What does “No blackout dates” really mean?
You often hear commercials and/or other advertisements promoting airline miles with “no blackout dates ” (I’m looking at you, Alec Baldwin and Capital One). So what the heck do they actually mean when they make this claim?
As you might expect, the truth is a bit different than what it seems on the surface. When it comes to frequent flyer points, there are generally 2 different categories of points: (1) points with an airline directly, and (2) points with a generic rewards program. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. I’ll write a future Guide comparing the 2, which can help you decide which system works better for you, but for this Guide, I’ll primarily be addressing the claim of “no blackout dates.”
When it comes to redeeming frequent flyer points, each flight generally has a set number of tickets that are available for point redemption (contrary to what I’ve heard from some folks, the price you pay for your ticket and/or whether you use points for your ticket play no part in what specific seat you will sit in). If a certain flight has 10 seats available for point redemptions, once those 10 tickets have been booked, that flight is no longer available for point redemptions.
When an airline or credit card touts “no blackout dates,” they’re not claiming that you can use your points on any flight; it simply means that there are no dates that initially have 0 seats for point redemptions. If they release even 1 seat on 1 flight for a particular day, then that day is not fully “blacked out.” As soon as 1 person books that seat using their points, there are no more seats available to book with your points, but the date was not “blacked out” because there was at least 1 seat available for using your points.
So don’t be fooled by the marketing lingo – “no blackout dates” doesn’t mean you can use your points on any flight anytime. It simply means that on every day out of the year, that airline made at least 1 seat available for point redemptions.