More Hotels Seem To Be Playing Games With Award Nights, And Chains Aren’t Stopping Them

The head of one hotel loyalty program told me years ago that getting individual properties to comply with program rules was like a game of whack-a-mole. They couldn’t monitor perfect compliance themselves. When they see an owner or management company breaking the rules, usually based on a guest report, they clamp down on it. And then another non-compliant property pops up.

It seems like hotels have gotten more creative, and hotel chains less aggressive in enforcing their rules, over the past several years. But that’s merely anecdotal. Here’s what I’m seeing.

Several Hyatt hotels have found loopholes that allow them to avoid offering free night award space without violating the program’s rules, say as:

  • Not offering standard rooms for sale at all (or only close to arrival on dates the hotel won’t sell out)
  • Only offer standard rooms for sale with minimum stay requirements

In the past couple of weeks I reached out to Marriott about a hotel that clearly seemed to be playing games. I followed up. And I didn’t hear anything back. To be sure Marriott properties did play games before the pandemic after the Bonvoy program launched. Starwood was pretty good about knocking back these things when they crept up (and I flagged them for leadership).

It used to be when I would bring a non-compliant hotel to Hilton’s attention, pointing out a property that wasn’t offering standard room inventory for points redemption, they’d fix it fairly quickly (see for instance Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem and Waldorf Astoria Wailea).

Recently I’ve been told that hotels never offering free night awards was compliant.

  • In July I noted that Grand Wailea – a past scofflaw – only had 3 standard free nights available through end of year. Hilton told me “the hotel is compliant with Honors redemption availability policies” offering “Grand Wailea is a very popular redemption property, and currently undergoing a renovation leading to reduced room capacity, standard room types at this property often book up months in advance.”

  • In August I noted that the Waldorf Jerusalem – also another previous scofflaw – didn’t have a single standard free night award available through end of booking calendar. And I got yadda yadda’d.

    [T]he hotel is complaint with our standard room availability policies. Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem has seen steady traction in occupancy and high demand leading to the limited date availability. As a reminder, across our luxury properties which have a number of specialty room types, the number of rooms classified as “standard” varies across each hotel. We are pleased to share that members will still be able to enjoy benefits like the 5th Night Free when redeeming with Points, providing our members greater value at this exceptional property.

  • Earlier in the month I inquired about The Biltmore Mayfair, LXR in London which didn’t have a single night available for Honors standard room redemption through end of the booking calendar a year out. Yet I was told “The Biltmore Mayfair, LXR is compliant with our Hilton Honors program.” I’ve asked how this is possible and haven’t heard back.

My sense is that Hyatt clearly enforces the rules that it has, but there are loopholes a few properties drive a truck through. Marriott does have clear rules in its program guide for hotels, which largely exempts all-suite properties from minimum availability requirements. But they aren’t as strong on enforcement. And I’m trying to figure out the broader shift that seems to me to be happening at Hilton.

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. Back when I was still in the hotel loyalty game, I observed “irregularities” with one of the properties you expressly named in this article. It was a data point in an ever-growing mound of data points. Sure, we read about this person’s experience or that person’s experience but when the experiences are one’s own, a person can only conclude that the programs are (messed) up. I left and haven’t looked back.

    What gets me is that I see soooo many readers commenting about how Hilton or Hyatt or IHG or Marriott is (messed) up and in the next sentence mention how they’ll easily re-qualify for tier status in that program. Masochism at its finest.

  2. Hilton too – just went through this this week. Combination of basically two things: 70%+ of the rooms are categorized as “premium” (basically anything top half of the floors and anything on any floor with a view other than parking lot was premium) and then no standard rooms anywhere if booking less than a 3-4 day stay. Saw this in several higher end hotels in Orlando when booking a trip.

  3. One addendum which is probably how Hilton is justifying this is that the minimum stay requirements to book a standard room seem to apply to cash bookings as well which allows them to say (probably legitimately) that they’re complying with award rules. But this new practice in general about adding minimum stays to standard room reservations is annoying. I get it at holiday periods – but seems to be year round mostly now for many properties.

  4. @Gary, do we have any data on the effect of reduced standard room availability in particular, or award currency devaluations in general, on cobrand spend for hotels the way we do for airlines? Admittedly, hotel chains likely aren’t nearly as dependent on cobrand relationships to turn a profit, but it would still be interesting to see if there is any incentive for hotels to protect the value of their points from that perspective.

  5. Here’s one game that I am sure is about to end.
    IHG is now allowing select and premier certs from Chase to be used to book Mr and Mrs Smith hotels across Europe.
    Tonight I am sitting typing this comment from a penthouse suite in a lovely well-known city in Italy that, for some unknown reason, was listed as FREE, along with every other type of room this place has. I used three expiring certificates (for just under 40K points), to secure three nights in a row in this otherwise €1800 room. Plus breakfast, as that’s one of the perks. Plus the Tuscan wine I am currently working on.
    I just tried to do it again with the two remaining certs I have and guess what: NOT POSSIBLE.
    The door was open, but now the way is closed. My presence put a fire under someone. 🙂
    Meanwhile, ciao, baby!

  6. Another example of where one division of a hotel company (management, franchise compliance, property development or whatever it’s called) actively undermines another division (the loyalty program) knowing that the loyalty division never wins any internal turf wars because ultimately revenue, franchising fees, and other fees are more important.

  7. As you pointed out 4 years ago I experienced yesterday. The Hyatt Regency Aruba calls “garden view” rooms its base room and thus what qualifies for points booking. Almost never are any available although there are plenty of “resort view” rooms which seem to be entirely undifferentiated other than the name. I asked my Hyatt Globalist concierge and Hyatt Twitter team about this yesterday and they said:

    Hi – at the Hyatt Regency Aruba. What is the specific differences between the ‘Garden View’ and ‘Resort View’ rooms? Both appear to be available as 2 queens or 1 king. Thank you in advance.
    Yesterday, 1:37 PM
    The Garden view rooms are located on the 3rd floor and have a partial view of the resort garden area. The resort view is on the 2-5 floor and overlook the hotel grounds. The view varies based on the location of the room. ^AgentNameRedacted

    and later…

    I am very sorry the rooms are not available for the dates you’ve requested and that you feel the difference in the room type are a violation of the spirit of the program. Unfortunately, this is in the terms and conditions of our program. At this time, I would recommend checking back regularly to see if our availability changes again. I would encourage you to make a reservation now, so you are guaranteed a room at this location. ^AgentNameRedacted

  8. Grand Wailea Maui was a great redemption. Now they have tripled their rates and as you said, they have sealed off all standard room inventory.

  9. If you’re within their footprint, Accor is the Southwest of hotel programs in a good way- no capacity caps or blackout dates for award redemptions and can redeem points for most rate types. Yeah it’s a fixed points per euro redemption rate but the other big players are going in that direction in a way that additionally caps award redemption options so you might as well go with the program where it’s east to burn points.

  10. Regardless of the published award charts, rules, etc for airline and hotel programs, reduced availability has been an issue for years. Its almost impossible to find award space for hot properties like Grand Wailea, Andaz Maui, various Marriott properties, etc. Same thing with airlines – I kind of chuckled at your post regarding American Award charts, because a J ticket from NYC to Europe on American costs anywhere from 140K to 300K regardless of what the “award chart” says. I wish bloggers would do more comparison of actual availability and actual pricing rather than the “aspirational” charts and rules often cited.

    In this specific case, award bookings are simpy rarely available during peak times with any predictability across all major programs, regardless of what rules say. That said I have had more luck with Marriott, then Hilton, then Hyatt in terms of availability during peak demand, if simply due to the fact Marriott typically has several options in any location, probably spreading out award demand a bit more. I love the value of Hyatt points but availability is lacking.

  11. Great article showing how the hotel chains are not really honoring their commitment to people who stay a lot of nights. They seem to be following the path that the airlines, especially Delta, have taken toward frequent flyers. Are their any hotel chains, with a decent footprint, or airlines that are not trying to minimize their commitment to frequent customers?

  12. That’s why cash back card are attractive — I’m doing the 2% with fidelity into my kid’s 529. I got a lot of value in miles and points over the years (particularly when only 1-2 travelers at a time) but with companies playing games chasing miles has become less attractive (plus with having to find four tickets and work around the school schedule). No annual fee with this card either.

    My co-worker used only this card for all her spending for the last 20 years and ended up with $50k when her child started college 2 years ago. She benefited from the great stock run up for sure so no guarantee the next 1-2 decades will be the same. But that’s a lot of money to give up for points.

  13. I have a cunning and apparently heretofore not considered idea: penalize the hotels doing this sufficiently that other hotels will be reluctant to follow suit. Either the chain policies are rules or they are guidelines; if they’re rules then there is no subjectivity in following them.

  14. My family travel usually involves 5 or 6 people on 3-73 spectrum and oh boy, you have to be flexible and really creative to get any redemption at all. Ironically, Marriott even with its all-suites exception is still the best when it comes to redeem points on suites or vacation clubs – meaning they are still available sometimes, somewhere. Hyatt is 2nd place, since it allows point upgrades. Hilton is laughing at your face with “premium” room rates valued at 0.1-0.2 cents (it seems that bedrooms at Homewood Suites are not for family travelers, message received, Hilton) IHG simply doesn’t have anything more than 1 room on points. The best rewards program for family travels? Best Western 🙂

  15. How about IHG? I had a room booked with points, but decided to change it to the next night. When I called they said that the first night had been canceled and that it would take seven thousand more points for the new night. I said that it was under the 40,000 points needed, and I wanted to know what was for. I finally found out that they had just raised the number of points for a free night by making the hotels over 40,000.that had been under. What really gets me is that they had canceled the first booked night without even telling me. I guess because the number of points was increased. If I had not tried to change the night, I would never have known and would have shown up without a room. I particularly wanted this hotel because they have a 24-hour airport shuttle, which a lot of hotels do not. have. We have found ourselves with a thirty-dollar uber more than once when a hotel has stopped their shuttle.

  16. The last few times I’ve found FNC redemptions at Grand Wailea (most recently 3 months ago) was always within a week of a stay. They post some outrageous premium points amt then decrease to a standard room if still available.

  17. @Gary — You were told the truth about those highly popular high-end properties being “compliant.” You just did not like what you were told because you’d already made up your mind that they were lying.

    When was the last time you stayed at a Hilton property? And did you actually do award searches before writing this post?

    The claims are that

    In July I noted that Grand Wailea – a past scofflaw – only had 3 standard free nights available through end of year.

    In August I noted that the Waldorf Jerusalem – also another previous scofflaw – didn’t have a single standard free night award available through end of booking calendar. And I got yadda yadda’d.

    Well, I just searched:

    Grand Wailea has standard awards available @110K HH points/night on consecutive days from November 4, 2023, through November 18, 2023, and then again from November 22, 2023 through December 13, 2023, consecutively. That is a lot of standard awards for a property that is supposedly “playing games”.

    — The situation at WA Jerusalem is exactly as you were told, which was that Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem has seen steady traction in occupancy and high demand leading to the limited date availability. The dead giveaway for a property that has limited availability due to high demand is that instead of displaying exorbitantly priced “premium” awards, a search displays lots and lots of dates as actually sold out. That is the case at WA Jerusalem, although unlike you, I was able to find single days here and there with standard awards at 95K/night — another indication of high demand.

    — The Biltmore Mayfair London, an extremely popular LXR property not unlike WA Maldives, showed no availability of standard awards from now to November 2023, but then for all of November 2023 and beyond it displayed sold out, again supporting the claim that the property is in high demand, which you discounted as “playing games”.

    Do not take my word for it. Do the searches yourself. Make sure to use the HH Points Explorer and search for one-night awards by flexible dates to get the monthly calendar view, and then step through each month up to a year from the current month. I also got screen captures that I can post just in case availability changes, which it tends to do rather quickly at popular hotels.

  18. @DCS – first, yes, some hotels do get better after Hilton beats them up when I complain.

    second, yes some hotels sell out! but facing high demand is different than not ever having a standard room for sale a single night through the entire booking calendar. you think those hotels literally are sold out on the last bookable day in that calendar as soon as the calendar opens? no, they are playing games with their inventory because they face high demand and don’t want to release a room to a standard redemption that will pay them less than selling the room for cash will.

  19. @Gary — LOL. I, the “thought leader” wrote about Hilton hotels “playing games” with awards and they stopped! There is a word for it : “megalomania” (“delusion” would also do just fine).

    I have booked gazillion Hilton awards over the years and can even predict when the most coveted ones, like WA Maldives, become available. It’s why I am spending another 5-night award stay at the resort next month, when everyone else is still struggling to find availability for their first.

    You have no clue about when Hilton hotels are “playing games” with award or when there are no awards simply because the inventory has been exhausted due to high demand, with the latter being usually what happens. Stick to accusing Hyatt hotels in Hawaii (Andaz Maui!) of “playing games” with award availability. At least there no one will challenge you. I know about Hilton Honors, and I just presented evidence that debunked your claims. Your biases are not no substitute for hard evidence: actual award searches, which I just presented and showed availability where you claimed there was none, or easily explained why lack of availability at two other properties are due to high demand as you were told truthfully rather than hotels “playing games”.

  20. I saw this recently with the Hyatt Paris Madeleine. On cash, every category of rooms was available. On points, they limited the inventory to twin beds one night and a queen the following night. So you could never book a multi-night stay. I encountered a similar problem at every other Hyatt in Paris except the Park Hyatt. You would search and Hyatt would say a given property had availability. You would go to book and then that property suddenly had no availability for any category of room on points. Yet, you could book a room with cash.

  21. Garry, I’m right there with you about Wailea. Last fall, the entire summer of ’22 was only available for points bookings of over 4 nights so I could not use my free night to extend a 5 night point stay. Next summer is completely gone from May through early September with point redemptions at exactly double the cash rate using 1/2 cents per point. The cash price for the single standard award night in April is the same price for a 400K premium night booking a week later. Fall bookings are available, but only in 4 night increments until November. I loved the resort, but the point booking issues are causing me to second guess my allegiance to Hilton.

  22. Kevin and others – there is no reason to be loyal to Hilton, Marriott, or Hyatt – with the exception of if you are able to earn Hyatt Globalist without too much trouble. You can hold the Hilton Aspire and Bonvoy Brilliant card and replicate 98% of useful status at both chains for zero nights. Earn points from paid nights, points purchases, transfers, some credit card spending. I try to keep at least 500K in Hilton and Marriott points at all times. Hyatt is a bit different because of things like suite upgrades, which are very useful, but I’m finding less points availability at Hyatt than a year or two ago, so even that is impacted. Remember you can also replicate Hyatt status via stuff like Virtuoso and Amex FHR.

  23. We spoke about this Gary. Mayfair Biltmore In London. Not just the standard room versus premium room availability for an entire year. . It’s the standard 95,000 points per night versus the insane 300,00 points per night the Hilton Honors program is demanding per night for a premium. And that’s when the cash rate difference between the two categories not anything close to proportional. The hotel property itself is aghast and says it does not set these rates and blames Hilton Honors. Highway robbery.

  24. Point inflation has ruined Hilton to the point where it doesn’t make sense to stay at even their mid level properties. Marriott is bad with this too, but hotel cash prices are coming back to earth so point stays make even less sense there. Hyatt cash prices remain high so point redemption there still makes sense.

    All of this has me reaching for a cash back cc for the first time ever. The hotel points programs appear to be screwed for now. And hotel quality – service, cleanliness, freshness of linens and towels – is bad.

    If the point of hotel loyalty points is loyalty, there’s not much reason to be loyal.

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