Can You Earn Elite Status and Benefits When Booking Through Hotels.com?
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The world of online travel agencies is a complicated one. There's Expedia, Priceline and a whole subset of smaller websites that offer travel booking services. But one of the biggest and possibly most lucrative OTAs is Hotels.com. Its generous "free night after 10 nights purchased" policy is why so many people use the website. But TPG reader Joy wrote us, concerned about elite status when booking through Hotels.com:
[pullquote source="TPG Reader Joy"]Will I earn elite status and receive elite benefits when booking stays through Hotels.com?[/pullquote]
Great question, Joy. First off, we should define the main difference between booking through an OTA and directly through the hotel. Many use OTAs to comparison-shop and get some savings when booking a flight and hotel package. But going through an OTA isn't always the best option for everyone. You typically won't receive points for booking a hotel through an OTA and you can usually get the best rate when going straight to the hotel with their generous best rate guaranteed policies. Plus you'll usually receive better service and have more leverage when it comes to changes, delays or cancellations.
But it's easy to comparison-shop with an OTA, and sometimes you will spot good deals. What can be lucrative is taking advantage of an OTA's loyalty program. Hotels.com offers a free night after 10 nights booked through the website, while Orbitz and Expedia offer rewards points and both have an elite program that comes with some decent perks.
Generally, you won't be able to earn elite status with a hotel chain when booking through an OTA. That also means if you already have status, whether through a credit card or by earning it the hard way, hotels usually won't recognize this status meaning you won't receive elite perks either.
But we wanted to test this out ourselves with Hotels.com.
We booked four hotel stays, all at different hotels, to see if booking through Hotels.com would allow for us to receive elite benefits, earn points and elite credits to reach status. We had JT Genter, TPG writer and digital nomad, test out what would happen if he booked through Hotels.com. Unfortunately, the results aren't the best.
JT has Gold status at Hilton, Marriott and SPG through his The Platinum Card® from American Express. At hotels in the three chains where JT has status — the Fairfield Inn By Marriott St Petersburg/Clearwater, the Hampton Inn & Suites Largo (Hilton) and the Sheraton Tampa Brandon Hotel (SPG) — he was able to add his membership numbers at check-in without issue. Only at the Sheraton did JT receive a suite upgrade due to his SPG Gold status, but still no activity was recorded in his SPG account. He didn't receive elite benefits at the other two chains, and no activity appeared in any of his accounts for all three stays.
For his last night at the Hyatt Place Tampa Airport, JT was able to add his Hyatt number only after pushback from the check-in agents, who said they would not input it due to the Hotels.com booking. After checkout his Hyatt account was still untouched.
Fortunately, all four nights did post on Hotels.com for rewards status:
So Joy, as we've written before and based on our test stays, it's unlikely that you'll receive any elite benefits if you book through Hotels.com. You may get lucky like JT and get a complimentary upgrade now and then, but you won't receive points or credits toward gaining status.
So if you really value being an elite, it may be better to just go to the hotel directly. Although if you don't have status with a hotel and aren't loyal to a particular brand, there still is real value when booking through Hotels.com.