Hotels.com Destroys Its Loyalty Program, Here’s Where I’m Going Next
I am a frequent traveler, usually taking over 60 flights a year. I have shied away from the brand-specific hotel loyalty programs because some of them have bad reputations with me (Marriott!), and the whole point of them is to limit you to a specific hotel’s offerings. I travel internationally, and often to out of the way places that are not served by a Hyatt or Hilton-affiliated brand. I also often attend events where the hotel choice is dictated by the event or meeting venue.
That’s why up until now, I have been a big fan of the Hotels.com loyalty program that gives you a simple 1 night free for every 10 nights you stay. The free night is issued in the form of a redeemable voucher equal to the value of the average price of the last 10 nights booked and paid for through Hotels.com. There is nothing like a blackout date or restriction, if the hotel is bookable, with few exceptions, you can redeem your nights. You can also build them up and redeem them out of chronological order. This is important because you might have a voucher worth $70 and another worth $150 but if staying in a $100/night hotel, you probably would prefer to use the $70 voucher and pay the $30 difference rather than use the $150 voucher and lose the extra $50 in value.
For people like me who are not loyal to one particular hotel chain, the Hotels.com program has been the best deal out there. But now, Hotels.com is joining with sister brands Expedia and Vrbo to launch a (sucky in comparison) plan that they call “One Key.”
On April 3, I received an email from Hotels.com announcing the move to the new program. It doesn’t directly tell you about how bad the rewards are going to get. For that, you have to click on the “Learn More” button and find the bad news. They are taking away an upgrade to “Avis Preferred Plus” that I didn’t even know about, so that isn’t a big deal for me.
Instead of getting essentially 10% back, which is a tremendous deal, off of almost any hotel, resort, or similar property on the platform, suckers users get 2% back in what they are calling “OneKeyCash” redeemable on one of their platforms. Going from 10% redemption to 2% redemption SUCKS! And get this: You only get 0.2% back on flights, which is a 20-cent discount per 100 dollars. Two dollars off a thousand-dollar flight!? Sucks!
I haven’t used Expedia since the 1990s, and have only vaguely heard of Vrbo (what is it?). Now my reason for using Hotels.com is gone. I will spend down my vouchers ASAP and let my account go dormant. How is going from effectively 10% back to 2% back a good thing? This is a bad deal!
So what am I gonna do now?
Serendipitous timing, essentially the same week Hotels.com came out with this noxious change, I had signed up for Chase Sapphire Reserve, which comes with Chase Ultimate Rewards. Now the program comes with an annual fee over $500 USD so it isn’t going to make sense for a lot of people. But I already paid for Priority Pass memberships for both my wife and myself, and the Chase card comes with Priority Pass for both of us, and unlike the direct plan with Priority Pass, we can both bring up to two guests. That already gives me a cost benefit worth more than the annual fee.
Next, they credit you the first $300 of travel spend on the card, so that is an additional benefit, I have already used it within the first month. It also gives a reimbursement of $100 (every 4 years) for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry, which we have, so that makes sense for us as well. To get the benefit, you must pay for the programs using the card.
Now, talking specifically about hotels, Chase offers a straightforward booking product, and a high-end “Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection.” I poked around with the luxury option, and there are some nice, very high-end resorts and hotels. If this is your thing, it seems like a product designed to compete against American Express and comes with several upgrades and extra benefits.
More useful for me is the 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when I purchase travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards site once the first $300 is spent and reimbursed on travel purchases annually. I now also earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
Based on my quick calculations, a base Chase rewards point is worth about 1.5 cents, (The Points Guy values them even higher, at 2 cents a piece) so by booking through Chase’s portal, I am actually coming out better off than if Hotels.com never changed their plan, and I had just continued with them, as I likely would have (though paying Hotels.com with the Chase card).
I poked around on Chase’s travel site and the hotel pricing for an upcoming event in Bogotá, Colombia is priced about the same as the prices showing on Hotels.com so it doesn’t seem like they are jacking up the prices to give you fake cost savings.
Chase also allows points transfers to various travel partners like United Airlines, Southwest, Iberia, Hyatt, etc. Sometimes they run special promotions making these transfers worthwhile. That’s not a big deal for me so far, but I will pay attention going forward.
What is also a big deal for me, is the superior rental car protection, as the card offers primary instead of secondary coverage. I have a motorcycle but don’t own a personal car right now, so this is a tangible benefit. The card also offers status with National Car Rental. Up until now, my go-to car rental has been Enterprise, a sister brand of National.
There are a lot of other benefits that come with the card, such as Chase Dining, Lyft premium membership, Doordash membership, and a platform to book experiences. The 60,000 point sign up bonus is a big deal, but you only get it once. It’s worth about $900 in travel. I won’t go into these other benefits because the point of this article was the demise of the attractive Hotels.com program and how I personally decided to respond to it.
There are other travel plans that may offer benefits, such as American Express and Capital One, but I am not as familiar with their offerings and don’t pretend to be a travel & credit card blogger. If you do stay at a particular brand of hotel like Hyatt, Marriott, or Hilton, then it may make sense for you to participate in those plans, though you still can benefit from combining them with a travel-oriented credit card. As for me, I refuse to pay “Resort” and other junk, deceptive fees, and won’t stay at such places if I am paying the bill. If we travelers refuse to accept dishonest, junk fees, they will go away.
Hotel loyalty programs can be very complicated, and depending on your travel habits and demands, can be restrictive. That’s why I liked the Hotels.com plan so much. It was simple, straightforward, and worked across brands and geographies, from a 12 room independent hotel in rural Colombia, to a 1,000 room tower on the Las Vegas Strip.
Hotels.com might say “well our new program gives you that same flexibility!”—Yeah but you take away 80% of the value, do you think I’m dumb? Would be my reply.
Above photo: This year while attending the NAB Show in Las Vegas I stayed at the Best Western Casino Royale, which charges no junk “resort fees.”
Full disclosure: I do not have an affiliate marketing relationship with JP Morgan Chase, so I have no relationship with them other than as a customer. I did sign up for their consumer oriented “Refer a friend” program, so if you decide to apply for their card and use the links in this article, I may get some bonus rewards points. Thank you. Apply here: https://www.referyourchasecard.com/19m/I7AEKJQT8U
This article is of course, my personal opinion as a traveler and customer.