Reader Question: Should I Ditch Hotel Loyalty Programs And Go For Best Price Through Hotel Portals?

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Today we received an interesting Reader Question from a LoyaltyLobby subscriber who is contemplating to ditch his hotel status and start booking based on price and convenience again.

Is it wise to give up loyalty status benefits that have a certain cash value attached in favor to save on the base rate of your hotel stay?

Those in the status game know the drill that it’s like groundhog day having to requalify over and over again which is becoming increasingly difficult as the loyalty programs are tightening the screws more and more.

What are the benefits of your hotel loyalty program really worth and do you actually need them in order to have a more comfortable stay?

Here is the question our reader Kyle sent us:

Hi guys,

for the first time in more than a decade I consider getting rid of my Hilton HHonors Gold and Hyatt Diamond status. Chasing after nights has become too expensive and the promised benefits are often weak or simply unnecessary for me. Especially at lower end hotels.

Hotel sites such as hotels.com, Expedia, Orbitz and others always have discount codes out there, price match with generous coupons and you can even earn cashback. Orbitz even offers VIP hotels that offer certain small benefits.

Is this an option for me to save some money and finally break loose from the overpriced and sometimes inconveniently located chain hotels?

This isn’t easy to answer everything considering but let me say right off the bat: Money is always the bottom line. What are your benefits of participating in a loyalty program?

If a loyalty program starts to cost you money that you don’t want to or worse can’t afford to spend that it’s going the wrong direction. You always want to make sure that it is working in your favor and not for the company. With hotels that’s often easier said than done especially when a few stays or nights are still missing and you start to fill them up on your own, unnecessary expense.

What are the advantages of websites such as Orbitz or Hotels.com?

Generally you can book whatever you feel like and whatever is most practical for you in terms of price and location. There are also various discount options such as coupons that are always floating around online for 10-15% off.

On top of that the sites have their own loyalty currency as well. Orbitz lets you collect “Orbucks” which is a somewhat cashback of 5% for app bookings and 3% for desktop bookings. The advantage: You can earn Orbucks even when you apply a coupon (unlike hotels.com which gives you a free night after every 10 booked nights on the average rate only if you don’t use a coupon).

You can also access them through various cashback sites such as Topcashback, Ebates etc and earn another 3-5% (obviously not for app bookings, I guess that’s why they have them stacked higher to begin with). So you’re always able to save between at least 15-22% off the advertised hotel rates on these websites. That’s really not bad and doesn’t even take price matches into account where you can earn plenty of extra vouchers such as $50 Orbucks or $50 coupons in Expedia’s case.

Breakfast, Internet, Upgrades and Late Check-Out have a value too – but how much?

That’s the golden question and there isn’t a blanket answer for that. Some people don’t eat breakfast or simply don’t want to go. Others don’t like Executive Lounges and don’t drink alcohol. I like Suites while some friends of mine don’t care about a suite at all.

I value my Elite status at hotels because it helps to solve difficult situations and it’s also good to have the option of very early check-ins in case your travel sometimes gets you to a destination very early (happens to me quite often especially in Asia).

But that’s me and there is not universal rule that says Elite status is worth value X because it depends on your travel pattern. Someone who usually stays at lower end hotels might find that going independent is saving a lot of money.

Last week I was looking to stay in Seoul and had a quick search. Starwood came up with this:

At the same time I found the following on Orbitz:

After discount and including tax I was able to book the Golden Tulip in the same area (3 minutes walk) for $73 inclusive breakfast which is half of what the Aloft would have been. Even though they treat SPG Platinum members quite well at the aloft (have received a Breezy Suite every time I went there) I didn’t want to spend double the money for a quick stay.

Conclusion

All I can say about this topic is always watch your bottom line. If you feel like you can squeeze the loyalty programs for what they offer you in benefits then fine. Should you feel you come up short though then it might be time for another strategy.

It’s always possible to keep a status such as Hilton Honors Gold which can be had via a 4 Stay fast track (John wrote about it here) or by applying for a credit card in some markets and keep it on the side for stays where you feel a status is beneficial. I consider Hilton Gold the most valuable and easiest to obtain mid tier status of all the programs.

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  • McCaron

    As I live in France there is no other hotel or travel credit card than the American Express Air France… so no Hilton or SPG card.
    For years I was also hesitating and struggling between terminating my only hotel loyalty program (Accor) and booking through discounted websites and using coupons on hotels.com

    I ended up keeping booking through Accor because even if I got peanuts in points, I could at least get room upgrades in mid and upscale hotels and enjoy early checkin and late checkout, that I couldn’t get with OTAs

    But i’m pretty sure that I paid at least 15% more than if i booked through OTAs, and over time that’s a lot of money

    • Xavier

      You can apply for AMEX ICC Card which gives you automatically Hilton Gold and SPG Gold. I’ve got (now discontinued) Sofitel Platinum and match Hilton Diamond. In Spain it’s the only option (AFAIK).

  • Nick Hevelian

    Short answer: No.

    Long answer: No, definitely not.

  • David Stevenson

    Short answer: Yes

    Long Answer: Yes, definitely yes but depends on your travel preferences..

    For me. I rarely eat more than a bowl of cereal and toast for breakfast so the all inclusive breakfast option means little to me. I also do not drink alcohol so executive lounge means nothing to me. The standard issue “Loyalty scripted greeting” means zero to me. As for the hotel room, I just love the older boutique hotels like the Queens Hotel in Kandy, Sri Lanka. I find the chain hotels to be mostly out of the cookie box. That said, I do aim for chain hotels in fourth world countries (Chad, Angola, Honduras).

    However, there is one exception for me. That is the IHG program. It is a great program for people like me as they rarely offer breakfast (except HIExpress) or have executive lounges (Except IC and a few CP). But they do have great promotions that can rack up the points fast and a reasonable selection of 5,000 point break hotels around the world (especially Turkey, Egypt and Southern USA states). These are areas that I love to travel with my family.

    So by all means – go for the cheapest hotel if you cannot find a Loyalty Program that does not meet your travel patterns and needs.

  • Pedro Kormann

    Because for the changes in Le Club, i’m giving up loyalty status.
    Have already used hotels.com in a few trips.
    Good thing about hotels.com here in Brasil is that i can divide payments in up to 10 months no interests

    • That’s pay over 10 months without interest for pretty much anything (even for Smiles purchases) is quite unique for the market. Obviously it is not free per se for the companies in question and they take it into account when pricing products.

      • Pedro Kormann

        yeah, they probably must take it in account. bur mostly the same price i get on expedia, agoda, etc, i get on hotels.com paying 10x, and if i chose to pay it in 1x i get the same price as 10x

        • Pedro Kormann

          so it’s a win-win for me, i end up paying a “monthly” fee for my 2, 3 trips over the year, and can invest that money elsewhere during these months

  • The Ricker

    The loyalty scam is nothing more than a psychological aspect, like airlines, to make people feel important and have a pseudo allegiance to a brand because of the thought of reaching higher and higher status. Thus allowing them in to an elite and exclusive club….along with millions and millions of others!!! It’s like fishing: even when you hook a very small fish, you still reel it in then throw it back.
    Suckers!!!!

  • Malcolm

    I recently used Expedia to book an hotel room for two nights.Today I received an email from their ‘ loyalty’ programme, which I did not know existed, informing me that I now have earned a huge $1.73 credit that I can put towards my next hotel booking! Wow!

    • If you were booking a non-chain hotels, you should have tried Orbitz or CheapTickets. They are both Expedia skins and usually offer 15% off coupons.

  • Yogi

    There is no straight answer and is entirely person-dependent. In terms of price, the hotel websites most often are almost same price as OTAs which means there is absolutely no harm in having a loyalty programme membership if you are anyway going to book that hotel. However, if you have no specific need for early check-in/late check-out, need a hotel for only a few hours/overnight stay etc, it makes sense to book via sites like hotels.com which give 1 night free for every 10 nights.

  • Hilton Gold is pretty nice, true.
    Though, I like to book via Virtuoso, like I recently did in Munich (Sofitel). The benefits are awesome and most of the time you can earn points, too.

  • Richard

    It depends. IHG offerings via the corporate site are the better price. Best Western offerings via the corporate site are the better price. I booked 3 nights in Bangkok at the IHG property via the IHG site at the best price. I booked 3 nights in Rangoon at the Best Western property via booking dot com at a 40% discount.

    Regardless always leverage the loyalty programs. The comp nights via airlines at Hiltons do not post points but do post.