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Third-party booking sites trip up hotel rewards

Hotels can be stingy about offering rewards when booking through third-party sites

By

Cashing In
Cashing In columnist Tony Mecia
Tony Mecia is a business journalist who writes for a number of trade and general-interest publications. He writes "Cashing In," a weekly column about credit card rewards programs, for CreditCards.com

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Question Dear Cashing In,
I have a company MasterCard that is used for hotel expenses. When I book my travel through our company travel agency, I have not been able to receive reward points because the hotel states that I can't receive credit because the booking was made through a third-party service (such as Expedia). Is there a way for me to still receive credit? If so, how can this be accomplished? -- Ettienne

Answer Dear Ettienne,
Reward programs can be a pretty sweet deal for business travelers: Your company picks up the tab for travel, and you rack up the reward points for a future vacation.

That's the way it usually works for airlines. Unfortunately, when it comes to hotels, you're probably not going to be able to accumulate points if your employer requires you to book through an outside agency.

Unlike airlines, hotels often pay a commission to third-party websites when travelers book through them. Because of that practice, the hotels are unwilling to also award points for those stays. The terms and conditions of hotel reward programs make clear that rooms booked through outside sites or vendors are ineligible for reward points.

Marriott: "Rooms booked through third-party online retailers, such as Expedia.com, Orbitz.com, Travelocity.com, Hotels.com, Booking.com, Priceline, etc., are not eligible for Points or Elite night credit."

Hilton: "Specifically excluded ... are the following types of ineligible stays: wholesaler/tour operator packages ... travel agency discount rates ... third-party websites bookings (irrespective of rate paid)."

Hyatt: "'Ineligible Rates' are discounted rates, including ... any free night stays, Third-Party Internet Rates (examples include priceline.com, hotels.com, Expedia and Travelocity), traditional wholesale rates (examples include GOGO Worldwide Vacations, Pleasant Holidays, etc.)"

The rule typically is that to receive hotel points, you must book the room through the hotel itself.

Now, just because a rule exists doesn't mean that it's always enforced. We've probably all had travel experiences where, because of human intervention, rules have been bent in our favor.

You might try calling the hotel ahead of your arrival and making sure it has your rewards account number -- without that, you certainly won't receive points. Same when you check in at the front desk. And you could always try to claim reward credit for the stay after you check out and return home.

These strategies could work but probably have low odds of success, because the computers used by customer service agents and front desk personnel can show exactly how you booked the room, and they probably know that outside bookings are ineligible for reward points. But it might be worth a shot.

Of course, you can still earn hotel points by paying for your room with a credit card that gives hotel points for each purchase. For instance, if you pay Expedia for a Hilton hotel room and use a Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature card, you would earn 2 points per dollar spent, just as you would on other purchases. Most of these hotel cards supercharge the earning power if you use them directly at the hotels. In this case, if you paid Hilton for a room or charged room service or a spa treatment on the Citi Hilton card, you would earn 6 points per dollar.

As an aside, if you have frequent traveler status with a hotel -- the kind that gives you room upgrades, free Wi-Fi, late checkout and the like -- you still might be able to receive those perks, even if you book through an outside service. Hotel terms and conditions vary on that point, and front desk workers are more likely to be flexible in doling those out.

So that might be a bright spot for you, Ettienne, even if you can't receive the reward points that you're seeking.

See related: Who owns frequent flier miles from a corporate credit card?, How to keep points from a company credit card, Supercharging rewards from online travel agencies

Meet CreditCards.com's reader Q&A experts
Vexed by a personal finance problem? CreditCards.com's Q&A experts answer questions from readers every weekday. Ask a question, or click on any expert to see their previous answers.
Gary Foreman, New Frugal You columnist Gary Foreman,
"New Frugal You"
Sally Herigstad, To Her Credit columnist Sally Herigstad,
"To Her Credit"
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"Cashing In"
Barry Paperno, Speaking of Credit columnist Barry Paperno,
"Speaking of Credit"
Elaine Pofeldt, Your Business Credit columnist Elaine Pofeldt,
"Your Business Credit"
Erica Sandberg, Opening Credits columnist Erica Sandberg,
"Opening Credits"

Published: August 5, 2014



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