American is offering members of its AAdvantage program 500 bonus miles for every hotel booking they make on American's website between January 15 and March 31.
Bonus miles are great in theory, but in this case they come at a price. Rooms booked through American do not generally earn points in the hotel's frequent-stay program.
That's because American purchases the nights it sells at wholesale rates ("merchant rates," in industry parlance), which don't qualify for points accrual.
Hilton, for example, includes the following on its list of rates not eligible to earn HHonors points: "third party websites bookings (irrespective of rate paid); and 'opaque' channel bookings where the brand is unknown at the time of purchase."
So it's an either-or situation: Earn 500 American miles, or earn points or miles from the hotel's own loyalty program, but not both.
Using Hilton again as our example, members of the HHonors program have three earning choices: 10 HHonors points plus one airline mile per dollar spent; 10 points per dollar plus 500 airline miles per stay (100 miles at Hampton Inn and Homewood Suites); or 15 points per dollar spent.
The second option matches American's 500-mile offer, and adds 10 HHonors points per dollar. On the basis of loyalty program earnings, then, Hilton's normal awards trump the American bonus.
Marriott awards members of its program 10 Rewards points or two airline miles per dollar spent on stays at most hotels in its network. So a traveler would match American's 500 airline miles for a stay costing $250. And the stay booked through American's website won't count toward earning elite status in Marriott's program.
What about room rates?
While it's always advisable to comparison-shop, the room rate itself isn't likely to be a tie-breaker when it comes to deciding where to book a hotel stay.
These days, a low-price guarantee is pretty much a given. American features the "Price Match Guarantee." Hilton's promise: "Our Best Rate. Guaranteed." Marriott has its "Marriott's Look No Further Best Rate Guarantee." Most other hotels and online travel agencies claim the same.
Of course, there will be price discrepancies among different booking channels. But on the whole, rates are more apt to be similar or identical than they are to be significantly different.
American and other airlines selling hotel nights, cruises, and car rentals are hoping to generate extra revenue by positioning their websites as travel portals, touting the convenience of one-stop shopping.
Convenience is, indeed, a bonus. And 500 miles is a bonus as well. But there may be bigger bonuses to be found elsewhere.