The Best 2021 Travel Cashback and Rewards Programs (that aren’t credit cards or miles)

You can’t throw a premium metal credit card in the travel blogosphere without hitting someone talking about credit card points and mileage or hotel loyalty programs. Those can be great, but they’re been pretty well exhaustively covered. What about other ways to earn cash back and rewards?

Savvy shoppers know to stack discounts by shopping through a cashback portal, buying during sales, applying coupon codes, and finally earning credit card points on the (heavily discounted!) total. This strategy isn’t just limited to designer denim. Here are are my favorite stackable rewards programs that you can stack to earn cashback, free nights and discounted travel:

Rakuten Cashback

Rakuten travel cashback

You might have already heard about Rakuten’s cashback program for online shopping. But their huge list of merchants also includes travel brands like Expedia, Priceline, VRBO, Travelocity, Marriott, and a bunch more, including most major hotel brands. With cashback rates up to 10%, it can be worth that extra click before you book your travel.

Earning and redeeming your cashback is fairly straightforward. Click through from Rakuten before you make your purchases, and once you’ve earned more than $5, you’ll be eligible for a payout. You can choose from Paypal, a paper check, or even American Express membership rewards points for your payout. Payments are automatically made on a quarterly basis.

Rakuten offers a bonus for signing up and making your first purchase from them — at the time of publication, it’s $10 if you sign up on your own, or $20 if you’re referred by someone else. The dollar amounts vary according to current promotions, but it’s almost always higher if you use a referral link. Get your boosted signup bonus using my Rakuten referral link, or ask a friend who already has an account to be sure you get the maximum bonus!

Hotels.com Free Nights

Hotels.com webpage

If you’re loyal to a particular hotel chain, you’re best off booking directly in order to earn elite status with that brand. But if you’re like me, with no particular loyalty, and a strong preference for boutique hotels, Hotels.com rewards program might fit well into your savings repertoire.

Each completed hotel night booked through Hotels.com nets you one “stamp.” Accumulate 10 stamps, and you’ll receive a free hotel night worth the average cost of those 10 bookings– essentially a 10% reward.

Hotels.com rewards program

What can make their rewards program especially valuable is the fact that travel you book for others counts towards YOUR stamps! This is a departure from individual hotel loyalty programs that generally reward the person who stays rather than the person who books the stay.

It likely wouldn’t be kosher at a larger company, but my boyfriend often books travel for others in his small office, and earns stamps each time his co-workers complete their stays. Even if you’re not in a position to book travel for co-workers, taking on the responsibility of booking trips with family and friends could be very rewarding.

While Hotels.com does regularly offer small discounts via coupon codes, keep in mind that you’ll need to choose between earning stamps and using a coupon code. Bookings made with a coupon code don’t earn stamps toward a free night. I find that the value of the free night I earn generally exceeds the discount that I would have earned using coupon codes.

While you can’t stack coupon codes with stamp earning on Hotels.com, you can click through from cashback sites like Rakuten (above), and MyPoints to earn a percentage back on top of your rewards nights for each booking you make.

Expedia Rewards Points

Expedia website

Expedia’s rewards program operates on a points basis. You’ll earn 1 point for every 5 dollars spent on airfare, and 2 points per dollar on every other type of booking. The number of points you’ll earn increases as you spend more and gain higher status. 140 points = $1 towards a booking, though your points are worth double at special VIP Access properties.

Expedia rewards program

With so many variables, your cashback rate will vary, but at the base level, you’ll earn about 1.5%. Not as impressive as Hotels.com to be sure, but you can both earn and redeem points across more travel categories like cruises, flight and hotel packages, activities and rental cars.

You can also boost that earning rate by booking through the Expedia app, and by leveling up in status as you book more travel. Earn Silver status with 7 or more hotel nights or $5,000 in spend, and Gold with 15 or more hotel nights or $10,000 in spend.

Like Hotels.com, Expedia does participate in MyPoints and Rakuten, so you can earn cashback on top of their rewards program.

Holly
I'm a freelancer, digital nomad and passionate traveler. I love exploring through food, and staying in hotels with a sense of place. Country-counting isn't for me, and I think that beloved places are always worth returning to for further exploration. I believe that travel can be profoundly life-changing, and I'm dedicated to sharing my experiences and expertise to help you make the best possible choices in your travels.