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TPG reader Denise tweeted me to ask:
@thepointsguy– “When booking a hotel stay, is it better to go directly through SPG, or should I book on a third party website like Orbitz or Expedia? Will I earn elite benefits if I book through a third party site?”
Just like with airfare, there are plenty of options to consider when booking a hotel stay. However, with hotel stays there’s usually a higher profit margin, so many sites offer ways to get some benefits back as well as cheaper rates.
It’s best to look at the big picture when booking. If you book through a discount website, like Priceline, or new sites like Hotelied, typically you won’t get any hotel points or elite credit. If hotel elite status is your goal, then you don’t want to book through online travel agencies. Hotels may recognize your existing elite status, but generally won’t reward you for booking through third parties–they want you to book directly through them.
One exception to this is for American Express Platinum cardholders, who can book through the American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts program and still receive elite status credit because it’s technically just a travel agency, not an “online” travel agency (even though it is online). Plus, booking there can give you other perks like early check-in, late check-out, spa credits, and more. If you do have the Amex Platinum card, I would at least price check through Fine Hotels & Resorts to see what you can get.
I generally recommend booking directly through the hotel website (or on Amex FHR) in order to get your elite benefits unless you can save a large amount by booking elsewhere. In that case, you can try taking advantage of the best rate guarantees offered by most major hotel brands. Remember to factor the value of the points, miles and elite status into your calculations. If prices are close, those benefits may justify spending a few extra dollars to book with the hotel directly. But if you’re paying a $100 premium for $20 worth of points, just book elsewhere. After all, cash doesn’t devalue nearly as quickly as some of these hotel loyalty programs!