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The best ways to book hotels through online travel agencies and bank portals

The Points Guy logo The Points Guy 6/22/2021 Katie Genter
a house on a beach © Provided by The Points Guy
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with current information. 

When possible, booking directly with a hotel is the best way to make your reservation. This ensures you earn hotel points, your stay counts toward elite status qualification, any elite status benefits you have are recognized and if you need to make changes, it’s much easier to deal directly with a property.

a group of palm trees with a blue umbrella: The St. Regis Langkawi in Malaysia. (Photo by Ethan Steinberg/The Points Guy) © The Points Guy The St. Regis Langkawi in Malaysia. (Photo by Ethan Steinberg/The Points Guy)

That said, let’s look at when it may be necessary — or get you a better deal — to book hotels through an online travel agency or bank portal. We’ll also consider the best ways to maximize your reservation.

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When to book through an OTA or bank portal

There are now hundreds of online travel agencies and apps focusing on hotel bookings, thanks to the commissions paid to the agency. Most readers will recognize the popular OTAs in the U.S. as Agoda, Expedia, Hotels.com, Hotwire, Priceline and Travelocity.

Switching to bank portals, you’re probably familiar with these banks that offer portals that allow you to book hotels: American Express Travel, Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts, Amex Hotel Collection, Citi ThankYou Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Chase Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection, U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo GoFar Rewards. Most banks have some type of portal or agreement with one of the above OTAs, which allows you to book travel with cash or their respective bank rewards.

a resort near the water: The Hyatt Ziva all-inclusive in Cancun. (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy) © The Points Guy The Hyatt Ziva all-inclusive in Cancun. (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Here are a few scenarios where it could make sense for you to use an online travel agency or bank portal:

The information for the Citi Prestige card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Here’s a quick recap of the value of your Amex, Chase and Citi points when used toward the cost of a hotel through their portals:

Bank Card held Hotel redemption value (per point)
Amex All Membership Rewards-earning cards 0.7 cents
Chase No-annual-fee Chase Ultimate Rewards cards including the Chase Freedom Flex and Chase Freedom Unlimited 1 cent
  Chase Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Ink Business Preferred Credit Card 1.25 cents
Chase Chase Sapphire Reserve 1.5 cents
Citi Citi Premier® Card 1.25 cents
Citi Other ThankYou point-earning cards 1 cent

Related: Amex vs. Citi vs. Chase: Which booking portal is best for hotels?

Strategies to maximize bookings

If you find yourself in one of the above situations, here are the strategies I would use when booking through an OTA or bank portal:

Use OTA rewards programs

a row of parked motorcycles sitting on top of a sandy beach: You may want to book stays at hotels outside your primary loyalty alliance through an OTA so you can earn rewards with the OTA’s rewards program. (Photo of The Farmington Hotel in Liberia by Katie Genter/The Points Guy) © The Points Guy You may want to book stays at hotels outside your primary loyalty alliance through an OTA so you can earn rewards with the OTA’s rewards program. (Photo of The Farmington Hotel in Liberia by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

Most online travel agencies have their own rewards program that equates to 1%-10% cash back per booking. The great benefit of most of these is that unlike with hotel loyalty programs, you can book for your friends, family and co-workers and get credit in the OTA rewards program for their bookings. For example, if your aunt who rarely travels needs a hotel, offer to book it for her and have her reimburse you. You’ll earn credit in the OTA program under your account.

Related: How to maximize Hotels.com Rewards for free nights and more

Check cash-back portals

Multiple online shopping portals incentivize you with cash back to shop for hotels on a particular site. I use cashbackmonitor.com to look up the OTA I want to use.

Related: Maximizing online shopping portals for your purchases

Attempt best-rate guarantee claims

Most large hotel chains challenge you to find a better price for a room on an OTA compared to their site. If you’re successful, you’ll usually receive either a percentage off the room or a flat credit back. They’re usually quite challenging to be approved. But, if you’re booking through an OTA anyway, it’s worth a peek at the hotel website to see if you can find a better price with the OTA. Remember, everything about the room and booking conditions must be identical between the hotel’s website and the OTA for the best-rate guarantee claim to be approved. And, you’ll need to complete your booking directly with the hotel if you have a successful claim.

Related: The state of the hotel best-rate guarantee

Bank portal bookings

These are pretty straightforward, since your points have a fixed redemption value. There are two tasks I complete before redeeming my points toward the revenue cost of a hotel stay. First, I do a quick calculation of transferring points to the hotel program versus redeeming through the portal to make sure I’ll use fewer points in the portal. And second, I make sure the price for the hotel in the portal either matches or nearly matches the publicly available rates.

Related: Don’t transfer points: It may be better to book an all-inclusive resort through your credit card portal

Bottom line

If I want to utilize the Citi Prestige fourth night free benefit, book an Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts stay, book a stay at an independent property or if I’m booking for friends or family, I’ll head to an OTA or bank portal rather than booking directly. But, if I’m staying with a hotel chain for which I have status or for which I want to earn status, I prefer to book directly with the hotel chain so that I can enjoy elite benefits and points earnings.

Related guides

Additional reporting by Katie Genter.

Featured photo of the Park Hyatt St. Kitts by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.

SPONSORED: With states reopening, enjoying a meal from a restaurant no longer just means curbside pickup.

And when you do spend on dining, you should use a credit card that will maximize your rewards and potentially even score special discounts. Thanks to temporary card bonuses and changes due to coronavirus, you may even be able to score a meal at your favorite restaurant for free. 

These are the best credit cards for dining out, taking out, and ordering in to maximize every meal purchase.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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