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As I’ve written about in the past, hotel elite status can offer a wide variety of perks to make your trips more comfortable and rewarding. However, there’s one benefit provided by select programs that can be a lifesaver when you absolutely need a room: guaranteed availability. But is this truly valuable? Today I want to go through the details of this perk for the six chains that currently offer it to help answer that very question.
Before getting into the analysis, let’s start with a quick overview of what exactly “guaranteed availability” means when it comes to hotels. In essence, it allows certain preferred members (generally top-tier elite travelers) to book last-minute rooms when a hotel is otherwise sold out. It’s essentially a way to “force” a hotel to sell you a room within a defined time period, generally 48-72 hours before arrival. If you didn’t hold the applicable status, you’d be shut out and would need to make alternate arrangements.
Here’s a quick example of this benefit for World of Hyatt (full details for the program are below). Let’s say that I need a room at the Andaz Wall Street for a few days from now, but when I search availability from Hyatt’s website, the hotel appears to be sold out:
However, I currently hold Explorist status with World of Hyatt, and when I log in to my World of Hyatt account and search again, notice that the hotel suddenly has two different room types available:
If I absolutely, positively had to stay at this property, my elite status ensures that I have a room available.
Now, it’s important to note a couple of notable drawbacks that may make this benefit less valuable than it initially sounds. For starters, since the hotel you’re booking would otherwise be sold out, the rates for rooms booked under a guaranteed availability benefit tend to be quite pricey, as you saw above. In fact, sticking with my example above, that exact same room at the Andaz Wall Street just one week later (both Thursdays) would only be $275!
Secondly, just because a hotel is sold out doesn’t mean that it has to offer you a room. As you’ll see in just a bit, all of the programs that offer a guaranteed availability benefit include some type of language indicating that the perk doesn’t apply during certain periods of high demand. In other words, don’t expect to use the perk to book a Times Square hotel for New Year’s Eve!
With that all out of the way, which programs currently offer a guaranteed availability benefit, and how exactly do these perks work? Here’s a rundown, including suggestions on shortcuts to earning these elite status levels:
The first program with a room availability guarantee is Club Carlson. Gold members are guaranteed a room with 72 hours of notice, while top-tier Concierge travelers need to provide just 48 hours’ notice. This perk is only applicable when the elite member is the registered guest and doesn’t apply to award nights or reservations booked using Points + Cash. Interestingly enough, there’s a single hotel excluded from this benefit (the Radisson Blu Polar Hotel), but the following restriction applies:
“Room Availability Guarantee is not available…when a nationally or internationally recognized event is occurring within fifty miles of a participating hotel (as determined by Club Carlson).”
As you’re about to see, this verbiage is actually quite detailed when compared to the broad language of other programs. Nevertheless, 50 miles is quite a large radius, so this could wind up preventing you from using the benefit, even if your desired property isn’t truly an option for a nearby event.
How to earn Club Carlson Gold/Concierge status: Complete 20 stays/30 stays or 35 nights/75 nights; you’ll also receive automatic Gold status if you carry the Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature Card.
The Hilton Honors program currently offers a guaranteed availability benefit solely to its top-tier Diamond members. Here’s how this is described on the program’s Member Benefits page:
“Need a room at the last minute? You are guaranteed a room when you make a reservation at least 48 hours prior to your arrival.”
However, this verbiage does include a footnote referring members to the Hilton Honors Terms & Conditions for additional details. As it turns out, there are a ton of restrictions. I won’t go through every nitty-gritty detail, but here are the important ones where this benefit doesn’t apply or is otherwise restricted:
- When you’re redeeming points or free night certificates
- When a hotel is overbooked by 10% or more (though a select group of properties have a 2% cap)
- During “Extraordinary Demand Dates” determined solely by the hotel and Hilton Honors
- At Homewood Suites and Home2 Suites (periodic restrictions based on the extended-stay nature of these brands)
- At the Conrad Maldives Resort & Spa, Hilton Seychelles Northolme Resort and Spa, Ho’olei at Grand Wailea, Kingston Plantation Condos, Royale Palms, Conrad Koh Samui Resort & Spa or Hilton Grand Vacation
Keep in mind that you can only get a single room using this benefit, and it must be occupied by the Diamond member. However, that third bullet gives each property a lot of flexibility in choosing to not honor this benefit by classifying a certain period of time as having “extraordinary” demand.
How to earn Hilton Diamond status: Complete 30 stays or 60 nights, or earn 120,000 Base Points; you can also spend $40,000 per calendar year on the Hilton Honors Surpass Card from American Express.
Unlike Hilton, the IHG Rewards Club program offers guaranteed availability to both mid- and top-tier elites. If you currently hold Platinum Elite or Spire Elite status with IHG, you’re guaranteed one guest room for personal use when you make your reservation at least 72 hours prior to arrival. The program does mirror Hilton in that the perk is not available for award nights and is not applicable “during special events that result in extraordinary demand, as determined solely by the hotel.” Like with Hilton, this results in a property having a large say in when or when not to provide this perk for elite members.
How to earn IHG Platinum/Spire status: Complete 40/75 nights; you’ll also enjoy automatic Platinum Elite status if you hold the IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card.
Like Hilton, the Marriott Rewards program only provides this benefit to top-tier elites who have earned Platinum status. Here’s how the perk is described:
“We guarantee you’ll always have a room for any paid stay. Just make a reservation at least 48 hours before arrival at any of our 4,000+ participating hotels (Excluding Marriott Vacation Club. At Residence Inn and TownePlace Suites, applies to Studios only.)
This offer may not be available during certain limited dates or special events.”
The program’s Terms & Conditions don’t provide a ton more detail, but the benefit is limited to the Platinum member’s room and can’t be used in conjunction with award usage or any type of promotional or discounted rate. In addition, the same details apply when Marriott Platinum members stay at Ritz-Carlton properties.
How to earn Marriott Platinum status: Complete 75 nights; earn one night credit for every $3,000 you spend on the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card; spend $75,000 in a cardmembership year on The Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card.
Starwood Preferred Guest
Another program that provides guaranteed availability to its top-tier elites is Starwood Preferred Guest, as Platinum members are assured a room when they make reservations by 3pm, 72 hours prior to arrival. Once again, the details of the perk are illuminated by the program’s Terms & Conditions, which notes the following restrictions:
- Resort properties are excluded from this benefit.
- Blackout dates may apply.
- This benefit is limited to only one standard room occupied by the member.
- Room-upgrade benefits do not apply.
- The member must pay regular (RACK) rates. Free night and Cash & Points Award redemptions do not apply.
- Length-of-stay requirements must be met.
The bottom four restrictions aren’t too concerning, as they match other programs and one would imagine that a room upgrade wouldn’t happen anyway with a sold-out hotel. However, the top two are incredibly concerning. Based on the current SPG portfolio, 340 properties appear to fall under the first bullet when you filter for “Resort” in the directory, and with just over 2,100 properties open or planned, that’s roughly 16% that are immediately not available. I also don’t like the broad verbiage of the second bullet, as a hotel could (in theory) black out 364 days of the year for this perk and still be compliant.
How to earn SPG Platinum status: Complete 25 stays or 50 nights; you can also earn 2 stays and 5 nights of elite credits annually on both the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and the Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express.
World of Hyatt
The final program with a guaranteed availability benefit is World of Hyatt, and it follows the same general approach as Club Carlson and IHG Rewards: Both mid-tier Explorist members and top-tier Globalist members enjoy this benefit, though the details are a bit different. Explorist members must give 72 hours of notice, while Globalist members have a slightly shorter window (48 hours). Like the others mentioned above, the perk is for a single room for use by the elite member and isn’t applicable on award stays. Here are some additional restrictions from the program’s Terms & Conditions:
- This guarantee is not valid during any period of extraordinary room demand and is subject to blackout periods set out by each hotel.
- Guaranteed availability…is not valid at M life Resorts, or at Hyatt Residence Club resorts, any Hyatt hotel with a casino or any Hyatt resort.
These two items are a bit concerning. The first one gives a lot of leeway to the hotel in determining what constitutes “extraordinary” demand, while for the second one, it’s not always clear whether a hotel is classified as a resort or not. Like we’ve seen with the other three programs above, this results in a watered-down benefit, as a property can easily avoid honoring it.
How to earn Hyatt Explorist/Globalist status: Complete 30 nights/60 nights or earn 50,000 base points/100,000 base points.
Guaranteed availability at hotels may seem like a valuable perk of holding elite status with a given program, and it can save the day when your travel plans require you to stay in a specific property. However, in reality this benefit has limited utility thanks to the high rates and the ability for a hotel to “opt-out” by marking certain dates as “high demand” (or something similar). I’ve never taken advantage of this perk in all my years of traveling, but if you’re in need of a last-minute room and don’t mind the steep cost, it can be a great way to ensure you have a place to stay.
What are your experiences with these programs’ guaranteed availability benefits?
Featured image courtesy of Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay.
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