Not All “No Blackout Dates” Reward Nights Are Created Equal

I’d like to think I know most aspects about most of the major airline and hotel loyalty programs. Or perhaps more accurately, at least at one point I knew most things about most loyalty programs. While I try to stay up to date with what’s going on in most programs, there’s no denying I have my “favorite” programs, which I know virtually all the intricacies of. And I do tend to focus on them.

I came across something today which I know I was aware of at some point, though it still caught me off guard.

Most of the major hotel chains advertise “no blackout dates.” This includes Hilton, Hyatt, IHG, Marriott, SPG, etc.

For example, here’s how Starwood markets their “no blackout dates” policy:

SPG-No-Blackout-Dates

As you can see, they say “blackout dates, never,” and go on to explain that “if we have a room, it’s yours.” And that’s supported in the program’s terms & conditions:

Starpoints rates listed and no blackout dates are for Free Night Awards in standard rooms only (as defined by each property). Upgraded rooms, including upgrades based on size, view, services, and/or suites, are available at a higher Starpoints cost, as determined by each property, and must be booked through your local customer contact center. Starwood Preferred Guest does not limit the number of standard rooms available for Free Night Awards. Free Night Awards are each valid for one free night, single and/or double standard room occupancy at participating properties, and include the cost of your hotel room and room tax/service charge. All other hotel charges are the responsibility of the Member. When using a Free Night Award, bedding and smoking preferences may be requested, but are not guaranteed.

As long as a standard room is available for sale, you can redeem points for it.

I’m simply using SPG as an example, as it’s no longer a distinguishing factor — Hilton, Hyatt, and Marriott have similar policies.

But IHG Rewards Club doesn’t. On their rewards night page, they state “no blackout dates,” but that doesn’t mean the same thing to them that it means to the other hotel chains.

IHG-Blackout-Dates

Here are IHG’s reward night terms & conditions:

There are no blackout dates for Reward Nights, however, room inventory is limited and subject to prior sale.

In other words, on any given night there will be some reward nights available at some point, but just because a standard room is available for sale doesn’t mean you can redeem points for it. Instead, a hotel allocates a certain amount of rooms towards the award “pool,” and as far as I know the number of rooms in that pool is at the property’s discretion.

InterContinental-London

Just to give an example of that, take the below stay at the InterContinental London Park Lane, where a free night award is available for 50,000 points per night, and it books into a Classic Room.

IHG-Reward-2

However, if you want to stay two nights longer, the Classic Room is still available for sale, yet there’s no free night award availability.

IHG-Reward-1

Bottom line

Ultimately this is just something to be aware of if you’re collecting IHG points. Given that most of the major chains advertise “no blackout dates,” it’s easy to assume that this means the same thing to all of them.

It doesn’t, and of the “big five” hotel loyalty programs, IHG is the only one which doesn’t have last room availability for award nights (assuming standard rooms are available, of course).

Does this distinction between “no blackout dates” matter to you when deciding which program to be loyal to?

Comments

  1. FYI want to alert you guys to a unique exception that can be made sometimes. there can be mandatory night minimums around peak dates. if you have certs for 2 nights and points for a 3rd you wouldn’t be able to make a reservation at a hotel with a 3 night minimum. I was able to get a phone agent to convert my certs into 50k points each and the use 150k for 3 nights.
    tldr: if the website won’t cooperate, call

  2. Lucky, I don’t know if my sort of outcome should be expected universally, but I was recently able to book a seemingly unbookable Intercontinental property by asking nicely. I didn’t even have to call — just talked to customer service through their online chat. This property is no dump, either. Revenue rates were upwards of $1500/night. It is possible, however, that I just got lucky. 🙂

  3. Lucky,

    What do you mean by “two nights longer”? Does that mean you originally looked at a single night and then wanted to make a three night reservation? or does it mean you checked on the 25th and they had space, but on the 27th they did not?

  4. And Marriott’s “guarantee” is subject to peak demand, hotel policies, etc. So essentially no guarantee at all.

  5. Nice catch. No blackout dates means no blackout dates. Anything else is somewhere between shady and fraudulent.

  6. @ Lucky — while Hyatt’s policies are better than IHG, it should be noted that Hyatt’s hotels ever-increasingly play games by moving rooms out of “Hyatt Daily Rate” category into some sort of a package or just a different rate category. So a “base” room may be available in general but because it’s not available under “Hyatt Daily Rate”, it’s not available on points. I believe you’d written about it multiple time in 2015 (one of the hotels was Olive 8 in Seattle, IIRC).

    Another thing to remember is a minimum night requirement that may sometimes be in in effect. In theory, it should work the same way for revenue & award stays but it’s not always like that. For example, Park Hyatt in Paris shows rooms for two nights in July under “Double Your Points” rate but they can’t be booked using points — only if you expand your stay to 4-5 nights does “Hyatt Daily Rate” category magically appear.

    In situations like that, it appears everything is by the book as it’s a period of extreme demand (UEFO Euro 2016 championship) so hotels can force minimum stay and change their policy (e.g. point bookings are nonrefundable — so can’t book 4 nights and then cancel 2). I’ve talked to the Diamond Line (they emailed hotel & got denied) and even emailed the hotel directly but they wouldn’t budge.

  7. IHG is the worst. I have tried on 4 different occasions in 4 different cities at 4 different times of year to redeem award points. NO availability at all on any calendars. They had a new hotel opening in Carlsbad California. I checked their calendar everyday for 5 months to try and secure a room. NOTHING ever became available. I called customer service and was told there was nothing they can do. I will use the rest of my IHG point at some point but will never accumulate another single point. WORST PROGRAM EVER.

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