Orbitz Is Late to the Party with Weak Rewards Program

Does the world need another travel loyalty program?

Probably not. But if you're a major online travel agency, like Orbitz, and other agencies like Expedia and Hotels.com have programs, you could not help but feel competitive pressure to counter their rewards schemes with one of your own.

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So it was that Orbitz this week unveiled its loyalty program, Orbitz Rewards.

Earning, Redeeming, and Expiring

Orbitz Rewards members earn the following in so-called Orbucks:

  • Up to 5 percent on hotel bookings (base 3 percent plus an extra 2 percent for bookings made on Orbitz's mobile app)
  • 1 percent on flights, up to a maximum of $50 annually, after spending $5,000
  • 1 percent on travel packages

On the redemption side, Orbucks can be spent on hotel bookings made through Orbitz, but not for airline flights.

Through November 22, the following sign-up bonuses are in effect:

  • 15 percent discount on hotel bookings
  • $25 Orbucks rebate to offset first bag fee (through November 30)
  • Double Orbucks on flights booked with the Orbitz app
  • An extra $10 in rewards on the next flight

The program has an elite component, with two tiers. After four nights, members receive access to priority customer service and extra benefits, which "may include upgrades, free WiFi, breakfast, etc." And after 12 nights, members are granted access to a personal concierge.

Orbucks expire 12 months after they're earned. They cannot be extended or reinstated.

How Rewarding Is Orbitz Rewards?

The program's weaknesses far outnumber its strengths.

  • At best, the program promises a return-on-investment of 5 percent. Compare that to Hotels.com, where a free night after every 10 paid nights amounts to a 10 percent return.
  • Although Orbucks are awarded for flights, they may only be redeemed for hotel stays.
  • The elite program is weak.
  • Finally, and perhaps most damningly, the 12-month expiration policy on earnings means that the program will be entirely irrelevant to many travelers.

The last point bears reiterating. If don't foresee booking at least 20 hotel nights in 12 months, this program has little to offer.

Reader Reality Check

Does Orbitz Rewards live up to its name?

This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.

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