So any secrets on actually how to use reward points? Are nights 'released' at a certain time like airline seats for award redemption? I keep searching and searching and there is no available nights for many properties I search - aside from the random Courtyard. Any Category 8-9, or Ritz, that I search has nothing, even searching as far in advance (~1 year) as possible. This makes me worried about dumping my points into a hotel+air redemption and not be able to use it at a location or time that I would like.
Much depends on when a property opens up nights for points, especially in prime locations like Hawaii or summertime beach areas and then you have the Marriott Vacation Clubs that hold pretty tight their rooms for owners to book.
Not to worry you'll find plenty of availability by being patient and checking often to see if the rooms have come open for points. I was looking the other day for a stay on points at the Los Cabos, Mexico Hotel - Cabo Resort | JW Marriott Los Cabos Beach Resort & Spa and when I first looked at the resort they had no rooms available for using points. I went off to check airline fares and when I returned about 30 minutes later POOF, got my room on points. It's an every changing inventory of rooms and it does pay off to look often.