Marriott Adds Capacity Controls To Limit Awards At Many Hotels

Marriott doesn’t have blackout dates. Award redemption is permitted on all dates. However hotels are allowed to have significant capacity controls for a handful of dates each year. Marriott is increasing the number of hotels that are allowed to limit award redemption at their busiest times.

Starwood Used To Have No Capacity Controls

Limits on the ability to use points, even when standard rooms are available, is not something Starwood members are used to. Starwood pioneered what they called “True Redemption” – no blackout dates and no capacity controls. If a standard room at a hotel was available for sale (cash) a member could redeem points for the room. There were always edge cases where hotels played games with inventory, but that was the program rule and the program enforced it.

W Times Square

Marriott Promised To Move To The Starwood Model For Award Redemption

When Marriott acquired Starwood, legacy Marriott brands kept their policy of allowing redemption to be limited on certain ‘high demand dates’. Legacy Starwood brands had to stick to their policy where all standard rooms were available for redemption.

St. Regis Abu Dhabi

My recollection is that each Marriott hotel got to declare 10 nights a year that were high demand dates but they could ask and get approval to limit redemption on up to 60 nights. It’s these extra nights that have been set to go away in 2020.

Marriott Will Allow Ex-Starwood Hotels To Limit Redemptions, Too

Marriott made a change to its terms and conditions and it’s no longer only Marriott brands that can declare high demand dates where award redemption is limited. These redemption controls are now available in 2020 to all hotels within Marriott, including ex-Starwood properties.

Marriott tells me,

As outlined under Marriott Bonvoy’s Terms & Conditions, every participating hotel in the travel program offers members standard rooms for award redemptions every day of the year. However, during the busiest times of the year, participating properties may limit the number of standard rooms available for redemption, but only for a predetermined number of days annually. Previously only some brands had access to inventory controls. This tool will be extended to participating properties beginning tomorrow. With this modification we’ve also added restrictions. The number of days properties can use inventory controls is being reduced. This will result in fewer days in total subject to inventory controls portfolio-wide in 2020 compared to 2019. It is still our goal to eliminate inventory controls in the future.

W Union Square

This Change Is Bad For Members

Marriott Bonvoy has peak pricing where members are charged more during the “busiest times of year.” The problem is that Marriott charges members more, but that doesn’t directly equate to more revenue for hotels. When they believe they can earn more selling rooms for cash, and resent award nights (even when they’re paid extra by the program for being full) they don’t want award customers. And Starwood hotels have apparently been lobbying to restrict redemption the way that Marriott hotels have been allowed to.

It sounds, from Marriott’s explanation, like the limitation on high demand dates is going to effect as planned for Marriott properties, but that ex-Starwood properties will get those same high demand dates too.

It’s true, as Marriott says, that the total number of high demand dates where redemption is limited will go down in 2020 (because legacy Marriotts can no longer ask for up to 60 nights a year). But it’s not at all fair to say this change in policy benefits members — there will be fewer high demand dates in 2020 across the system than there were in 2019, but a lot more than there were going to be now that former Starwood brands get to have them too.

This Change Without Notice Undermines Trust In The Program

My biggest objection is that this change was made without notice to members. Members earned points believing they could use those points on any hotel, any day, as long as a standard room was available. Sure, they might now be charged extra points when Marriott expects a hotel to be full, but they could use their points.

This structural change to the program upends this, and members weren’t given a chance to redeem existing balances under the old rules before the program terms and conditions were changed.

Since the launch of the new loyalty program they’ve made several other changes to program benefits without bothering to inform members. For a program with such a trust deficit it doesn’t seem like the practice is stopping.

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. Unfortunate change for members, but from hotel owner standpoint, it is also bad if you are the Westin owner in a market and the Marriott up the street could capacity control their award nights and you as the Westin owner could not

  2. So, what’s the point of peak pricing? Peak pricing was supposed to solve this. Makes you wonder if that JW Marriott or whatever it is was in Thailand has a legitimate lawsuit against Marriott. The fact is Marriott is flooding the market with hotels, the majority of which are no longer managed by Marriott. I wouldn’t be happy if I was a hotel owner and my biggest competitions were other Marriott properties owned and managed by someone else. At the same time this change also allows handful of Marriott franchisees to control the market since there are several markets in which one or two owners control most or all the Marriott properties, across all brands, in that given market. They can literally control award redemptions across all their properties to make it impossible to redeem points at the time of the year most people want to travel.

  3. A good example of a market controlled by one owner is Honolulu in which the Westin, Luxury Collection and both Sheratons in Waikiki are owned by the same company, though I believe Marriott has the management competition by virtue of legacy Starwood. You don’t think they’re going to play games here and work the dates so that as many of their properties as possible have almost no points availability? The Westin and one of the Sheratons are already refusing to offer restaurant breakfast to eligible elites, even though legacy Starwood properties have to offer a restaurant breakfast choice at check-in. The only other options are a Marriott not on the beach, a Courtyard also not on the beach, and an Autograph Collection property that claims water and fruit in the hallway is an executive lounge.

  4. Trust? Marriott couldn’t care less about whether the customer trusts the company. They see the customer as the enemy anyway or at the least as an adversary. IMO that’s no way to treat the people who provide you your living, but Arne sees things differently.

  5. Very sad. I gave Marriott some time but I cancelled my once-rewarding SPG Biz Card back in December and haven’t regretted it. This just proves that my (and, of course, nearly all other members’) feeling that it’s yet another gutted program… @Gary I have to wonder if I’m like a lot others, where I’m coming to a belief that there simply isn’t any reason to keep mileage/points cards when I can get a flat 2% cash back. Is there a reckoning coming very soon where the airlines & the hotels (& others) have devalued their programs so much, that there will be a mass exodus to a simple, single, cash back card, without the purpose of travel? All the aspirational awards are simply priced to the point where it would make more sense to get a cash back card — and now with limits on use — even at the outrageous redemption levels (and “fuel surcharges” — I’m lookin’ at you BA), all things being equal, I may have to give up on this whole process. I’m not there yet…but I was a die hard at one point and am now finding that I focus less on what was at one time a fun & rewarding hobby.

  6. Why would hotels even want to blackout dates? If they get near-rack rate reimbursement when they’re full from Marriott, they probably WANT redemption guests at that time. This seems more beneficial to me to Marriott corporate who no longer has to pay out $300-1000 per night and instead gets to direct guests to dates where hotels are less likely to be full (and they get to pay the “marginal cost” amount to the hotel)

  7. Wow, this is just the sort of loyalty program award changes that makes it patently clear that Marriott doesn’t give a whit about loyalty. Marriott is massive enough that their execs know rooms will get booked (for cash) regardless of what they do with award availability… basically a big, fat “I don’t care what you think” to their huge customer base.

  8. “Bonvoy” will take on a whole new meaning when the economy goes through its next downward cycle and these hotels will actually need these customers they currently have such disdain for.

  9. My SPG biz FNA just posted on the 1st, my last AF renewal was at $95 but next will be at $125.

    Probably will cancel card to free up an Amex credit card slot and replace it with up another Delta card with the higher SUB.

  10. @BobInLA – I switched up to cash back cards almost 2 years ago now. As I’ve stated before, it’s a bait and switch game. The sooner people come to grips with that, the less likely they will continue to be suckered by this game. The goal posts are always moving. I pay no annual fees and am very pleased with my cash back strategy Costco Visa + Citi Double Cash + Amex Blue Cash Everyday Cards

  11. @Chase
    You’re exactly right. I can’t wait until the next downturn when Marriott has to run nonstop (worthless) point promos as they beg customers to give them another try. So glad I’ve burned almost all my remaining ex-SPG points.

    I do feel bad for the former SPG hotels, though. There are so many good ones–with great staff–that are stuck with Marriott. If only they could band together and create a new loyalty program. Until then, 100% of my business will be going (in order) to:
    Boutique hotels

  12. Everyone forgets that Marriott’s customers aren’t the guests. The customers are the owners.

  13. I am proud to have reduced my Bonvoy point balance to below 1000. That balance will never go up. I’m done with them. If you are still loyal to Marriott then you are either not paying attention, stupid, or required by your work to do so.

  14. Marriott is so dumb they have a (claimed) hotel owner on FT basically saying “Ambassadors don’t deserve any special recognition”. Uh you dumb effing idiot, these are literally your company’s best guests, spending wayyyyy too much money with a terrible company, for a mediocre return.

  15. Even worse, in my opinion, is how properties get to very narrowly define what a “standard room” is for award redemption in the Bonvoy program.

    Under SPG, properties typically made standard rooms with a variety of bed types – ie all the same level of room – available for redemption. No more. Today, many properties now define “standard” room as a regular room that only accommodates 2 guests. Standard room with 1 King bed? Available for points. Same standard room – with an identical or nearly identical room rate – but with 2 Queen beds? Not available on points. At all. Ever.

    And remember how under SPG you could often get other room types for slightly higher points? It was a great option. It’s now gone.

    I use my points – and leverage my (waning) loyalty to Marriott – in order to be able to take my family of four on fun trips. But increasingly, many properties are saying “no” when I try to redeem points for a simple family stay. That makes it harder for me to say yes to Marriott.

    It’s bloody frustrating. Welcome to Bonvoy.

  16. So basically customers are completely shafted if they want to use points for New Years eve, Mardi Gras, or any other special event dates where properties will be oversold. Apparently charging 2x points is not enough – cash only.

    At this point Hyatt is so much better (i.e. just found peak 4th of July rooms at normal rate) that it makes no sense to accumulate points at Marriott unless they are the only choice. Even less so with the free breakfast gone for Golds.

  17. Lol, long-maligned Hilton guy here sitting back and having a good chuckle at the meltdown of the former self righteous SPG high horse riders…

    I am MR AMB too but moving more and more back to Hilton as it definitely wasn’t all milk and honey and streets of gold over in SPG/MR world as I had heard all those years.

  18. @Franz – look up the posts by user “hotelboy”. He is a tool who cheers on every dumb & anti-consumer thing Marriott does and worships Arne. Given his anti-consumer attitude, probably “owns” a run down category 1 somewhere off the beaten path where Marriott is the only game in town.

  19. @UA-NYC I have gotten DMs from hotelboy. I just ignore them. I never believed he was a hotel owner, just a hotel employee.

    @Justin You’ve never worked in a hotel I assume, or you’d know the answer to your question. Every hotel wants to control its last room availability. No hotel wants to give up last room availability to a random guy from Toledo (a random city) with credit card points.

  20. OMG – all the people that runs blogs and game the points game with credit cards are outraged they can’t get what hey are “due”. WAKE UP! It is a business people and if it is more lucrative for them then to sell rooms versus get whatever compensation they receive from points stays OF COURSE they should have capacity controls. Airlines do it on award tickets (and many fare classes) but somehow Gary is outraged at Marriott. He looks for any reason to bash them. Well understand ALL programs devalue points/miles and change rules to their benefit. I’m lifetime Titanium and have no problem w this. Also I have 8 million FF miles over 35 years the old fashioned way (butt in seat) and don’t feel credit card point collectors (who get most of their points on sign up bonuses) have any right to complain about anything. SMH

  21. @AC I don’t think anyone who follows this blog (or others) is under the delusion they’re “due” anything excepted what was promised during the company’s marketing efforts. For the most part, it’s an expression of frustration with what used to be a give-and-take system where the customer won by being loyal and the company won by creating that loyalty (and selling miles & points, a way of giving them an advance of sorts). Those like myself used it as a stepping stone to international travel and exploration of a world outside the one I knew. The blog(s) allowed me (us) to engage in a way to participate in a system that was set-up knowing full well there were aspirational awards for those who were able to focus on a set goal, calculated by that company in a way they too would win. The company made money — selling points/miles, attracting business at a particular cost, etc. — and in exchange, they had to give up a certain amount of revenue to honor that advanced earning. More often now what is happening is there isn’t a fair exchange. We don’t live in a fair world, but the company in question is sacrificing long term gain (loyalty through redemption) for short term gain (revenue instead of redemption). If this is the way a market reacts, my sadness is simply that I see a system that opened people’s eyes to travel and the world is now slowly focusing on only those with “lifetime Titanium” status. That’s certainly the company’s right, but my feeling is, it’s leaving many more customers to look for alternatives in that exploration of the world. By way of example, knowing that a hotel chain doesn’t value my loyalty and that I’m not able to turn any loyalty into value, I’ve opted for Airbnb stays for my last two trips. I’ve found it a pleasant experience, where the owner/renter does value me and appreciates it when I visit again. I then have to ask myself why I would ever stay at hotels in the future — and, by extension, collect hotel points or apply for hotel credit cards in the future. Just as the company has a right to focus on high revenue spenders, I have the right to a reaction to that — which, in this case, is to simply not participate. They’ve essentially lost my focus on their company, their brand and — to an extent — their industry as it’s related to hotels. All of this because they’ve chosen short term gain by (as @John says) a game of bait and switch. At some point, the consumer gets tired of this and moves on…that’s simply what I did and what I suspect others will be doing on a much more regular basis. I also wonder if the hotel industry can then continue to exist.

  22. I’ve also published this on FT:
    It’s a dodge, a loophole, which obeys the letter but violates the spirit of “No Blackout Dates.” If a hotel in for example Louisville makes ONE room available on points during Derby Weekend, it’s technically not a Blackout Date, but merely a severe Capacity Control . But to 99% of the public, it’s tantamount to a Blackout Date.

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