When Expedia Group revamped its loyalty program this summer, the company pitched it as a way to unify its Expedia, Vrbo, and Hotels.com brands. The new, comprehensive travel rewards program offers 2% in OneKeyCash on eligible travel expenses, including Vrbo rentals, Expedia flights, and Hotels.com reservations. But die-hard Hotels.com fans and personal finance experts say that the new One Key program is a step down from the booking site’s previous rewards model.
“I’m officially done with them,” a former Hotels.com fan wrote on Reddit in July, adding that the company “lost a customer for life!”
How Did Hotels.com’s Old Rewards Program Work?
Before Expedia Group brought its travel rewards under one umbrella, Hotels.com had a simple incentive program. After booking 10 nights on the website, you’d earn one night free equal to the average cost of your past 10 stays (excluding taxes and fees). In other words, it was effectively a 10% discount on hotel stays.
Hotels.com loyalists — or perhaps we should say former loyalists — say that the free night kept them from booking with competitors.
“The 10% rewards program was the ONLY reason I've been loyal to Hotels.com for the last 10+ years,” a consumer wrote on a travel rewards subreddit. Now that its policy has changed, the consumer said that they’d start booking directly with hotels — a sentiment that others echoed throughout the thread.
When asked to respond to the above criticism, an Expedia Group spokesperson told Cheapism that the company doesn't like to look at the 2% OneKeyCash earn rate "in isolation" because it overlooks One Key's perks and discounts across the entire travel experience.
"Not only can travelers earn rewards with our three brands, they can earn across different trip products too — hotels, vacation rentals, car rentals, flights, cruise, and more," the spokesperson explained.
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How Does One Key Work?
One Key is an umbrella rewards program that connects three brands: Expedia, Hotels.com, and Vrbo. After you sign up (it’s free), you’ll receive 2% in OneKeyCash on eligible purchases on packages, activities, car rentals, hotels, vacation rentals, and cruises. Flights yield a lower 0.2% return.
You can put the OneKeyCash you earn toward all eligible Pay Now bookings even if it doesn’t cover the full amount. The only restriction is for flights, which consumers have to pay fully in OneKeyCash.
Although OneKeyCash can’t be redeemed for real money, you can use the rewards to pay for friends and family members’ tickets. It’s the account holder — not the individual travelers themselves — who receives the rewards.
Other One Key Benefits
Expedia also rolled out a convoluted set of four membership tiers: blue, silver, gold, and platinum. Your rank depends on how many “trip elements” you book in a year, with members earning one trip element for each purchase. A car rental and a one-night hotel stay count as two trip elements, for example. As you move up in the tiers, you receive more rewards, like priority travel support and increased OneKeyCash earnings.
For a full overview of the One Key tiers, visit Expedia’s website.
The Bottom Line: Don’t Book Through Travel Sites
Experts generally agree that you’ll get the best rates if you book with hotels directly rather than through Hotels.com and other travel sites. “Many hotels will meet or beat the best internet rate when you book with them,” Kim Komando writes for USA Today. “They'd much rather skip the commission to the travel site and book your stay directly.” And now that Hotels.com’s enticing 10% reward is gone, it makes even more sense to skip the middleman and book directly.