Will One Key Rewards Make Hotel Loyalty Programs Obsolete?

Hotel loyalty programs can provide valuable benefits to frequent travelers who stick with one brand. Still, it can be difficult for the average traveler to earn elite status — or even collect enough points to use them for an award stay.

One Key Rewards, a new loyalty program from a trio of travel providers, could be a great option for travelers who want to earn rewards while staying at any hotel. Read on to learn what makes the One Key Rewards loyalty program different, how to earn elite status and what benefits the program offers.

Benefits of hotel loyalty programs

Signing up for hotel loyalty programs is free, and you can usually establish an account within a few minutes. You’ll start earning rewards and credits toward elite status with your first stay, but reaching the number of nights required to earn status can be difficult. Some programs require 30 to 50 nights to reach mid-tier elite status.

When you reach elite status with your preferred hotel loyalty program, you’ll receive benefits depending on the program and the tier you qualify for. Some typical benefits of hotel loyalty programs include:

  • Bonus points on paid stays.

  • Exclusive member rates and promotions.

  • Complimentary breakfast, food and beverage vouchers or lounge access.

Keep in mind that you’ll need to stick with one brand to maximize your rewards and maintain elite status. This can be a challenge when your chosen brand’s prices are higher than competing hotels or when its locations aren’t convenient for your travel needs.

Many travelers persevere and deal with the inconvenience in the name of loyalty — but paying more or staying at a less-than-ideal location doesn’t always make sense.

How is One Key Rewards different?

With One Key Rewards, you can earn rewards and elite status no matter which hotel, resort or vacation property you stay at. You can also earn rewards and elite credits for travel activities, rental cars, flights and more booked through its participating websites.

By comparison, hotel loyalty programs typically award elite status based only on hotel stays and spending on co-branded credit cards.

Which brands does One Key Rewards work with?

Before the launch of One Key Rewards in the summer of 2023, these websites operated their rewards programs independently. Now, they work together to reward travelers for hotels, vacation rentals, flights and activities booked on any of these three participating websites.

  • Expedia.com: An online travel agency that offers hotels, flights, cruises, rental cars, travel packages and activities around the world.

  • Hotels.com: A booking portal offering deals and discounts on accommodations at major hotel chains, independent hotels, bed and breakfasts, apartments and private vacation homes.

🤓Nerdy Tip

One Key Rewards is the only rewards program offered by a major short-term vacation rental brand.

How to earn and redeem One Key Rewards

The reward currency of the One Key loyalty program is called OneKeyCash, and all members earn 2% OneKeyCash on every dollar spent on eligible hotels, vacation rentals, cruises, car rentals, trip activities and packages.

Eligible flights earn 0.2% OneKeyCash. These rewards are in addition to miles and points earned through airline, hotel, cruise or rental car loyalty programs.

Unlike other loyalty programs, the person booking the trip earns all of the OneKeyCash. So if you book a trip for your family, friends, co-workers or anyone else, all the rewards will be deposited into your account.

If you choose the “Pay Now” option for your booking, your OneKeyCash deposits into your account within three days of completing your trip. For “Pay Later” options or Vrbo bookings, you’ll receive the rewards 45 to 90 days after trip completion.

You can redeem your OneKeyCash any time after it’s deposited into your account. You can use it to pay for part or all of a “Pay Now” booking or participating vacation rentals. To book a flight with OneKeyCash, you’ll need enough rewards to cover the entire cost of the flight, including taxes and fees.

How to earn One Key elite status

There are four tiers of elite status with One Key Rewards, with each subsequent level offering additional rewards and benefits. Members achieve higher levels of elite status based on the number of trip elements purchased each year.

The four elite status levels for One Key Rewards and the number of trip elements required to reach them are:

  • One Key Blue: 0-4 trip elements. 

  • One Key Silver: 5 trip elements.

  • One Key Gold: 15 trip elements.

  • One Key Platinum: 30 trip elements.

What is a trip element and how do they add up?

Trip elements are the individual components of a trip that travelers can book through Expedia.com, Hotels.com or Vrbo.com. Members earn one trip element for each of the following:

  • One air ticket (one way or round trip).

  • One night in a vacation rental.

  • One round trip ground transportation ticket (e.g., airport shuttles or transfers).

  • One activity ticket (e.g., a private tour or theme park ticket).

To qualify, each trip element must cost at least $25, excluding taxes and fees.

To get an idea of how these elements add up, let’s take a look at a weekend trip to Florida for a family of four:

This one trip can earn 15 trip elements, qualifying you for One Key Gold status.

Not only can you qualify for elite status with different elements of your vacation, but the qualifications for higher levels of status are generally much lower than what most hotel loyalty programs require.

What benefits are available with One Key Rewards elite status?

Similar to hotel loyalty programs, One Key Rewards members receive benefits and rewards based on their status level. The chart below highlights the benefits at each elite level when booking a trip through participating sites or mobile apps.

Member savings on bookings

Free flight price tracking on Expedia app

OneKeyCash earnings bonus on VIP Expedia and Hotels.com properties

Extra perk, like food or beverage discount, at VIP properties

Late checkout or early check-in at VIP hotels, when available

Room upgrades at VIP hotels, when available

Free Price Drop Protection on Expedia.com flight bookings

Free priority traveler support

Free Platinum VIP traveler support

Who can benefit the most from One Key Rewards?

While all travelers can benefit from One Key Rewards, those who may enjoy it the most are those who aren’t loyal to a specific hotel brand.

These travelers may be searching for the best deal to stretch their travel budget or want to book a property in a specific city or part of town. Instead of paying a higher price or booking an out-of-the-way hotel just to earn points or elite status with a hotel, they may be better off with One Key Rewards.

That said, those who enjoy the perks of hotel elite status, like room upgrades, late checkout and food or drink vouchers, may find it worth it to make some compromises when selecting a hotel. Similar benefits are only available to One Key Gold and Platinum members at certain VIP Access hotels.

Travelers booking multiple trip elements can also benefit from One Key Rewards. Most hotel brands don’t offer rewards or elite status for booking flights, rental cars, tour activities or cruises.

If you book each element separately, you’ll end up with rewards spread across multiple platforms — but still not have enough points to book a free flight or hotel stay with any of them. One Key Rewards make it possible to earn rewards on each trip element in one place toward future travel.

One Key Rewards vs. other hotel loyalty programs

Before the launch of One Key Rewards, travelers would accumulate rewards across multiple airline, hotel and other travel loyalty programs. For the average traveler, it could take years to earn enough rewards in one of those programs before being able to redeem them for a flight or hotel stay.

Earning elite status can be even more challenging. Travelers often pay higher prices or stay at distant hotels just to chase hotel elite status. One Key Rewards enables travelers to earn rewards and elite status on all trip elements booked through Expedia, Hotels.com and Vrbo without having to be loyal to a single brand.

Has One Key made traditional hotel loyalty programs obsolete? Not quite. Frequent travelers who are able to book hotel stays with one brand may find it advantageous to continue doing so, as the perks offered by major hotel loyalty programs can be more valuable than those provided by One Key Rewards.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2024, including those best for:

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