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Confused by byzantine hotel loyalty programs? Don’t travel often enough to earn top-tier status? You might be a good candidate for an OTA (online travel agency) rewards program. These loyalty programs offer far more flexibility with fewer complications than standard hotel loyalty programs, which tie you to a particular brand.
Deciding which loyalty program to choose is also an important piece of the hotel credit card puzzle. Knowing which program is right for you is an important first step toward choosing the right card.
We’ve written about the benefits and simplicity of the Hotels.com Rewards program previously. Here, we pit it against the Orbitz Rewards program in a head-to-head OTA loyalty program showdown.
Earning and redeeming rewards
Both programs offer reward systems that pay you back for booking travel through their platforms. But they vary in important ways.
Orbitz rewards come in the form of “Orbucks,” which are credits that can be used to book hotels through Orbitz. The number of Orbucks you earn depends on what you're booking. Here’s the breakdown:
Orbucks earned (percent of amount spent)
Hotels booked through Orbitz.com
Hotels booked through Orbitz app
Flights and vacation packages
That 2% bonus on hotels booked through the app is a pretty strong incentive in terms of earning more Orbucks, but a pain for those who would rather compare and research hotels on a computer. The latter is often much easier.
And note that the 1% back on flights is in addition to whatever miles you earn from the airline itself (and the credit card you use to book it — more on that later). So although 1% might not seem like much, it’s more like a cherry on top of the other rewards.
Note: Both Orbitz and Hotels.com offer rewards based on the cost of your hotel and flights excluding taxes and fees. That might not seem like a huge deal, but for certain destinations, taxes and fees can make up a surprising fraction of the total cost.
Redeeming Orbucks is very simple. At checkout, you can apply any Orbucks you’ve earned to any hotel booking, with no blackout dates. You don’t have to have enough Orbucks to cover the cost of the booking (unlike Hotels.com rewards), which can make them more valuable depending on how often you're booking hotels.
Keep in mind that while you can earn Orbucks on flights, you can’t use them to pay for flights.
Hotels.com uses a different reward structure that acts more like a coffee shop punch card: Book 10 hotel nights through Hotels.com and earn a 10th night free. No points, restrictions or blackout dates.
The value of the free night is based on the average value of the 10 nights that earned it. This amounts to a 10% return on Hotels.com spending, which is pretty spectacular, especially given that it requires almost no effort to use it. However, unlike Orbucks, you don’t accrue any value until all 10 nights have been accrued, making it less valuable for infrequent travelers.
Unfortunately, starting on Nov. 27, 2019, Hotels.com will charge $5 for reward nights booked through the website; this fee is waived for app bookings. This is a nuisance, but it doesn’t really affect the award value if you avoid it.
Winner: Hotels.com rewards
While Orbitz rewards offer a good earning and redeeming structure (including add-on earning from flight purchases), the effective 10% back rate on Hotels.com is hard to beat.
The biggest caveat is that Hotels.com rewards only kick in after 10 nights are booked, so those looking for immediate kick-backs might do better with Orbitz.
Both programs have credit cards that offer added benefits when used to book travel through them. The cards are not necessary — you don’t need them in order to take advantage of these rewards programs. But like any hotel credit card, they can help you maximize rewards.
The Orbitz Rewards® Visa® Card has a $0 annual fee, and the welcome bonus is as follows: Receive a $100 statement credit when you spend $1,500 with your Orbitz Rewards® Visa® in the first 90 days of account opening.
But the real value comes from using this card to book flights and hotels on Orbitz, where it earns 5% extra Orbucks. For hotel bookings made through the app, this comes out to 10% back in the form of Orbucks (5% from regular earning and 5% from the credit card bonus). That’s terrific for a card that carries a $0 annual fee — though the 2% earned on other purchases is only OK. The card also includes complimentary Orbitz Gold status, but, as we’ll explain in the next section, that’s hardly something to write home about.
If you plan to spend a bunch on Orbitz and want to earn some extra Orbucks, the Orbitz Rewards® Visa® Card is a good addition to your wallet with little downside.
» Learn more: Orbitz Rewards Visa review: Stellar rates, complex terms
Hotels.com doesn’t have its own branded credit card, but it has partnered with the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card for a spectacular promotion that offers 10x Capital One miles per $1 spent using the card via Hotels.com/venture. (Note: This offer expired in January 2020.)
» Learn more: Why you should consider switching loyalty to Hotels.com
The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card offers an attractive sign-up bonus: Enjoy a one-time bonus of 60,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $600 in travel. The annual fee is $95.
The Orbitz Rewards® Visa® Card is a solid $0 fee card that can add a lot more value for frequent Orbitzers.
Most importantly, it’s an actual co-branded card, while the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is only a temporary promotional partner of Hotels.com.
Both programs offer “elite status” to frequent users, but calling it that is honestly a bit of a stretch. They’re both more like nice bonuses for loyalists than full-fledged elite status offerings when compared to typical hotel elite programs.
That said, let’s get into how they stack up:
Orbitz offers two elite tiers: Gold and Platinum. They also have a Silver status level, but that’s just base membership.
Both tiers provide free Wi-Fi, breakfast and waived resort fees, “etc.” at VIP hotels — but if that sounds vague and non-committal, you’re not wrong. These benefits are only offered at participating partner hotels, and Orbitz provides no clear way to surface these hotels in search results. This bonus might offer some surprise value from time to time, but we wouldn’t count on it.
Platinum status, which is earned after 12 hotel nights in a calendar year, offers a few more tangible benefits, including complimentary TSA membership as well as up to $50 in reimbursements toward seat upgrades, pet fees and more. However, to get this benefit, you must submit a receipt of the expense for reimbursement, which is a lot of hassle for so little money.
Hotels.com has two tiers: Silver and Gold, which are earned after 10 and 30 nights in a calendar year, respectively.
Silver status really doesn’t offer much — just a dedicated customer service line, a few additional guarantees and “VIP access.” Gold status isn’t much better, including the same benefits as Silver plus room upgrades and other perks when staying at “VIP Access properties.” Again, it’s hard to know how often (if ever) you’ll stumble on one of these properties in Hotels.com’s enormous catalog. So don’t count on reaping much value there.
Again, neither of these programs offers anywhere close to the value of traditional hotel elite status programs. Neither, for example, includes bonus rewards earnings — even for top-tier elites.
That said, Orbitz’s program offers a few more real, solid benefits for Platinum members.
Overall winner: Orbitz
Though its rewards structure isn’t as lucrative on paper as Hotel’s.com’s, Orbitz's rewards program is simpler and more immediately rewarding. When paired with the $0-fee Orbitz Rewards® Visa® Card, your reward earnings can really stack up.
Neither elite status program wowed us, but remember these aren’t traditional hotel loyalty programs. They’re for those of us who would sacrifice some comforts and red-carpet treatment for more flexibility and simplicity when booking hotels.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card