Online travel agencies (OTAs) like Expedia and Priceline can be great, but they come with a handful of drawbacks and pitfalls.
On the bright side, booking a flight through an OTA means you still typically earn airline miles on that flight. But what about booking hotels? Do you still earn points with Hilton, Hyatt, or Marriott? Or credits toward elite status?
Buyer Beware: OTA Bookings Don't Earn You Hotel Points
While it may save you a few bucks to book a hotel deal through sites like Expedia, Hotels.com, or Priceline, there's a definite downside. Most chain hotels like Hilton, Hyatt, IHG, and Marriott won't give you any award points for bookings through an OTA or booking portal.
Take Hyatt's terms and conditions, for example. If you book a Hyatt stay on a site other than Hyatt's, it is considered an “ineligible rate”.
“Ineligible Rates” are “rooms booked on third-party online retailers (such as Expedia.com, Travelocity.com, Hotels.com, Booking.com, Priceline.com, Tripadvisor.com, Inspirato.com, home-sharing sites, or any other third-party online/mobile travel portal or bookings made directly on Google.com and TripAdvisor Instant Book), traditional wholesale rates (examples include, without limitation, GOGO Worldwide Vacations, Pleasant Holidays, Tourico, and Hotelbeds)…”
Similarly, IHG's terms and conditions also explicitly state that bookings made on other sites aren't eligible to earn points:
“Points will be awarded for Qualifying Stays booked through IHG’s central reservation offices, IHG web sites, authorized travel agents (excluding online travel agents such as Expedia.com and booking.com, and unauthorized agents on online vertical travel portals), or directly at the hotel.”
“Specifically excluded from the definition of “stay” are the following types of ineligible stays…travel agency discount rates; third party websites bookings (irrespective of rate paid)”.
What does this mean for booking hotels on a budget? If you book on a site other than the hotel's website, you won't earn points towards elite status with that hotel, or rack up points for your stay to be used in the future.
No Elite Benefits Honored with OTA Hotel Bookings
This difference is especially important if you hold elite status with a hotel. If you book through any OTA, your elite status and benefits generally will not be recognized. Say goodbye to those benefits.
That means the automatic hotel status you get through certain credits cards (like Hilton Honors Gold and Marriott Gold via the Platinum Card from American Express, for example) won't do you much good when booking through an OTA.
Thrifty Tip: You can always try calling the hotel to politely ask for your loyalty number to be added to that reservation, but don't count on it. But if you must book through an OTA or portal, it's worth a shot, right?
And even if you don't have elite status with a hotel, many chains offer extra perks for booking directly through their website or app. For example, when booking directly through the hotel, you're more likely to get a better room. Have a special request, like connecting doors, a certain floor, room layout, or other accommodations? The hotel is much more likely to fulfill your request if they can see that you booked directly with the hotel.
Hotels want you to book directly through them and will often incentivize it as such by offering more points, food and beverage credits, special rates, or other perks. It's important to take those into consideration when booking – even if you don't have elite status with the hotel.
Consider Your Co-Branded Card
Co-branded hotel credit cards offer additional bonuses and perks for bookings made with that hotel brand. However, the same principle holds here: If you book through an online travel agency, you'll miss out on any credit card multiplier points and additional benefits.
There's no denying that booking hotels through OTAs can sometimes save you a ton of cash. But if you're hoping to save big money while also piling up points and maximizing your hotel status, you're out of luck.
So weigh those pros and cons next time you're comparing prices between the hotel's website and other booking platforms to make sure you're making the best choice for your travel needs.