Online Travel Agency Credit Cards: Do They Save You Money?

When you’re planning a trip, do you search online travel agency websites instead of booking directly with a hotel or airline? The Big 4 online travel agencies all have rewards credit cards designed for bargain-hunters. These include:

Picture of Orbitz rewards visaOrbitz Rewards Visa: Earn Orbitz Orbucks, and redeem them toward the total or partial cost of future hotel bookings.

 

Picture of Citi Expedia PremierPassCiti PremierPass Expedia card: Earn points for the Citi ThankYou program (redeemable for cash back, merchandise, gift cards and more).

 

Expedia+ card finalCiti Expedia+ and Expedia+ Voyager: As an alternative to earning ThankYou points with the PremierPass card, you can earn points for Expedia+ rewards (Expedia’s loyalty program) with these cards. Expedia+ rewards points are redeemable for flights, charitable donations, culinary and entertainment experiences, and coupons toward hotels and packages.

 

Picture of Travelocity Rewards American ExpressTravelocity Rewards card from American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner): Earn points to be redeemed as statement credits toward Travelocity purchases, gift cards and merchandise.

 

Picture of Priceline Rewards VisaPriceline Rewards Visa: Redeem for statement credits for any purchase over $25, as well as for merchandise and gift cards.

 

Such cards might lack the travel perks that make co-branded airline cards popular (such as free checked bags and priority boarding) and the flexibility that makes general-purpose travel cards popular (such as the ability to get reimbursed for travel purchased virtually anywhere). But if you favor a particular online travel agency, these cards can be a good way use the trips you’d book anyway to get even more savings out of a budget travel site. With the exception of the Expedia+ Voyager card, they also have no annual fee and come with sign-up bonuses.

You’ll need to be aware of some fine-print restrictions, however. Plus, these cards’ rewards structures are designed to be especially rewarding for certain kinds of travelers. So ask yourself these questions to determine if an online travel agency credit card will really save you money — and check out our chart below to compare the four major travel websites’ cards.

Am I loyal enough to a single travel website?

When it comes to point redemption, the Citi PremierPass Expedia card (which lets you earn points for Citi’s ThankYou program) and the Priceline Rewards Visa (which lets you redeem via statement credits for any purchase over $25) are more on the flexible side. With the Orbitz and Travelocity cards, and the Expedia+ cards, your points are good only on those websites.

Even if the redemption options are flexible, the reward-earning structure might give you a big incentive to stick with your card’s travel site: All four cards give you bonus points for shopping on the co-branded site.

That means, to get the most out of the card, you’ll have to confine your travel purchases (and perhaps redemptions) to the site affiliated with your card. Because many of those who use online travel agencies are comparison shoppers at heart, this kind of loyalty might be an unwelcome constraint.

What do I want to redeem for?

Though you may be earning points redeemable on travel site affiliated with your card, you might not be able to redeem for all travel purchases.

The Orbitz card, for example, limits redemptions to hotel bookings. That means you can’t use your points on flights or any other kind of travel purchase.

What kind of travel do I tend to purchase?

Because all four cards give you bonus points for being loyal, to really pile up rewards with these cards, you need to make a lot of purchases with the affiliated travel website. However, not all travel purchases made through these sites are eligible for bonus points.

Often, anything you don’t prepay for is excluded from the bonus categories. Rental cars fall into this category (because you don’t prepay for the reservation – you pay at the counter), as might hotels that you opt to pay for after your stay is complete (rather than prepaying). The Priceline card excludes cruise bookings.

Other cards might require you to book a certain kind of hotel or travel package to get the bonus points, so read your terms and conditions. The Travelocity card’s terms and conditions state, for example, that only “Good Buy” and “Top Secret” hotels are eligible for bonus points.

The good news is you’ll still earn rewards on excluded purchases. But you’ll earn the lower default rate that you get for “other” purchases, instead of the higher bonus-category rate.

How much are my points worth?

It doesn’t matter how many points you earn if they’re not worth much. Yet exact point value can be hard to ascertain. Here’s a rundown for each card:

  • Travelocity Rewards American Express: The worth of your points depends on how much you redeem. The best deal? Getting up to 2 cents per point when redeeming for a $400 statement credit:
  • Travelocity Rewards American Express point redemption value

  • Citi PremierPass Expedia card: You’re earning Citi ThankYou points on this card, and the value varies by redemption option. Check out our review of the Citi ThankYou program to see how far your points will go.
  • Citi Expedia+ and Expedia+ Voyager: Your points are worth roughly 0.6 cents each when you redeem for flights and about 0.7 cents each when you redeem for hotel and package coupons.
  • Priceline rewards Visa: This card’s terms are nebulous. They state only that the point value will vary, depending on whether you redeem for statement credits, gift cards or merchandise.
  • Orbitz Rewards Visa: Each Orbuck is worth … well… a buck ($1) toward a hotel stay. Pretty simple.

The bottom line

As with all rewards cards, it’s a question of loyalty. If you frequently use a certain travel site, its co-branded card could be a smart choice. Because none of these cards have an annual fee, though, you could get more than one to cover all your bases.

One tip: With the Orbitz card, you have the chance to earn even more points by signing up for the Orbitz Rewards program (which gives you bonuses for mobile purchases and certain types of travel purchases). So you’ll want to sign up for this program if you get that card.

Although online travel agency cards aren’t a bad deal, you might get more flexibility out of a general travel card, such as the no-annual-fee Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard.

With this card, you can get 2 miles per dollar (worth 2 percent back when redeemed for statement credits against travel) on all four sites featured in this article, as well as for direct bookings with airlines, hotels and hostels. You also get that value for other travel-related expenses like campground fees and taxi fares.

Decided a card affiliated with an online travel agency is best for you? Our table breaks down the features of the four main contenders. Offers are subject to change, so check the issuer’s terms and conditions before you apply.


Compare online travel agency credit cards
CardWhat you earnHow much you earnRedemption optionsSign-up bonusOther features
Orbitz Rewards Visa (issued by Comenity)Orbucks5%/$1 on qualifying Orbitz bookings (including pre-paid hotels, flights, packages, cruises). For example, if you spend $100, you will earn 5 Orbucks.


2%/ $1 on other purchases
Orbitz hotel bookings. Each Orbuck is worth $1 toward purchase. You can use Orbucks toward all or part of the cost.$50 statement credit after spending $200 in first 90 daysComplimentary Orbitz Rewards Star Status; no foreign transaction fees
Citi PremierPass Expedia cardCiti ThankYou points2 ThankYou points/ $1 spent on eligible Expedia purchases (not including car rental reservations)


1 ThankYou point/$1 on other purchases
Cash back, merchandise, gift cards and more. Point value varies.$50 statement credit after making an eligible Expedia purchase over $50 in first 2 months


10,000 ThankYou points after spending $1,500 on the card in first 4 months
EMV chip, concierge, auto rental insurance, various travel insurance protections
Citi Expedia+ and Citi Expedia+ Voyager ($95 annual fee)Expedia+ rewards pointsExpedia+: 3 pts/dollar on eligible Expedia purchases (flights, hotels, activities, packages); 1 pt/dollar elsewhere


Expedia+ Voyager: 4 pts/dollar on eligible Expedia purchases (flights, hotels, activities, packages); 2 pts/dollar on restaurants and hotels; 1 pt/dollar elsewhere
Flights, coupons toward hotel stays and packages, charitable donations, experiencesExpedia+: 15,000 pts after spending $1,000 in first 3 months


Expedia+ Voyager: 25,000 points after spending $2,000 in first 3 months.
EMV chip, no foreign transaction fees, automatic +silver or +gold status in Expedia+ program
Travelocity Rewards American Express (issued by Barclaycard)Travelocity reward points3 points/$1 on eligible Travelocity purchases (includes flights, certain hotels and packages)


1 point/$1 on other purchases
Statement credits toward Travelocity purchases, gift cards, merchandise. Each point is worth 1 to 2 cents when redeemed for statement credits. Point value for other redemption options varies.5,000 bonus points after first purchaseCan get increased point value if you redeem 20,000 points at a time.
Priceline Rewards Visa (issued by Barclays)Priceline rewards points5 points/$1 on eligible Priceline purchases (does NOT include cruises, car reservations and Pay When You- Stay hotel reservations)


1 point/$1 on other purchases
Statement credit toward any transaction (of at least $25), merchandise, gift cards. Point value varies.5,000 bonus points after first purchase or balance transfer; 5,000 more points after spending $1,000 in first 90 days. Visa Signature benefits (if you're approved for a Signature account)

Updated Sept. 25, 2014

 
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