How much time do you spend looking for great travel deals? If you’re like most people, probably quite a lot—a recent informal poll found that 75% of people spend at least 5 hours planning their leisure travel, and a full 25% admit to spending more hours planning than they do traveling!
Savvy travelers know that the best way to get great deals on hotels is by joining loyalty programs. This used to mean choosing a particular hotel chain and sticking with it through thick and thin, even if you had to stay in out-of-the-way hotels or occasionally pay more for a room just to rack up extra rewards points.
But today travelers have other options. Hotel booking sites like Expedia, Orbitz, and Hotel Engine have started offering their own loyalty programs, so you can now take advantage of both the reduced rates these sites offer and the opportunity to earn discounted or free travel. These loyalty programs are becoming even more influential as the actual room prices across the different booking sites are starting to all look the same.
A case in point: I recently searched for hotels in New York City for the first weekend of September and found that a stay at the Holiday Inn on Wall Street would cost $204 per night regardless of whether I booked at Travelocity, Expedia, Hotels.com, Hotel Engine, or even on the main Holiday Inn website.(Image by Majiscup – The Papercup & Sleeve)
So, since the prices are the same, the choice really comes down to who is going to offer me the best rewards for my repeat business. More and more I’m finding that the answer is not the loyalty program offered directly through the hotel. For example, the Holiday Inn loyalty program, IHG Rewards Club, used to be an easy way to earn free nights, but this year, they changed the program structure, making it much more difficult to achieve the elite statuses where the benefits really start to kick in.
Here is an overview of the loyalty programs offered by two top online travel agencies plus three hotel-focused sites. A more in-depth analysis follows.
|Plan||Earn 2 points/$1 spent on hotelsRedeem points for hotel coupons||Earn up to 5% back||Earn up to 7% back||Book 10 nights, get 1 free||Earn up to 10% back|
|% back on spend||1.4%||Up to 5%||Up to 7%||10%||Up to 10%|
|When can redeem||30 days after earning||Immediately after checkout||Immediately after checkout||After 10 nights||Immediately after checkout|
|Ease of redemption||Hard||Easy||Easy||Medium||Easy|
|Expiration||18 months of inactivity||12 months after earning||15 months after earning||12 months of inactivity||None|
|Elite status (per calendar year)||Silver: 7 nights/$5,000
Platinum: 15 nights/$10,000
|Star: 4 nights
SuperStar: 12 nights
|Gold: 2 stays
Platinum: 6 stays
|Silver: 10 nights
Gold: 30+ nights
|None: All members can earn up to 10%|
**Both Travelocity and Priceline also have loyalty programs, but they require members to have a branded credit card. Travelocity’s program requires the Travelocity Rewards AmEx credit card. Priceline has something called “Bonus Cash” that anyone can sign up for, but the main benefits are reserved for Priceline Signature Visa cardholders.
Expedia recently revamped its rewards program, which is not great news for hotel customers. The new program is quite complicated to navigate, but more than that it just isn’t a very good deal. You get 2 points per every $1 spent on hotels. These points can be redeemed for hotel coupons, starting at 3,500 points for a $25 coupon. Basically, that means you have to spend $1,750 to earn a $25 discount on a hotel room. Travelers who reach the elite levels earn points slightly faster, but not much. Overall, you are much better saving your Expedia+ points to get free flights and going somewhere else for hotel deals.
The Orbitz Rewards program is much more straightforward. For every booking, you earn “Orbucks,” which is money that can be immediately applied to reduce the cost of future bookings. As of now, you earn 3% when you book a hotel through the website and 5% if you use the app. Achieving elite status is easy and gets you perks at certain hotels, but you can’t earn points any faster unless you get the Orbitz Rewards Visa card. Also, Orbucks expire after 12 months, so no saving up for a really big trip.(Image by OrbitzTravel)
HotelClub is a smaller company with a more aggressive rewards program that is also based on money that can be applied to future bookings. Members start by earning 3% for online and 4% for app bookings, and with elite status can move up to 5% online and 7% using the app.Fortunately, elite status is easy to achieve, though note that it is based on the number of stays, not number of nights. The company also offers members special perks at some hotels.
Hotels.com Welcome Rewards
Hotels.com is considered one of the best rewards programs for two reasons, it’s easy and it’s generous. The concept is simple: Stay 10 nights, get one night free. The value of the free night is based on the average rate of the 10 paid nights, so if you purchase nine nights at $100 each and one night at $200, your rebate will be worth $110. The elite statuses come with extra customer service benefits, but not faster earning potential.
Hotel Engine is a new player in the hotel booking market, and they are working hard to stand out in the rewards arena. Their rewards program is also based on earning money toward future bookings, but the rewards are higher than for Orbitz and HotelClub. All members get 5% back on every booking, and certain hotels will get you 10% back. In the New York City search, out of a total of 218 hotels available, 13 were eligible for double rewards. In terms of value, this program is comparable to Hotels.com, with the advantage that you don’t have to wait for 10 nights to redeem your rewards. Also, unlike in all of the other programs, Hotel Engine rewards points don’t ever expire.
Expedia may be good for flights, but its hotel rewards are nothing to write home about. Orbitz and HotelClub’s money back programs are better, but still leave room for improvement. Hotels.com and Hotel Engine offer the most rewards bang for your buck, and with Hotel Engine you don’t have to wait to start redeeming your rewards.
Related post : Types of Accommodation in Paris, France
Feature image by coolest riads