Don’t book hotel stays direct if you want to earn maximum American Loyalty Points
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American Airlines’ new elite-qualifying metrics are in full swing. You’ll now earn AAdvantage elite status based on Loyalty Points, which is a new currency tied to the base miles you earn through a variety of qualifying activities, including online shopping, credit card spending and hotel stays.
In true TPG fashion, we’re testing out each of the eligible partners to see what activities will earn you status the quickest and at the lowest out-of-pocket cost. This week, we’re focusing on American’s hotel partners.
You can earn Loyalty Points by crediting stays booked directly through Marriott, Hyatt and IHG to American, as well as by booking stays through American’s hotels portal and Rocketmiles.
We almost always recommend booking directly with hotels so that you can earn hotel points and receive elite benefits. However, if it’s Loyalty Points you’re after, you might be better off booking through one of the third parties. In fact, in our test, we earned 20x more Loyalty Points by going this route.
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Earning Loyalty Points through hotel stays
As a quick refresher, you earn the following number of award miles and Loyalty Points with the following chains when you choose to earn AAdvantage miles instead of hotel points:
- Hyatt: Earn 500 miles each stay (though you can earn an additional mile per dollar spent if you’re an American elite).
- Marriott: Earn 1-2 AAdvantage miles per dollar spent on qualifying charges. Upscale brands like Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott earn 2 miles per dollar, while budget brands like Aloft and Moxy earn just 1 per dollar.
- IHG: Earn 1-2 miles per dollar spent on qualifying room charges. Stays at Candlewood Suites and Staybridge Suites earn 1 per dollar, while other brands earn 2 per dollar.
Alternatively, you can earn up to 10,000 miles per night when booking through the American Airlines Hotels portal or Rocketmiles. Both sites are part of the Booking Holdings Group, though the nightly rates and earnings can vary, so it’s worth comparing both before booking. Just be aware that any bonus offers through the portals, such as for first-time users, do not count toward Loyalty Points.
Also, note that although you can earn up to two miles per dollar spent with Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, these miles will not count toward Loyalty Points.
Booking direct vs Rocketmiles
Not every hotel is on the American Airlines Hotels or Rocketmiles portals. However, hundreds of thousands of properties participate, including some in major hotel chains. So, when there are multiple booking options, how do you decide whether to book direct or through a portal?
To answer this question, we booked the same hotel two ways. More specifically, we booked two rooms at a Fairfield by Marriott property in New York City — one directly through Marriott with American miles as our earning preference and the other through Rocketmiles.
Naturally, you’d assume that booking direct would be the most rewarding option. However, if the earning rates above are any indication, then you can probably guess which option earned more miles.
Our Rocketmiles booking earned 2,000 American miles, while the Marriott one earned a measly 116 miles. That’s a nearly 20x difference!
The two rooms were identical, but there were two critical differences between the bookings.
First, the direct booking got the usual Marriott Bonvoy elite status recognition. However, benefits were limited because breakfast is included for all guests, and there are no suites at the property. The most significant benefit our status got us was a welcome gift of 500 bonus Marriott points.
Although we were crediting to American, this booking also still earned Marriott elite-qualifying nights and counted toward the Ambassador Elite spend requirement. Meanwhile, the Rocketmiles booking did not earn elite-qualifying credit and offered no elite perks.
Second, there was a big difference in the nightly rate. We could choose from several rates through Marriott, including member-exclusive and AAA rates. We were also backed by Marriott’s best rate guarantee, ensuring we paid the lowest price possible. However, there were just two rates available through Rocketmiles — nonrefundable and refundable — and they were significantly higher.
We booked a AAA rate on the direct booking for $136, including taxes and fees (about $12 less than the standard member rate). Meanwhile, our Rocketmiles booking came out to about $197. In fairness, the price difference won’t always be this significant — on some stays, there might be no difference at all — but it was pretty steep in this case.
Nevertheless, in this case, Rocketmiles was still much more rewarding. We earned roughly 10 miles per dollar through Rocketmiles, which means we should earn 10 Loyalty Points per dollar too. This is compared to just 1 Loyalty Point per dollar (before taxes and fees) through Marriott. And the elite benefits were a moot point here since breakfast was included and there were no upgrade opportunities.
That 10x return through Rocketmiles was even better than if we were to fly on American. Depending on your status tier, you only earn between five and 11 miles per dollar spent on the base ticket. And you need to have top-tier Executive Platinum status in order to get that maximum 11x return.
Although we declined, we could’ve gotten an even better return through Rocketmiles. During booking, we were offered the opportunity to earn 2,000 additional miles for about $56 extra. Had we gone for it, we would’ve earned about 16 miles per dollar, which is a pretty solid return if you ask me.
You’ll generally get the best return on hotel stays by booking direct and choosing to earn hotel points. However, if you’re chasing American elite status through hotel stays, you could potentially earn far more Loyalty Points by booking through Rocketmiles or American Airlines Hotels than booking direct.
In our test, the direct booking didn’t move the needle on our Loyalty Point balance, while the Rocketmiles booking got us about 7% toward AAdvantage Gold status. On the flip side, we had to sacrifice our elite perks and elite earnings and pay a higher nightly rate.
Moral of the story: always compare your different booking options.
Featured photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy.
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