TPG reader question: Why do I get worse hotel rooms when I book through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal?
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Chase Ultimate Rewards points are a TPG reader favorite. They're extremely flexible, so they fit into everyone's travel style. One popular way to redeem Chase points is through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal. There, you can redeem your Chase points for flights, hotels, rental cars, and more at varying rates depending on the card you have:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: 1.25 cents per point
- Chase Sapphire Reserve: 1.5 cents per point
- Ink Business Preferred Credit Card: 1.25 cents per point
However, TPG reader Kitty has noticed something about the Chase Travel Portal that is unique to hotel reservations:
[pullquote source="Kitty McCoy"]It seems like every time I book hotels using points from my Chase Sapphire Reserve [through the Chase Travel Portal], the rooms are always at the farthest end of hallway, the crummiest views, noisy or generally undesirable. I know that Chase uses Expedia for booking. Does anyone else have these experiences?[/pullquote]
It's not your imagination, Kitty. I've found the same to be true for a number of my stays — and so have many of my traveler friends. While the difference can sometimes be noticeable, it's personally never been enough to ruin a hotel stay. But rest assured, the level of service has nothing to do with your Chase Sapphire Reserve.
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Let's examine when and why you may potentially experience below-average treatment when booking a hotel with your travel credit card's rewards.
What happens when you book via an online travel agency
Kitty observantly identifies the real issue at hand: Chase uses Expedia as its booking platform. There's nothing wrong with Expedia. It's an online travel agency like Orbitz or Priceline, and you can find some great travel deals now and again.
However, online travel agencies generally make their money through commissions. Hotels will give Expedia a cut for funneling customers to them. Hotels don't want to pay commission; they'd prefer you book directly through them. This is why travelers receive exclusive benefits (and sometimes even preferable treatment) when booking directly versus through a travel agency. Here are some potential ramifications of booking a hotel through the Chase Travel Portal instead of directly with the hotel.
You may receive a less desirable room
Hotels, including the front desk agent, can see who booked through a third party and who booked directly, prioritizing the latter. Again, this is not a rule, but it does happen.
For example, if a hotel is filling up, travelers who book direct will get all the preferred rooms before anyone who booked third-party. I've experienced this a few times before. Plenty of times, I've located my room on the emergency evacuation map on the back of the door, only to find it the smallest (and most inconveniently located) in the hotel. This is anecdotal evidence, but the regularity in which it occurs (and is noticed by travelers like Kitty) is detectable.
You won't earn hotel points
You won't earn any hotel rewards when you book with an online travel agency like Orbitz or Expedia. If you're staying at a chain hotel like Marriott, Hilton or Hyatt, you could be missing out on thousands of points. Only travelers that book directly with the hotel will earn points.
You won't receive elite status benefits or elite night credits
Third-party bookings will not earn you elite night credits. If you desire hotel elite status, booking through a third party will not help you in your quest for status. If you already have elite status, you won't receive any of your status benefits unless you book directly with the hotel. For example, if you have Hilton Diamond elite status, you'll receive the following benefits just for booking direct:
- 100% bonus points
- Upgrade to a standard suite, based on availability
- Complimentary breakfast
- A welcome amenity (could be wine, snacks or something similar waiting in your room)
If you book through the Chase Travel Portal, you'll get none of that. An exception here seems to be when booking through Amex Fine Hotels and Resorts, which does allow you to earn elite night credits and recognizes your elite status.
Reservation changes are more difficult
If you need to change or cancel your reservation, you'll have a much easier time if you book direct with the hotel. You (usually) can't call the hotel to make any changes to your reservation if you reserved your room through a third-party site. You'll have to contact the website from which you made your purchase, and they'll liaise with the hotel. This can turn into a hassle and a headache you don't want on a trip.
If you book with the hotel, you can contact them for an immediate solution to your problem.
Related: How to book travel (and save points) with the Chase Travel Portal
Better ways to use Chase points for hotel stays
If your primary interest is in free accommodation and you don't mind mild retribution from a hotel every now and again, the Chase Travel Portal is a fine way to use your points. However, there are better ways to redeem your points for free hotel stays. For example, it's possible to receive much more value from your Chase points by transferring them into Hyatt. I've received more than 4 cents per point by strategically using my points this way. Hyatt is one of the most popular transfer partners of Chase Ultimate Rewards points as it can unlock some terrific value.
If Hyatt isn't your cup of tea, you can use Chase Pay Yourself Back to book free hotels by extension. This takes one or two mental gymnastics, but follow me. Through Sept. 30, 2021, you can redeem Chase points to offset everyday purchases at an improved rate:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Dining, grocery stores, home improvement stores (1.25 cents)
- Chase Sapphire Reserve: Dining, grocery stores, home improvement stores (1.5 cents)
- Ink Business Preferred Credit Card: Shipping, home improvement stores, internet, cable, phone services (1.25 cents)
You'll notice that these redemption rates offer the same value as booking a hotel through the Chase Travel Portal. Instead of booking a hotel through Expedia via the Chase Travel Portal, you can effectively "cash out" your points from everyday expenses like groceries and dining. You can then use that cash to book a stay through the hotel website. This will give you all the perks of booking direct, and you'll still receive a value between 1.25 and 1.5 cents per point, depending on which card you have.
The credit card you use to reserve accommodation does not rankle a hotel chain. The way you redeem the rewards you earn with that card may. If you're using points to book through an online travel agency like the Chase Travel Portal or Citi ThankYou portal, you may get a less desirable room than the more profitable customers who book directly with the hotel.
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