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.

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