When it comes to travel, you have a lot of options.
You can book directly through the website of an airline, hotel, rental car company or other travel provider. You can also use online travel agencies like Expedia or Skyscanner. And many banks offer their own portals, such as Capital One Travel and Chase Travel.
While there are some horror stories from cancellations associated with portals, booking with one linked to a credit card in your wallet can be an attractive option.
Consider asking yourself these nine questions to determine the best approach for planning your next trip. They will help you decide whether to book directly, use an online travel agency or utilize a credit card portal for your next vacation.
Will you forfeit status perks and status earnings?
When booking a hotel room through online travel agencies like Hotels.com or Expedia, you may not receive your stay credit from the hotel brand (e.g., Marriott Bonvoy). Any nights that would typically contribute toward your status won’t be counted.
Moreover, as a member with elite status, you often won’t receive the usual perks during your stay — like free breakfast or room upgrades. This applies to all major hotel loyalty programs. Many hotels offer a best-price guarantee, allowing you to request a match to a better price you find elsewhere, even if it’s on an online travel agency. With this guarantee, you can enjoy loyalty benefits without spending more than necessary.
The decision becomes less straightforward if you want to leverage perks that require booking through a credit card travel portal — which can include bonus rewards or statement credits. You must prioritize what matters most: receiving elite perks and night credits or earning more credit card points and benefiting from automatic discounts for your stay.
However, it’s worth noting that flights booked through third-party sites generally qualify as ordinary revenue tickets and are thus eligible to earn points or miles in the given airline’s loyalty program. However, be sure to read the terms carefully to avoid booking restrictive basic economy fares.
Related: Why you don’t earn hotel points when booking through an online travel agency
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Do you have travel credits you can use from your credit card?
Several credit cards offer travel credits on your statements when you book through their travel portals.
For example, the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card (see rates and fees) offers $300 in annual credits when you reserve flights, hotels and rental cars through the Capital One Travel portal.
Similarly, anyone with The Platinum Card® from American Express can enjoy various benefits of the Amex Platinum, including an annual hotel credit worth up to $200 for prepaid reservations at Fine Hotels + Resorts properties or The Hotel Collection (the latter of which requires a two-night minimum). The perk is issued as a statement credit to your account. Like the Capital One credit, the only way to receive the Amex credit is to book an eligible stay through the American Express Travel portal.
Those with a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card also receive a comparable credit for hotel reservations, though it’s significantly lower at $50 per year. Simply book through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal to have the annual credit appear on your account.
If you have a travel credit you have yet to use, take advantage of it before it expires. But carefully consider its rules to ensure your booking qualifies for reimbursement.
Related: The top 11 credit cards with annual travel statement credits
What will cost you the fewest points?
If you have accumulated enough points in credit card portals like American Express Membership Rewards or Citi ThankYou points, you should carefully consider which redemption option will require the fewest points for your upcoming trip.
Sometimes, transferring your points to a partner program and booking through their website may be the most cost-effective option.
On the other hand, it may be cheaper in some situations to keep your points in your credit card account and use them through the card’s travel portal. This is especially true for hotels, as transferring points to a partner hotel loyalty program may provide less value than redeeming them directly through your credit card issuer.
This can also make sense for boutique properties that don’t participate in a loyalty program.
Always compare both redemption options before transferring your points to ensure that you get the best value.
Related: How (and why) you should earn transferable points
What will get you the most points on your credit card?
Regarding travel expenses, you should consider which credit card offers the best rewards for each purchase.
For instance, the Capital One Venture X card provides 10 miles per dollar spent on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel. Additionally, you earn 5 miles per dollar spent on flights booked this way. Comparing these rates to the 2 miles per dollar earned on purchases made outside the Capital One Travel portal, it’s clear which option is more advantageous.
Chase follows a similar pattern. If you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve and book through the Ultimate Rewards portal, you will earn 10 points per dollar spent on hotels and rental cars and 5 points on flights. These rates are significantly better than the 3 points per dollar earned on travel booked through other methods.
The Amex Platinum card presents a more drastic example. It offers 5 points per dollar for prepaid hotels booked through the Amex Travel portal. You also receive 5 points per dollar spent on flights booked directly with an airline or through Amex Travel (up to $500,000 in flights per calendar year, then 1 point per dollar spent). However, for hotel reservations booked directly with a hotel, you only earn 1 point per dollar spent. While you can choose either option for airfare, booking hotel stays through Amex Travel is best to maximize your earnings — though again, you’ll likely give up the opportunity to earn hotel points by doing so.
Related: What are points and miles worth?
Do you have to choose between rental car loyalty perks and a better price?
Online travel agencies and portals are popular because they offer convenience. You can visit a single website and compare results from various rental car companies.
However, there is a trade-off to consider.
When you see a lower price on an online travel agency or credit card portal than a rental car website, you usually won’t receive any elite benefits associated with a rental car loyalty program. This is because most online travel agencies and credit card portals do not provide an option to add your rental car loyalty number to the reservation (though there are exceptions). Even if they do, the rental agency often doesn’t honor the associated benefits, such as skipping the line during car pickup.
In such situations, you must decide whether booking the lower price or receiving perks is more important. Ultimately, the decision may come down to the price difference.
Related: Get automatic rental car elite status through your credit card
Will the hotel give preference to guests who booked directly?
In short: Possibly. You may not receive the same perks when booking a hotel through a third-party website instead of directly with the hotel.
For example, a TPG staffer faced this issue while staying at Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort in Orlando. He booked through the Capital One Travel portal to earn miles with his Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card (see rates and fees). However, this meant he couldn’t use the mobile check-in feature and had to wait in a long line at check-in. Additionally, he was assigned a less desirable room near noisy areas like the service elevators and housekeeping storage.
If you’re not a light sleeper or prefer in-person check-in, these drawbacks may not be significant concerns. Nevertheless, it’s worth considering these factors when deciding how to make your hotel booking.
Related: The best ways to book hotels through online travel agencies and bank portals
Can you get free perks from hotels booked via a portal?
Why not add free perks to the deal if you’re paying cash for a hotel?
With American Express, you can enjoy extras by booking through Amex Fine Hotels + Resorts or The Hotel Collection. However, you will not get these benefits if you book directly with the hotel.
Capital One and Chase offer similar programs through the Capital One Premier Collection, Capital One Lifestyle Collection and Chase Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection. When you book with these programs, you can expect to receive perks that could include free breakfast, a welcome gift or space-available room upgrades.
Related: 6 surprising ways to use your on-property credits at hotels
Will you get free nights added to a hotel booking?
Adding free nights to your hotel reservation could be a huge differentiator.
For example, the Citi Prestige® Card offers a fourth-night-free benefit. But there are some restrictions and nuances to using this benefit. There’s a limit of two uses per year and you must book through Citi ThankYou Rewards to receive it.
The information for the Citi Prestige has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Likewise, you can get a fourth or fifth night free when redeeming select types of hotel points for award stays — which could lead you to book directly with a hotel program.
Related: Can I mix hotel points and free night certificates to get a 4th or 5th night free?
What if something goes wrong with your flights?
Unlike rental car and hotel reservations made through portals and online travel agencies, flights booked outside airline websites will still earn you miles and frequent flyer status credits.
This is good news, but it gets even better when you realize you can stack rewards by booking flights through online travel agencies. This means you can earn points on your credit card, miles from flying, shopping portal bonuses and rewards from the loyalty programs of online travel agencies.
However, there is a potential issue to consider if unexpected problems arise before or during your trip.
When you book directly with an airline and your flight gets canceled, you can deal with the carrier directly. They will reimburse or rebook you based on their change or cancellation policy. However, this may not be the case for portals and online travel agency bookings.
If the airline cancels your flight due to bad weather, they may instruct you to purchase new tickets for a later flight through your credit card portal or the online travel agency you booked with. If you have a schedule change or want to adjust your reservation, you often need to go back to the third-party site for support instead of contacting the airline directly. This can be a significant drawback when booking flights through a third-party option, particularly if your trip carries a high risk of weather-related issues or you think there’s a possibility that you’ll need to change (or cancel) your trip.
Related: Flight canceled or delayed? Here’s what to do
Having various options for booking trips is great. You can compare prices and use your points and miles effectively. You might even get extra perks that other websites don’t offer.
However, having too many options can be overwhelming and confusing.
To simplify the process, consider these nine questions before making your booking. By considering factors such as your travel credits and how the booking will impact your elite status strategy, you can avoid surprises during your trip and make the most out of the rewards you earn.
Additional reporting by Kyle Olsen.