Editor’s note: This post was updated with new information.
Expedia Group has officially unified and expanded the loyalty programs across its family of brands, which includes Expedia, Hotels.com and vacation rental site Vrbo. The Seattle-based company calls the new program “the most complete travel rewards offering in the industry.”
In addition to the new loyalty program, Expedia Group is beginning to roll out new products to make planning, booking and taking trips easier.
While some previous super-users of the former Hotels.com program may not welcome the changes, other consumers could benefit.
Here’s what we know.
What is Expedia’s new One Key loyalty program?
The new loyalty program is called One Key and officially launched Thursday. The unified program is free to join and has different tiers that unlock progressively more rewarding benefits the deeper you go with the program.
You’ll earn points and tier credit for everything from hotel stays and car rentals to activities and home rentals, and now even airfare.
The new program brings together existing programs — Expedia Rewards and Hotels.com Rewards — and will, for the first time, offer customers rewards through brands like Vrbo that had no prior loyalty program. The company says, “You will be able to earn and use OneKeyCash (our rewards currency) on eligible stays on Hotels.com, plus eligible vacation rentals on Vrbo, and eligible flights, hotels, rental cars, and more on Expedia.”
Expedia told TPG that Orbitz Rewards members will eventually have the opportunity to join One Key, too, and they won’t lose the value of any of their rewards.
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Note that if you already had an account with Expedia, Hotels.com or Vrbo, in most cases, you will be automatically migrated to One Key. Vrbo account holders will need to accept new terms and conditions. Not all users will be transitioned to the new platform immediately.
Expedia’s former loyalty programs were all very different. For instance, with Expedia Rewards, you’d generally earn 2 points for every $1 you’d spend with the program on hotels (a 1.4% return), cars, packages and things to do, and 1 point per $5 spent on flights (0.14% return).
The previous Hotels.com program offered a unique (and rewarding) earning structure: a reward night for every 10 nights you stayed. It was worth a dollar amount equal to an average of the 10 paid nights it took to earn it.
How do you earn rewards in Expedia One Key?
The rewards you earn in the One Key program are pretty easy to understand.
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. While that doesn’t sound like much of a return, OneKeyCash is on top of any airline loyalty program rewards and credit card rewards you already earn.
The account holder who makes the booking earns the OneKeyCash, no matter which travelers are named in the booking. This is great for those planning a big family get-together, as all OneKeyCash, including those from roundtrip flights for all family members, will be deposited in your One Key account.
There’s no need to set up a separate account for each member of the family, so multiple-player mode could help elevate your rewards-earning and status-earning potential.
Your rewards get bigger when you book stays at what the company calls “VIP Access properties.” In One Key’s Silver tier, for example, your OneKeyCash earnings go up by 50%. It’s two times more when you reach the Gold tier and three times more when you reach the Platinum tier.
Note that most “Pay Now” bookings will hit your account within three days after the trip is over. “Pay Later” and all Vrbo bookings can take up to 90 days to hit your account.
How much are One Key rewards worth?
You get a 1:1 dollar value in OneKeyCash when redeeming for eligible travel.
Program rewards are called OneKeyCash, and can be used for the partial or full cost of any Pay Now bookings at participating vacation rentals and hotels, as well as car rentals and activities. Every dollar in OneKeyCash will be a dollar you can have taken off the price of a vacation rental, hotel, car or activity.
According to Expedia, “To use OneKeyCash on a flight, you will need enough OneKeyCash to cover the entire cost of your eligible flight, including taxes and fees, and may not add any optional extras like checked bags or seat assignments. You can purchase those extras after booking your ticket.”
You can’t get cash for your OneKeyCash, and you can’t transfer it to other members, but you can redeem your OneKeyCash for travel completed by friends and family.
What are the status tiers in One Key?
The new program has four status levels that are reached by achieving a certain number of “trip elements” in a year. The more trip elements you book, the higher status you earn. Trip elements are the different parts of a trip, though each has to be worth at least $25 to qualify.
One Key trip elements include:
- One air ticket (one-way or round-trip)
- One hotel room night (each night counts as an element)
- One night in a vacation rental
- One night on a cruise
- One-day car rental
- One round-trip ground transportation ticket (airport shuttles, transfers, etc.)
- One activity ticket (a private tour, a theme park ticket, etc.)
Blue is the entry-level status with no account activity required. You’ll need five trip elements to qualify for Silver status. For Gold, you’ll need to have 15 trip elements, and for Platinum, you’ll need 30 trip elements.
Expedia points out as an example, ” … if you booked 2 nights in a hotel and a 3-day car rental, you’d earn 5 trip elements, enough to reach Silver tier status in one trip.”
What happens if you had earned Hotels.com nights or other awards before One Key?
Expedia says any eligible activity in 2022 and 2023 (up to the date you become a One Key Member) across your Expedia and Hotels.com accounts counts toward your tier status.
For example, if you had 100 Expedia Rewards points, it will become $1 OneKeyCash.
If you earned a free Hotels.com $100 reward night in your account, it becomes $100 OneKeyCash. If you had less than 10 stamps and were working on earning a free night, you’ll get 10% of the value of each stamp collected. So if you had three stamps from $100-per-night hotel stays, it would become $30 in OneKeyCash.
Here’s what a current Hotels.com account page shows, including the potential value of one stamp in the old Hotels.com program.
That stamp should convert automatically to about $29.30 worth of OneKeyCash in the new program at 10% of the value of the $293 hotel night.
Who the new One Key program is good for
“One Key, with its flexibility, discounts, perks and one currency, is a simple rewards program for the everyday traveler,” Laura Lopez, Expedia Group’s head of U.S. media relations, told TPG. “And we can’t forget Vrbo is (finally) included, which is a massive win for loyalty program enthusiasts looking to earn off their vacation rental bookings.”
Indeed, the infrequent traveler — especially one who books for the whole family — may be the biggest beneficiary since they can use one program for all their travel and know they’ll earn rewards on their trips that they can turn into additional travel.
Who the new One Key program isn’t great for
As mentioned, power users of the Hotels.com reward program will likely be the ones most disappointed with this change since they are losing access to a nearly 10% rebate on hotel stays. Under the old program for Hotels.com, if you booked 10 nights through the website or app, you earned one free night with a value equivalent to the average cost of your 10 paid nights (excluding taxes and fees).
The new program does offer a rebate for hotel bookings, but not nearly as generous.
There are bright spots, though. You can start earning rewards after your first hotel booking instead of waiting until 10 stays … or worse, risk having the nights expire on you. Also, you could earn as much as 6% back on some stays as a Platinum One Key member. However, that does require Platinum status (achieved after 30 ” trip elements”), and it only applies to certain eligible VIP Access properties.
Other new One Key features
In addition to the new loyalty program, Expedia is rolling out new products that should make planning, booking and taking trips easier. The new program will also have discounts on more than 100,000 hotels, including up to 20% off bookings done through One Key.
Expedia tells TPG there will also be property credits and discounts available at many hotels and resorts, which may include free breakfast, vouchers or price reductions on food and beverages, spa credits and even waived resort fees: “We have thousands of hotel partners, both independent and chains, offering members perks.”
Expedia told TPG that there are also several other ways for select members to save, including:
- Booking a member-only deal – One example? A Gold member (15-plus trip elements) can score 20% or more savings on some hotels.
- Booking “VIP Access” properties – Expedia has deals at certain hotels and resorts that give you special perks and allow you to double your earning rate as a Gold member.
- Book a package – If you book a vacation package, including flights, you’ll earn 2% in rewards on flights versus 0.2% on stand-alone flights.
The new features will also include a price match promise for airfare, price tracking and predictions, trip boards, and self-service for cruise and flight changes.
It’s too early to say for sure how much of a value-add some of these new features and discounts will be, but we’ll continue to monitor and run some tests in the coming weeks and months.
Those who were used to what was essentially a 10% “rebate” on Hotels.com nights via the old stamps program will likely see reduced rewards-earning power from this program that rewards 2% back on those stays.
However, travelers who didn’t travel frequently enough to have 10 eligible stays with Hotels.com and instead booked for large family groups or had a mix of hotel and Vrbo spending now have a way to pool all of those earnings in one program. Adding to the value is that you can redeem the rewards you earn as you go instead of waiting until you hit 10 eligible hotel stays or risk having them expire before you can get around to earning or using them.
No one program is the right match for all travelers. However, infrequent travelers, those who like to rent homes with Vrbo, or those who have a wide mix of bookings now have a way to pool those rewards in one program.
Additional reporting by Benji Stawski.