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Why Is Expedia Group’s One Key Program So Controversial?

A vocal set of travelers isn’t happy about the launch of the new rewards program

October 23, 2023

One Key / Photo: Courtesy of Expedia

Expedia Group recently replaced its collection of disjointed brand-loyalty programs with a new combined program called One Key. Rather than separately earning and redeeming Expedia Rewards and Hotels.com Rewards credits, travelers can now earn OneKeyCash on eligible airfare, hotel, vacation rental, activity, package, car rental and cruise purchases made through Expedia.

One notable perk of the new program is that travelers will finally earn rewards for Vrbo vacation rentals. Considering how expensive rentals can be, earning rewards on these bookings adds up. Along with expanded earning potential, Expedia has made it easier to redeem rewards. Travelers can redeem accumulated OneKeyCash toward their next booking with no minimum required for hotel stays. However, you’ll need to accumulate enough rewards to fully cover a flight booking to use OneKeyCash.

In the new program, travelers earn “trip elements” toward elite status. Each hotel or rental night, flight ticket, car rental day, cruise cabin night and activity ticket will earn you one trip element. Collecting five trip elements earns you One Key Silver, with discounts on hotels, priority support, 50 percent more OneKeyCash, and a VIP Access perk. Get Gold at 15 trip elements for larger discounts, 100 percent bonus earnings, VIP Access room upgrades and price-drop protection on Expedia flights. Super-frequent travelers will unlock top-tier Platinum status after 30 trip elements, boosting earnings by 200 percent and scoring a one-time hotel discount of up to $100. However, a vocal set of travelers isn’t happy about the launch of One Key. That’s because it is replacing the cult-favorite Hotels.com Rewards, a formerly heavily advertised program that offered one free hotel night for every ten nights stayed.

The Hotels.com Rewards program offered a 10-percent return on hotel bookings. Under the One Key program, travelers only earn two percent in OneKeyCash for hotel stays. That’s a massive 80-percent reduction in rewards.

Bookings through Expedia One Key can partially offset earnings drop. Top-tier Platinum members earn up to six percent back on select stays, compared to 10 percent through Hotels.com Rewards.

The good news: If you previously earned through Hotels.com Rewards, you didn’t lose anything in the switch. Any credits earned toward a free night were converted to OneKeyCash as part of the launch of the new program.

In short, Expedia’s switch to One Key is a mixed bag. Travelers now earn rewards on Vrbo vacation rentals and tier-status credits on various bookings. You can earn hotel discounts from booking cruises or airfare price-drop protection from booking car rentals. However, the slashed earnings on Hotels.com have left many travelers bitter with the new program.