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Table of Contents
- How the One Key loyalty program works
- How to earn rewards on Vrbo, Hotels.com and Expedia
- Can you transfer OneKeyCash?
- Redeeming OneKeyCash
- Earning elite status through One Key
- How to earn One Key elite status
- One Key elite status
- Is it worth using the One Key program?
- Drawbacks of One Key
- Recap of the One Key program
Whether you’re thinking of renting a beach home or planning a multifaceted trip requiring a flight, hotel stay and car rental, you now have an opportunity to earn rewards, receive discounts and reach elite status through a new loyalty program.
One Key has replaced the existing travel rewards programs used by Hotels.com and Expedia. The inclusion of Vrbo makes it the first loyalty program among major vacation rental sites as well.
Note that there are some limitations around booking through an online travel agency, and previous Hotels.com Rewards loyalists may find earning a free night is more difficult under the new program.
However, for some travelers, One Key will provide an avenue to earn rewards for almost every element of their trip, from flights to hotels to vacation rentals to experiences.
Here are some things to know about the One Key program.
How the One Key loyalty program works
The One Key program combines the booking possibilities from three sites into a lot of earning potential. It’s probably most beneficial for the more infrequent travelers who may not stay or fly enough with one brand to earn perks but could use rewards on all of their travel spending combined.
In other words, it doesn’t matter which of the three sites you’re using. Loyalty currency you earn and elite status progress you make will all count toward a single program.
Like with most loyalty programs, One Key is free to join.
How to earn rewards on Vrbo, Hotels.com and Expedia
The One Key program will use a new loyalty currency: OneKeyCash. Members will be able to earn through:
Eligible stays on Hotels.com.
Eligible rentals on Vrbo.
Eligible flights, hotels, rental cars or activities on Expedia.
Members will receive 2% in OneKeyCash for every dollar spent on eligible hotels, vacation rentals, activities, packages, car rentals and cruises and 0.2% in OneKeyCash for every dollar spent on eligible flights. That means if you spent $100 for a hotel night, you’d earn $2 worth of OneKeyCash.
You can double dip and earn more rewards by using a travel credit card to pay for your booking and adding your frequent flyer account number to any flight reservations.
The earnings rates get higher for certain hotel reservations as members earn elite status in the One Key program.
In a nice benefit for families, whichever member makes the booking earns the rewards for their whole traveling party. So, a parent reserving flights and a hotel for the whole family would earn all of the OneKeyCash for the trip.
Can you transfer OneKeyCash?
You won’t be able to transfer OneKeyCash to another member’s account. However, you will be able to book travel for another member. So, if you have OneKeyCash in your account and no plans to use it, you can book a trip for a family member or friend with your rewards.
OneKeyCash is equal to $1. For most bookings where you pay upfront, you’ll be able to apply the OneKeyCash you’ve earned toward the cost. For example, if you had $20 worth of OneKeyCash, you could apply it to your next hotel booking on Hotels.com for a $20 discount off the total price.
There is one key exception: For flights booked with OneKeyCash, you’ll need to have enough in your account to cover the entire booking.
OneKeyCash can be used on booking participating rentals in U.S. dollars.
Earning elite status through One Key
The earnings, discounts and perks improve as you earn status in the One Key program. And because the loyalty program encompasses flights, hotels, rental cars and more, it is possible to earn elite status in just one trip.
Many major loyalty programs are built around revenue-based models for elite status, but One Key uses what it calls “trip elements.”
A trip element includes any of the following:
One air ticket.
One room night.
One vacation rental night.
One night on a cruise.
One day’s car rental.
One round-trip ground transportation ticket — like a taxi, shuttle, etc.
One activity ticket.
Trip elements must be worth $25 or more (not including taxes or fees) to count.
How to earn One Key elite status
Members reach elite status levels by accumulating trip elements. Here’s what it takes to qualify for each tier:
One Key status tier
Requirements to earn
One Key Blue
No benchmark; entry level.
One Key Silver
Five trip elements within a year.
One Key Gold
15 trip elements within a year.
One Key Platinum
30 trip elements within a year.
You can see how it’s possible to quickly reach status levels. Let’s say a member books the following as part of a trip:
A flight for a family of four (on Expedia) = 4 trip elements.
A seven-day car rental (on Expedia) = 7 trip elements.
A seven-night rental property stay (on Vrbo) = 7 trip elements.
Two activities during the week (on Expedia) = 2 trip elements.
This fairly ordinary vacation booking totals 20 trip elements, enough for the One Key member to reach Gold status and be two-thirds of the way to Platinum.
For any of these trip elements to count and to earn status and loyalty currency, the member will need to book while logged-in to their One Key account.
One Key elite status
Clearly, earning elite status in the One Key program is easy. But what does it get you?
Members who join the One Key program (known as Blue members from the outset) enjoy some limited benefits like discounts on some hotel stays and free price tracking. The latter is a great tool for finding the best deal.
Like with any tiered loyalty program, as you work your way up the ladder, you’ll retain the lower-tier benefits but accumulate new perks along the way.
Here are the perks for One Key’s elite status tiers:
Elite status tier
Trip elements required
Perks (accumulated by tier)
One Key Blue
None; entry-level status.
One Key Silver
Five trip elements.
One Key Gold
15 trip elements.
One Key Platinum
30 trip elements.
Some of the most notable benefits of elite status are the perks at VIP Access properties, which are a collection of hotels that "consistently receive the highest guest reviews on Expedia Group and meet stringent standards of quality." For flights, the price drop protection is a great way to ensure you're getting the lowest price. If your fare drops in price, you'll get the difference refunded to your account in the form of OneKeyCash.
Is it worth using the One Key program?
Though booking through an online travel agency or using the One Key loyalty program may not make sense for most avid travelers, it can certainly be helpful for others.
Here are a few of the benefits to consider.
Search a full range of options when booking
One of the compelling reasons to use an online travel agency like Expedia or Hotels.com is that it searches a wide range of brands. This can be helpful in finding the cheapest prices and, in some cases, alternative options like a small, family-run, boutique hotel off the beaten path.
Bundling your bookings
Another benefit of using a site like Expedia to book your trip is that it can help you keep all the details of your trip organized in one location, including the hotel stay, flight reservation and car rental. Sometimes, bundling can help you tap in to discounts, too.
Earn rewards for Vrbo stays
Even the most avid points, miles and travel enthusiasts will want to take advantage of Vrbo’s participation in the One Key program. Previously, there was no true way to earn rewards for stays at a Vrbo property (such as a beach house).
By logging-in to your One Key account when booking your Vrbo reservation, you'll be able to earn OneKeyCash, which you could use for a future flight, hotel stay, rental car, activity or rental property.
Great for infrequent travelers hoping to earn perks
Though online travel agencies often don’t make sense for frequent travelers who are pursuing elite status and points or miles with airline and hotel loyalty programs, the One Key program can be a great way for less frequent (or less loyal) travelers to get some return on their investment.
A weeklong Vrbo stay with an accompanying car rental and flight is enough to earn you Gold status. This alone could help you potentially enjoy a room upgrade and perhaps a food and beverage credit at your next hotel stay, when available (provided it’s at one of the program’s VIP Access hotels).
Earn for one thing, use for another
Likely the most notable benefit of the One Key program is that you can earn loyalty currency for one booking activity and use the rewards on another.
Booking a rental car will help you earn OneKeyCash and make progress toward elite status you can redeem or enjoy during a hotel stay. Booking a flight could help offset the cost of a future Vrbo stay. And so on.
The interconnectivity of the program across Expedia, Hotels.com and Vrbo’s platforms makes it possible to earn and redeem in a variety of ways.
Drawbacks of One Key
Though there are some enticing reasons to use the One Key program, there are some clear drawbacks — when it comes to the program itself and to online travel agencies more broadly.
Earning free nights harder than with Hotels.com Rewards
For travelers who have used the Hotels.com Rewards program through the years, the earning and redeeming setup of the One Key program may well come as a disappointment.
With Hotels.com’s previous program, you earned a free night by collecting “stamps” — one stamp for each night stayed, and 10 stamps got you a free night. The free night was worth the average of the rate of the 10 nights you stayed. So, if you stayed five nights at a rate of $50 and five nights at a rate of $100 (a total of $750 in spending), your free night would be worth $75 — a 10% return on your investment.
Under One Key, you get 2% OneKeyCash for every dollar spent at hotels and Vrbo properties — a significantly lower rate of return.
Harder to earn and use other hotel loyalty program benefits
Oftentimes when you use an online travel agency, you’re not able to earn points or enjoy elite status perks with a separate hotel loyalty program.
So, if you’re a frequent traveler who has reached (or is pursuing) elite status with a major hotel chain, note that you may not earn any points or elite qualifying credit for the stay with the hotel’s loyalty program. For this reason, avid travelers may be better off booking direct.
It is worth noting, though, that when it comes to booking flights, you will earn both airline miles and OneKeyCash.
Reservation changes can be more complicated
Booking through a third party (as opposed to directly with a hotel or airline) can complicate reservation changes.
For instance, airline customer service representatives frequently have more limited ability to change a ticket booked through an online travel agency. While all of these booking sites do offer their own customer service representatives and, indeed, enhanced customer support for the higher-level elite status members, having a "go-between" can often be a headache.
Elite status perks limited to certain reservations
Another noticeable weakness of the One Key loyalty program is that some of the elite status perks are confined to certain types of reservations.
Sure, you can earn and redeem OneKeyCash (and earn elite status) for a hotel stay, a flight, a rental car reservation, a cruise or an activity.
However, to fully enjoy the program’s complement of elite status benefits like property credits and upgrades, you’ll need to book a hotel through Hotels.com and Expedia — and not just any hotel; it’ll need to be one of the VIP Access properties.
Recap of the One Key program
The new program is unlikely to be a groundbreaking option for the most experienced travelers. And Hotels.com Rewards loyalists may find the path to a free night a bit trickier.
But it does make it possible to earn rewards on one site and redeem on another — particularly for those who frequently rent vacation homes with Vrbo. And it figures to give even more infrequent travelers a path to elite status.
Regardless of whether you’re booking with Expedia, Hotels.com or Vrbo, be sure to use a travel credit card that offers bonus earnings categories for general travel purchases, which will allow you to rack up credit card rewards on top of your earnings in the One Key program.
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 2023, 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