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Don’t book hotel stays direct if you want to earn maximum American Loyalty Points

Jan. 17, 2022
6 min read
Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott New York Manhattan/Central Park
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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.

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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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King room at the Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott New York Manhattan/Central Park (Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

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.

Related: Chasing American Airlines elite status? Here are 13 ways to earn 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!

(Screenshot courtesy of aa.com)

The two rooms were identical, but there were two critical differences between the bookings.

Elite benefits

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.

(Screenshot courtesy of Marriott)

Price

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.

(Screenshot courtesy of rocketmiles.com)

Return

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.

Related: Why infrequent travelers shouldn't book with hotel chains

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.

(Screenshot courtesy of rocketmiles.com)

Bottom line

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 image by Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott New York Manhattan/Central Park (Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
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    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

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Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases