The key difference between airline and hotel awards is that the latter are much, much easier to book.
Airlines strictly control the number of award seats they release, but most major hotel chains practice a “no blackout date” policy. That means if a standard room is available for revenue bookings, that room must also made available for awards.
The Standard Room caveat
Here’s an example of how that works. This is the Hilton Times Square in New York City, where the annual ball drop happens. Rooms rates are well in excess of US$2,000 once you take taxes into account, but standard room rewards are still available and priced at the regular 80,000 Hilton Points (which is why buying Hilton points when they go on sale can offer amazing value).
However, this amazing value is only possible if standard rooms are available. The situation is quite different if they aren’t.
Here’s the Hilton Garden Inn Times Square Central, also on New Year’s Eve. Standard rooms are normally 70,000 points a night, but there are no more standard rooms available for sale- only “premium rooms” are available. Redeeming these rooms cost a staggering 456,000 points.
Only a chump would pay those kinds of prices, which means when you book hotel awards, you want to make sure there’s standard room availability.
So here’s the problem: what if you’re set on staying at a particular hotel, but there’s no standard rooms available for the dates you want? The good news is that situation may change due to cancellations- just because you can’t find a standard room now doesn’t mean one won’t open up later on. But short of revisiting the hotel’s site every day, how can you know when space opens up?
OpenHotelAlerts alerts you when room availability opens up
Those of you who attended Power Award Searching will have learned how to set up seat alerts for airline award seats. All you need to do is enter the route, flight and cabin you’re looking at, and once a seat opens up you’ll get an email alert so you know to go in and snap it up.
OpenHotelAlerts is pretty similar, in that it allows you to set room alerts for a specific property on specific dates.
When a room opens up, they’ll send you an alert email, which is your cue to go online and redeem your points. That’s not what OpenHotelAlerts was designed for, of course- it makes money from affiliate links when people use it to book revenue rates after seeing an alert. But there’s no reason we can’t use that feature as an alert for standard room award space.
Setting up a hotel alert
Setting an alert is simple: let’s use our New York on New Year’s Eve example again. Here I am on the Marriott website, looking to book an award at the Element New York Times Square West.
Unfortunately, no standard rooms are available, which means I’ll have to shell out a lot more points for an “premium” room.
So I head over to OpenHotelAlerts and enter the property and dates. The dialogue box allows me to set alerts when certain room types open.
How do I know which rooms are the “standard” rooms at this property? I simply navigate to the hotel’s official page and click on the “room types” tab. Typically you’ll see the standard room category in the top left. In this case, my best guess is the “King Room”, “King Room- Disability Access” and “Double Room with Two Double Beds are the standard room types, so I’ll set up an alert for those 3 rooms.
This can get a bit tricky if the nomenclature of OpenHotelAlerts is not exactly the same as the official website (though in most cases it is), so I’d err on the side of adding too many room types and getting false positives on award space, instead of missing out on a potentially available standard room.
That’s all there is to it! OpenHotelAlerts will start monitoring availability and send me an alert when something pops up.
Other use cases
I’ve highlighted how OpenHotelAlerts can be used to find standard room availability at hotels, but of course there are other things you can do with the tool if you’re willing to pay revenue rates. Here are some potential use cases:
- You have your heart set on a particular hotel, but every last room is sold out
- You have your heart set on a particular room in a particular hotel, but that room type is sold out
- All the hotels near where you want to stay are sold out, and you want to know if any of them open up
There are exceptions, of course, but it’s generally not a good idea to pay the additional points needed for a “premium” room. That’s because the incremental points required do not scale linearly with the incremental price- resulting in a much lower value per point compared to redeeming for a standard room. That’s why OpenHotelAlerts can be such a useful tool- set up an alert and relieve yourself of the need to babysit your search.