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Friday, July 19, 2024

How Travel Reward Blackout Dates Work & How to Avoid Them  

How Blackout Dates Work
Eric Bank

Written by: Eric Bank

Eric Bank
Eric Bank

Eric Bank is an M.B.A. who has covered financial and business topics since 1985, appearing regularly on Credible, eHow, WiseBread, The Nest, Zacks, Chron, and dozens of other outlets. Eric specializes in taking complex subject matters and explaining them in simple terms for consumer audiences, particularly in the world of personal finance. Eric holds a Master's in Business Administration from New York University and a Master's in Finance from DePaul University.

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Edited by: Jon McDonald

Jon McDonald
Jon McDonald

Jon leverages 15-plus years of journalism expertise to inform financial consumers about emerging trends and companies making an impact in the industry. He is most knowledgeable in the areas of budgeting, credit card rewards, and responsible credit use. Jon has a passion for writing and editing, and his articles have appeared in publications produced by The New York Times.

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Reviewed by: Ashley Fricker

Ashley Fricker
Ashley Fricker

Ashley Fricker has more than a decade of experience as a finance contributor and editor, and has specialized in the credit card industry since 2015. Her credit card commentary is featured on national media outlets that include CNBC, MarketWatch, Investopedia, and Reader's Digest, among many others. She has worked closely with the world’s largest banks and financial institutions, up-and-coming fintech companies, and press and news outlets to curate comprehensive content and media. Ashley holds a bachelor's degree in multimedia journalism from Florida Atlantic University.

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Opinions expressed here are ours alone, and are not provided, endorsed, or approved by any issuer. Our articles follow strict editorial guidelines and are updated regularly.

Credit card travel blackout dates are certain times when you can’t use your credit card rewards for travel. The card issuer or airline sets these dates, often during busy holidays or peak travel times. During a blackout, you typically can’t book flights, hotels, or other travel with your points or miles.

Several credit cards offer rewards programs that do not have travel blackouts. Here, I’ll discuss what you need to know about travel reward blackout dates, how to identify them, and strategies for avoiding them.

How to Understand Blackout Dates

Credit card issuers and travel companies select blackout dates based on high-demand periods. During these times, you may not be allowed to use your credit card’s rewards and discounts on flights, hotel stays, or other travel purchases.

Expected Timeframes for Blackout Dates

Blackout dates usually happen during busy travel times. These include holidays and summer vacation windows when many people go on trips. Examples of blackout dates include:

  • Holiday Seasons: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s
  • Summer Break: June to August
  • Spring Break: March to April
  • Purim: Usually March

Knowing these timeframes should help you avoid surprises when using your travel rewards.

Impact on Credit Card Rewards Redemption

Your credit card rewards are useless for travel during blackout periods, so if you need to travel during these times, be ready to pay out of pocket to get the bookings you want. 

Blackout dates can upset even the best-laid travel plans. Some credit card issuers, hotels, and airlines have become quite aggressive in gaming the system against cardmembers and loyalty program participants. That’s when it’s time to reevaluate which cards to use and programs to join.

Always check for blackout dates when planning your trip. You can also avoid these problems altogether by dealing with reputable merchants that don’t impose blackouts.

Handling Blackout Dates for Credit Card Programs

Hotel and travel blackout dates can ruin your plans. That’s why you need to know the facts before you book.

Airline Rewards

Several airline reward programs do not allow blackout dates. These include United MileagePlus, Delta SkyMiles, and JetBlue TrueBlue. However, the required points can be higher during busy travel times. High-demand periods can make it harder to find the best deals with miles.

You may be surprised that several major airline programs have blackout periods or other barriers to travel during peak travel times. Here are a few:

American Airlines AAdvantage

American Airlines AAdvantage sometimes imposes blackout dates, especially during peak travel periods. During these times, it isn’t easy to book award flights using your AAdvantage miles. Availability can be minimal, and flight miles can significantly increase.

Screenshot from American Airlines AAdvantage Program website
Source: American Airlines AAdvantage Program website

This makes it challenging to use miles for popular travel times, often forcing you to travel at off-peak times or use more miles than you planned. Blackout periods typically include significant holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and summer months.

Frequent AA business travelers may want to consider the Citi® / AAdvantage Business™ World Elite Mastercard®, which includes a generous signup offer.

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards

Southwest Airlines does not have traditional blackout dates. However, low-fare award seats can be scarce during peak travel times. While you can technically book flights with points at any time, finding seats at the lowest point levels can be nearly impossible during high-demand periods.

Screenshot from Southwest Rapid Rewards website
Source: Southwest Rapid Rewards website

This can make it feel like the airline has blackout dates because you may have to use many more points to book a flight during these times — and seats are scarce. High-demand periods include spring break, summer vacations, and major holidays. 

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

Alaska Airlines is another carrier that is guilty of imposing blackout dates. These dates may make booking a seat akin to finding a proverbial needle in a haystack. However, you can purchase a seat during peak travel if you are willing to spend more in points or dollars.

Screenshot from Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan website
Source: Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan website

Blackout dates often occur during major holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. The cool Alaskan climate may also contribute to Summer blackouts.

Tips to Work Around Airline Blackout Dates

Sometimes, you can work around airline blackout periods and save points, miles, or money using clever travel strategies, including:

  • Booking Early: Secure your award flights well before your desired travel dates.
  • Stay Flexible: Be open to traveling on less popular days or times to avoid blackout periods and pay less.
  • Check Often: Monitor the airline’s website for changes in award availability, as seats can open up closer to the travel date.
  • Use Alerts: Sign up for fare and award alerts to know when you can get the seats you want.

Unless you pick your credit cards wisely, it may take some time and effort to avoid blackout dates. An ideal travel card allows you to ignore blackout periods and travel when you want. However, no card guarantees a seat if you book a flight late. 

Hotel Rewards

Let’s start with the major hotels that do not impose blackout dates: Marriott, Hilton, and Hyatt.

Marriott Bonvoy logo

Marriott Bonvoy

Marriott Bonvoy is a top American brand that does not have blackout dates. You can use your points if a room is open, but during busy times, you may need to use more points.

You can use your points whenever a room is available, making it flexible and convenient. You may want to check out the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Card if you’re a Marriott fan.

Hilton Honors logo

Hilton Honors

Hilton Honors doesn’t impose blackout dates. You can redeem your points to book any available room anytime. However, the points you must redeem vary depending on demand.

The Hilton Honors Ascend Card is a good choice if you often stay at Hilton hotels.

World of Hyatt logo

World of Hyatt

World of Hyatt has no blackout dates for booking with points. You can use your points to book any available standard room. This makes it easy to use your points anytime, as long as a room is open. The World of Hyatt® Credit Card also provides 9X points when you stay at a Hyatt property.

Now, let’s focus on some hotels that impose blackout periods.

IHG One Rewards Club logo

IHG One Rewards Club

The IHG One Rewards Club blacks out dates at some hotels during busy periods. You’re out of luck if you try to use points to book a room during these times. Consider rearranging your travel or using a hotel that doesn’t impose blackout dates.

Wyndham Rewards logo

Wyndham Rewards

Some Wyndham hotels also have blackout periods during peak periods. It’s also tough to find available rooms during the holiday season. You’d be best off booking Christmas and Thanksgiving hotel stays before July. The Wyndham Rewards® Visa® Card is an efficient tool for earning free nights.

Choice Privileges logo

Choice Privileges

Choice Hotels can create blackout dates during peak travel times. Plan your trips during less busy times or book early. Always check date availability frequently. 

Strategies For Booking Hotel Stays With Points

Most of these booking strategies mirror those for airlines. As always, early preparation is the key:

  • Book Early: Reserve your hotel stay as soon as possible. This may help you secure rooms with points, especially during busy times.
  • Be Flexible: Try to travel during off-peak times. This can help you avoid blackout dates and save more points.
  • Monitor Availability: Check the hotel’s website often for updates. Sometimes, rooms become available closer to your travel dates.
  • Use Alerts: Sign up for email alerts from hotel loyalty programs. These alerts can inform you about special deals and room availability.
  • Consider Point Transfers: Some credit cards allow you to transfer points to different hotel programs. This gives you more booking options.
  • Combine Points and Cash: Use a mix of points and cash if you don’t have enough points. This can help you book the hotel stay you want.

Of course, rather than working around blackout dates, it’s best to avoid them entirely. Let’s explore how.

How to Avoid Blackout Dates

Blackout dates make it difficult to use your travel rewards. Here are some ways to avoid them and make the most of your points.

Use a General-Purpose Travel Card that Doesn’t Impose Blackout Dates

Several travel cards allow you to book your travel directly and then apply points to cover the cost. This means you don’t have to worry about blackout dates because you’re not using a specific booking portal with restrictions. 

Cards such as the Capital One Venture Rewards Card or the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card are great options for this flexibility.

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card Review Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card Review

These cards allow you to book flights, hotels, and other travel expenses and then redeem your points for a statement credit. This approach gives you more freedom to choose your travel dates and destinations, helping you avoid the hassle of blackout dates altogether.

Be Flexible When Planning Travel

Planning your travel around blackout dates can help you save points and avoid frustration. If you can be flexible with your travel dates, you may find much better deals and more availability for using your points. Traveling during off-peak times, such as weekdays or non-holiday periods, can help you avoid blackout dates and save money.

Check different dates and times when planning your trip. Sometimes, flying a day earlier or later can make a big difference in points or miles redemption. Using flexible search tools on travel websites can help you find the best times to travel with your points.

Use Alternative Redemption Options

You could use your points for other rewards if you can’t avoid blackouts. Alternative ways to spend your rewards include gift cards, merchandise, and cash back. These don’t necessarily offer the best value, but they can work when you’re staring down blackout dates.

Some better credit cards allow you to transfer your points or miles to partner loyalty programs. Depending on the program, this may allow you to penetrate a blackout blanket. It’s a nifty way to obtain more travel options.

Travel rewards blackout tip

Set up alerts for changes in blackout dates and award availability. Many travel programs and credit card issuers offer email or app notifications that can inform you about changes in availability, special deals, or newly available award seats. Staying informed can help you snag better deals — even during peak travel times.

Use technology to track and avoid blackout dates. Websites and apps such as Expert Flyer and AwardWallet can monitor award availability and alert you when seats open up. These tools may make planning your travel easier and help you use your points without running into blackout dates.

Understand Blackout Dates to Maximize Your Credit Card Rewards

Knowing about blackout dates can help you extract the most value from your credit card. Understanding which programs have blackout dates, and which ones don’t, may help you choose the right cards and plan better trips. 

Making informed decisions about your travel rewards can lead to more enjoyable experiences. With some planning and the right tools, you can use your points or miles to their fullest. And if you can remain flexible, you can completely avoid blackout dates and deal with fewer hassles.