Do you travel a lot? If you do, you might use an online travel site to book hotels, airfare, or rental cars. Like many credit cards, travel sites often offer rewards as incentives to stay loyal. Two of the most prominent players in the online travel business are Expedia and Orbitz. While they are part of the same company, each offers customer rewards and their programs are more different than you might imagine.
Expedia: More Options
It is a little-known fact that Expedia (EXPE) started as a division of Microsoft in 1996. Three years later, Expedia became a separate public company and is now the largest online travel site in the world. The company also owns Travelocity, hotels.com, and Hotwire. It acquired Orbitz in 2015.
- Expedia and Orbitz are part of the same company, but their two rewards programs are distinct and have key differences.
- Both reward programs are free to join and have three levels, with membership status depending on the number of bookings during the year.
- Orbitz redemptions are limited to hotel bookings; if they're a large part of your travel expenses, Orbitz is probably the superior program.
- Expedia points are more varied, however: They can be redeemed to pay for hotels, airfare, rental cars, and attractions.
But what about rewards? Expedia Rewards program is free to join and has three levels: blue, silver, and gold. Each level awards you two points for every $1 spent on hotels, cruises, vacation packages, and other activities.
The blue level is awarded to anybody who books on the site. Benefits include 10% savings on reservations, the opportunity to earn points, and the hotel price guarantee, which will match any advertised price until midnight before the hotel stay.
The account is bumped to silver status once you spend $5,000 or book seven hotel nights using Expedia during the year. At that point, you receive all of the benefits of blue status, 10% more points on reservations, and the opportunity for perks like free breakfast, spa credits, and VIP access at some hotels.
Spend $10,000 or book 15 hotel reservations in a year to reach gold status. At that point, in addition to all of the benefits of blue and silver status, members get 30% more points for making reservations and, when available, room upgrades at VIP-access hotels.
Points double when using the Expedia app or when using one of two Expedia credit cards from Citibank (getting one also immediate elevates you to gold or silver status). In addition, you can receive one point for every $5 spent on airfare, plus earn frequent flyer miles that you’re eligible to receive through the airline's program.
You can redeem Expedia points for credits toward airfare, rental cars, hotels, or attractions like amusement parks and sightseeing tours—or donate them to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The redemption rate can vary depending on travel arrangements.
Orbitz: Save on Hotels
Another little-known fact is that Orbitz was formed in 1999 by a group of leading airlines including American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, and United Airlines. It launched in 2001 and, in 2004, Cendant bought the company. Blackstone then acquired the company in 2006 before taking it public in an IPO in 2007. Expedia now owns Orbitz after buying it in 2015 (a few days after also announcing plans to acquire Travelocity).
But the Orbitz rewards program remains separate.
Like Expedia, Orbitz Rewards is free and has three membership levels: silver, gold, and platinum. Unlike Expedia, membership levels are based on how many hotel stays you book. After booking four or more room nights, you become a gold member, and more than 12 gets you platinum status.
You also earn what the company calls Orbucks. One Orbuck equals $1 and the amount of bucks awarded depends on how much you spend and how you reserve. Specifically, reward members earn 4% on any eligible hotel booking or activity on the Orbitz app and 3% on those booked on a computer. They earn 2% on flights or vacation packages booked through the app; 1% on those booked on a computer .
Most Orbucks are short-lived, expiring in one year. You'll get a reminder of the expiry date if you opt into getting Orbitz emails.
Remember those membership levels? Once you become a gold member, you get access to a priority customer service line and perks at participating hotels, such as free Wi-Fi, room upgrades, and breakfast. Platinum members receive up to $50 per year in Orbucks to cover checked-bag fees, seat upgrades, pet fees, and other air travel expenses. Platinum members can also apply for TSA PreCheck status and get their application fee covered.
Unlike Expedia, Orbitz only allows you to redeem your Orbucks for hotel rewards. Other than those platinum-member bag and pet fees, you can’t use the credits for airline or other travel redemption.
The Bottom Line
If airline rewards are more valuable to you compared to hotel rewards, Expedia clearly is the more valuable program. On the other hand, if you prefer to focus your rewards on hotels, Orbitz offers a solid, easy-to-understand program, with a few extra frills at the highest membership level.