How Marriott Award Availability Restrictions Actually Work

Lucky from One Mile at a Time is surprised to find that the new Marriott Bonvoy program has significant restrictions on award availability. I thought I’d explain what’s actually going on here.

What are Capacity Controls vs. Blackout Dates?

There are two kinds of restrictions hotels may have,

  • Blackout dates: Dates where award redemption is not permitted
  • Capacity controls: Limits on the number of rooms available for redemption

Marriott does not have blackout dates. Award redemption is permitted on all dates. But some hotels do have significant capacity controls for some dates.

Starwood Preferred Guest was the first to offer what they called ‘True Redemption’ — if a standard room was available for sale, it had to be made available on points. Some hotels still played games with this, defining very narrowly what constituted a standard room. Most of us think it’s the ‘most common room’ but it isn’t, it’s generally speaking the lowest category room.

Marriott Has Never Offered All Standard Rooms for Redemption Every Night

Eventually both Hilton and Hyatt matched the policy of making reward nights available when standard rooms could be booked with cash, although there are always individual hotels where you have to play whack-a-mole to get properties to honor the program terms.


Waldorf Hilton London

However,

  • Marriott has never offered this.
  • They have ‘high demand dates’ where a hotel can be more restrictive releasing award rooms.

Most hotels have to offer up at least 30% of their rooms in the standard category, although the vast majority of hotels are going to be offering more than this since most rooms are going to be pretty close to standard.

Hotels that are all suite, all villa, or all ‘club’ don’t have this same minimum requirement. They assign their lowest room category to the award rate plan, and that’s what’s available for the base level of points. That’s why it can be hard to redeem at a property like the St. Regis Maldives or St. Regis Bora Bora.


St. Regis Maldives Overwater Villa, credit: Marriott

Marriott is Moving Closer to the Starwood Model

Legacy Starwood brands are still required to have all of their standard rooms available on points, but legacy Marriott properties can still declare high demand dates where no more than 10% of their inventory has to be offered for redemption.

  • Most hotels get up to 10 high demand dates per year
  • This can range up to 60 dates per year, with approval
  • However in 2020 hotels will no longer be allowed to declare more than 10 nights to be more restrictive high demand dates.

The head of Marriott Bonvoy, Dave Flueck, told me that eventually legacy Marriott brands would move to the Starwood model.

Marriott has always been more restrictive with award availability than Starwood. The legacy policy continues in place for Marriott properties, though it appears they are phasing out some of the leeway hotels get to limit award redemption.

Marriott IT Issues Compound and Confuse the Problem

All of this is separate from an issue that Lucky runs into which is Marriott’s website returning “We’re sorry. This property is not taking redemption bookings at this time.” I’ve gotten this intermittently, I go back and search again an hour or a day later and award availability returns. So unsurprisingly Marriott’s IT problems are getting in the way of award redemption too.

Up until a month ago hotels would return ‘no availability’ for multi-night award stays even though award nights were availability for each and every night of a proposed stay. That’s because hotels were loading too many rate plans for Marriott’s system to display. This was largely an issue with certain legacy Starwood hotels.

In February Marriott rolled out a fix so that when a member selected to search for points, points rate plans would be the first ones to be displayed. It’s no longer necessary to call and get an empowered agent to piece together a multi-night award stay.

What Does This Mean for Redemption?

Marriott is no worse than it used to be, except for IT issues that seem to be gradually getting sorted but remain frustrating. Starwood properties are mostly the same, although with lower points redemption prices at the best properties come more restrictions on availability.

Eventually we should see improvements in Marriott availability, compared to what we have seen in the past, starting next year with fewer ‘high demand dates’ at some hotels. Perhaps Flueck’s commitment that we’ll reach the Starwood model of availability for legacy Marriott will come to pass in the future as well.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Bonvoyed with a 1 week cancellation deadline for non special hotel in a low period with no excuse other than they can..,.burning points, then it is Bonvoy(age). All programs have their strengths and weaknesses, then there is the limboing Bonvoy….

  2. Quick question: Westin in Snowmass seems to only allow points redemptions in traditional room with king bed- not traditional room with 2 queens. Is that kosher? Can they limit availability based on bedding in the same room category? Any recourse?
    Thanks

  3. For properties that aren’t all suite/villa/club they have to assign their lowest room category/ies until they reach at least 30% of inventory as standard and bookable on points.

  4. Essentially a blackout date is an upfront guarantee that no rooms/seats will be available so don’t bother to keep checking.

    Capacity controls and the #/% of minimum rooms/seats is what really matters. I’ve always been curious why a blackout date is even mentioned by some hotels/airlines since setting availability to 0 on certain dates accomplishes the same thing without the negativity of publishing blackout dates.

  5. i defend you a lot Gary, but you are drinking the bonvoyed kool-aid. you can’t believe a word these people say. SYD around new year’s had every room at even SPG hotels blocked from jump except for the courtyard 30km outside the city. if we had the ability to audit, we would see zero award rooms. 1 of many examples that you’re going to assign to IT. hint: when you have IT that is a mess, it’s easy to blame IT for anything you want- whether that’s the reason or not. don’t be so naive, Gary. marriott views the customer as the enemy; as they view the hotel as their only important customer. everything else is lip service.

    as an ambassador with over 240 butt in bed nights last year across both SPG and Mar, i have shifted to Hyatt whenever possible. my latest 25 night trip had only 4 nights at this disaster- where i was consistently treated better as a mid tier ‘explorist (ridiculous name)’ than as an ambassador.

    that decision started with marriott playing games with availability and ended with being lied to about having no upgrades when i could book multiple rooms for all 7 levels above my assigned basic room on the… 3rd floor.

    f Arne and f marriott. i still have 8 figures of points to use up in the devalued wasteland of an award chart. as far as cash goes… i will never spend another $. i will not use room service, pay to dine in their restaurants, use spas, nothing. and if there is a compelling air transfer bonus, i’ll tfr points to an airline.

  6. There’s a third category, playing games. Before March 5th Al Maha had no award availability past October but after March 6th almost all dates were available. Or is this optimizing capacity control?

  7. @Gary

    my point is that you’re believing what they’re telling you. it’s NOT just happening with legacy marriott. ‘the complexity of the merger’ is now well known within marriott as the go-to excuse for anything and everything.

    this may be one area where i get more ‘real’ answers than you do bc of your blogger status. i have properties that know me well and they are pretty open with me at different levels. old, awesome SPG properties are quickly becoming like marriott legacy because they can get away with anything. marriott backs the property on shenanigans whereas SPG did not. they’ve learned this and act accordingly.

    i’ve been told by more than 1 property that they now do whatever they want with award availability now. they are also now told not to give complimentary upgrades to suites- and FD are even disciplined if they do- even when low occupancy because ‘suites take twice as long to clean’. REALLY. and this is an SPG property.

    marriott is delta- but much worse; as their customer is THE HOTEL. get prepared for you basic economy award rooms!

  8. @ABC

    Re: Al Maha – that is not true because I booked 3 days in Dec in Mid Feb. Before that I have seen availability up to Dec 19 then nothing thru the Holidays. When I booked on Feb 19 for Dec 2019, there were only 3 days available luckily happened to be our dates.

    You do know you are not the only one who want to book the Cat 8 before they go to Cat 8 pricing. So if you waited till the last possible moment, not unusual there is no availability.

    There are lots of things I hate the current Marriott, but I dont believe Marriott itself has much to do with how the properties make rooms available for award booking. Nor I understand why people wait till the last day to do their Point Advance bookings then due to their not understanding how things work (for years actually) they become agitated for no good reason.

    Virtually all programs would display NEW prices on the award booking after the property category goes up – but you will not be charged the new price if you book before the deadline and do not make any change. I am staring at an IHG booking at an HIX at Singapore near the airport – it went from 20K to 25K. My reservation was made last Oct. It currently displays TWO prices – one for 25K and one for 20K. My email rec’d last Oct of course shows 20K. I know it would be 20K and should the hotel mischarges an additional 5K, IHG as lousy as the program is, the customer service rep would take care of it by depositing the extra overcharge to my account. This happened before, and would happen again, just because some hotels accounting depts may not have any clue but the program’s CS would be able to see what is wrong and fix it.

  9. My experience this week with Al Maha:

    On Monday (March 4) I found two days of availability at the end of August, but did not have all 120k Marriott points because I had just moved some Marriott points to Alaska. I booked it on points advance, expecting my Marriott points to come in within 48 hours. I woke up on the 5th and saw that they were now expecting 170k in my Bonvoy account, rather than the 120k. I waited a couple of days to call and within 10 minutes they deposited 50k into my account so the reservation would clear.

    It was at this point that I realized that the room I had booked was for 2 twin beds, which was not cool for my wife. So I asked if they could move my date up one day (we are flexible while in Dubai) and they did it for me no problem.

  10. Except it keeps getting worse, with one IT failure after another, and properties increasingly realizing there is no enforcement at all of program rules, and thus no requirement they actually provide promised program benefits.

    Time to recognize that “Bonvoy” is an unmitigated disaster from the guest’s perspective.

  11. I am amazed at how there seem to be two possible responses to Being BonVoyed

    My personal experience has been rubbish since August 18. Downgraded from Platinum to Gold on the 19th, huge problem with 7night award, had to cancel 5 night award, missing points, nights and stays, missing free nights, double-charging free night and points, no mega bonus etc

    And then for some others everything is “wonderful”. And of course famously “noise around the edges”.

    Please Gary and others

    How do WE get from the shzt list to the A list?

    Millions would like to know.

    Or is the A list Arnie’s fiction?

  12. I spent about 45 minutes on the phone with a very polite and knowledgeable agent with Marriott 2 days ago. I tried to book the Bora Bora hotel with the points but no one knew if I needed to put a cash deposit down. Nor nor if I would get the deposit returned if I cancelled and/or under what terms. She advised me she sent an email direct to the hotel and told me to look for the response in my email and look for in in about 5 days. The agent was frustrated herself. Hyatt has been more accommodating in my experience. Let us know when Hyatt or AmAir has bonus points promotions. Thanks!

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