I’m a little late to this party, but it’s worth mentioning in case you missed it elsewhere: In an era in which the typical travel “loyalty” program has made it harder to cash in miles or points, Marriott has removed its longstanding policy of blacking out certain dates for hotel redemptions. This is a good move. But it’s not as generous as it sounds.
Tim Winship digs into the fine print and gets it right:
When I received today’s news release from Marriott touting its upcoming “No Blackout Dates” policy, effective January 15, 2009, I naturally wondered whether this will amount to a substantive improvement for Marriott Rewards members, or just a new label on an old bottle.
The answer is to be found on the Marriott website: “Hotels may limit the number of standard rooms available for redemption on a limited number of days.” In other words, capacity controls remain in place. And some Marriott, JW Marriott, and Marriott Conference Centers properties are exempt from the new policy altogether.
Marriott Rewards members may indeed find more award rooms available on more nights at more hotels. Unfortunately, it apparently still remains very much at the discretion of individual hotels how accommodating they will be when program members choose to book a free stay at their properties. And that means that award availability will remain a question mark.
So in this case, “No Blackout Dates” is more a catchy tagline than a concrete promise. Perhaps it’s time for the travel industry to finally commit to a tagline without asterisks: “No More Empty Promises.”
Zing! But true. This is an improvement — dare I say, an upgrade — but it’s not yet at the level of the Starwood, Hilton, or Hyatt programs (which are not created equal either, but that’s a separate issue.)