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American’s Hotel Booking Bonus May Be a Bad Deal

Booking travel has never been easy.

Who has the best deal—the lowest price, the best loyalty bonus, the most customer-friendly terms?

There’s no definitive answer to that question. Sometimes you’ll find better deals on the airline or hotel websites, sometimes not. Sometimes third-party distributors have the best deals, sometimes not. If there were a reliably superior booking solution, everyone would use it, always, squeezing the other channels out of business.

The confusion, in other words, is a natural byproduct of competition and therefore to be expected.

What consumers also have a right to expect, though, is sufficient information—clearly and simply presented—to make an informed choice among the available options.

This new promotion from American is a textbook case of compounding the confusion by failing to reveal a key aspect of the offer.

Offer Details

Through October 11, members of American’s AAdvantage program will earn 500 bonus miles for every hotel stay booked on AA.com and completed by August 31, 2011.

American claims to have more than 60,000 hotels available for sale, and promises to refund the difference if the buyer finds a comparable stay at a lower price.

Deal or No Deal

All things being equal, a bonus is better than no bonus, and a bigger bonus is better than a smaller bonus.

But are all things equal?

When choosing where to book a hotel, there are several considerations, including price and loyalty program bonuses.

It’s a straightforward matter to compare the AA.com room rates with those offered on the hotels’ own websites, or through such online travel agencies as Orbitz and Travelocity.

If it turns out that the prices are more or less the same, loyalty points could be the difference-maker. And if the American bonus miles are in addition to the points normally earned through the hotels’ own frequent-stay programs, booking through AA.com would appear to be the better deal.

So, are the AAdvantage miles combinable with the points awarded by the hotel programs? I searched AA.com in vain for 15 minutes looking for an answer to that question. If it’s there, I couldn’t find it. Which means that others can’t find it either. And that suggests that at least some travelers are booking on AA.com under the assumption that they’ll earn both AAdvantage miles and hotel points for their stays.

They’ll be disappointed.

In response to my query about the combinability of the AAdvantage bonus with Marriott’s upcoming MegaBonus promotion, a Marriott representative said this: "If you book and pay for your stay with a third party, including AA, then it is not eligible for points and MegaBonus." That’s the policy of other hotels as well.

Language to that effect should be posted prominently on AA.com—and in the hotel-booking sections of the websites of Continental, Delta, United, and any other airlines that sell hotel room nights.

While full disclosure is always a best practice, it’s especially important today. This is a period of particularly vigorous hotel promotional activity, so taking advantage of the American bonus could preclude your participation in a significantly more valuable promotion from the likes of Hilton, Marriott, or Starwood.

Bottom line: Be sure to consider both the price and loyalty points when comparing the value propositions offered by AA.com and other travel suppliers and distributors. And unless you have evidence to the contrary, assume that loyalty points from the airline or hotel cannot be combined with bonuses offered by third-party distributors.

Reader Reality Check

Have you ever booked a hotel stay on an airline website?

Did you assume you’d earn the normal points awarded by the hotel loyalty program?

Did you earn them?

  • donh

    Its a rotten deal on many counts one because the industry conspired to eliminate program earnings once not booked through one of their so called approved booking channels where they try to control pricing to a maximum.Off topic that created good guests and bad guests in the eyes of many in the industry.Second Consumer Reports years ago found Hotels.com to be amongst the highest priced sources for online hotel rooms.So yes the bonus in this case is a very bad thing on all counts.If you are going to not earn in a program save yourself a lot and go on Priceline but no what you are doing by going on biddingfortravel so if one is not experienced one knows how to not over bid
    Why buy from Hotels.com.Their customer service was dreadful years ago though I cannot vouch if they have improved.Even if they have its a site for many that most likely don’t know what they are doing.It is a good reference site however I always buy elsewhere
    American makes money selling the miles and Hotels.com makes money selling rooms for the same or more than any place else online
    Let the buyer beware.That said it may work in a rare situation so I will never say never :)

  • Lew Irwin

    I only recently became aware that Starwood hotels also maintain an either-or policy. Moreover, if your profile lists an airline frequent flyer program as the default primary rewards program, they apparently round off the number of points that are transferred to the airline account. On a recent trip, I spent $380 for my hotel room, but 500 Starpoints were deducted from my hotel account and transferred to my AAdvantage account — meaning that my Starpoints account was depleted by 120 points.