You can not only earn airline miles with flying, shopping or credit cards, but whenever you book a hotel through a miles-earning portal like Rocketmiles, PointsHound or Kaligo. But how does that compare to hotel portals like agoda.com or hotels.com, or the favorite tool of miles & points fan, booking through the hotel web site with their “best-rate-guarantee”? I’ve done some in-depth research, comparing the different booking tools – read on to find out the results!
You’ll often read reviews of great sign-up bonuses or anecdotal evidence of “great deals” – but how to those reports hold up to more detailed scrutiny? I have explained previously how to earn airline miles with hotel bookings and reviewed Rocketmiles, Kaligo and PointsHound as well – but which of the three portals is the best and how do they compare to hotels.com or booking through the hotel web sites with their “best rate guarantee”? To find out, I did some in-depth research to compare different ways of booking a hotel room:
What booking options did I compare? I compared Rocketmiles, Kaligo and PointsHound, the three popular portals to earn airline miles for hotel bookings with my personal favorite hotel booking sites, hotels.com (owned by Expedia) and agoda.com (part of Priceline group). They are not only my personal favorites, but also the 800-pound-gorillas in the industry with a huge number of hotels covered and a large booking volume! And if you are a points & miles fan, you probably also want to see how it compares to the hotel’s own web site, because that often is the only way to earn status and points in the hotel reward programs!
How did I compare? I picked three cities around the world which I’m very familiar with and have traveled to frequently or even lived in : San Francisco, CA; London, UK and Bangkok, Thailand. All three cities are favorites for leisure travelers and also have a lot of business travelers! I looked a 2-night visits between December and March, including both weekend and weekday stays. I had originally selected Berlin to represent Europe – but had to dismiss it, because PointsHound did not offer any hotels in Berlin during my search. Considering it’s the capital of the largest economy in Europe, receives millions of visitors and agoda has 1,169 hotels there, that’s a pretty big miss in my book!
I conducted the same search on the same day for each of the portals above, using the same currency (USD) and the same airline award program (American AAdvantage).
I then picked three hotels that were available on all the portals. That was a lot more difficult than I though, mainly because of the very short list of hotels available through Rocketmiles. I therefore started with three hotels available on Rocketmiles and tried to match them on the other sites, replacing hotels as needed.
I recorded the prices from my test searches for each of the portals and the hotel’s own site. To allow for a comparison across all sites, i evaluated the points or miles earned across all programs. For Rocketmiles, Kaligo and PointsHound, I valued the miles at 1.5cents/mile.
For hotels.com, I considered the discount available through their award program, WelcomeRewards (at 10%) as well as the opportunity to go through a cashback portal, using TopCashBack (at 6% discount).
For agoda.com, I considered the discount available through their award program (at 4% discount) as well as the opportunity to go through a cashback portal, using TopCashBack (at 6% discount). While I have had issues receiving TopCashBack discounts in the past, especially with agoda, I have also had issues with the recognition of points from hotel rewards programs. I made the assumption that recognition issues would be comparable across all programs. I did not apply any cashpack portal discounts to the hotel’s web sites, as those are not available on all hotels, brands or at all dates.
I then compared the rates per hotel, identifying the lowest and highest; the total for the three bookings in each city, identifying the lowest and highest; the total for all nine bookings around the world, identifying the lowest and highest.
I also compared the total number of airline miles earned for the 9 bookings at each of the three portals allowing you to earn miles.
What did I find? You can find all the details of my search attached below, if you want to dig in! Here are my key findings!
- The number of hotels offered varies greatly!
Rocketmiles offers the fewest hotels in each destination – and by a long shot. Across the four cities (San Francisco, London, Berlin, Bangkok), Rocketmiles offers 136 hotels, PointsHound has 648 and Kaligo 1,991. All three pale in comparison to hotels.com with 4,142 and the top dog agoda.com with 5,280 hotels. PointsHound and Kaligo have a smaller selection than the big portals, but certainly enough to cover different areas of town, different budgets and different styles, so I wouldn’t consider the selection a big constraint. Rocketmiles on the other hand is severely constrained: With only 24 hotels in Bangkok and 26 hotels in San Francisco, you might have a hard time finding the hotel you are looking for, especially considering that Rocketmiles is not carefully curating the hotels and among that short list are a number of mediocre or bad hotels!
- The number of miles earned varies greatly!
The three portals offer vastly different amounts of miles: Across all searches, PointsHound offers the fewest miles at 19,800, Kaligo is next at 29,800 miles and Rocketmiles offers the most at 50,000 miles! If you are in a hurry to top of your airline account, Rocketmiles is your best bet.
- You pay for the miles!
While you can earn an impressive number of miles, that comes as a cash price! All three miles-earning portals are more expensive than hotels.com! If you just want the best deal, using hotels.com via the TopCashBack portal will provide you with the lowest price for hotels in the long run! PointsHound offers the best pricing of the airline-miles earning portals and is very close to hotels.com overall.
- Watch out for regional differences
There were significant regional differences in my test: The airline-miles earning portals were doing best in the US – Rocketmiles and PointsHound beat both hotels.com and agoda and Kaligo was pretty close! They had a much harder time in Asia, where all three were higher than the big guys and in Europe, with mixed results.
- Watch out for bad recommendations
Rocketmiles especially and Kaligo to some degree are running promotions for specific hotels and are highlighting them as recommendations. While you can indeed earn a lot of miles with those recommendations, they came at a very high price: The top two earning opportunities with Rocketmiles at 10,000 miles were also the highest price across all 6 booking options, and by a long shot! The Montien Riverside in Bangkok was $174 on Rocketmiles (versus $40 on Kaligo)!
- Direct Booking is expensive
I frequently book through hotel’s direct web sites to earn points, status and take advantage of special promotions. It came as a surprise to me that booking directly is actually the most expensive way to book hotels in this comparison. Those status perks and points come at a high price!
I do want to point out that the search was somewhat “biased” against the direct search, because I was limited by Rocketmiles poor selection of hotels. I usually book on hotel web sites when they offer special promotions, like Accor, but I wasn’t able to take advantage of those due to the format of the search. I was also not able to allocate discounts for each booking, because some hotels don’t have their own reward programs.
Conclusion: The three airline-miles earning portals are adding an interesting option to the miles & points game, but not everybody should play that game! Here are my recommendations:
If you want to keep it simple, want the best deal overall and are not looking to earn hotel perks with your stays, hotels.com in combination with TopCashBack and a travel rewards credit card is your best bet. If you want to enjoy the perks that come with elite status at chain hotels, you might want to look into a credit card that gives you status, like the IHG Rewards Card or the Citibank Hilton Reserve card.
If you want to focus all your points earning on one airline to get to your dream ticket, without having to worry about overpaying for your hotel stay, PointsHound is my recommendation. They have great prices in the US and good prices everywhere else, only once being the most expensive one! You don’t earn a ton of miles for it, but at least you can feel safe do not overpay drastically! They also have the smallest number of airline partners, so you might not be able to earn anything for your preferred airline and have some holes in their coverage map (like Berlin!).
If you are desperate to earn miles for your preferred airline, you should check out Rocketmiles. You can earn a lot of miles in a hurry, leveraging sign-up and hotel promotions, and can shoose from the longest list of partners. Those earning opportunities come at a price – Rocketmiles have very few hotels, so you might up at a bad hotel or in a bad location due to lack of choices, damaging the experience at your destination. You also might pay more for your hotel – a lot more, if you don’t pay attention. You end up spending more money or effort to use Rocketmiles. I would recommend to look at credit cards to earn miles first, and only turn to Rocketmiles if you have exhausted other options!
Kaligo is the most expensive of the miles-earning portals, so I would only recommend it for their generous promotions or when you are in desperate need of miles! Even in those cases, you need to verify the rates available on other portals – or you end up paying through the nose!
If you are one of the many points & miles fans who book through the hotel web sites, you should review your strategy or you end up overpaying. I’d recommend you try to get status through credit cards or status match, focus booking on promotions that get you great rates or lots of extra points and make use of best rate guarantees to offset higher prices!
And if you want to see all the details for yourself, here they are. I have highlighted the “best” value (highest number of hotels, lowest price) in green and the “worst” value in red to make it easier!