Offensive: Implementing a Fee to Redeem “Free” Hotel Nights

You earn a free night after staying 10 nights, and that’s an effective 10% rebate on hotel stays. As a result offers a useful program for two types of people. It’s great for those who do not stay regularly enough to earn elite status in a loyalty program. It’s also good for those who don’t concentrate on a single chain.

That rebate will become worth a little bit less in three months. Introduces New $5 Free Night Fee

Effective November 27 the online travel agency will charge $5 for their loyalty program members to redeem a free night. They’ll waive the fee for free night redemptions booked through their app rather than their website.

The booking agency says they’re doing it to generate revenue, but they’ll raise less than the total cost of the loyalty program (duh):

We’re making this change to cover some of the costs of running the program, so more than 43 million Rewards members can continue to benefit from this program.

hudson hotel new york

Marriott Charges Free Night Fees Too on Some Stays

Marriott charges its Bonvoy members resort and destination fees when redeeming free nights. That fee is a lot more than $5. And it’s a fee competitors don’t impose on reward nights. With all the other things wrong with Bonvoy though this one gets too much of a pass. Members are too distracted not getting their upgrades and stay credits.


American Airlines Announced a $5 Free Ticket Fee But Never Implemented It

In May 2008 American Airlines announced a $5 fee to redeem awards online with phone redemptions still incurring a telephone booking fee. This was such an utterly stupid idea that AAdvantage never implemented the fee, though they didn’t publicly announce they wouldn’t and never admitted error.

american airlinesRedemption Fees are a Slap in the Face of Loyal Members

A $5 fee to book a free night is a tax on member loyalty. When a program issues a proprietary currency members are ‘captive’. They can only spend their points in ways designated by the program. This is a punishment for having been loyal in the past.

Of course going forward customers can factor in the redemption fee when making booking decisions.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Gary, what’s their motive in trying to direct people to use their app versus the website? What’s “better” about app-based bookings from their point of view?

  2. It appears there may be some potential portal/affiliate costs in the website bookings. Same happens with Ebay when they have a 2% delta for Ebay Bucks between the website and the app. You cannot use a portal with the app.

  3. @Andrew

    Tracking user habits and increasing bookings. Users with the app installed can be tracked far better, and are more likely to use as their primary booking method since it’s already on their phones.

    Doing this to loyal members seems to make very little sense, since they’re already frequently booking with in the first place, and therefore also have at least a reasonable history from which to identify habits.

    No doubt some executive saw two “low” numbers on a quarterly and thought they could boost app installs and revenue simultaneously by doing this as a quick fix to both numbers and make themselves look good.

  4. I just fired them yesterday and moved my international bookings to
    I also responded to their email telling them where they can cram their App.
    I guessing they are trying to move folks to the App to generate data sales income since it doesn’t cost them any more money if folks redeem their rewards online.
    CROOKS- I hope they fire their marketing genius who suggested this revenue stream.The CEO should get docked too when the sales drop.
    I’ll be happy to no longer be getting pop-uped to death when on their website- Captain Stupid

  5. As a former SPG loyalist, I am so tired of being “Bonvoyed” by Marriott. First the travel package certificate devaluation (I had 2 category 8 and 1 category 5 certs). Good luck finding hotels willing to accept them without strings attached. Earlier this year they denied my request to use a certificate at a category 2 hotel because I wanted to stay three nights instead of five nights. I thought I was doing them a favor – obviously not. They were happy to suggest charging me additional points for staying less nights (WTF?). I have elected to convert my remaining points to airline miles and be done with it. Hello Hyatt.

    Hopefully, will wake up. Is it worth the risk to lose 25% of their loyal customer base for a trivial $5 extra charge? Time will tell.

  6. Should be changed. Stay 10 nights. Get a night for $5. But I’m sure they won’t be changing anything.

  7. Typically use the app anyway on phone and tablet, they also give an additional 5 percent discount often when using the app , code mob5.

    Ive also seen lower pricing in general with app and location services.
    I almost always check price from mobile and web anyway, sometimes differences in pricing and room options.

    My average free night is about 250 so even a $5 fee isnt bad

  8. I dno’t understand why this is such a big deal. has one of the (if not the) most generous loyalty programs (especially compared to, tripadvisor, etc.) — you can actually generate rewards from it.

    If the cost of all that is $5, so what?

  9. For $5 can I get them to actually call the hotel manager when 3rd shift hotel employees try to shake down guests with fake fees when they are checking into a booking? They sure wouldn’t do it for free.

  10. Indeed this is disappointing. Also, let’s not forget one of the poster children of loyalty taxes: British Airways, with its’ outrageous loyalty tax on Avios long haul redemptions, on its own metal no less.

  11. @paul: About those annoying “urgency” pop-ups: uBlock Origin works wonders. Just quickly right-click on a pop-up and use uBO’s zap button. You might have to do this several times to get all the different classes of pop-ups they pester you with. Eventually you won’t see any and you can make your bookings in peace. (You can use uBO to send Facebook buttons and other privacy-abusing items to oblivion, too.
    @Sam: It’s $5 for EVERY award night redeemed – not so trivial for me. I routinely travel for extended periods.

  12. @anonymous
    I agree it’s worse than what they have now, but compared to any of their competitors (, tripadvisor, etc.) is still leaps and bounds ahead, no?

  13. Thanks for the link @Andy.
    Between the recent Washington Post investigation and my own intuitive spidy sense, and now your link, I am so glad I have only downloaded a couple of apps. We find out that all these apps are “callig home” and tracking you even when you are not even on their app, when the app is closed.

    I have always bought and shopped through a web browser and I am going to keep doing it that way.

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