While travelers didn’t need another reason to avoid OTAs, they got one this week when Hotels.com announced a major change to its loyalty program that significantly cuts the value it gives its users.
Hotels.com pitched the original rewards program as a good option for travelers who booked their own vacations and wanted to be able to earn rewards across hotel companies instead of racking up points with one single hotel brand.
The program gave users a free night stay for every 10 nights booked through the OTA. The free night stay would be worth the average of the 10 nights previously booked. It was a fairly generous rewards program for those who travel frequently via Hotels.com, essentially offering 10% back to the traveler after 10 nights booked.
However, that benefit is leaving for Hotels.com users—starting sometime later this year, the program will be sunsetted in favor of One Key, a new rewards program that Hotels.com is launching with Expedia and Vrbo. The change was first reported by One Mile at a Time.
One Key will offer far less attractive rewards than the previous Hotels.com program—it will offer 2% back in OneKeyCash for every dollar spent on hotels, rental cars, cruises, home rentals, and packages and .2% on all dollars spent on flights.
While users can bump those rewards by earning their way to a higher tier status by booking more “trip elements” per year with Hotels.com, the change represents a major cut in value for those who are frequent Hotels.com bookers.
The OTA is marketing the new program as giving consumers more freedom than the previous program, and more products with the addition of Expedia and Vrbo. It also said that it offers travelers quicker rewards since they are earning 2% on all hotel bookings instead of having to wait until 10 nights stayed to access rewards.
“We know you want the benefits of a loyalty program but the freedom of keeping your options open when planning a trip. That's why Hotels.com, Expedia, and Vrbo are launching the largest and most comprehensive travel rewards program our brands have ever created, called One Key. It launches in mid-2023, and it’s going to change the way you travel,” Hotels.com says on the One Key webpage.
While that may be true, going from what was essentially a 10% rewards program to a 2% program is a significant cut.
The news is another in a string of negative news that OTAs have experienced over the past 15 months. Just last year alone, a major OTA’s CEO and COO were arrested in a COVID fraud case, Trivago was hit with massive fines from Australian Federal Courts because of “misleading” conduct, and CheapoAir was fined $2.6 million for “dishonest and predatory” behavior.