9 things to consider when choosing to book via a portal vs. booking directly

Apr 24, 2022

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When it comes to travel, you have a lot of options.

To start, you can book directly through the website of an airline, a hotel, a rental car company or another travel provider. Or, you can make reservations through a traditional online travel agency, such as Expedia or Skyscanner. Then there are the portals associated with banks, including Capital One Travel and Chase Ultimate Rewards.

While there are some horror stories from cancellations associated with portals, booking with one linked to a credit card in your wallet can be an attractive option.

How can you determine the best way to go when planning your next trip? Here are nine questions to ask yourself to help you decide whether you should book your next vacation directly, through an online travel agency or via a credit card portal.

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In This Post

Do you have travel credits you can use from your credit card?

a generic image of credit cards lined up in a black leather billfold
(Photo by Africa Studio/Shutterstock)

Several credit cards offer travel credits on your statements when you book through their travel portals.

For example, the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card offers $300 in annual credits when you reserve flights, hotels and rental cars through the Capital One Travel portal.

Similarly, anyone with The Platinum Card® from American Express can enjoy various benefits that come with the Amex Platinum, including an annual hotel credit worth up to $200. The perk is issued as a statement credit to your card. Like the Capital One credit, the only way to receive the Amex credit is to book an eligible stay through the American Express Travel portal.

Those with a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card receive a comparable credit for hotel reservations, too, though it’s significantly lower at $50 per year. Simply book through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal to have the annual credit appear on your account.

If you have a card that offers a travel credit you’ve yet to use, be sure to take advantage of it before it expires. But pay careful attention to its rules to make sure your booking qualifies for reimbursement.

Related: The top 10 credit cards with annual travel statement credits

What will cost you the fewest points?

Maybe you have accrued enough American Express Membership Rewards points, Citi ThankYou Rewards points or currency in another credit card portal to cover an aspect of an upcoming trip. If so, you’ll want to look closely at which redemption option will cost you the smallest number of points.

Sometimes, transferring your earnings to a partner to book through its website may be the most favorable for your wallet.

In other cases, it may be cheaper to keep your points in your credit card account and instead redeem them through the credit card’s travel portal. This is particularly common with hotels, which may offer less value for your points when they’re transferred to a partner hotel loyalty program than you’ll get from your credit card issuer.

Always check both redemption options before you transfer your points to ensure you’re getting the most bang for your buck.

Related: When should I transfer points to airline and hotel partners?

What will get you the most points on your credit card?

A Mastercard credit and Visa debit cards surrounded by US Dollars (Photo by Andrew Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images)
(Photo by Andrew Matthews/PA Images/Getty Images)

When paying for anything, you should always consider the best card to use for that purchase, especially when it comes to travel.

For example, the Capital One Venture X offers 10 miles per dollar spent on hotels and rental cars booked with Capital One Travel. Additionally, you earn 5 miles per dollar spent on flights booked this way. Compare those earning rates to the 2 miles per dollar you will earn on any purchase made outside the Capital One Travel page, and it’s pretty clear which way you should go.

With Chase, it’s a similar story. If you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve and book through the Ultimate Rewards portal, you will earn 10 points per dollar spent on hotels and rental cars and 5 points per dollar spent on flights. These rates are much more favorable than the 3 points per dollar earned on travel booked any other way.

Perhaps the most drastic example, though, is the Amex Platinum. This card earns you 5 points per dollar spent on hotels and flights when you book in the Amex Travel portal. You’ll also receive 5 points per dollar spent on flights booked directly with an airline (but remember, the earning rate is limited to the first $500,000 in flights per calendar year, then it drops to 1 point per dollar spent). However, you only get 1 point per dollar spent on reservations booked directly with a hotel. So while you can do either option for airfare, you’ll want to book hotel stays through Amex Travel to maximize your earnings.

Do you have to choose between rental car loyalty perks and a better price?

Photo of a sign saying 'president's circle starts here' in a Hertz car rental lot
(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

The main draw of online travel agencies and portals is that they make things easy. You go to one website and see results for all the rental car companies related to your search.

However, there is a trade-off to consider.

When an online travel agency or credit card portal shows a lower price than a rental car website, you’ll typically sacrifice any elite benefits you receive through a rental car loyalty program by not booking directly. This is because most online travel agencies and credit card portals don’t have the option to add your rental car loyalty number on the reservation. Even when they do, the rental agency rarely provides the associated benefits, such as skipping the line when you pick up your car.

In these situations, you’ll need to choose whether booking the lower price or getting perks is more important. Ultimately, it may come down to how big the price difference is.

Related: Get automatic rental car elite status through your credit card

Will you forfeit status perks and status earning?

woman getting spa treatment on deck overlooking lake and mountains
(Photo courtesy of The Carlin Boutique Hotel)

If you book a Marriott hotel room (or one from another brand) with an online travel agency like Hotels.com or Expedia, know that you likely won’t get credit from the hotel brand (in this example, Marriott) for staying there, meaning any nights that would normally get added to your account for status will not be applied.

Additionally, any perks you’d typically receive as a member with elite status, such as free breakfast and room upgrades, will not be granted during the stay. This is the case for all of the major hotel loyalty programs.

Fortunately, you shouldn’t need to choose between the best price and your elite perks like you have to with rental cars. Many hotels offer a best price guarantee, which lets you request a match to a better price you see elsewhere, even if it’s on an online travel agency. So, with the best price guarantee, you can enjoy loyalty benefits without spending more than necessary.

Related: How 1 phone call saved me hundreds of dollars on a hotel stay

But what if you want to reserve a hotel and apply travel credits that require booking through a credit card travel portal? In this scenario, which way to go isn’t as clear-cut.

You’ll have to decide what’s more important to you: receiving elite perks and night credits or earning more credit card points and benefiting from statement credits for the stay.

Related: Why you don’t earn hotel points when booking through an online travel agency

Will the hotel give preference to guests who booked directly?

In short: Possibly.

By not booking directly with the hotel, there is a chance you may not enjoy the same perks extended to hotel guests who did.

TPG’s executive editor, Scott Mayerowitz, recently ran into this problem during a stay at Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort in Orlando.

Since this hotel isn’t part of a loyalty program, Scott decided to book through the Capital One Travel portal to earn 5 miles per dollar spent on the stay with his Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. However, this meant he couldn’t check in via the app, so he had to wait in a long line at check-in. Those who book directly with the hotel can bypass this headache by using the mobile check-in feature in the app.

Scott also got assigned a less-than-ideal room on the second floor near the service elevators and housekeeping storage area. As a result, he heard a lot of noise during his stay. From his experience, he tends to get better room locations when he books directly with a hotel.

If you are not a light sleeper or prefer to check in in person, these drawbacks may not be a big deal. Still, they’re worth considering when weighing how to make your booking.

Related: The best ways to book hotels through online travel agencies and bank portals

Can you get free perks from hotels booked via a portal?

Man using computer to buy online at Christmas, comfort, festive season, ecommerce
(Photo by 10’000 Hours/Getty Images)

Why not add free perks to the deal if you’re paying cash for a hotel?

With American Express, you can enjoy extras when you book through Amex Fine Hotels + Resorts or The Hotel Collection. However, know that you will not get these benefits if you book directly with the hotel.

The same applies for Chase. By booking through Chase’s Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection, you’ll receive free breakfast, a welcome gift and room upgrades, where available.

Will you get free nights added to a hotel booking?

Adding free nights to your hotel reservation could be a huge differentiator.

For example, the Citi Prestige® Card offers a fourth-night-free benefit. But there are some restrictions and nuances to using this benefit. There’s a limit of two uses for this benefit per year, and you must book through Citi ThankYou Rewards to receive it.

The information for the Citi Prestige has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Likewise, you can get a fourth or fifth night free when redeeming select types of hotel points for award stays.

Related: Can I mix hotel points and free night certificates to get a 4th or 5th night free?

What if something goes wrong with your flights?

Passengers on a Southwest flight
Passengers on a Southwest Airlines flight to Cancun, Mexico. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

Unlike rental car and hotel reservations booked through portals and online travel agencies, flights you don’t book on an airline website will earn you miles and frequent flyer status credits.

While that in and of itself is good news, it’s even better news when you realize you can stack rewards when booking flights with online travel agencies. Specifically, you can earn points on your credit card, miles from flying, shopping portal bonuses and rewards with online travel agency loyalty programs.

But what if an unexpected issue comes up before or during your trip?

If you booked directly with an airline, you deal with the carrier if it cancels your flight. So you’ll be reimbursed or rebooked based on the airline’s change or cancellation policy. However, this isn’t necessarily the case for portal and online travel agency bookings.

If the airline cancels your flight due to bad weather, the airline may tell you to get new tickets for a later flight through your credit card portal or the online travel agency you used. This could be a major drawback to booking flights via a third-party option, especially if your trip carries a high risk of weather-related problems.

Related: Here’s what to do if your flight is canceled or delayed

Bottom line

Having options for how you book trips is fantastic. You can search multiple websites to find the best price and uses for your points and miles. You may even get to enjoy additional perks not available on other websites.

But access to so many options can lead to confusion and make you feel overwhelmed.

To help you sort through it all, think through the nine questions above before you book. By considering everything from travel credits you may have to how your booking will affect your strategy for retaining elite status, you can avoid surprises during your trip and maximize the rewards you reap.

Featured photo by Oscar Wong/Getty Images.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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