Best way to earn AA miles & status via hotel bookings

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The “AA Loyalty Pursuit Game” began Jan 1 2022 when American Airlines began offering loyalty points in addition to redeemable miles in almost all situations where customers earn miles.  Suddenly there were many ways to earn AA elite status besides flying.  One easy way to earn a lot of miles and loyalty points is by booking hotels through a site that offers AA miles as a reward for booking through them.  And, surprisingly, there are two such sites: Rocketmiles and BookAAHotels.com.  But there’s more.  Yesterday we reported that, for those targeted, it’s now temporarily possible to earn both AA miles and cash back when booking hotels through Hotels.com.  So now there are three ways to book hotels and earn AA miles and loyalty points!  Which way is best?  Going into the research for this post I thought that the answer would be Hotels.com every time, but I was surprised to find that the real answer is more complex…

The downside to booking through Online Travel Agencies

When booking hotels through OTAs (Online Travel Agencies) it’s important to know that when booking a chain hotel, you won’t be able to take advantage of loyalty member discounts, you won’t earn hotel points or elite nights for your stay, and you might not benefit from having elite status during your stay.  Similarly, when booking independent hotels, you may miss out on discounts or perks that they offer only to those who book directly.

Rocketmiles vs. BookAAHotels.com

I looked at a number of hotels found on all 3 websites (Rocketmiles, BookAAHotels.com, and Hotels.com) and I recorded after-tax prices for randomly selected dates.  In all cases, I only looked at fully refundable rates.  Between Rocketmiles and BookAAHotels.com, it turned out that the answer to which is better was simple: Rocketmiles beat BookAAHotels.com every time.

In every situation where both sites offered AA miles for a hotel, they offered the exact same number of miles and very similar pricing, but Rocketmiles was always a tiny bit cheaper.  And when I say “tiny bit,” I really mean it.  In one case, Rocketmiles was exactly 1 penny cheaper.  The average difference I saw across 2-night stays was only about $12 and the largest difference was $33.

The Conrad New York Downtown is just one of many, many hotels where you’ll earn miles booking through RocketMiles but not through BookAAHotels.com

If the small pricing difference was the only difference between the two sites, I wouldn’t assert so firmly that Rocketmiles is better.  The bigger difference is that Rocketmiles offers miles for every available hotel whereas BookAAHotels.com offers miles for a relatively small subset of hotels in any given market.  In a search for hotels in New York City, for example, BookAAHotels.com found 389 properties, but only offered miles for 15 of them.  Meanwhile, Rocketmiles found 436 properties and offered miles for all of them.

Rocketmiles vs. Hotels.com (without targeted offers)

As I write this, there are targeted offers that make it possible to earn 4x AA miles and 10% cash back when booking through Hotels.com.  That’s awesome, but not everyone is targeted and those offers won’t last forever, so let’s first compare Rocketmiles to Hotels.com without considering those offers…

Hotels.com is usually cheaper: Across the hotels I looked at, the Hotels.com final price after taxes and fees was usually (7 out of 10 times) cheaper than the final Rocketmiles price.  When Hotels.com was cheaper, the differential ranged from 4% cheaper to 31% cheaper.  When Rocketmiles is only slightly more expensive, it may make sense to go with them anyway in order to get a bunch of AA miles, but with bigger price differentials, that makes less and less sense.

Rocketmiles is sometimes cheaper: This surprised me.  In 3 out of 10 stays that I looked at, Rocketmiles was a tiny bit cheaper than Hotels.com (less than 3% cheaper, but still cheaper).  In the past when I’ve spot checked prices, it always seemed like Rocketmiles was significantly more expensive than alternative sites that don’t give you bonus miles.  I figured that they charged more in order to afford to give the customer miles.  It turns out, though, that they seem to have competitive prices for some hotels.  Who knew?!

How to compare Rocketmiles to Hotels.com

While Rocketmiles offers a rebate in the form of airline miles for your hotel booking, Hotels.com offers its own rewards: for every 10 nights, you get one free night.  That free night is really a discount off a future stay and it is worth the average pre-tax base rate of the prior 10 nights.  In other words, you get pre-tax 10% back towards a future stay.  In order to compare a Rocketmiles booking to a Hotels.com booking, you need to know how much the airline miles and the Hotels.com rewards are worth to you.  One good way to do this is to estimate how much you would be willing to pay for these rewards if they were available for sale.  For example, it would be crazy to buy Hotels.com rewards at full face value, but you might be willing to pay 75% of face value, to get a discount off of a future stay.  Similarly, even if you think you’ll use AA miles for much greater value, it probably only makes sense to buy those miles for around 1 cent or 1.5 cents each.  Personally, I prefer to stick to conservative numbers and will go with 1 cent per mile as a good “buy” price for AA miles.  Once you have those estimates in mind, you can calculate the net cost of your stay by taking the final price after taxes and fees and subtracting the rebate value.  Here’s an example…

For a 2 night fully refundable stay at the Hilton Garden Inn NYC Financial Center in January, I found the following rates:

  • Rocketmiles: $867.58; 4,000 AA miles back
  • Hotels.com: $831.10; $71.80 back in Hotels.com rewards

If we say that we’re willing to buy AA miles for a penny each and we’re willing to buy Hotels.com rewards at 75% of face value, then we can calculate the net costs after rebates:

  • Rocketmiles: $867.58 – $40 (4,000 AA miles at 1 cent each) = $827.58
  • Hotels.com: $831.10 – $53.85 (75% of $71.80) = $777.25

In the above example, the Hotels.com booking is a better deal.  Lets now look at a case where Rocketmiles is cheaper.  For a 2 night fully refundable stay at the Country Inn & Suites by Radisson in Gatlinburg, TN in October, I found the following rates:

  • Rocketmiles: $813; 7,000 AA miles back
  • Hotels.com: $835; $74 back in Hotels.com rewards

By subtracting the rebates, we get the following totals:

  • Rocketmiles: $813 – $70 (7K AA miles at 1 cent each) = $743
  • Hotels.com: $835 – $56 (75% of $74) = $779

In the above example, Rocketmiles is the better deal.

Rocketmiles vs. Hotels.com with targeted offers

If you’re lucky enough to have the SimplyMiles deal offering 4 AA miles per dollar spent at Hotels.com and the Citi Merchant Offer of 10% back at Hotels.com, then Hotels.com is really hard to beat.  It’s true that you’ll usually earn fewer AA miles through Hotels.com, but the combination of 10% cash back plus Hotels.com’s usual rewards make Hotels.com much a much better deal.

Let’s look again at the Country Inn & Suites where Rocketmiles is cheaper than Hotels.com, but this time we’ll add in the targeted Hotels.com offers:

  • Rocketmiles: $813; 7,000 AA miles back
  • Hotels.com: $835; $74 back in Hotels.com rewards; 3,340 AA miles; $83.50 cash back

Now lets see which is better:

  • Rocketmiles: $813 – $70 (7K AA miles at 1 cent each) = $743
  • Hotels.com: $835 – $56 (75% of $74) – $33.40 (3,340 AA miles) – $83.50 = $662.10

The Hotels.com stack is a much better deal.

Portals

A number of portals offer cash back or points of some kind for booking hotels through hotels.com.  You can find current portal rates here.  I haven’t seen Rocketmiles or BookAAhotels.com available through portals and so this is yet another advantage for Hotels.com bookings.  Usually the rebates through portals are fairly small, though, and so portals are unlikely to be the deal breaker between using Rocketmiles or Hotels.com.

Conclusion

The current targeted offers for 10% back plus 4x AA miles at Hotels.com make Hotels.com a no-brainer choice for those interested in earning AA miles from hotel bookings.  You won’t earn as many AA miles as with the other sites, but the cost savings will more than make up for that.  Do note though that those offers are limited to earning a total of 6975 miles and $150 cash back.

Without those Hotels.com offers, the decision of which site to use becomes more difficult.  Rocketmiles is the better choice over BookAAHotels.com, but Hotels.com is often cheaper.  When that’s the case, Rocketmiles is the better choice only when you value the AA miles from Rocketmiles more than you value the price difference plus the value of Hotels.com’s own rewards.  I showed above how you can mathematically decide which is better for you.  In the real world, I plan to do something simpler: I’ll evaluate whether the price via Rocketmiles is close enough to the best price I can find elsewhere (through Hotels.com or other sites).  If I can find a substantially lower price elsewhere, then I’ll book that lower price.  If the price is close enough, I’ll book through Rocketmiles.  For now, though, I do have access to the Hotels.com 4x AA miles offer and 10% back so most of my cash bookings will be going to Hotels.com in the near future.

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RLB

Good luck if you use Rocketmiles. Used 4 or 5 times this year. One reservation was pre-payed, yet no record at the hotel. Another from 5 August, I am still waiting on the points. Too many emails to count and little to no response. Tried a call, after 45 minutes on hold I gave up. Are the really part of Booking.com?

Mik

Compare with hotels.com
Plenty of deals on AAhotels are more expensive or having strict full refund policy.

Last edited 1 month ago by Mik
Pauln

Im just checking out rocketmiles on a few random days and city. It looks like one single night can earn 8k points for about $470. If that is the case would i just need 10 stays of one night in a year to reach platinum 75k points?

Pauln

Thanks! I agree it only makes sense in a very limited scenario where you have like a normal vacation stay and then split out one night or 2 individual nights to maximize the points. But thats a lot of work too

A B

You buried the lede: A two-night stay at the Country Inn and Suites in Gatlinburg, Tennessee costs $813?!?

Peter

RocketMiles can be booked through AA Shopping portal via PointsHound. Not sure what’s transpired. My 5X PointsHound LPs never posted. They are now same company as RocketMiles.

RocketMiles LPs posted for me four days after checkout (every time). No issues at any hotels (confirmed pre-paid by third party before/at check in).
RocketMiles let’s you book for other people (have not tried that).

RocketMiles allows you to purchase additional “bonus” miles at checkout for about 2.2 cents per LP. Yes, they are LPs; a change RocketMiles made this year (even got retro credit).

jon

Ok, but how is hotels.com and rocketmiles when you need to cancel or get a refund? How’s their customer service?

Lukas

Here is a correction I mentioned before – because the 11th night is free, not the 10th one, the hotels.com discount is actually 1/11 = 9.1%.

Grant

I think it’s also important to know that you need to complete 10 nights with Hotels.com before you receive the 10% reward. In most cases, I prefer booking chain hotels, so it’s really hard for me to get to 10 nights through Hotels.com.

Steve

When you book through RM, when do you get the miles? After you book, pay, or only after you stay? I assume with the Hotels.com offer on Simply Miles, it would come after the payment posted? But what if you cancelled?

Last edited 1 month ago by Steve
CHRIS

The miles usually come about a week after you STAY.

murphy

I think sometimes it’s better to book IHG or Marriott through aadvantageeshopping. Right now you can get 2x AA on IHG or 1x on Marriott and you can still get your status perks plus bonuses for a cobrand credit card. Marriott has had infrequent increases to 3x or 4x on the portal. And you can use BRG to match any other rate.

Last edited 1 month ago by murphy
Coleslaw

You can get 6% cash back for Marriott pretty frequently.

Coleslaw

Be careful of the cap on the Simplymiles offer:

Limit of 6975 miles in total reward per Card.