Starwood Preferred Guest had a policy they called ‘true redemption’. It wasn’t just no blackouts, where a hotel put certain dates off limit for using points. It was no capacity controls. That meant if any standard room was available for sale you could use points to book that room.
Marriott never had this policy. They allowed hotels to declare certain ‘high demand dates’ where award rooms are limited. Even with Marriott’s acquisition of Starwood, the launch of a new loyalty program, and rebranding it as ‘Bonvoy’ that is still the case.
- Marriott hotels do get to limit redemptions on certain nights
- Legacy Starwood brands do not
- Eventually even Marriott brands will have to conform to the ‘no capacity controls’ model that Hilton and Hyatt also offer.
However if there’s one problem with the new Marriott program it’s that hotels appear to run roughshod over it, and even legacy Starwood hotels have figured out how to game the system to impose blackouts on redemption.
While Marriott Bonvoy will pay a hotel more on sell out nights for a customer who uses points, it’s still more lucrative to sell rooms for cash much of the time.
Take for instance the Westin Austin Downtown, whose biggest problem otherwise is noise from the street on weekend nights. It’s built right in the midst of the action for Austin’s music scene and they didn’t soundproof the hotel well. (The hotel sued the music venues over noise even though those venues were complying with sound ordinances, the hotel’s whole points and design integrates with local music, and the music venues were there first — ultimately all because the property opened with single pane glass, and retrofitted to double pane, but wouldn’t pay for triple.)
West Austin Downtown
Rooms at the Westin are in high demand during festivals. And they’ve figured out how to block out redemptions even when standard rooms are for sale.
Here’s the room type for standard awards. When this room type is available, a reward night should be also, because Westin is a legacy Starwood brand — whenever a standard room is available it’s supposed to be bookable on points. King City View should always mean points rooms are available.
Let’s look at the night of Sunday, October 12.
King City View rooms are available. This will be a nice Marriott redemption at 35,000 points, actually!
Notice though that the room type is available on a prepaid rate. It’s also available with breakfast included.
But award nights? Nope.
Look at ‘standard rates’ and you won’t find the standard King Bed City View room type available. We know these rooms are available, so what’s the trick the hotel is pulling? King Bed without mention of a view is what they’re showing now.
And since that’s a different, artificially created category that doesn’t match the standard award room type designated with Marriott they are able to avoid honoring the program’s redemption promise.
It’s almost genius, the simplicity with which this hotel thumbs its nose at both the Bonvoy program and at members. And this property is far from alone in playing games.