Here’s How Marriott Hotels Play Games with Award Inventory to Deny You a Room

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.

(HT: martellus)

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, 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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  1. Doubletree Prado in Madrid does the same thing. Every weekend some how the base room is sold out and points costs to to 115k or higher. No way to get the 5th night free perk.

  2. Another 100 reasons to avoid Marriott
    Miserable reservation agents
    bad company culture
    horrible IT
    Can’t add a second name to the reservation or add requests online
    Over pricing of rooms
    Game playing on award bookings
    Hate calling reservations and dealing with invasive question after question
    The list goes on

  3. And this is how the Sheraton Wall Centre Vancouver does it:
    The “Traditional, Guest room, 1 King, City view” is available with points but then the “1 King Bed, City View, Traditional Guest Room” isn’t. They are EXACTLY the same room. same description and photos.
    I used to be a huge fan of Starwood and their SPG program and I had Platinum status for many years. Now Marriott behave like a bunch of slimebag crooks and I will only stay there when I can use points from my Amex Cobalt card at good value. No wonder Starwood Lurker on flyertalk defected to Hilton.

  4. Trying to do a day in Rome next month. Auto Collection properties and St. Regis both playing games. Burning points only with Marriott now. They don’t deserve the cash.

  5. Don’t forget about the failure of many hotels to comply with the ADA. Amazing the rooms they sell as ADA compliant. And they seem to be unable to distinguish between hearing accessible and wheelchair accessible other than on their website. Such a disaster.

  6. Whether hotels or airlines, it just seems the glory days are behind us. So many wonderful memories and my SPG stays were often up there with my first class flights. Marriott is the Grinch.

  7. I don’t see anything saying legacy Starwood’s have a different award availability criteria than legacy Marriotts. The “if standard room is available” language is long gone.

    Can you point that out in the T&Cs?

    There is no intent to maintain the pluses of the old Starwood in terms of reward availability.

  8. Hilton is gaming the system now too. Now anytime the hotel wants to deny redemption of credit card award night, they call it a premium room reward and is unbookable, even though the next day it might be categorized as a standard room reward. They also get away with going past the 100,000 point per night maximum limit. I say goodbye to any hotel loyalty. They did.

  9. This is news? Hyatt and Marriott hotel have been doing this for years, well before the merger. And Hyatt and Hilton hotels do it all the time. ‘


  10. The other issue with Marriott not paying the full “rate” (unlike Starwood would) is that the properties, in turn, tend to treat customers using points as inferior to revenue customers.

  11. I was a Starwood loyalist and now I am noise around the edges staying at Hiltons. I don’t care if it isn’t better.

  12. Hmmm… why do you say this against the T&Cs if they have this programmed right into the search engine:

    We’re sorry. This property is not taking redemption bookings at this time. You can either book a cash reservation or search for another property.

    Clearly Marriott knows about, approves of, and has prepared for hotels blocking award redemption while they still have rooms for sale. This is not an error, it’s a feature. Someone (not on site at the hotel) is teaching managers how to do this to the reservations engine.

    I also don’t see how you can say Hyatt doesn’t play the same game. Boarding Area is littered with stories of Hyatt hotels pulling the exact same scheme to deny award redemptions.

  13. It’s correct that Hyatt and Hilton also do this. Some Hilton hotels categorize all rooms as premium on some nights to get around it. Hilton Rio de Janeiro is notorious for that.
    And Hyatt does not have a no room controls policy. Their hotels are allowed to not offer reward nights on certain dates, and calling Hyatt does nothing to open that award availability even when the standard room is available.

  14. And hotels wonder why so many people are going with platforms like airbnb. When there’s no reward for loyalty… there’s no loyalty.

  15. Andy is right. I think this is where the airlines and hotels are simply going too far. If we can’t trust you then we don’t believe you (and your proprietary currency) has value. So we simply look for a better deal elsewhere. The individual Hotel only looks out for it’s individual benefit but Marriott has to keep them inline to retain credibility for the program. If they don’t do that then loyalty and trust go out the window. I used to steer a lot of spend towards Marriott both for events and nights … now I don’t. Doesn’t mean that I’m not staying at Hotels or organizing events. Their loss. Not mine.

  16. And the winning comment is…@Joseph N’s (and DC-PHL’s)!!!…for pointing out that BONVoY is being skewered for a practice that other main programs are also guilty of.

    Per @Joseph N: “I also don’t see how you can say Hyatt doesn’t play the same game. Boarding Area is littered with stories of Hyatt hotels pulling the exact same scheme to deny award redemptions.”

    How do we know other programs are guilty of the same “infraction”? Because I got the following message while checking award stay availability at Park Hyatt Tokyo for Dec 29 – Jan 03:

    “Unfortunately, this hotel is not accepting World of Hyatt points or award during those dates. Explore our other rates or modify your search.”

    Note that that PH Tokyo message is virtually identical to the one from Westin Austin Downtown in this post:

    “We’re sorry. This property is not taking redemption bookings at this time. You can either book a cash reservation or search for another property.”

    Marriott BONVoY is not alone; it’s in excellent company… 😉

    (Thought I would do a quick “hit” here instead of a longer one over at ‘TravelRealityCheck’, the new travel blogophere ‘watchdog’. Woof!Woof!)

  17. Yes Marriott does this all the time and I am getting sick of it and when I call the Titanium line and inquire about how difficult it is to redeem points they act stupid.

  18. Hilton has done it too. They have shown no rewards nights but then show room availability.

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