Most travellers will sign up with the loyalty programs offered by some of the leading international airlines, care rental companies as well as hotel chains but are completely oblivious of the fact that the online travel agencies such as Expedia, Priceline, Travelocity, Orbitz, and Hotels.com also have their own reward programs and that you will be able to earn points by booking your travel and travel packages via these websites.
It is even better to sign up with the OTAs because the breadth of travel providers through which you can earn points and miles is seemingly limitless. While the large airline and hotel chains have loyalty rewards that you can earn and accumulate as a repeat customer, the situation does not obtain with smaller airlines and tiny boutique hotels tucked in a tiny corner of the world. However, there is a high chance that even the smallest boutique hotel is connected to the global distribution systems and can therefore be booked through websites such as Expedia, Priceline or Hotels.com. If you book frequently via these OTA platforms, then you should sign up for their reward programs which can offer you some great travel rewards and other benefits.
Here, we look at which of these online travel agencies’ rewards programs will give you the best value for money:-
Expedia+ Rewards Programs
Launched in 2011, the Expedia+ reward program was revamped in 2014 into its current format. The program includes three membership tiers, each of which has varying levels of advantages: +blue tier, +silver tier and the +gold tier.
With the Expedia+ program, you will earn 2 points for every dollar that you spend on hotels or package tours that include a hotel stay. For flights, you will earn 1 point for every $5 that you spend. So you are likely to accumulate more points when you book hotels and hotel package tours than on flights. Frequent travellers who book extended hotel stays will earn a lot more rewards with the Expedia reward program.
The +blue membership is the basic and free membership programs although you will be promoted to either silver or gold memberships if you hit certain spending milestones. As a silver member, you will earn an extra 10% in rewards and as a gold member, an extra 30% in rewards.
You can attain the Expedia +silver membership by spending $5000 via Expedia or booking at least seven hotel nights. For you to attain the gold membership status which carries lots of perks, you will need to book at least 15 nights or spend $10,000 via the online travel agency. The Gold membership also affords eligibility for room upgrades at +VIP Access Properties.
There are other perks that you get with the Expedia+ Rewards program. For example, if you hit 7000 points which is equivalent to spending $35,000 on flights or $3500 dollars on hotel nights, you will earn a $50 hotel coupon. With 8000 points, you will get a $50 flight coupon.
As this example starkly illustrates, you are better of accumulating Expedia reward points by booking hotels and packages with hotels on the platform than spending money on flights. The potential return rate for hotel bookings with Expedia is quite high.
There are other ways in which you can maximize your Expedia Reward points. For example, by signing up for the Expedia Rewards Credit Card issued by Citi, you will be able to earn 4 extra points for every dollar spent on virtually anything on Expedia and between 1 to 2 points for every dollar spent with the credit card elsewhere. The card also gives you a good status in the Expedia+ program. While the normal return rate for hotel bookings is 1.42% and that for airlines 0.14% with the Expedia reward programs, the Expedia credit card rate will really up your stakes taking your hotel reservations return rate to 8.57% and flight reservations return rate to 3%.
Here is a summary of the features of the Expedia+ Voyager credit cards:-
- You will earn 25,000 Expedia+ Bonus Points with the Expedia+ Voyager Card from Citi if you spend $2000 within 90 days on account opening. These bonus points can be redeemed for $350 at a VIP+ Access Hotel.
- Earn four points for every $1 spent on all eligible purchases on Expedia. This covers all purchases on flights, travel packages, hotels and various lifestyle activities.
- Earn two points for every dollar spent on entertainment and on dining in restaurants.
- Earn 1 point for every dollar that you spend on other purchases.
- Get an Expedia +gold status for the duration of card membership.
- You don’t pay any foreign transaction fees when you make card purchases.
- You will earn Expedia+ Bonus 5000 anniversary points if you hit a card spending threshold of $10,000 in the previous year of membership.
- Comes with an annual fee of $95
Features of the Expedia+ Card by Citi
- Earn 15,000 points when you spend $1000 within three months after the account opening. These points can be redeemed for $200 at a VIP+ Access Hotel.
- With the Expedia+ card, you earn 3 points for every dollar that you spend on eligible purchases on Expedia including on hotels, flights and travel packages.
- Earn a single point for every dollar that you spend on purchases.
- You will get an automatic silver+ status when you sign up for the Expedia+ card for every annual membership.
- There is no annual fee with this membership plan.
Hotels.com reward program, formerly known as Welcome Rewards is one of the simplest in the industry among the online travel agencies. It also offers one of the best value for travellers. When you book 10 nights via the Hotels.com website, you will earn a single hotel night whose value is the average of the ten qualifying nights that you book. It is like earning a 10% rebate which is even better value than the Expedia Rewards program with an Expedia credit card that earns you a rate of return of 8.57% at best.
If you want to use your Hotels.com rebate at a hotel where a room will cost you more, then you will have to cover the extra cost which might not be much. However, here is the catch: if the hotel where you are planning to stay costs less, then you are going to forfeit the rebate.
Like the Expedia rewards program, the Hotels.com rebates are tiered into two levels. There is the Silver Rebates and the Gold Rebates status. If you book anywhere from 10 to 29 nights in a year, you will earn the Silver. You earn Gold if you book more than 30 nights. The Silver and Gold tiers do not carry many benefits, however. The main reward here is really the extra night after booking 10 qualifying nights.
Orbitz is another online travel agency that has a dedicated rewards program, aptly named Orbucks. With the Orbucks rewards, you are going to earn dollar value credits every time you make a purchase via Orbitz. The best rewards are earned with hotel bookings where you earn a 5% credit on hotels booked via the Orbitz mobile app and 3% credits via hotels booked via a desktop computer. There is also a 1% credit on flights.
You can also sign up to the Orbitz Rewards visa that enables you to earn extra points and rewards and you don’t have to be a signed up member of the rewards program to earn with this. The rewards with the Orbitz Rewards Visa include 5% reward if you buy your travel products via Orbitz and 2% rewards if you buy with Visa from anywhere else. However, all the credits must be redeemed via Orbitz which can be limiting for some people.
Here is a look at the features of the Orbitz Rewards Visa:-
- Earn 2% in Orbucks for all of your purchases made with the Visa card.
- Earn an extra 5% in your Orbitz bookings. This is an equivalent of 10% that you earn back in rewards.
- This card does not carry an annual fee and there is no foreign transaction fee.
- If you spend $1500 in 90 days after account opening, you will earn a $100 statement credit.
Priceline may not have a rewards program in the traditional sense as its rewards are closely coupled to its co-branded card. However, customers booking via the platform can still earn rewards even if they don’t have the Priceline Visa.
There are various ways in which you can earn Priceline Rewards. The most common option is via the Bonus Cash credits that you could utilize to boost your bidding chances in the Priceline Name Your Own Price bids for car rental and hotel reservations. However, Priceline killed the Name Your Price feature for flight bookings.
You can also earn credits with the Priceline credit card. This typically involves earning 5% back when you buy your travel products via Priceline and 1% back if you buy anywhere else. If you are a good bidder, however, you can make the most of the Priceline Cash Bonus program.
Here is a look at some of the Priceline Rewards Visa by Barclaycard features and offers:-
- For all eligible Priceline purchases, you will earn 5X the reward points.
- You will earn 1X of the reward points for all other purchases.
- After you make a first purchase, you will earn 5000 bonus points.
- There is no annual fees.
- You will get 10% points back after you redeem your points for the statement credits on the eligible priceline.com or travel purchases.
- Concierge service that includes personalized service.
Travelocity has a rewards program that is linked to its Travelocity American Express card issued by Barclaycard. For you to join the program and earn and redeem Travelocity Rewards, you must have this card.
Here is a look at some of the features, terms and offers with the Travelocity American Express card:-
- There is no annual fee.
- When you make your first purchase, you will earn 5000 points.
- Earn a single point for every other purchase made elsewhere.
- You don’t have to grapple with blackout dates or any restriction when redeeming your miles.
- For all Travelocity purchases, earn 3 points for every $1 spent.
- Redeem Travelocity for statement credits that you can use for Travelocity vacation packages, hotels and flights.
Use Online Shopping Portals to Earn More Points and Rewards
A common feature with all these rewards programs is that you can use their cards or co-branded cards to shop on other portals and earn extra rewards. You can shop on these portals as well as on the respective OTA website using co-branded cards as these are going to boost your bonuses. As we have seen with the Expedia Rewards program, using a co-branded card increases your hotel reservations rewards return rate from 1.42% to 8.57%.
There is, however, a catch to using the OTA co-branded cards. They will prevent you from using another rewards card on the platform. So you can’t use an OTA co-branded card and then next time book on the same site with a travel credit card such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. You have to determine if it is worth it in travel categories in certain OTAs if you consider that the Chase Sapphire card earns you 2 points per dollar spent while cards for certain OTAs may not earn you as much. The rewards programs for travel credit cards are also easily transferable across many other hotel and airline loyalty programs which is not the case with the OTA rewards programs. These can only be used on the OTA website.
So Which Online Travel Agency Offers the Best Rewards Program?
In general, you are likely to get more rewards with online travel agencies if you book hotels and hotel packages than when you book flights. In terms of individual OTAs, Hotels.com offers the best value for hotel bookings while Orbitz offers the best value for flight bookings. For flights, you can also earn good rewards with Travelocity. The Expedia Rewards for hotels and flights offer the least value compared to those of the other online travel agencies reviewed.
The comparison table below shows the various rewards that you can earn from the leading online travel agencies for hotel and flight bookings:-
|Online Travel Agency||Hotel Rewards||Credit Card Rewards||Shopping Portal Rewards||Maximum Rewards|
|Expedia||1.42%||4%||4% (but with limits)||9.42%|
Will I Still Earn My Airline Miles or Hotel Loyalty Cards Rewards If I Book Via an Online Travel Agency?
The answer to this question is yes and the practice is called “double dipping” or even “triple dipping” if you earn three different rewards from a single booking. Many of the online travel agencies will allow you to add or integrate your frequent flyer number into their system so that you can earn points every time you book a flight or hotel as long as the purchase meets the travel providers’ terms and conditions.
However, there are instances when booking your travel via an OTA may not earn you airline miles especially if it is for a heavily discounted flight. Please note that with some airline- or hotel-branded credit cards, you will not earn airline miles or hotel rewards when you make a purchase. This is because the purchase will show the name of the OTA and not the name of the travel service provider.
Some of the cards that you can use to double-dip include Sapphire Preferred, the Ink Plus and Ink Bold, all from the Chase. With these, you can earn multiple rewards through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal if you book via the Hotels.com or Expedia. Travelocity, Orbitz and Priceline were dropped from the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.