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.

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Comments

  1. Julie Kalama says:

    One thing to note is that you don’t get points towards free nights if you’ve used a voucher code. They often have generous discounts such as 10 or 15% so I guess it’s a case of weighing up if you would rather have the immediate saving. Often generous cash back through TCB too.

  2. I used to hold IHG Platinum and was a slave to it; since I discovered hotels.com rewards, I rarely use anything else.

    10% of every stay towards a free night after 10 nights, redeemable with virtually no restrictions, and occasionally up to 8% cash back through TCB makes this a no-brainer for me. I doubt there is any other rewards scheme that gives back around 18% of your spend?

    Plus, you get freedom of choice to stay wherever you want, from big worldwide chains, to small independent boutiques.

    Gets my vote ….

  3. 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.

      • callum says:

        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

          • Callum says:

            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…

      • Mzungu says:

        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.

    • They are sometimes more expensive but factoring in 6-8% TCB and the constant 10-15% codes they send via e-mail I’ve found it always works out cheaper. Especially as some of the hotels add a “resort fee” at the end of your stay whilst Hotels.com bookings tend to have it all included.

  4. 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.

    • Andrew Tucker says:

      Something else that should be given comment is that hotels.com are listed on topcashback and you can get around 6-8% rebate booking via them or quidco. It’s also worth pointing out that when hotels.com float about their own promotions you can be sure that rewards are not allowed under the deal.

      As a silver member I’ve found their customer service very good.

  5. I’ve been using Hotels.com rewards scheme for a few years now in place of booking direct. There’s one big plus that hasn’t been mentioned in the review.

    I book through Quidco for cashback of between 6-12% in addition to the 10+1 night free. This I believe, in conjunction with the Hotels.com rewards, far outweighs any direct loyalty scheme. Admittedly it takes around 3 months after the completed stay to payout, but I’ve never had a problem over the last 4 years. In fact I also book all my car hire, airport parking through Quidco too. It adds up to quite an amount – tax free too.

    If one was really dedicated a TopCashBack account could be set up and comparisons made between the two sites to compare cashback percentages.

  6. Rob

    I have to disagree I often find hotels.com cheaper than booking directly with the chains usually 10% albeit you will earn no points.

    Another benefit is you usually get 10% TCB which has never failed to track for me with hotels.com

    Hilton is the one brand that always recognises my gold status irrespective of how or where I book

  7. I use the hotels.com site a lot and always click through to it via topcashback so earning between 3% and 10% cashback (depending on the deal at the time) as well as the rewards nights.

    As others have pointed out you do need to be careful when redeeming the rewards nights to get maximum value by watching out for the taxes issue and not actually loosing “freenight benefit” by paying more than the cost of the room.

  8. I use hotels.com all the time. If you book through topcashback you get up to 12.5% cash back as well as the hotels.com rewards points.

  9. 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.

    • filipino_chino says:

      remember you also get cashback of around 8% on top of the members rewards… it used to be 12% back in the day :/ So you are knocking on towards 20% off…

    • 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.

  10. davide says:

    I’ve been using the scheme for long as my company allows it. The game is easy. Book via topcashback, earn rewards night and fly the family BA and discounted nights. For example 3 years ago I managed between amex voucher, gold deal, voucher and free nights to fly the whole family for two weeks in Mauritius for two weeks at the total cost of 2000. And it’s the final cost at the end of the holiday including meals and extras.

    Overall I’ve been happy with the schema but yes if my company would be stricter it wouldn’t provably work.

  11. Titus Adduxas says:

    I use Hotels.com all the time – I’m just a regular leisure traveller, and it is excellent. Don’t forget to get to it via Quidco though – a further 6% cashback on average without losing any of the benefits! It works perfectly for me anyway.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. chiefy says:

    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?

    • callum says:

      I haven’t, but I’d imagine they’d roughly mirror the differences shown on TCB/Quidco – which is currently 8%/6% on TCB (which seems much better anyway given 8% should equate to 8 avios – double what you get with the Avios store).

  15. I have used hotels.com for a few years and it suits us just fine with the reward night and price match if you contact them. If you have a complaint about the hotel they will take it on board and compensate if you ask. I am a gold member which seems to have a small amount of clout and the fact that you get some special deals now and again.
    I used to click through the topcashback site but now click through the avios estore where they are on for 4 avios per £ with special deals upping that to 8 per £.
    Keeps it all simple for me in having rewards in one place. We don’t stay enough nights to warrant separate hotel loyalty schemes and we are happy with some budget stuff as we are not in the hotel long enough to enjoy the swish surroundings!

    • 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?

    • Callum says:

      Is Hotels.com blocked from coverting to Avios on TCB then? TCB currently offer double the amount Avios do.

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

  17. I’ve been using Hotels.com for the last year or so, and had a superb experience. Echoing other posters above, the 8% through TCB + 10% return in free hotel nights is very compelling, and their customer service is good (as a Gold): I complained about faulty/unreliable air conditioning in my room after the hotel wasn’t interested in doing anything about it, and was credited with £175 in vouchers.

    That, combined with four free nights I’ve amassed through the start of this year, a 241 Companion Voucher and 80,000 Avios mean that a friend and I are going to enjoy a very lovely week in Moscow/St Petersburg, with flights in F, for a total cash outlay of c. £150. Thanks Rob!

  18. Does anyone know if there are any implications with booking through hotels.com and expensing for work but then using the reward night for personal use? Or expensing full price but receiving cashback yourself? Is it a taxable benefit?

    E.g. If you take the headline price and factor in a reward night and TCB you’d get ~20% back. Some may be tempted to book a hotel at a higher price via a specific portal to receive rewards for personal use.

    • I can’t believe that you seriously think the Revenue gives a monkeys about any of this. They are so understaffed these days they are grateful enough that you bothered to file at all.

      Cashback is technically a rebate (air miles are also treated as a rebate) and so incur no income tax. However, as it is a rebate, you should technically reduce the cost of the hotel in your accounts by the cashback you receive.

      In reality the Revenue would probably prefer you spent the time building your business and generating more (taxable) profit than fiddling around with tiny sums.

      • That sounded like a serious question and very on topic considering this site is entirely about earning points. A lot of readers (myself included) earn points through company spend. The dismissive (and quite rude) tone isn’t helpful.

        Whether or not HMRC “gives a monkeys”, there are people who will want to follow the guidance. The actual answer for miles at least is on this HMRC page: https://www.gov.uk/hmrc-internal-manuals/employment-income-manual/eim21618

        Consider that the company I work for sends employees around the world. An 8% cashback on several £100k is not going to be a negligible sum.

        • You sound fun.

        • Callum says:

          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!

        • If they’re spending that much on hotels, they’ll probably get a better deal via a company travel agent and should use that method. If they allow staff to book hotels themselves, as long as everyone has the same opportunity to use Quidco/TCB/hotels.com or earn loyalty points, there’s no issue. Travelling for work is not the massive perk everyone seems to think it is.

      • Renwaldo says:

        Absolutely spot on Rob

      • 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!

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

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