The best ways to book hotels through online travel agencies and bank portals
When possible, booking directly with a hotel is the best way to make your reservation. This ensures you earn hotel points, your stay counts toward elite status qualification, any elite status benefits you have are recognized and if you need to make changes, it's much easier to deal directly with a property.
That said, let's look at when it may be necessary — or get you a better deal — to book hotels through an online travel agency or bank portal. We'll also consider the best ways to maximize your reservation.
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When to book through an OTA or bank portal
There are now hundreds of online travel agencies and apps focusing on hotel bookings, thanks to the commissions paid to the agency. Most readers will recognize the popular OTAs in the U.S. as Agoda, Expedia, Hotels.com, Hotwire, Priceline and Travelocity.
Switching to bank portals, you're probably familiar with these banks that offer portals that allow you to book hotels: American Express Travel, Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts, Amex Hotel Collection, Citi ThankYou Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Chase Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection, U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo GoFar Rewards. Most banks have some type of portal or agreement with one of the above OTAs, which allows you to book travel with cash or their respective bank rewards.
Here are a few scenarios where it could make sense for you to use an online travel agency or bank portal:
- You want to book an independent or boutique hotel that isn't part of a chain and doesn't have its own rewards program.
- Your workplace requires you to use an online travel agent.
- The OTA has a sale or promotion too good to pass up. A few apps such as HotelTonight also have really great prices from time to time.
- You want to redeem your transferable bank points to cover the revenue cost of a hotel.
- As the travel expert within your family and friends, you are routinely asked to book a hotel for friends and family (more on this below).
- You've done the quick math and recognized the cost of a hotel will require fewer points to book through the bank portal than through transferring to the hotel program.
- If you're a Citi Prestige® cardholder and want to utilize the fourth night free benefit, you must book through ThankYou.com.
- You want the benefits provided by booking through Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts, Amex Hotel Collection or Chase Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection. Note that you may receive elite benefits and earnings on some properties with Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts and Chase Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection, but I generally wouldn't count on it.
The information for the Citi Prestige card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Here's a quick recap of the value of your Amex, Chase and Citi points when used toward the cost of a hotel through their portals:
|Bank||Card held||Hotel redemption value (per point)|
|Amex||All Membership Rewards-earning cards||0.7 cents|
|Chase||No-annual-fee Chase Ultimate Rewards cards including the Chase Freedom Flex and Chase Freedom Unlimited||1 cent|
|Chase||Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Ink Business Preferred Credit Card||1.25 cents|
|Chase||Chase Sapphire Reserve||1.5 cents|
|Citi||Citi Premier® Card||1 cent|
|Citi||Other ThankYou point-earning cards||1 cent|
Related: Amex vs. Citi vs. Chase: Which booking portal is best for hotels?
Strategies to maximize bookings
If you find yourself in one of the above situations, here are the strategies I would use when booking through an OTA or bank portal:
Use OTA rewards programs
Most online travel agencies have their own rewards program that equates to 1%-10% cash back per booking. The great benefit of most of these is that unlike with hotel loyalty programs, you can book for your friends, family and co-workers and get credit in the OTA rewards program for their bookings. For example, if your aunt who rarely travels needs a hotel, offer to book it for her and have her reimburse you. You'll earn credit in the OTA program under your account.
Related: How to maximize Hotels.com Rewards for free nights and more
Check cash-back portals
Multiple online shopping portals incentivize you with cash back to shop for hotels on a particular site. I use cashbackmonitor.com to look up the OTA I want to use.
Related: Maximizing online shopping portals for your purchases
Attempt best-rate guarantee claims
Most large hotel chains challenge you to find a better price for a room on an OTA compared to their site. If you're successful, you'll usually receive either a percentage off the room or a flat credit back. They're usually quite challenging to be approved. But, if you're booking through an OTA anyway, it's worth a peek at the hotel website to see if you can find a better price with the OTA. Remember, everything about the room and booking conditions must be identical between the hotel's website and the OTA for the best-rate guarantee claim to be approved. And, you'll need to complete your booking directly with the hotel if you have a successful claim.
Related: The state of the hotel best-rate guarantee
Bank portal bookings
These are pretty straightforward, since your points have a fixed redemption value. There are two tasks I complete before redeeming my points toward the revenue cost of a hotel stay. First, I do a quick calculation of transferring points to the hotel program versus redeeming through the portal to make sure I'll use fewer points in the portal. And second, I make sure the price for the hotel in the portal either matches or nearly matches the publicly available rates.
Related: Don’t transfer points: It may be better to book an all-inclusive resort through your credit card portal
If I want to utilize the Citi Prestige fourth night free benefit, book an Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts stay, book a stay at an independent property or if I'm booking for friends or family, I'll head to an OTA or bank portal rather than booking directly. But, if I'm staying with a hotel chain for which I have status or for which I want to earn status, I prefer to book directly with the hotel chain so that I can enjoy elite benefits and points earnings.
- The best hotel credit cards
- Best travel credit cards for travel purchases
- Booking direct: How much value does Hilton status provide?
- Booking direct: How much value does Marriott status provide?
- Booking direct: How much value does World of Hyatt status provide?
- Why transferable points are more valuable than ever
- A guide to earning transferable points
- How valuable is the Citi Prestige’s fourth night free when booking midtier hotels though Citi ThankYou?
- How valuable is the Citi Prestige’s fourth night free when booking luxury hotels though Citi ThankYou?
Additional reporting by Katie Genter.