Today we will talk about a Reader Question that comes up every now and then, creating much controversy because the handling is often inconsistent: Elite Benefits when booking hotels via OTA’s.
Receiving hotel loyalty program elite benefits can make a big difference when staying at a chain hotel that features club lounges, executive rooms/suites and worthwhile breakfast buffets.
Rule of thumb is that in order to be eligible for the benefits associated with the Loyalty Elite Tiers the reservation has to be booked direct with the chain, for example via website/app/reservation center or alternatively through a travel agency GDS. This way members are entitled to a points credit as well as on property benefits corresponding to the respective loyalty tier.
It becomes an issue when sometimes hotels are being booked through third party sources such as OTA’s (Expedia, Orbitz, hotels.com etc) or Travel Agencies that don’t use a distribution system (GDS) directly connected to the hotel chain.
Our reader Sean from Los Angeles had the following question:
… I recently booked a HILTON hotel (Conrad Hong Kong) through American Express Travel, paying with my Platinum Card. Unfortunately that’s where the trouble began. Even though I quoted them my Hilton Diamond number the reservation didn’t show up in my HHonors profile.
When checking in at the Conrad (I arrived early at 9am) the hotel didn’t know anything of my tier level and said my reservation has been placed through ‘Expedia’. The manager presented a document that indeed displayed an Expedia booking. I was also denied my Diamond benefits (Club Lounge, Esecutive Room upgrade, Breakfast) since it wasn’t a booking directly made with Hilton.
Is this true or should I complain?
This is a common problem with Amex Travel that isn’t very well known. Indeed American Express (USA) uses Expedia as their booking tool, sometimes with added benefits if you book with your Gold or Platinum Card. Yes, you will earn additional Membership Reward points (2x on the Gold, 5x on the Platinum Card) but at the same time you forego Elite Tier Benefits, at least with Hilton.
John wrote about this change (access here) which Hilton HHonors even manifested in their T&C two years ago. Since then Hilton properties became notorious for not providing elite benefits with third party bookings anymore. Occasionally there are hotels that still provide benefit for such bookings on a stricly discretionary basis.
Is Hilton HHonors alone in this form of handling?
No, this is a practice that has been established for many programs across the bench. While no program will credit a member with points and stay credits for third party bookings, some will still provide on property benefits but those are very rare.
Here some examples with references:
Starwood SPG: No benefits provided per T&C
SPG member benefits are subject to availability and certain eligibility requirements. Reservations booked through third parties and online booking sources are not eligible. View details at spg.com/fullterms.
In order to qualify for the Elite Benefits Guarantee, the Elite Member’s Membership Number, Elite Membership status, and bed type preferences must be included with the reservation. Reservations made through meeting planners, travel agents, wholesalers or other third party sources must include this information in order to be included in the Guarantee.
This at least suggests that Elite Members do receive benefits even when booked via third party.
IHG Rewards: Benefits are not provided for third party bookings.
Effective 1 January 2017, members must book directly through IHG® (IHG.com, IHG® App, IHG® brand sites, corporate travel sites, Central Reservations, or Hotel direct) and not through other travel booking sites in order to take full advantage of the benefits that come with an IHG® Rewards Club membership.
Hyatt Hotels: Guests no longer enjoy tier benefits on third party bookings with the introduction of the new World of Hyatt Program (used to be the case under the old Gold Passport).
In-hotel Benefits are provided only where, for the applicable night, the elite Member (a) has paid an Eligible Rate or (b) has redeemed a Free Night Award, Room Upgrade Award, or Points + Cash Award. In the event that an elite Member is staying under an Ineligible Rate (other than as part of redeeming a Free Night Award), (s)he will not be provided any In-hotel Benefits for that stay.
As always there are exceptions to the rule at the discretion of the people you’re dealing with. It’s always up to the property if they’re willing to extend elite benefits to the customer as they’ll be the ones paying for it.
Example: I recently had a stay at a Best Western hotel in Korea and was provided all elite benefits for being a Best Western Rewards Diamond (obtained through a prior status match) even though I booked a few minutes before through Orbitz.
One should be careful when booking through a third party if the monetary benefits (cheaper rate, hotel credits) outweigh booking directly with the hotel chain. One might also consider filing a best price guarantee with the hotel chain if one of the OTA’s displays a lower price for the property than the hotel website itself.
And regarding the issue with Amex Travel our reader experienced, it’s really a big problem and deceptive that Amex is pretty much another Expedia skin for these bookings. Especially confusing because American Express Business Travel for companies worldwide is a real travel agency that can also book direct rates through their GDS. The restrictions outlined here do not apply to such bookings.