Lots of digital ink has already been spilled over what has been announced regarding the upcoming August 1, 2018, merger of the Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest programs. One question we won't know the answer to until the changes go into effect is what the blackout-date policy of the new program will be, and even more importantly, how it will be implemented.
Marriott has a much more restrictive "no-blackout-date" policy than Starwood
As I explained back in 2014, Marriott allows properties to designate "Inventory Control Dates," on which they're allowed to limit the number of standard rooms available for redemptions. The tortured reasoning seems to be that it's not the date that's blacked out, but rather the rooms that are blacked out.
Starwood, on the other hand, states that "As a Starwood Preferred Guest member, you’ll never encounter a blackout date for Free Night Awards at SPG Participating Hotels. Unlike our competitors, we don’t limit the number of standard rooms available for redemption. So, if we have a standard room available at an SPG Participating Hotel, and you have the Starpoints – it's yours."
The merger page simply reads, "No blackout dates to get in your way," without any additional details.
Inventory control dates will infuriate Starwood loyalists
There are many times more Marriott properties than Starwood properties, and Marriott property managers are used to their inventory control dates, so I do not see how it would be possible for the combined program to adopt Starwood's much more generous policy without spending vastly more money reimbursing properties for award nights.
But it almost seems less plausible that starting August 1 Starwood members won't be able to redeem their points without restriction at properties where they can today!
There are ways Marriott could attempt to thread this needle. Since different brands already have different service standards (shampoo, bathrobes, room service), they could simply say that existing Starwood brands will have as one of their service standards a true no-blackout-date policy, while existing Marriott brands will continue to use inventory control dates.
Alternately, they could use Starwood's policy globally, but turn a blind eye to properties abusing the definition of a "standard room" (it may be apocryphal, but my favorite version of this is the property that supposedly put a fax machine in the corner of their standard rooms and called them "executive").
Both Marriott members are rightfully glad they can now book Starwood properties, and Starwood members are looking forward to the big 43% cut to the cost of top-tier properties coming in August. But while Starwood members know to be concerned about the influx of members to their preferred properties, a process that will only accelerate when the programs finally merge and making reservations across brands becomes seamless, the introduction of inventory control dates would mean that bigger pool of members and points will be chasing fewer total available rooms for redemption.
We'll find out soon enough if and how Marriott deals with the problem!