” Then they went on to state that for legacy Marriott brands, hotels “may limit the number of standard rooms available for redemption on a limited number of days.”

    Isn’t the only reasonable way to interpret that to think that brands not explicitly mentioned *can’t* limit the number of standard rooms available?

  15. @Lucky, I got confused by this policy, as well, when I tried to book a standard room at a Sheraton that was not available with points.

    The terms said that “subject to limitations and exclusions” all brands have standard rooms available every day for redemption, although notably NOT that EVERY standard room for sale was available for redemption.

    The confusing thing was that the Marriott brands were called out explicitly below in the “limitations and exclusions” as being able to limit the number of rooms available on a limited number of days.

    So what they had, in effect, was a rule with vague language that allowed SPG properties to limit the number of rooms available for redemption as long as they had a standard room available for redemption every day. And there was an explicit limitation/exclusion carved out for legacy Marriott brands that allowed them to do the exact same thing.

    My thought was that, if it’s a limitation/exclusion, then it has to be a limitation on some actual rule. But the rule itself was so vaguely worded, rendering the “rule” and the “limitations and exclusions” to the rule effectively the same.

    I was surprised when I realized that the rules did not specifically state that every legacy SPG standard room was available for redemption, only that there would be redemptions available each day.

    Many calls to Marriott, the hotels, and arguments on FlyerTalk brought it to light for me.

  16. I might overlook this change if:

    1) Marriott hadn’t just introduced peak award-redemption pricing. What was the point of this then?

    2) Marriott was transparent and gave notice.

    3) Marriott would enforce its terms and conditions vis-a-vis breakfast benefits and other elite status perks, such as suite upgrades or late check-out. It seems like the only provisions of the terms that are enforced by corporate are the provisions that apply to guests, not properties.

    But, hey, at the end of the day, we need to remember that Marriott’s customers are NOT the guests, aka us. Marriott’s customers are the owners and, increasingly, the third-party management companies that operate the VAST majority of all Marriott branded hotels.

    Maybe that lawsuit by the JW Marriott in Thailand was onto something.

  17. I am not a road warrior. I book using my own money. I, do, however, spend 50 nights a year in a hotel and book for my friends as well.

    Once again, there is NO VALUE in any of the hotel loyalty programs. U lose too much flexibility and the price increases too much vs. a third part site.

    The best options for frequent, recreational travelers are:

    1. The FHR program with Amex as it often gives u a $100 property credit, room upgrade, free breakfast and late checkout.

    A. 9% off as every 11th nite is free.
    B. Additional 3% to 7% off if u use aggressive combo of chase ink and sams club discounted gift cards.
    C. Access to pretty much all hotels.
    D. The above discounts are for all rooms, including your friends’, not just yours.
    E. Some properties have “VIP” perks.

    I can’t see how any of the brand-specific programs compete.

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *