“Availability” – the dreaded word. Whether searching for reward seats using frequent flyer miles or free night awards using hotel points, availability is always the elephant in the room.
Those who are wary of collecting miles and points love to bring this up: “Ah such and such points/miles are useless, whenever I try to use them there’s never any availability”.
There is some truth to such comments. You can have as many miles and points as you like, but if you can’t find availability to use them when you want to travel, they’re not worth much.
Make your life easier
What you can do is make the right choices when deciding which type of points to collect. You’ll obviously want to focus on a scheme that gives you the best chance of actually redeeming those points.
Especially hotel points. Many of the major hotel chains talk the talk when it comes to redeeming points for free stays by claiming to have “no blackout dates”.
But how many of them are true to their word? And is there anything you can do to ‘force’ availability?
The general rule of thumb with many chains is that points availability depends on whether standard rooms are available for sale. If a property is selling standard rooms and belongs to a chain with a “no blackout dates” policy, you should be able to book that room using points.
The Hilton website says this:
Reward Stays are not subject to blackout dates or capacity controls. All Rewards depend upon availability and some Reward Stay types may not be available on the date of Member’s request.
Generally speaking, they seem to be pretty good. For example, here is the Rome Cavalieri on peak dates:
Per the Marriott website (bolding mine):
Hotels have standard rooms available for redemptions every day. Blackout dates traditionally refer to a limited number of dates on which a hotel could choose not to accept redemptions. With our “No Blackout Dates” policy, hotels will no longer have blackout dates for redemptions. Hotels may limit the number of standard rooms available for redemption on a limited number of days.
While it looks good on paper, allowing hotels to limit the number of rooms available for redemption is effectively the same concept as blackout dates. Hotels can release just a couple of rooms for redemption over holidays and other peak periods and still comply with the “no blackout dates” policy.
The key question is what happens post-August in the new combined Marriott/Starwood program. Starwood clearly has the more generous policy of the two. For the time being, the merger site simply states: “No blackout dates to get in your way”.
Time will tell.
IHG Rewards Club
The IHG website notes the following:
However, on digging a little deeper, the IHG Rewards Club Membership Terms and Conditions state:
There are no blackout dates for Reward Nights; however, room inventory is limited and subject to prior sale.
In other words, as long as hotels make a certain number of rooms available for redemption, there are no real guarantees available to members.
And that’s why you have situations like this at the InterContinental Bora Bora Resort Thalasso Spa:
For the record, I found a grand total of one night in the calendar that offered points availability!
Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG)
Here’s Starwood’s straight-talking take:
In my experience, Starwood is very good about allowing you to redeem points provided that there is standard room availability using cash.
They’re even transparent about the process:
World of Hyatt
Much like Starwood, Hyatt appears to have a proper no blackout dates policy:
That means even if the nightly rate is through the roof, if there’s a standard room available, you should be able to redeem your points:
The wording on the Radisson website looks good:
But that doesn’t mean it’s always true. Here’s an example of a one-night stay in New York at the Radisson Martinique on Broadway.
As you can see, there is a standard base-level room available yet no points availability is showing.
On the whole, it seems that Hilton Honors, World of Hyatt and Starwood Preferred Guest offer the most transparent “no blackout dates” policies. While individual hotels can play games with this by simply not offering (many) standard rooms for sale (I’m looking at you Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam!), that’s not usually the case.
If you do find standard rooms available at any of these three chains but no reward availability, I would recommend contacting Customer Services or the hotel directly, citing their respective policies. You may find that a gentle reminder is all that it takes for reward availability to miraculously appear.
IHG Rewards Club and Marriott Rewards are a different story. There are no guarantees that standard room (cash) availability = points redemption availability. This should definitely be a consideration before amassing large amounts of points that you may struggle to spend as you’d like.
Do you have a preferred hotel loyalty program?