At the end of last year, Greg, Nick and I made predictions for what we thought 2020 would bring in the world of credit cards and loyalty programs for hotels and airlines. One of my predictions was that Marriott Bonvoy would continue offering poor quarterly promotions and while that’s still likely to be true for this year, another prediction I should’ve made was that they’d also continue making customer-unfriendly changes to their loyalty program overall.
Barely a month has gone by in the new year and they’ve already made at least one such negative change. That’s to their “No Blackout Dates” policy which, more appropriately, should now probably be called their “Blackout Dates” policy.
The full terms of the Marriott Bonvoy program can be found here. More specifically, here’s the new wording for their “No Blackout Dates” policy:
3.2.n. The Company has a “No Blackout Dates” policy, which means that, subject to the limitations and exclusions below, Participating Properties have standard rooms available every day for Award Redemptions. These limitations and exclusions are:
i. Participating Properties may limit the number of standard rooms available for redemption on a limited number of days.
ii. The following Participating Brands allow only for Points/Miles earnings and do not offer Points redemption: Marriott Executive Apartments® and ExecuStay®.
iii. The following Participating Properties or Brands either do not participate in or do not fully participate in the No Blackout Dates benefit at this time:
- Boscolo Exedra Nice, Autograph Collection
- Carlo IV, The Dedica Anthology, Autograph Collection
- JW Marriott Scottsdale Camelback Inn® Resort & Spa, Scottsdale, AZ
- Vistana Signature Network and Vistana Residence Network – all properties
- Marriott Vacation Club and Marriott Grand Residence Club – all properties
- Rome Marriott Grand Hotel Flora, Rome, Italy
- Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, Hawaii
- Wailea Beach Resort – Marriott – Maui, Hawaii
- Hotel Cala di Volpe, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Costa Smeralda, Italy
- Hotel Pitrizza, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Costa Smeralda, Italy
- Hotel Romazzino, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Costa Smeralda, Italy
- Homes & Villas by Marriott International
- North Island, a Luxury Collection Resort, Seychelles
As noted by Loyalty Lobby, the wording for 3.2.n.i. used to say the following:
i. Participating Properties from the following Brands may limit the number of standard rooms available for redemption on a limited number of days: The Ritz-Carlton®, EDITION®, JW Marriott®, Marriott Hotels®, Delta Hotels®, Autograph Collection® Hotels, Renaissance® Hotels, Gaylord Hotels®, Courtyard®, SpringHill Suites®, Protea Hotels®, Fairfield by Marriott®, AC Hotels®, Moxy® Hotels, Residence Inn®, TownePlace Suites®, Vistana properties.
This means that formerly-SPG properties can now also introduce blackout dates, whereas it was previously only Marriott brands that were eligible to do that.
For me, the wording of Marriott’s “No Blackout Dates” policy is contradictory and was so even before this change. Saying “none of our properties have blackout dates except for when our properties decide they want to have blackout dates” makes a mockery of the concept of having no blackout dates. It’s like someone saying “I’m a vegan except for days when I’d like to eat meat”.
I can understand properties wanting the ability to have blackout dates. For example, Superbowl LV will be in Tampa next year, so I suspect hotels there will want to restrict points redemptions at the standard rate that weekend. The problem is that Marriott’s policy is (presumably intentionally) vague. What constitutes a “limited number of standard rooms” and a “limited number of days”? Given the plural on rooms, a property could argue that it only has to offer award availability for two standard rooms in order to be in compliance with the policy.
As for a “limited number of days”, is that two days? Three days? A week? 182 days seeing as the majority of days in the year would still have full availability? While most Marriott properties are unlikely to take excessive advantage of this potential loophole, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of the more in-demand hotels play games, such as properties at resorts in Vail, Aspen, etc. during skiing season.
I might be making a lot of fuss about this over nothing, but it’s sadly another example of Marriott making another change to its loyalty program that penalizes its guests. They introduced peak and off-peak pricing last year, with the reasoning being that hotels could charge more points when their property and/or location is in high demand. Allowing all of their brands to seemingly arbitrarily set blackout dates on top of that given their supposed no blackout date policy is disappointing.