This will be one of those blogs that you might read and assume we are getting some sort of commission or spiff or freebie from Hotels.com in exchange for writing it. That is, according to the average dime-a-dozen travel blogger, one of the perks of being a glamorous, jet-setting travel blogger. Well, I guess I’m not one of those travel bloggers because we don’t exactly have big travel corporations knocking on our doors offering to give us free stuff in exchange for writing about their services.
But let me make this very clear: if you are a big travel corporation and want to give us free stuff in exchange for writing about your services, I will write very positively about your fantastic, amazing, and wildly valuable services and how much we couldn’t live without them. Just have your people call my people.
Following our last blog’s how-to theme on how we sustain a life of full-time travel, we’re going to dive a little deeper into one of our principle go-to travel sites, Hotels.com, and why it’s such a big part of our travel strategy. The fact is, we have not booked a regular hotel room without using Hotels.com in nearly 3 years. There’s 2 reasons for this:
- Their booking technology rocks.
- Their rewards program rocks.
You’re certainly already familiar with Hotels.com. Their ads (TV, print, and web) feature “Captain Obvious” making ludicrously obvious statements like, “Hotels.com is a site for finding hotels.” The subtle brilliance behind this marketing campaign is the topic for a business blog, but something you might not now about Hotels.com is that they’re actually owned by travel site giant Expedia.com. Years back, I used Expedia for most of my air travel but only infrequently for hotels and rental cars. How is it that Hotels.com has managed to do a better job with just hotels than we (and presumably many other users) could do with all travel bookings at Expedia? After all, wouldn’t the one-stop-shopping of the parent site be better than the specialization of Hotels.com?
That, actually, is the reason that Hotels.com’s booking technology rocks. Hotels.com’s tools to search and find hotels (just what Captain Obvious says they are), are way better than any of the search-for-anything sites, including that of their parent company. Specialization is great, especially when it comes to lodging. Like most travelers, there are only a couple of factors driving our decision to buy airfare and car rentals: price and availability. But when it comes to hotels, there are also location, comfort, cleanliness, and safety. The tools to find hotels need that additional specialization to support our—and your—decision.
Hotels.com has a fine website, but most of our bookings with them are done using their apps. It seems obvious (with a nod to the Captain) that the Hotels.com people put a huge amount of thought into making their mobile apps—both phone and tablet—easy to use and chock-full of decision-support information from pictures to reviews to pricing options. The apps are so wonderfully useful it scares me when they update them because I fear them screwing them up. If you do any amount of travel, do yourself a favor and download the Hotels.com app—and if you don’t have a tablet, their tablet edition of the app is one of the reasons you should get one.
Perusing hotels in New Orleans using the Hotels.com iPad app
Hotel details on the Hotels.com iPad app
Hotel details with room options and rates on the Hotels.com iPad app
Hotel pictures on the Hotels.com iPad app
While the functionality of the Hotels.com app earned our attention and use, the Hotels.com rewards program has earned our loyalty. If you’ve booked on Hotels.com using a guest account, you’ve missed out: create yourself an account and sign up for the Hotels.com rewards program. The premise of the program is the simplest on the market: every 10 nights in any hotel you book on Hotels.com you get a free night. The reality is a wee bit more complex.
If you’re like me, the first idea you had about this reward premise was something like this: cool, we’ll stay 10 nights in a cheap $50 hotel and then we’ll book our free night in a $500 luxury resort! And like me, you’d be wrong! The Hotels.com people are smart enough to know how to stay in business writing obviously great hotel-finding apps. What you actually earn for that tenth, free, night is the average value of the previous ten nights. So if you stay 10 nights at $50 a night, the value of your free night is—you really shouldn’t need a calculator for this—$50.
Another way to think of your credits is that each time you book a night on Hotels.com you “bank” 10% of that reservation; once you have accumulated 10 nights of bookings, you can apply that little pot of gold toward a free night. This is so simple, in fact, that whenever we look at a Hotels.com price, we automatically take 10% off the top—a $100 hotel is actually only going to cost us $90 when we figure in the reward’s value.
To maximize the value of that free night, you obviously wouldn’t want to have a free night valued at $100 and stay in a $50 hotel: you’ll simply lose that other $50. Instead, find a hotel for $100 or just above; if you don’t have the opportunity to use the full value of the free night you’ve earned, just hold on to that free night until you do: Hotels.com won’t mind, and they only expire if you stop using Hotels.com for a year. So as long as you keep on booking with them, you can accumulate months of free nights that never expire.
Here are a few more notes about the Hotels.com rewards program to keep in mind:
- Your rewards credits are granted after you’ve completed your visit, not when you book them. In other words, you can’t book an 11-night stay and expect the last night to be free. The reason for this is that most reservations still allow for cancelation: if you cancel, you won’t get the credits. And Hotels.com will need to get confirmation from the hotel that you completed the stay.
- If you pay for the reservation on Hotels.com, credit is granted faster. When you book on Hotels.com, sometimes you have the option to “pay later”, meaning when you check in at the hotel. If you take this option, your credits are often applied more slowly because not only does Hotels.com need confirmation from the hotel that you actually stayed, they also need to know if you changed the room type or reservation in any way and paid more or less than you originally booked.
- Not all hotels allow you to earn rewards credits, and not all hotels allow you to use your credits for free nights. When you browse hotels at Hotels.com, there are two filters you can use: one to show hotels where you can collect nights, and one to show hotels where you can redeem free nights.
- Hotels.com represents most, but not all, major hotel chains and lots of independent hotels too. You’re likely to find hotels on Hotels.com that you won’t find anywhere else and that might not even have their own website.
- Many of the big chains will allow you to earn credits in their own, internal rewards programs too. For example, if you book a room for 4 nights at the Marriott through Hotels.com, ask the front desk when you check in if you can give them your Marriott rewards number. Some reservation rates may be “rock bottom” and not allow it, but many will, meaning that not only are you earning Hotels.com rewards but also Marriott rewards.
- Expedia is the actual booker for your Hotels.com reservation. Often when you check into a hotel you booked on Hotels.com the front desk clerk will ask if you booked on Expedia. It’s confusing at first, but just remember that Hotels.com is owned by Expedia.