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I hold top tier-status with Marriott and mid-tier status with Hilton and IHG but, more than ever, I’m now finding myself booking select hotel stays through online agencies like Hotels.com, Travelocity and Orbitz.
Because bookings through online travel agencies don’t allow guests to enjoy elite status benefits or to earn points or credit towards elite status they’re often frowned upon or ignored in the miles & points world….and that’s a mistake.
The miles and points hobby that we all enjoy is a game that is essentially about traveling in comfort and saving money, and when it comes to saving money the online travel agencies can be a big help.
Why I’m Using OTAs A Lot More
I hold Marriott Titanium Lifetime status so I’m in the comfortable position of not having to chase after elite night credits on every stay I take.
Yes, if I genuinely cared about Marriott’s ‘suite night upgrades’ I’d still need to spend 75 nights with Marriott every year but, as I’ve explained before, I don’t much care for how Marriott’s suite upgrades work and Marriott no longer really offers me much incentive to stay loyal.
The two benefits of hotel status I value most are complimentary breakfast and a late check-out because the first saves me money and the second can seriously enhance a trip by, effectively, giving me almost another day in the city I’m visiting.
When I don’t really need either of those benefits I generally don’t really need hotel status and that’s when the OTAs come into play.
While we have recently seen select shopping portals offer good discounts/returns on direct bookings with Marriott and IHG these offers come and go and are never around for all that long…..but there are almost always good cash back deals available for OTA hotel bookings.
Right now TopCashBack.com is offering 7% cash back on hotel bookings made through Orbitz…..
….10% cash back on hotel bookings made through Expedia….
…..and 11% cash back on hotel bookings made through Travelocity:
And it’s deals like these that really help save me money.
Sure, hotel chains offer slightly cheaper rates to their members than they do to people booking through 3rd party channels, but the savings you can make through shopping portals usually more than make up for the difference.
The portals also generally offer discounts for bookings made through Hotels.com but, if you plan on making the most of the rewards program Hotels.com offers, the cash back deals aren’t usually very good….but they’re better than nothing.
I’m often happy to pass up on higher cash back offers for Hotel.com bookings because I like the rewards program it offers – for every 10 nights booked through the site the rewards program gives me a free night – and I find that it more than pays me back for not taking the higher rate of cash back.
Assuming I don’t need to make use of any benefits that my hotel statuses offer (usually on one night stays) I will book cheaper properties through whichever OTA gets me the best cash back deal and I’ll book the more expensive properties through Hotels.com.
I choose to book the more expensive properties through Hotels.com because that keeps my average nightly rate at a level where my free night (courtesy of Hotels.com rewards) will get me a room at a property I actually like (rather than at a property I simply tolerate).
Why Others Should Be Considering OTAs A Lot More
If you’re a frequent traveler looking to attain/maintain a level of hotel status this section is probably not for you…but everyone else may want to take note.
If you’re not a frequent traveler (that’s the overwhelming majority of people in this world) you should not be chasing hotel status – period.
Infrequent travelers will not spend enough nights in hotels to earn any meaningful level of hotel status (no matter what the hotels will tell you) so prioritising a specific hotel chain over saving money and shopping around is foolhardy.
If you happen to have a credit card which offers you a level of hotel status that gives you benefits which save you money then by all means consider that hotel chain first….but you should always compare that chain’s prices with what you can book through the OTAs to ensure you’re not overpaying for the privilege of using your benefits (quite often you probably are).
Sticking to a single hotel chain if you’re not a frequent traveler will generally limit your options and will often see you paying more to stay at properties that aren’t as good as others you could have chosen if you shopped around and branched out.
The fact is that most travelers will spend less money and spend more time at hotels that suit them best if they use portals like Ebates and TopCashback.com to shop around through sites like Orbitz, Expedia and Hotels.com…and most travelers will get a lot more benefit out of the Hotels.com rewards program than they will out of sticking with a single hotel chain.
Also, don’t forget that the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit card offers 10 miles/dollar on all bookings made through Hotels.com (you can’t click through a cash back portal to earn this) so that’s yet another way that infrequent travelers can save money by moving away from single-chain loyalty.
Hotel elite statuses can be very useful and they can really help make a trip cheaper and considerably more comfortable….but usually only if you hold one of the higher hotel statuses available.
Online travel agencies combined with the online shopping portals can be a very good way of saving quite a bit of cash while not limiting a person’s choice of hotel to a certain price bracket or a specific locale at the destination of their choice.
Personally, I’ve recently made 3 one night bookings for trips I have coming up in the next few weeks and all three were made through OTAs.
In all three cases my use of portals and OTAs has seen me save money (over a direct booking with the properties) and seen me choose properties that fit better with my travel needs than the properties I would have chosen had I felt obliged to make the most of my hotel statuses.
It feels liberating.