This summer Expedia is launching a new rewards program – One Key Rewards – that will apply across all 21 of their brands (though at launch just to Expedia, Hotels.com, and Vrbo). Historically some have offered better rewards, like Orbitz and Hotels.com, while others have offered consistently devalued rewards such as Expedia directly, and some haven’t offered rewards at all – like Vrbo. That’s changing.
While they haven’t announced most of the details, two core themes are:
- Earning will be in ‘cash’ credit that can be spent at any of their brands
- For Expedia this becomes a way to make their various brands sticky since most customers only shop with one of their brands
There are several reasons to book through Expedia or other online travel agency sites.
- You can earn their loyalty points while also earning airline (but usually not hotel) loyalty points, and also ‘double dip’ (or triple dip) by clicking through a shopping portal to get to the site where you may complete your booking.
- They may have lower prices (just one more place to shop, and they might put together complicated fare structures differently).
- Expedia in particular has numerous worldwide sites allowing you to access prices available via different points of sale (book airfare as though it’s sold in a different country or on a different continent).
There are also reasons not to book through Expedia or other online travel agency sites.
- Prices may also be higher, either because they’re pricing an airline itinerary differently or because they’re not giving you access to discounted hotel rates (whether so-called member rates, AAA or AARP rates, etc).
- Hotels may put you in a lesser room since you’ve booked through a third party. I’ve certainly experienced this.
- You give up hotel points, hotel elite status credit, and hotel elite benefits during your stay (usually).
- Customer service is usually a pain point. Long hold times (like with airlines) only to reach an unempowered agent, who themselves has to put you on hold, only to come back with a wrong answer. Add in that online travel agencies often denied refunds to customers during the pandemic that airlines themselves were processing (they wouldn’t just have to give back your money but also return commissions!) and it can be better to deal directly with the travel provider than have them in the middle – that’s the opposite of the traditional experience with a volume travel agent where you have the agent as an adovcate.
What’s interesting about this new program is that it offers points earning and redemption for vacation homes which is a competitive advantage against Airbnb which has been working on a rewards program for years and years without bringing one to market. It’s even a way to use flight bookings to earn homesharing stays.
The major pain points with Expedia in particular are (1) a history of points devaluation and (2) poor telephone customer service.
Points devaluation becomes harder with a cash-based program. The points you accumulate their ‘their cash’. They might restrict how you can spend it in the future (such as only on hotels and not flights), but it’s harder to say your actual cash balance gets cut in half the way they can do raising the points prices of various redemptions. Indeed they’ve done this before. So a cash-based rewards currency helps get at trust issues that I and others have with Expedia loyalty rewards.
Meanwhile they suggest that better phone customer service isn’t going to just mean priority in the call center queue, but also routing to better agents. We’ll see what that looks like in practice. That was supposedly on offer with Expedia VIP though for years as a VIP that was never my experience (or maybe their regular agents were even worse). But I’m holding out hope pending program launch and real data points that they could actually solve this second pain point.
In addition to priority customer service, elites will earn rewards faster and be given up front discounts. Elite discounts seem like they are private offers that circumvent rate parity rules, and allow Expedia potentially to undercut book direct rates and perhaps match various discount rates that are available.
Points will expire but they promise expiration rules will be reasonable. Initially elite discount rates will not be ‘stackable’ with shopping portal rewards. They will eventually offer household points pooling, but not right away at launch.
Update: 3/27/23 While it’s clear that the Hotels.com program is going to offer a lesser rebate going forward with One Key, apparently 95% of Hotels.com customers don’t ever reach the current threshold to earn a reward night and they’ll get something going forward. It’s a future devaluation in earn for power users but overall probably a more expensive value proposition to offer due to reduced breakage.
Of course modest rewards from a few hotel nights still require members to make future bookings. So for the really small rewards members accrue, Expedia may make money on those (as opposed to costing them more than their commissions).
Base members will earn 2% with Hotels.com, elites up to 6%, that’s a devaluation compared to the current 10% but not as bad as it first appears since the ones currently getting 10% are going to be the ones who earn at higher levels due to status. Although the increased earn may be limited to ‘VIP Access’ properties. They’re not devaluing credits already earned! Credits not currently enough for a free night will each be converted to OneKeyCash at 10% of the value of each one.
You comparison shop using OTAs, you buy direct from providers. A smattering of reward “dollars:” or green stamps or whatever isn’t enough to shake that basic self-protective strategy if you ask me.
What happens to rewards used in one of the current programs?
@Daniel – we don’t know conversion details yet
This may end most of my business with the company. I regularly book using Hotels.com because I often find that nothing beats the ten percent rebate. However, diluting it to the new Expedia program ruins any reason to use the site other than perhaps browsing.
@ Gary — OTAs should be avoided like the plague.
The 10 night reward program is the main reason I book via hotels.com. If the new program doesn’t offer at least 8% “cash”/value back I’ll be shopping elsewhere.
“…you may your booking…”
You might want to consider adding a word like “complete” to complete (!) this sentence.
The issues elaborated in this article reinforce the reasons why I avoid third party sites.
In my opinion, they just result in less flexibility and more frustration.
One solid hard pass from these criminals
My bad experiences with them are over!
I am currently in Cartagena Colombia on the tail end of a month long trip along the Carribean coast. We are at the Nacar, a Curio Collection hotel which booked thru Hilton. Two weeks ago we spent 6 nights at the Sofitel Isla Baru Collablanca which I booked thru Hotels dot com.
The same room was $800 cheaper on Hotels dot com than the Accor site. Plus I got 6 nights which pushed me into a free night. Used that last night at the Hotel Dann in Los Lagitos. Got a nice junior suite plus breakfast.
I will miss Hotels dot com. It has been good to me over the years. I always check them, then the hotel site, thn I book whichever is beter. Expedia blows goats. Gonna mi those free nights.
Seems like a massive devaluation of Hotels.com earnings.
“As a One Key member, earn 2% in OneKeyCash for every $1 spent1 on eligible stays, car rentals, activities, packages, and cruises. Earn 0.2% in OneKeyCash for every $1 spent1 on eligible flight bookings in addition to any airline loyalty program earnings. For example, you will earn $10 in OneKeyCash on $500 of spend.”
So 2% base earnings vs 10% today. And then some elite bonuses:
Silver: 50% more, so 3% total
Gold: 100% more, so 4% total
Plat: 200% more, so 8% total
Details are here: https://www.hotels.com/one-key
I only used hotels.com occasionally when staying at properties where I didn’t care about the native elite program, but now I will probabIy need to spend more time comparison-shopping.
As for the benefit of combining other Expedia-brands earnings, that’s rarely useful to me. Perhaps once in a while a VRBO stay, but I won’t switch my airfare purchases to any OTA.
“Base members will earn 2% with Hotels.com, elites up to 6%, that’s a devaluation compared to the current 10% but not as bad as it first appears since the ones currently getting 10% are going to be the ones who earn at higher levels due to status.”
Nope. The current reward night structure on hotels.com is flat – book 10 nights, get 1 night at average value. The new system will look marginally better for occasional users but anyone who actually reaches 10 nights booked will be substantially worse off.
One Key? Wonky, more like.
I bet they add a credit card component to this which will put the bonus back near 10% if you have the card and are top tier.
Here is the other thing that I just noticed. If your a Platinum member, which I should be if my membership carries over to this new One Key platform, that 200% bonus is only good on VIP properties. I’d say less than half the time I’d book VIP properties. In any event, I loved the Hotel.com site because it was easy to use but unless they pair this with some sort of attractive credit card deal, I’m going to have to start getting used to booking my non-Hyatt reservations through the Chase Sapphire portal. The extra 7 chase reward points per dollar spent makes much more sense now.