The alternative to hotel loyalty schemes – Hotels.com and Hotels.com Rewards

Today I want to review Hotels.com Rewards, previously known as Welcome Rewards, the loyalty programme for Hotels.com.

I have spent the last two weeks analysing the ‘big seven’ hotel loyalty programmes (all of the links are on this page).  Each of them offers a different mix of status benefits, points earning and points redeeming features. Which is the best for you is very dependant on where and how you stay and where and how you redeem.

There is another option, though.

A lot of people end up, by choice or by default, splitting their stays across a number of different chains. They do a lot of nights, but never enough to build up status or a decent number of points.

For these people, Hotels.com Rewards from Hotels.com is a better way to go.

Hotels com Rewards Review

Hotels.com (which is actually owned by Expedia) will be familiar to most readers. It is a huge hotel booking portal covering pretty much every corner of the planet.

You won’t find hotels.com much cheaper than booking a hotel directly. When a property is part of a bigger chain with a ‘Best Rate Guarantee’, you can be certain it won’t be cheaper. However, the majority of the properties on the site count for ‘Hotels.com Rewards’ (285,000 hotels, which is about 10 times more than all of the ‘big seven’ loyalty schemes combined!)

Hotels.com Rewards (their home page is here) – previously known as Welcome Rewards – is an idiot-proof loyalty scheme:

You earn 1 point for every night you book, whatever the chain

When you have got 10 points, you get a free night

The value of the free night is the average price you paid for those 10 nights

Your points don’t expire as long as you have one stay every 12 months

There aren’t any catches when you redeem.  You can pick any property on Hotels.com that takes part in Hotels.com Rewards (ie most of them) and you can pay the difference if you want to book a hotel which is more expensive than the value of your free night voucher.

There is a lot of upside here:

ALL of your stays (assuming the hotels you book are in Hotels.com Rewards and most are) will count towards free nights. No more ‘wasted’ stays.

Your free night can be used to book any room on hotels.com. Most reward schemes restrict the ability to book club rooms, suites, family room etc. That is not a problem with Hotels.com Rewards.

When travelling, you are free to stay at the hotel which is most convenient for where you need to be – no need to mess around with badly reviewed properties or out of the way hotels purely to find one in your favourite chain.

What is the snag?

Well, the main one is that you will not earn points with the hotel itself.  

The big chains have clamped down in the last couple of years and most will not now let you have your normal elite benefits either.  And, in any event, you would soon lose all of your hotel status cards if you shifted all of your spending to hotels.com.  You will probably also fail to earn points for any food and drink spending in the hotel

(Hotels.com Rewards does have its own status programme, of sorts. Do 10 nights in a year and you become a Silver member albeit with no hard benefits. Do 30 nights and you become Gold which promises access to ‘exclusive deals’).

For a lot of travellers, it is also impractical. If you have a company travel agent, it is unlikely that you will be allowed to book via Hotels.com. You would need to be self-employed or working for a company which gives you a lot of flexibility in making your own travel arrangements.

The key point to take away from my review of Hotels.com Rewards, however, is that you should have a serious think about whether you would be better off taking their free nights instead of collecting points in specific hotel schemes.

(Want to earn more hotel points?  Click here to see our complete list of promotions from the major hotel chains or use the ‘Hotel Promos’ link in the menu bar at the top of the page.)

Bits: 2400 Avios with £99 tablet, Norwegian adds Singapore, more Amex Plat lounges
Bits: TAP launches London City, generous SAS / Hertz deal, KLM drops free bags for BlueBiz
About Head for Points

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Comments

  1. I use the hotels.com scheme often but the real downside is that sometimes the hotels are more expensive on hotels.com than on other portals or the hotel’s own website. (On the other hand often the price is almost the same everywhere or cheaper on hotels.com).

    So the hotels.com system can be useful (especially if you often need family rooms or suites or want to stay in unique properties) but you always need to check the price elsewhere.

    • barry Cutters says:

      They have a price match.

      • 2 of my 3 price matches have been rejected because they’ve mixed up currencies and then, by the time I’ve replied to correct them and they’ve checked again, the price has changed on the other site. I personally wouldn’t rely on it again (and I’m a Silver member with “premium” customer service).

        • barry Cutters says:

          i have done at least 10 and never had one rejected.
          you just need to understand it .
          same currency
          same room type
          same refund policy

          • There’s no requirement for the currency to be the same, which isn’t really within my control anyway given Hotels.com dynamically changes the currency based on your location…

      • I’ve found that the price match is for the room only. Some hotels then add benefits like inclusive breakfast if you book direct, which has often resulted in me choosing not to book with Hotels.com or Expedia etc.

  2. When you redeem your free night, the value can only be used against the ex-VAT cost of the room? So you pay ‘taxes’ in addition to your voucher as far as I remember?

    I seem to recall that special promos don’t allow you to earn points either?

    • Andrew Tucker says:

      I use hotels.com regularly. I have not paid vat on reward stays. I do believe that there are some occasions abroad where you’re expected to pay fees such as tourist taxes.

      • If the hotel you are booking is in the UK, it can only be redeemed against the ex-VAT price.
        E.g. If you have a £80 voucher and the VAT inclusive price of the room is £80, you’ll only get a discount of £66.66 (£80/1.2)
        I almost fell foul of this the other week, I ended up going for a room that cost 1.2x the voucher in order to get the full value.

  3. We use hotels.com quite often, having compared prices and rooms available elsewhere, as well as direct with the hotel. Since you get a ‘free’ room for every ten nights stayed, you can to factor in a virtual 10% reduction to hotels.com prices. We often use it for the easy cancellation option. Points to note are that you don’t get a qualifying point when there is a hotels.com discount promo on the room you book, and you don’t get a VAT receipt (since Rob mentioned self-employed above). The ‘free’ room is in effect a voucher for the average price of the 10 qualifying stays – you can book a more expensive room and pay the difference, but if you choose a cheaper room you lose the difference. Not all hotels are eligible for the free night, and you have to pay upfront, rather than at the hotel, to use it.

    • barry Cutters says:

      you can get a Vat receipt . just pick the option to pay at the hotel.
      hotel issues you one on check out.

  4. The economics also change considerably when you factor in an additional 10% from the cash back websites (on average). So not only are you warning the effective 10% through 10 stays you earn the cash back on top.

  5. Does anyone know if these websites are required by law to display taxes and fees? I’ve just booked a 2 night stay with hotels.com, with a suspiciously low price, though my booking says “taxes and fees” included. Who do I complain to if I get whacked with extra charges at check out?

    • I find that hotels.com are pretty good at including the taxes and fees, and it’s only locally payable fees – like local tourist taxes which aren’t included – but they usually state this clearly when you make your booking and they’re usually quite small. booking.com on the other hand can be very confusing when it comes to taxes and what’s included in the price.

    • UK hotels must be shown with VAT included. Not sure what the rule is on other fees.

      • RussellH says:

        EU Hotels, not just UK!

        There is a loophole though. Staybridge Suites (IHG) are always quoted ex VAT since they can claim that they are primarily aimed at long term stays, and if the stay is for more than 30 days VAT is only 5%, while standard short stays are the standard 20%.

        At least, that is what the manager of Staybridge Suites in Birmingham told me about 18 months ago, when I formally complained about the price being quoted excl. VAT.

  6. I note that if you look at booking on hotels.com through the avios or virgin shopping portals, the T&Cs say a “lower number” of miles will be earned, or something equally vague. Does anybody have any experience of the rates that post?

  7. Probably being a bit thick but is it “285,000” or “100,000” hotels in the scheme? Both figures are quoted.

  8. Does booking through hotels.com affect the likelihood of being upgraded at the hotel? Thanks.

    • I certainly wouldn’t be expecting any special treatment when booking through hotels.com or any similar website – the rate the hotels receive is much less than if you book direct (hence why the big chains are all trying to improve the perks for booking direct). Many chains also won’t honour elite benefits on 3rd party bookings, AFAIK none (IT glitches apart) award points on stays booked via this route.

  9. Nicklas says:

    I think the most beneficial thing with hotels.com is their Double Welcome Reward Vouchers, meaning you receive a free night after five nights instead of ten. If used correctly it is very valuable. I used one to book six nights in Hong Kong, giving me 12 points. Since the value of the free night is the average price, it is fun to use it in a less expensive city. The free night from Hong Kong resulted in me being able to stay two nights for free in Thailand.

    Also, Avios.com quite often have “earn 8 Avios per £1” (compared to normal 4 Avios per £1). A condition is “You will earn a lower reward if you chose to receive Hotels.com Reward Points.”. However, so far I have found this not to be enforced. However, if you use a voucher you will not get any Avios. Granted, IHG, Accor, Hilton etc. also let’s you earn Avios this way, but based on my bookings the last year, they don’t “double up” as often.

    • How do you get the Double Welcome Reward?!

    • I agree partly. I’ve mostly got 8 when they say, but a clue of recent stays have been 6. Maybe they allow a certain amount at 8 and then drop it.

  10. Does anyone know what happens if you buildup more than one reward night. Can you average the value of the rewards across nights e.g. If I get a reward worth £300 and then another one only worth £100, can I then get 2 nights @ £200 each.

    • No, each night is listed separately with their individual values.

    • No unfortunately not each night you earn is calculated separately and you can’t chop and change the value.

    • Klaus-Peter Dudas says:

      Just to add that while this is not possible if you redeem for a hotel that is expensive one night and cheap another then they will be used correctly, e.g.:

      You have two vouchers: £150 and £100

      If the hotel is £160 and £90 for two nights then you’d pay £10 for the first night and £0 for the second + taxes.

  11. Also my experience.

  12. I use hotels.com as much as possible for business travel. I recently found that my partner could book a hotel using my account (in her name (with a different second name to me) and using her payment card) for a seldom trip she had to take for work. I was able to gain the nights toward my ‘free’ night even though I had also had a reservation using my account at the same time somewhere else. This could be useful for couples as you are able to earn your nights on the same account and then redeem them together also obviously (for personal holidays etc).

  13. I recently got a Gold @ hotels.com

    the only issue I find with the websites where you prepay to the website rather than to the property is that you don’t get a VAT invoice for the stay. in this case, your stay essentially becomes 20% expensive (in the UK) as compared to the ones where you pay at the property and can get a VAT invoice from them.

    is there any workaround to get VAT invoice for stays booked through these websites?

    • the real harry1 says:

      not sure you actually paid any VAT to claim back

      • why not? the difference between the rates of hotel directly and one offered on these sites are not in a differential on the VAT amount hence I am sure VAT is also included in the price OR goes as a profit/margin to these websites.

        • the real harry1 says:

          well, VAT is certainly payable for the room

          but if another entity XYZ paid for the room – and claimed back the VAT as allowable – then you paid that entity XYZ for the room effectively paying them somewhere abroad/ non-UK – you couldn’t claim VAT back as you didn’t pay it

          • true and I agree to it. infact, this was the first point I made.

            I would still want to pay something extra to the hotels directly and use the provision of claiming VAT instead.

          • Correct. I went through all this with Kaligo a couple of years ago.

  14. Karen Bevan says:

    I use hotels.com for all my business stays c. 60 nights a year. I enter the website via Avios.com so that I get at least 4 Avois per £, sometimes up to 12. I pay using an Avios linked credit card, getting another 1 avios per £ spent.
    So 5 nights a month, average £600 spend, earns 3,000 Avios and a free night every 2 months

  15. Damien Keegan says:

    I’ve been using this for 4yrs now through my employee’s reward page. On top of the free night for every 10, I also earn between 6 and 12% cash-back on those bookings and still retain the paid for average. Over that time, the most annoying thing is the amout of spam they send with “exclusive” this and “special” that, however, 50% off a booking is not to be sniffed at. Wife and I are off to Greece for a week courtesy of this! On top of that, I usually try and book Marriott, Hilton, IHG then Hotels.com in order of preference and location.

  16. I run my own business and make my own travel arrangements. I’ve used Hotels.com for 90% of my hotel bookings for over 7 years now. In fact I actually get most of my Virgin Flyer miles buying nights at Hotels.com via the Virgin Shopping channel. Minimum 6 miles/ £ spent, sometimes as high as 12 miles/£. Then there’s the 1 night free per 10 nights booked (taking the average of all 10 nights, before taxes) and the fact that you can choose exactly which hotel you want at your destination is brilliant. Why would I want to be restricted to a Marriott or a Hilton etc when the better or more convenient hotel may be a different brand? I have been to so many amazing hotels (booked via Hotels.com) where I’d only stay in that brand of hotel once or twice a year at most. It means I would try a Belmond, Banyan Tree, Anantara, Mandarin Oriental or Peninsula hotel and still get great benefits. An alternative option is booking.com but there’s no free night option (as far as I know), the rewards on the Virgin shopping channel is only 4 miles/£, and they have a habit of displaying fees BEFORE tax for some of the properties which I find more than annoying. On hotels.com you see the total inclusive price.

  17. I wasn’t aware of putting a link in but maybe it treats the dotcom reference as a link automatically? I also wasn’t aware that T C B was considered dodgy/banned …. I obviously need to get more with it!

  18. I’m a few nights short of enough for gold but the extra benefits seem somewhat vague. What “special deals” have you had since you got gold?

  19. Would be interesting to see a poll of your readers to see what schemes they prefer

    For me I love hotels.com for above reasons + much clearer pricing than hotels own websites

    Also as a Gold member, customer service will sometimes cancel non-refundable bookings

  20. 2bad4ya says:

    they can/might allow you to cancel non-refundable stays

  21. You sound fun.

  22. The vibe I’ve always gotten from the business advice on this site is “take advantage of HMRC/your company as much as you can get away with” (not a criticism as such considering I’d do the same, though slightly morally dubious!). Earning kick backs from company expenses is par for the course!

  23. Renwaldo says:

    Absolutely spot on Rob

  24. There’s a difference (to me at least) between doing something potentially morally wrong but within the rules vs knowingly doing something that breaks the law but with a low chance of being caught!

  25. As long as you hit the status by the date, you’ll get that status for the remainder of this reward year, plus all of the next 12 months too. Then to maintain Gold you’ll need an additional 30 nights in the 12mo period from renewal date.

  26. …So i don’t buy the assertion that hotels.com is the most generous scheme. Most convenient – agreed. But given Rob’s dislike of fixed value rewards, e.g. Nectar and Accor, I’m surprised he doesn’t mention the lack of arbitrage as a drawback here.

  27. True, but I’d put that as secondary behind loss of status benefits. This is a decent scheme for people who can’t be bothered with hotel schemes, I think.