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If you regularly book travel through Expedia, you may have noticed some changes — or maybe not. The online travel agency (OTA) has been quietly refining its rewards program for some 18 months, with significant updates appearing this year (we spotted a few back in February).
Now, the company is finally ready to talk about the overhaul. During a phone call with The Points Guy, Dan Reed, Expedia’s vice president of global merchandising, explained that the key changes boiled down to value and versatility.
“We want customers to book with us,” Reed said. And the changes, he continued, have been about “adding more value to the program and making redemption processes easier and more flexible.”
Arguably the most notable change is the company making it possible for travelers to redeem points for flights online (some travelers may have seen this option as early as February).
Previously, travelers had to book tickets on the phone to use their points, a tremendous hassle and a major deterrent. Now, when travelers amass enough points to pay for a flight in full, the option to “Use My Points” will appear at checkout.
To test the process, we searched for flights we could cover in full — like a one-way trip between New York (JFK) and Worcester (ORH).
As promised, the option to book with points is now easily accessible during the check-out process. And though Expedia requires that you have enough points to cover the entire cost of the flight in order to reveal the “Use My Points” option, we discovered that once that function is available, the site doesn’t require you to use all those points to continue with the purchase.
“Once [the ‘Use My Points’ option] is there, you can actually choose the amount you want to use,” an Expedia spokesperson confirmed. Expedia points are redeemed for flights at a ratio of 140 points per dollar, making them worth about 0.71 cents per point.
Another change that travelers might notice when booking flights? Price Match Promise.
While not a component of Expedia Rewards, Price Match Promise — which allows travelers to check for airfare price drops and receive refunds up until the moment the trip starts — is another new feature we stumbled upon during our trial run. At this time, however, it’s only being tested with a small pool of users, the Expedia spokesperson noted.
Some of the other changes to Expedia Rewards involve making it possible for travelers to redeem as many (or as few) points as they want. Aside from flights, travelers can now use their points to pay for, or offset the cost of, hotels, car rentals and activities with no minimum number of points.
“You don’t need to amass a certain number of points or obtain elite status to start redeeming rewards points,” Reed explained. “You don’t have to be a road warrior to be a part of the program. You book with us, you earn points [and] you can use those on your next transaction regardless of the value.” The so-called zero-dollar floor, Reed told TPG, is the company’s way of not “just rewarding people who travel a ton.”
Though not related to Expedia Rewards, the OTA also made news last week by announcing Add-On Advantage — basically, the ability to enjoy bundled rates without having to actually book a package.
“We know booking everything at once isn’t always the right option for some,” an Expedia spokesperson told TPG, citing internal research that shows more than 40% of travelers prefer to book flights and hotels separately.
With this new feature, travelers will unlock discounted hotels after booking a flight, car rental or package with Expedia. The hotel, up to 43% off on average, can be booked until the day of your trip.
Travelers who are enticed by the promise of flexible points and low redemption options will find that, regrettably, you still need an awful lot of Expedia points to cover a hotel room or a flight. Expedia points continue to be earned at a rate of 2 points per $1 spent on most hotel bookings, activities and car rentals, which means you’re essentially earning 1.42 cents per dollar spent on those purchases, or a 1.42% return. And for flights, that rate drops even lower to 1 point per $5.
Compare that to other popular OTA rewards programs. Hotels.com Rewards offers travelers one free night for every 10 nights, effectively a 10% return, and the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card also earns 10x miles on Hotels.com purchases when booking through the Hotels.com/Venture portal. Orbitz, too, may offer certain travelers a better value with higher earning and better redemption rates.
But neither program allow travelers to redeem points for flights, which could quickly become Expedia’s edge now that it’s simple to redeem Expedia Rewards points at checkout.
Remember that when you book with an online travel agency such as Expedia or Orbitz, you generally won’t receive elite benefits or credit at hotels, though you should still get all your perks and points on airline flights. Also, travelers who book flights on Expedia with points may want to strongly consider putting at least part of the flight on a credit card that offers trip protection, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
Featured photo by Thought Catalog via Unsplash.
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