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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Yun, who missed out on elite benefits for a recent hotel stay. Here’s what she had to say:
When I read TPG’s review of the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express with the 150,000 bonus points [after you spend $4,000 in purchases on the card within your first three months of card membership] and Diamond status, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to sign up and use it for a quick trip to Paris to celebrate my daughter’s 21st birthday. I applied for and received the card seamlessly. As we would only be in Paris for two nights, I planned to book our first night in a moderately priced hotel and then spend our last night at the Paris Hilton Opera. I figured we could select the lowest, non-refundable rate ($249), and then benefit from all the perks that come with Diamond status, like upgraded rooms, executive lounge entry, early and late check-out, and a higher earning rate.
I compared prices between the Hilton and Hotels.com, and saw the same $249 non-refundable rate for a deluxe twin room on both sites. Since I also collect Hotels.com Rewards, I decided to book there to earn more credits toward a free night. I also clicked through from a shopping portal to earn an extra 4% back on my stay. “A fabulous deal,” I thought as I patted myself on the back!
Not so fast, unfortunately. When I went back and read more about receiving Hilton Honors elite benefits, I saw that they were only offered on reservations booked directly through Hilton. I was stunned, since airlines and car rentals give you elite benefits no matter where you make your reservation. I consider myself a pretty savvy traveler, but I had no idea that hotel loyalty programs are such a different beast!
As I had booked the lowest non-refundable rate, Hotels.com wouldn’t let me cancel the room without losing all my money. By trying to save a few dollars and collect a night on my Hotels.com Rewards account, I effectively lost all the Diamond benefits that had motivated me to sign up for the Aspire card to begin with!
To recoup the sizable commissions claimed by online travel agencies, hotels are pushing hard to steer guests toward booking directly. In some cases that push acts as an incentive to reward direct bookings (like a best rate guarantee), but hotels also adopt seemingly punitive measures to discourage booking through another channel. As Yun learned the hard way, you generally won’t earn points or elite credits for third party reservations, and even your existing elite benefits may not be recognized. That doesn’t mean booking directly is always the right move, but it should factor into your approach.
Booking through a third party may also negate benefits you have from a co-branded credit card. For example, the $100 on-property credit from the Hilton Aspire Card requires that you book through the designated website or by phone with a booking code. Fortunately, the $250 resort credit only requires that purchases be charged to your card by a participating property at checkout. That means you could still use this benefit to cover incidentals billed to your room even if your reservation was made through a third party.
I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. To thank Yun for sharing her experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending her a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to firstname.lastname@example.org, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.
Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!
Featured image courtesy of Hilton Hotels.
With some great bonus categories, the American Express Gold Card has a lot going for it. The card offers 4x points at US restaurants, at US supermarkets (up to $25,000; then 1x), and 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or through amextravel.com. It is currently offering a welcome bonus of 35,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 in the first three months.
- Earn 35,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $2,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 3 months.
- Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. restaurants. Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then 1X).
- Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
- Earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with The Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Shake Shack, and Ruth's Chris Steak House. This is an annual savings of up to $120. Enrollment required.
- $100 Airline Fee Credit: up to $100 in statement credits per calendar year for incidental fees at one selected qualifying airline.
- Choose to carry a balance with interest on eligible charges of $100 or more.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- Annual Fee is $250.
- Terms apply.
- See Rates & Fees