A Closer Look at Expedia Miles

Right outside a hotel we booked via Expedia.  The most important thing here to Surly is the UFC poster.
Right outside a hotel we booked via Expedia. The most important thing here to Surly is the UFC poster.

Go ahead – sing the Expedia theme song.  Right now.  I know you know it.

Now that is out of the way, let’s move on to the why of Expedia.  It’s actually very simple – of all the aggregators I’ve tried for hotel, car, and flight reservations, Expedia is the furthest reaching and the most easily tweaked.  While I adore Kayak’s little map with pictures of special price deals (gives me ideas!), there have been several times I’ve been able to find and book flights on Expedia that I could not find on Kayak.

Plus, Expedia has a points program – Expedia Rewards.  But right up front I’ll say that if the points program is your main reason for choosing Expedia, don’t bother.

I’m very points hungry – they make my travel much cheaper and much more comfortable.  However, I won’t use a program just because that program exists.  This is quickly becoming the issue with Expedia.

On our first Ridiculous Number of European Countries tour we used our Expedia points in Madrid at the Splendom Suites Hotel.   The room was absolutely fantastic.  And it was made even more fantastic by the fact that it was free – we had saved a ton of Expedia points, and they seemed, while not generous, at least workable.

The Palacio Real, a long but pleasant walk from the hotel.
The Palacio Real, a long but pleasant walk from the hotel.

How much of a problem has Expedia’s multiple point devaluations become?  A very, very big one.  The most recent came without warning at the end of last summer, and suffice it to say that there’s no way Expedia points would pay for a week in the same sort of hotel in Madrid this time around.

For example, upon launch the program paid point-for-point on airline travel.  Spend $1800 on a ticket to Sydney?  You’d see 1800 points deposited in your Expedia Rewards account.  Soon, though, the points were devalued – it became one point for every two airline dollars spent.

As of August 2013, it is now one point for every five dollars.  At the same time, the number of points needed for redemption went up significantly – 50,000 points used to get you a $1000 hotel certificate.  Now you need 140,000.

And there is no longer any reason to bother.

Let’s take a look at the current cost of the hotel we used in Madrid again:

Splendom Suites Madrid


At $226 per night, a week in Madrid would run you $1582.  And $1582 would mean you would need to buy a $1500 coupon from Expedia (you cannot just redeem regular points, you must use those points to buy a coupon of set interval amounts, and any amount you do not use is forfeit).  You would need 210,000 points at the current Expedia pricing levels.  Let’s break that down into point cost:  you would have needed to spend over one million dollars on airline tickets to earn a week of a hotel in Madrid.

Let me go ahead and say it, “Bugger right off, Expedia.”

At this level of earning, it is less expensive to book at discount websites and use the money saved to travel.

Of course, Expedia does offer higher rewards for hotel bookings than for flights, but even that doesn’t come anywhere close to amounts that an average person who doesn’t travel for a living would earn.

So what’s the point?

Companies do not owe us points programs or rewards for using their services.  By the same token, I do not owe them brand loyalty.  I’ll take that loyalty wherever I get the best bang for my buck, and rewards points definitely figure into this (see also – British Airways Avios and why redeeming them without a plan can be ridiculous).

Given that making reservations on a third-party site can often void the rewards points that particular brands give out, it’s not only possible, but often best to avoid Expedia completely.  After all, their rewards certainly don’t replace the rewards lost at, say, Hilton.

And one final word on the Expedia VIP program – I’ve been a member of this program since it came out.  It has never done a thing for me.  Unlike Hilton, where my membership tier actually has gotten me upgrades and other nice add-ons (without me asking!), never once has Expedia’s VIP program worked for me.

So they should probably not use me in their commercials.