In an era of blended travel, meaning tacking on a weekend vacation rental to a business trip in a hotel, Expedia's new loyalty program would be flexible enough to accommodate this sort of trip mashup.
Expedia Group, which is combining its Expedia and Hotels.com rewards programs and extending it to Vrbo, hopes its upcoming One Key program will be used by regular people, or relatively infrequent travelers, and not just those who board first at the front of the line on major airlines.
One Key is officially slated to launch “in mid-2023,” but the debut might be as soon as June. When the new loyalty plan launches, it will be U.S. only. Expedia Group has been emailing the 168 million members of its various loyalty programs — several Expedia brands have their own programs now — about various details about the new unified loyalty program.
The consolidation of Expedia Group’s various loyalty schemes into one is part of its overall push to simplify the company’s far-flung operations, and to eliminate the complexity of several of its own loyalty plans competing against one another. Over the past couple of years, the Group has also dropped some brands, and combined various teams that were working at cross-purposes at times for its nearly two dozen brands.
Travelers with a One Key account will be able to pile up OneKeyCash and use it on eligible bookings through Expedia, Hotels.com, and Vrbo — the Group’s recently anointed three core brands. It would be the first time that loyalty program members would be able to use rewards cash for Vrbo’s vacation rentals.
One Key members who book a four-night hotel stay and a roundtrip flight would advance from the lowest Blue status to the Silver tier, where they would save 15 percent at participating hotels instead of 10 percent at the lower rung, the company said.
The formerly separate and disparate Expedia Rewards and Hotels.com Rewards programs, the latter of which offered “1 reward night for every 10 nights you stay,” will be consolidated into One Key and extended to Vrbo, which didn’t have a loyalty scheme. The 168 million members of the Expedia Group rewards programs would be able to earn and burn OneKeyCash on all three brands while previously there was no such cross-brand utility.
To qualify for a One Key account on day one, Expedia Group customers must have created an account in the U.S. on Expedia, Hotels.com or Vrbo, the company said. Expedia said members of its Orbitz Rewards program and other Expedia Group customers will be able to join One Key, as well.
Not everyone will be happy about the transition from Hotels.com Rewards to One Key.
“Suffice it to say that this represents a massive gutting of Hotels.com Rewards,” said a One Mile At a Time post. “Savvy travelers will go from earning the equivalent of a 10% reward on their stays, to earning the equivalent of 2% back on their stays. While you can earn up to 6% on some stays, this requires being Platinum, and only applies at ‘eligible VIP Access properties.'”
However, an Expedia Group spokesperson said “95 percent of Hotels.com Rewards members do not earn enough stamps to redeem in a given year.”
Expedia is also ending its existing triple bonus points on stays at its VIP Access hotels. Rewards on package bookings — typically flights plus hotel — can still be earned, but members won’t be able to use their OneKeyCash to redeem package bookings.
In addition to the benefits to travelers, Expedia touted the upside to suppliers, who “will have access to high value travelers who are incremental to their own members.”
“Unlike some competitors, Expedia Group funds the base earn and use for OneKeyCash,” Expedia Group stated.
That latter statement could be a dig at Booking.com. Participating hotels fund a substantial portion of its Genius loyalty program rewards.
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Photo credit: Expedia is consolidating its loyalty programs. Pictured are travelers relaxing in a garden. Source: Unsplash/Priscilla Du Preez Priscilla Du Preez / Unsplash