January 25, 2023
By Kim Campbell

Have you ever seen a commercial for a hotel chain or travel company promising “no blackout dates” and asked yourself, “what are blackout dates?” If you don’t already know what blackout dates are, the name may sound a little ominous. When are blackouts ever considered a good thing? For frequent fliers and travelers, the term “blackout” likely rings a bell. In fact, the phrase may even trigger memories of high prices, hectic travel, and strict booking policies.

In this article, we’re going to break down these potential travel impediments. What are blackout dates? How do they affect travel? When are hotel blackout dates, and how do you know?

Let’s find out!

What are blackout dates?

Blackout date basics

“Blackout date” is a phrase used primarily in the travel and tourism industry to denote specific dates where rewards, negotiated rates, extended stay discounts, and other travel promotions are not available.

Travelers may run into blackout date restrictions when:
● Booking hotel rooms
● Finding event space
● Securing air travel
● Purchasing train tickets
● Scheduling a car rental
● And a variety of other travel-related activities

Hotels designate blackout dates during periods of high demand, when the overall desire to travel is at its highest. Due to the increased demand during blackout dates, customers may experience limited availability, higher prices, hefty deposit requirements, and strict cancellation polices (if cancellations are allowed at all). Group reservations, government discounts, AAA promos, and other savings are typically unavailable. Reward booking policies vary from hotel to hotel.

Additionally, blackout dates can refer to a single night, weekend, or a longer period of time. Some hotels in large cities and popular travel destinations extend their existing blackout periods to last for 30 days or longer. As a result, many large events, such as conferences or conventions, schedule around blackout dates working with the hotel up to a year in advance.

Like individual travelers, blackout dates can have a big impact on group travel.  Engaged couples planning a wedding, group travel coordinators looking for tournament blocks, and corporate retreat event planners may it difficult to book event spaces or room blocks around blackout dates as well.

Why do hotels have blackout dates?

Hotels use blackout dates as a tool to maximize their revenue potential during high-demand periods. During periods of increased travel to an area, supply and demand becomes an important factor in a hotel’s pricing and sales strategy.

When the demand for accommodations is greater than the existing number of accommodations available, hotels are able to raise prices and enforce strict cancellation policies without much threat of losing business to the competition. As demand is high area-wide, most hotels in a comp set will raise their prices to match high blackout date rates at other properties. Basically, they know guests will travel regardless, so most hoteliers take advantage of the opportunity to capitalize on profits.

In many cases, travelers face the decision between paying higher rates, or not traveling at all. Really, hotels are able to increase rates because booking a room is more of a necessity than a choice for many travelers.

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How are blackout dates determined?

Blackout dates are usually determined annually and included in a hotel’s revenue management strategy for the year. Some hotels have a dedicated revenue management or sales team who makes the determination, while smaller properties may have a single hotel manager who makes revenue decisions.

Hotel blackout dates commonly coincide with:
● Peak travel dates
● Special events
● Holiday seasons
● Optimal weather windows (i.e. beachfront hotels, ski resorts)
● Popular annual attractions in the area

How do blackout date policies work?

During blackout dates, many hotels will not accept group blocks, offer any discounts, or accept reward stays. These restrictions will greatly limit the hotel’s mix of sales, and many hoteliers only choose to implement blackout dates when regular repeat business will not suffer as a result.

Many larger chain hotels are limited to the amount of blackout dates or the kind of policies they can include based on brand standards. Hyatt, for example, offers a rewards program that promises members “no blackout dates” for rewards stays. Members can use points to book a stay regardless of the blackout status.

Hotels that participate in corporate negotiated hotel programs, and offer negotiated rates to specific companies they work with, are often given blackout date restrictions by the corporate travel planner. A corporation that requests a bid from a hotel for a negotiated rate, for instance, may limit the hotel to ten blackout dates each year.

Corporate blackout limit agreements ensure the travel planner that company employees would be able to book a room at their negotiated corporate rate at any time, except on the ten dates that the hotel included in their bid, or when rooms are simply unavailable. Hotel revenue managers that are willing to accommodate company requests, or offer flexibility during blackout dates, tend to win more corporate contracts than those who don’t.

Tips for Booking Blackout Dates

Use the tips to help you avoid overspending when planning your next trip. Be aware of blackout dates and how they could affect many different aspects of your travel plans.

1. Check for hotel blackout dates before booking travel commitments

Some hotel brands, like Omni Hotels, list their blackout dates online, but not all properties do. Look on the hotel’s website, social media pages, and third party booking sites. If you can’t find an online list, don’t hesitate to contact the hotel directly. Check with the sales department if the front desk team doesn’t have that information.

2. Avoid blackout dates when planning large events

Schedule vacations, weddings, or group travel outside of blackout dates when possible.  Most hotels do not offer discounts for group reservations over blackout dates. While you may be able to book multiple rooms, the prices will likely be incredibly high and without flexible cancellation policies. Event planners should also be on the lookout for blackout date restrictions when planning conferences, conventions, trade shows, retreats, or other large events that would require large room blocks.

3. Be prepared to spend more money; save up in advance

Not only are blackout date rates significantly more expensive that average hotel stay rates, most blackout date bookings require a full payment up front. Be prepared to pay for the entire cost of your stay at the time of booking, just in case.

4. Pay close attention to cancellation policies and booking restrictions

Some hotels offer cancellation policies for blackout dates and will refund your deposit if cancelled 30 days before arrival. Other hotels may require a 60-day cancellation or longer. Because blackout dates coincide with such high-demand travel periods, however, many hotels choose not to offer cancellation for blackout dates at all.
 
5. Double-check for changes in the hotel’s standard policies

Hoteliers may choose to restrict some of their standard hotel policies, procedures, or offerings during blackout dates. If you anticipate needing an early check-in or late check-out during a blackout date hotel stay, check with the hotel in advance. For good measure, we recommend confirming special requests with the hotel again a few days before arrival.

6. Keep additional blackout travel restrictions and expenses in mind

During peak travel seasons, especially over the holidays, blackout dates often extend to other travel expenses. Not only is it more difficult to secure a booking in the first place, but airfare, car rentals and other expenses are likely to increase as well. Additionally, parking prices are often higher with less availability during blackout dates, so look for transportation options that won’t require overnight parking.

7. Prepare for increased demand in the area overall

Blackout dates go hand-in-hand with heavy traffic and high overall travel to an area. Be prepared for packed restaurants, busy theme parks, and long lines. For vacation-goers, plan on booking your tickets months in advance. Make sure the cancellation policies for tickets and reservations are comparable to your hotel and travel policies. In the event you need to cancel your trip, you won’t want to be left holding a non-refundable trip to Walt Disney World, for example, after cancelling your hotel and airfare.

Check out more ideas for hotel pricing strategies

FAQs

1. Are hotels available during blackout dates?

Blackout dates refer to pricing and policies that exist during certain high-demand periods. Hotel rooms are still sold during blackout dates, but usually at high prices and with strict booking policies attached. If you’re looking to book a hotel stay during blackout dates, book far in advance and plan to pay more for your room. Many hotels do not allow reward bookings or discounted member rates over blackout dates, so be sure to double-check the hotel’s policy.

2. How much does booking a blackout date cost?

Booking a hotel room over blackout dates is likely to cost you two to three times the average room rate, or more. A large chain hotel in a college town may average rates of $129-149 during the week, or even lower during off-season, but may have rates that range from $389 and up over blackout dates and special events.

3. What are attraction blackout dates?

Blackout dates can apply to area attractions and events as well as hotel rooms and plane tickets. Many event venues, arenas, amusement parks and other area-wide attractions do not offer discounted ticket prices during peak season. When booking a vacation package with attraction tickets included, for example, the packages are likely only available during certain times of the year, when a hotel is experiencing less demand. Government, military, AAA, AARP, and other standard ticket discounts may not be available during blackout dates either.

4. What hotels have blackout dates?

Most large brand hotels have blackout dates to some degree, but not all hotels share the same policies. Many hotels with renowned loyalty programs have promised their members no blackout dates on rewards points. Blackout dates may only apply to packages, group rates, or other discounts at some hotels. Smaller properties—think a country motel or a quaint bed and breakfast—may not have blackout dates at all.

5. What does “no blackout dates” mean?

Certain memberships and rewards programs guarantee their customers “no blackout date restrictions.” Members of such a plan are able to use points to book rewards stays without having to deal with blackout date restrictions that other travelers will face. A variety of hotel brands, airlines, and credit card companies that partner with travel affiliates ensure that their valued members face no blackout dates.

Headshot of Cvent writer Kimberly Campbell

Kim Campbell

Kim is a full-time copy and content writer with many years of experience in the hospitality industry. She entered the hotel world in 2013 as a housekeeping team member and worked her way through various departments before being appointed to Director of Sales. Kim has championed numerous successful sales efforts, revenue strategies, and marketing campaigns — all of which landed her a spot on Hotel Management Magazine’s “Thirty Under 30” list.

Don’t be fooled though; she’s not all business! An avid forest forager, post-apocalyptic fiction fan, and free-sample-fiend, Kim prides herself on being well-rounded.

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