Booking travel through any third party online travel agency (OTA) website or app can always present its own unique challenges to travelers. This post is going to focus in on Expedia, and give you my take on the pros and cons of booking with Expedia based on my own personal experiences and research that I’ve done.
The booking experience
Expedia has a great booking experience online and the App isn’t too bad either. It’s very user-friendly, comes with tons of filters for price, location, etc. Since I’m huge on location when it comes to hotels, I always use the many sub-categories to locate a hotel. You can almost always find a subcategory for an attraction, monument, market square, etc. Searching for flights is just as easy, and there’s an option for filtering class fares and even multi-city stops.
The customer service can be hit or miss, though. I’ve never had a problem with them to this day but I’ve heard about a lot of people having issues with them. I will say that long wait times can be an issue so if you’re the type who abhors being put on hold for longer than 5 minutes, you might find yourself getting a bit frustrated.
There’s always a risk
Here’s the thing, when you book with Expedia or any third party there is always a risk that you might experience a hiccup in the booking process. This usually comes into play when you decide to modify or cancel your booking but sometimes it can be attributed to nothing you did. For example, there are horror stories of people showing up at their hotels with no booking slot available and crazy things like that. Now, these people almost always get taken care of by being sent to another hotel due to overbooking but who wants to deal with that? I’ve been using Expedia for several years now and have never had any major problems with my booking. I’ve even had to cancel flights before and I was able to smoothly work it out with Expedia without any issues. However, see below about paying attention to terms.
You should just remember that anytime you don’t book directly through the hotel or airlines you run the risk that something could get lost in the process. For that reason, always make it a practice to follow up with the hotel or airlines a couple of hours after you book and get a confirmation/booking number. The need for this is even greater when you’re booking a small, local hotel that you’ve never heard of or some kind of guest house/hostel in another country. Those places tend to be less established and organized and the potential for a mishap is far greater.
Also, make sure you check in with the airlines for seat selections because the seat selection tool on Expedia can be a little iffy at times. In fact, I don’t think it’s ever worked properly for me.
Read those terms and conditions!
In addition to being familiar with the general terms of Expedia you should pay extra close attention to the terms and options of your transaction. For hotel bookings some of the concerns are whether a hotel has free cancellation up to 24 hours; pay later option — if so what, find out what credit card the hotel takes because that can get mixed up some times; free wifi — find out if that means in rooms or just common areas; breakfast included, etc. The major concerns are the refund options because if Expedia says no refund, they mean NO refund.
For flights you really want to make sure that you get some kind of protection plan unless you are 100% sure that you are going to board that plane so help you God. And even if you go with a travel protection plan make sure you are aware of what will allow you to cancel. For example, under the Travel Arrangement Protection plan (which covers all travel on Expedia) you can cancel before your trip due to sickness or injury but:
“The Sickness or Injury must: a) commence while your coverage is in effect under the plan; b) require the examination and treatment by a Physician at the time the Covered Trip is cancelled; and c) in the written opinion of the treating Physician, be so disabling as to prevent you from taking your Covered Trip.”
That’s a pretty high threshold and is just an example of how Expedia doesn’t mess around when it comes to travel protection plans. There are some other examples of what’s not covered and some of them are a little shocking. Have a mental breakdown? Better go to the hospital! Act of war affecting your travel plans? Sorry, mate. So if you’re planning on booking flights and hotels just be 100% certain or as close to that as you can be that you will be departing on that date.
You might be saving money, you might not
In my experience, whether or not Expedia is cheaper is really hit or miss. I usually always check with the hotel right as I’m looking at prices on Expedia to make sure that Expedia is cheaper or at least the same price. In the past Expedia was almost always cheaper and if they weren’t then another OTA was.
Recently, however, this doesn’t seem to be the case and in fact many hotels are now matching what you find on OTAs. I still think this is going to be a hit or miss thing for the time being. But it’s good to know that if you find a low rate on an OTA you should always check with the hotel to see if they are willing to match the price.
You might miss out on upgrades
I’ve heard it first hand that people who book through third-party sites are often the last people to get chosen for upgrades or the best rooms at hotels. On top of that, there’s even a stigma that some staff members say others hold toward “OTA bookers” because they tend to be more problematic, demanding, less loyal, peons, etc. You get the picture. What really surprised me is that even in cases where you supply your member number, hotels like Starwood won’t even recognize your status, making it virtually certain that you don’t receive any “special” treatment.
I’ve personally been given the best rooms and given upgrades in the past when I booked with Expedia so I know that you can still get “special” treatment, but at the same time I’ve gotten some of the crappiest rooms on some occasions, too. No telling why it happened in each case, but I’m sure that more times than not OTA customers get second-preference.
One way that you can combat this is that you can become an Expedia+ Member and book +VIP hotels, where you’re given perks like access to the spas. You’d think that if you’re getting that kind of access they’d also hook you up with upgrades if they are available but according to Expedia you may only get those kind of upgrades if you’re a Gold Member. The drawback is that you’re not going to be able to consistently gain points or status at one particular hotel, which for some people will make it not worth it. However, if you’re not loyal to any specific hotel and enjoy mixing your hotel stays up a bit, then the Expedia route looks a lot better.
Nice little coupons
Sometimes Expedia throws in random bonuses and coupons like $25 off your first mobile booking through their app and sometimes much bigger discounts like $200 off stays of five nights or longer. Also, sometimes there are credit card portals that give you a bonus for going through an OTA like Expedia. You just have to be on the lookout for these but they can provide you with some decent savings sometimes.
Best Price Guarantee
Expedia has a best price guarantee that applies to all shoppers. It goes as follows:
“Find a cheaper flight, vacation package, rental car, cruise or activity within 24 hours of booking and we’ll refund the difference, plus give you a $50 travel coupon for future travel. For hotels, we go even further: If you find a cheaper rate on your hotel reservation up to two days before your check-in, we will refund the difference and give you a $50 travel coupon for future travel.”
If you’re an Expedia+ Member the hotel guarantee lasts all the way until midnight before check-in.
This sounds pretty good and is really good except that there are numerous reports of consumers having to fight tooth and nail to get their refunds and coupons. I haven’t tried it yet and I know some people were able to get their rightly deserved rebate/coupon but I also know that it can be a pain in the arse dealing with what sometimes sounds like borderline unethical practices on behalf of Expedia. For that reason, I’d proceed with caution when relying on this guarantee. If you’re an Expedia+ member, especially a gold member who gets special customer service, it will likely be easier for you but I’d pretty much always expect a little headache when trying to get this.
Expedia+ Reward Points
The Expedia reward system is not as great as it used to be when it offered ThankYou Rewards by Citi Bank but they still can go pretty far. I’m going to do a better breakdown on this reward system in the future but I’m just going to keep it simple right now.
The main reason I like Expedia+ rewards is because it allows me to triple dip (and then some). If you have a rewards credit card you can book through Expedia earning Expedia rewards and credit card points and then you can add your booking to your frequent flying account. I’ve done this numerous times and it’s a pretty good way to rack up points. However, note that most big hotels no longer allow you to gain points this way — it’s mostly just airlines.
Also, if you book through the Expedia App you earn 3X the points (a promo that never seems to end). In addition, if you’re a gold or silver member you earn 30% or 10% more points with each booking (bookings for hotels are worth 2 points per $1). Finally, sometimes Expedia just throws in random bonuses for points for booking to certain locations like taking a trip to the UK or for certain activities.
Thus, you can earn a lot of Expedia points by booking through the App, being a gold/silver member, and taking note of bonuses. And on top of that you can still get your frequent flier miles and credit card points.
Note: some credit cards will give you like 3-5x the points by booking through the airlines with a card and in that case, you likely are better off using such a card. However, if you don’t have a lot of reward cards for airlines and you’re stuck with just one card that isn’t going to give you a bonus for booking through specific airlines, then Expedia Rewards makes a lot more sense to use.
Get the most out of Expedia Rewards with hotel bookings
Using Expedia Rewards for hotels can really be beneficial, especially if you are down to stay in certain Expedia+ VIP hotels and not hooked on major chains like IHG, Hilton, etc . That’s because when you redeem hotel coupons they go twice as far. For example, 14,000 Expedia points would normally get you $100 off but if you stay in a VIP hotel you double that to $200. That’s not a bad deal, especially if you collected those points while also collecting airline/credit card rewards along the way. To see what kind of hotels you can come across, check out my review of this hotel in the Algarve, Portugal. It was a VIP hotel and we stayed there for two nights and it only costed us $74. Not bad, at all.
Using Expedia Rewards for airlines isn’t quite as beneficial to your Expedia account, because the bonus points earned through Expedia for airline tickets are 1 point per $5 spent, which is nothing compared to some reward cards like the British Airways Visa card by Chase that gives you 3 Avios per $1. You can get around this a few ways, though. By booking through the app you can get 3 points per 5$ but that still doesn’t compare to most reward cards. The other option is to book a package of hotel+airline so that you get 2 points per dollar spent but you can’t book packages through the app as of the time of this article so you lose out on 3x the points, which is not worth it if hotel costs make up a substantial amount of your checkout costs for the package.
Thus, the benefits from booking flights on Expedia to your Expedia Rewards is pretty limited, but you have to remember that you can still collect your frequent flier miles so it makes up for itself in a way.
(There are also options for Expedia+Citi credit cards that I’m going to go into more detail on a later post but those can provide you with a lot of bonus points for spending and with sign-up bonuses.)
Overall I recommend Expedia but with these caveats:
- If you have a good airline reward card already you likely won’t benefit as much because that card will give you more points without the potential hassle of dealing with a third party. Also, if you have a hotel rewards card, especially for a hotel that’s a true “go-to” for you, then you don’t want to use Expedia and miss out on status/points and potential upgrades.
- If you have a more generic rewards card and frequent flier accounts you can triple dip! This is much more beneficial if you enroll in Expedia+ Rewards and work your way up to gold status while taking advantage of other bonuses like 3X times the points through app booking. In no time you’ll have a couple of hundred dollars off a nice hotel in addition to building up some points on your other accounts.
- Airline tickets purchased through Expedia can help with the points some but usually not as much as hotels.
- Expedia is great when it runs smoothly, but can be very bad when it doesn’t.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and CNBC. Read my bio.