By Bill Camarda | American Express Credit Intel Freelance Contributor
5 Min Read | June 14, 2021 in Cards
Travelers have four main options for booking a hotel stay, each with its own advantages and levels of convenience.
Credit card travel sites help you redeem and earn points for hotel stays while handling your transaction.
Hotels may be more responsive to your needs when booking through their websites, while airline frequent flyer sites make it easy to book hotels and flights together.
Online travel agencies (OTAs) help you compare properties and prices and get insights from other travelers.
Many people had to cancel their travel plans – whether for business or pleasure – in 2020. But that hasn’t tempered their desire. According to a recent study, 65% of travelers said they’re excited about traveling again in 2021, 42% hope to travel even more to make up for 2020, and 40% intend to rebook a trip they’ve canceled.1 When they do, hotels will be waiting.
But which is the best site for booking your next hotel? The options include:
Why would you choose one over another? Let’s examine each option to help you determine which one may be best for you.
Credit cards – particularly travel credit cards – allow you to earn points when you pay for purchases. Once you have enough, you can redeem those points for hotel stays, among other things. You may earn welcome points when you sign up for and start using certain credit cards, and some transactions may be worth a higher rate of bonus points, such as gas and groceries.
Credit card points are often redeemed through a card issuer’s travel portal site, which provides a convenient, one-stop shop for making many kinds of travel-related plans. Travel portals typically provide many self-service features and travel options, and when you choose your hotel through a travel portal, your credit card company handles the transaction. These are just a few reasons why your credit card’s travel portal is sometimes the best site to book a hotel.
In addition, some credit cards offer incentives, such as earning extra rewards points, when you book through their travel portals. You may also be offered special hotel benefits, such as room upgrades or better views, breakfast, earlier check-in, free Wi-Fi, or even spa credits. Some travel experts also recommend booking through a travel credit card portal if you’re heading to an unusual destination or a boutique hotel where cost-effective options may not be available through other avenues.
Consider, though, that some hotels might not award loyalty points or honor elite benefits offered through their loyalty program when booked through a travel portal. For more on earning travel points, read “Travel Points Credit Cards: How to Get More Out of Them.”
Hotels have increasingly encouraged travelers to book on their websites by managing their rates to be identical to or competitive with third-party sites. The case for the hotel’s website can be stronger if you hold a co-branded hotel credit card for that brand, such as the Marriott Bonvoy BrilliantTM American Express® Card or one of American Express' three Hilton Honors Cards. That’s because if you’re a member of the rewards program, you’ll usually earn the hotel loyalty points for booking there, plus any additional loyalty points you’d get for spending on the hotel credit card.
When booked directly through its website, a hotel may be more responsive to you if you have a problem with a reservation; request a change, such as a room on a higher floor or an upgrade; or need to cancel or shorten a trip at the last minute. Some services, such as Wi-Fi, or perks like free breakfasts may also be included if you book directly with a hotel. Another plus: Most major hotel chains now offer their own loyalty plans, which are another way to earn points for use toward free nights and a variety of members-only “extras” – providing you book with them directly.
If you’re loyal to an airline and part of its frequent flyer program, you may be building up miles that can be redeemed for hotel stays when you book on an airline’s site. You may be able to multiply those miles if you use an airline credit card for bookings. Many airlines also offer attractive package deals that combine air, hotel, and other services, making it easy and cost-effective to book everything at once. Some also encourage travel by offering thousands of bonus miles on select hotels, which helps you save more quickly for your next vacation.
Like OTAs, many airline sites now partner with multiple leading hotel brands. Some even offer access to alternative accommodations, such as home-sharing rentals.
OTAs are third-party travel sites that can help you quickly compare properties and prices from different hospitality companies. While price-parity agreements often mean a room’s price will be the same wherever you book, OTAs can still sometimes find a way to offer a discount. They may also offer special deals, such as discount coupons or bonus reward nights, that lower your effective price, especially if you travel often. Some countries prohibit price-parity agreements, so it’s even less likely that prices will be identical across channels when traveling internationally.
Beyond price, many third-party travel sites have extensive review sections that share independent insight from travelers about the hotels you’re considering. Some OTAs also have their own loyalty programs that let you earn points for future travel bookings.