OTA affiliate partnerships: How they work and what to choose

OTA affiliate partnerships: How they work and what to choose

Importance of affiliate programs

Affiliate programs are crucial for the travel industry, offering a win-win deal for both affiliates and travel businesses.

While online travel agencies can reach new audiences and increase their brand visibility, affiliates can earn substantial commissions by driving traffic and sales to the business. We’re now seeing lots of smaller OTAs and travel content websites willing to become affiliates.

But affiliate partnering is a huge topic, and there is a lot to unpack, from partnership types to elaborate commission structures. How does it all work, what should you choose, and how do you even get started?

Let’s unwrap all of this step by step.

Direct and indirect partnerships

There are two ways you can become a partner to an OTA: directly or through another partner platform. Some OTA’s provide you with both options to choose from.

With direct partnerships, you’ll need to personally contact the company you want to become an affiliate of. Sometimes this is fairly straightforward — for example, OTAs like Expedia and Agoda are pretty transparent and place all the important details in their terms and conditions for affiliate partners, which are available online. You can learn everything about becoming an affiliate beforehand, from open source.

However, other companies take a different approach, discussing the conditions of affiliate partnerships exclusively and individually — like Priceline and KAYAK. The only way to get the information you need is to contact these OTAs and provide details about your own company first. Their decision to partner with you or not will be based on various factors, including the size of your business.

Indirect partnerships are those facilitated through a third party — usually a certain affiliate marketing platform like CJ Affiliate or Travelpayouts. These platforms connect OTA’s with potential affiliate partners and then provide you with tools necessary to start advertising.

The conditions for partners in this case are generally more standardized due to the nature of the platforms, and the information to get started is explained comprehensively. For example, while there is no open source info on Priceline’s terms for affiliate partners, their CJ Affiliate page is filled with specific figures on various booking types.

Due to the lack of open source information about direct partnerships with certain OTAs, it can be hard to know whether direct or indirect is the best option for you. The best tactic would be to approach your chosen company directly first, see their terms, conditions and figures, and then make up your mind.

Types of commission structures

Since commission is the main reason companies enter affiliate partnerships, it’s essential to understand how you earn. Currently, major OTAs offer two main types of commissions: commissions for stayed bookings and commissions for click-outs.

Commissions for stayed bookings

Booking commissions are paid to you when someone completes a stay with your partner, booked through your website. That means that a customer has to click the link on your website, book an accommodation or a service of their choice, and then actually pay for it and use it. When all the conditions are met, you get your reward, which may be flat or percentage-based.

For example, if you bring Expedia USA a customer who books a flight, you will always earn a flat $2 reward, no matter the cost of their flight.

But with Booking.com, they’ll earn $15 from every stayed booking for a particular accommodation, and you’ll earn a percentage of that. So if a customer you acquired spends $100 on said accommodation, Booking.com earns $15, and gives you a certain percentage of it, resulting in around $4-6 of profit for you.

But wait a minute, why isn’t it a set sum of money? Well, there is another layer to it.

Some agencies reward you for bringing them more bookings or traffic with a scaling commission payment system with multiple tiers. With Booking.com, your share of their $15 earnings depends on the total number of stayed bookings you brought in that particular month.

If you brought fewer than 50 bookings, then you’ll earn 25% of their €15, which is $3.75. However, if you brought, let’s say, more than 500, then you’ll get 40%, which equates to $6.

Feeling a bit lost with affiliate partnerships?

Contact us, and we’ll guide you through.

Commissions for click-outs

A click-out system allows you to earn commissions even when a customer doesn’t end up booking anything. This system is used by some popular OTAs like KAYAK and Tripadvisor. It sounds great, but let’s first establish what a click-out even is.

Click-outs are a bit trickier to grasp than stayed bookings, so here’s a simple step-by-step explanation:

  1. A user visits your site and clicks on the affiliate link, which takes them to your partner’s website.
  2. Then, they click on a provider link (for example, a certain airline's website) from your partner’s webpage. This is what constitutes a click-out: the process of visiting your partner’s page and then leaving it to visit their partner service provider.
  3. You earn commission for the click-out, regardless of whether the customer ends up using the service or not.

Just as with stayed bookings, the click-out commission can be flat or percentage-based depending on your affiliate partner’s terms. For example, Trivago offers to pay you 40% of all the revenue you generate for them — so if your click-outs earned them $100, you should get $40 in return.

One of the most important aspects of a click-out affiliate partnership with any OTA is cookie duration, and you should pay close attention to it.

While KAYAK’s terms on CJ Affiliate may be enticing numerically, their cookie length is only 30 minutes, meaning that you won’t get any commission for transactions that occur more than 30 minutes after the user is redirected to KAYAK.

Compare that to Tripadvisor’s «commission for influence» program, which works as follows: if a customer comes to Tripadvisor through your affiliate link and doesn’t click-out to any booking partners immediately, but returns to Tripadvisor within two weeks and then makes a click-out, you will earn a commission — even if they come through another marketing channel.

To put it simply, a greater cookie duration allows you to acquire more sales for your partners, which is only a good thing.

Payments, thresholds, and processing time

Now that we’ve figured out the most popular commission structures, it’s time to understand the nuances of the payment procedures. So, let’s assume everything is working nicely, and you are now eligible to claim your commission. Well, the timeframe for receiving it depends entirely on your partner’s conditions.

For example, Booking.com processes payments over 60 days, with a minimum payout of €100. That means that the company won’t send you your money unless your affiliate commission exceeds this sum (or unless you terminate the agreement). KAYAK, on the other hand, offers a 45-day processing period for direct partnerships, but the threshold for payout can range from $100 to $500 depending on payment method.

How to choose the right affiliate partner: Factors to consider

With all that in mind, how do you pick the right option for your company? There is a lot to consider, so here’s our short checklist to help you navigate through it.

Target audience

Assess the affiliate program's target audience to ensure it aligns with your business' target market. Look for online travel affiliate programs that cater to the same demographic or travel niche to increase the likelihood of generating relevant leads and conversions.

Booking types

Evaluate the variety of booking options available through the affiliate program. Some travel agency affiliate programs may focus on specific travel segments such as hotels, flights, or vacation packages. Choose a program that offers booking types that resonate with your audience and complement your business' offerings.

Commission structure

Choose the type of commission structure that seems most beneficial to you. Luckily, the market is huge, and you have options to choose from.

Remember that it’s not just about payments, but also performance-based incentives and cookie duration. A higher commission rate or performance bonus can significantly impact your earnings, while longer cookie durations ensure you receive credit for conversions even if they don't happen immediately.

Payment methods

It is crucial to understand not just the payout structures, but also the payment methods offered by affiliate programs in the travel industry. Check that they align with your preferences and operational requirements. Common payment methods include direct bank transfers and PayPal, so choose a program that offers the most convenient and reliable options for your business.

Support and resources

Evaluate the level of support and resources provided by affiliate programs for travel. If possible, look for travel company affiliate programs that offer dedicated account managers, marketing materials, reporting tools, and assistance with technical integration. These resources can make it easier for your business to promote the affiliate offerings effectively.

Terms and conditions

Carefully review the terms and conditions of any travel-related affiliate programs. Pay attention to any restrictions, exclusivity clauses, or contractual obligations. Ensure that the terms align with your business' needs and that you can comply with the program's requirements.

So, what do the terms for some of the most popular travel affiliate programs look like? We’ve conducted our research, contacted some of the companies ourselves, and created this simple guide for you.

A few notes before you dive right in...

First of all, we’ll mostly use terms and conditions for the USA, but note that figures vary by region. We also focus mainly on direct partnerships.

Commissions based on stayed bookings


Booking.com offers a 25-40% split commission depending on the number of stayed bookings your website brings. The structure is as follows:


Note that the amount you receive in the end also depends on the commision that a specific accommodation pays to Booking.com. As the company states, these can vary from 10 to 20% with the most common types being 15%, 17%, and 20%.

Here’s an example of how it works for a reservation worth €100:

Commissions based on stayed bookings Booking.com

To summarize, on average, partnerships with Booking.com can bring you from 2.5% to 8% of the total booking value for each reservation depending on your success and the type of agreement Booking.com has with the accommodation provider.

Cookie duration: Booking.com doesn’t use cookies, and instead relies on Affiliate IDs — unique numbers included in the URL that track bookings and commission. They look like this: http://www.booking.com/index.html?aid=xxxxxx, with xxxxx standing for an actual AID.

Commission threshold: If your total earned commission is less than €100, Booking.com will postpone payment until that threshold is reached or you terminate the affiliate agreement.

Payment processing: Booking.com promises to pay all commission via bank transfer within 60 days of the end of the month in which the customer you brought departs from their accommodation.


Expedia Group Affiliate Program offers various booking commission percentages depending on type of service. The percentages are based on the total price paid by a traveler for a service, excluding taxes and fees.


Cookie duration: 7 days

Commission threshold: £20/$30/€30 per month

Payment processing: Can take from 60 to 150 days after a completed trip. If someone books a trip that begins in 6 months’ time, you will have to wait half a year until it is completed and a few months beyond that to receive payment.


Hotels.com is part of Expedia, so their travel booking affiliate programs work in the exact same way. They offer 4% commissions for hotels in the USA.

Cookie duration: 7 days

Commission threshold: £20/$30/€30 per month

Payment processing: Can take from 60 to 150 days after a completed trip. If someone books a trip that begins in 6 months’ time, you will have to wait for half a year until it is completed and a few months beyond that to receive payment.


Agoda uses a simple formula to calculate the commissions to their partners. The commission consists of a total booking value (minus taxes and fees like service charges) multiplied by a certain percentage, which grows with the amount of bookings you bring to Agoda.

Here’s how this percentage is calculated:


So, if we exclude fees and taxes, a reservation of €100 will bring you from €4 to €5 depending on your marketing success.

Payment processing: You will be paid through direct bank transfer in the month following the customer’s departure from the hotel. That means if the customer checks out on April 4, you will receive your commission in May.

Commission payments are calculated on the first day of each month, with payments made by the 15th of the month.

Commission threshold: $200


Orbitz works through CJ Affiliate and offers commissions on different bases for various services:

  • Air commissions are paid per ticket.
  • Cruise commissions are per reservation.
  • Everything else is paid as a percentage of a sale amount.

This is how it works according to terms on CJ Affiliate:


Cookie duration: 7 day

Payment processing: Open-ended payment locking cycle on CJ Affiliate — no specified locking date or time frame.

Commission threshold: This depends on individual settings on CJ Affiliate.


We asked Priceline representatives for their direct affiliate partnership terms, and they said that these can be discussed privately on a case by case basis.

However, if you want some estimates beforehand, Priceline also operates through partners.

According to their terms on CJ Affiliate, you can earn commission when visitors click from your website to Priceline's site and book hotel rooms, flights, rental cars, bundled packages, or cruises. The commission structure is pretty straightforward: 3% for any of the aforementioned reservations and express deals except for retail flights, for which you earn $2.


Cookie duration: 30 days

Payment processing: Open-ended payment locking cycle on CJ Affiliate — no specified locking date or time frame.

Commission threshold: This depends on individual settings on CJ Affiliate.

Commissions based on click-outs


Just like Priceline, when we asked KAYAK about their direct affiliate partnership terms, they told us that these can be discussed exclusively depending on the size of the company.

But KAYAK also works through CJ Affiliate.

Here’s what the terms for the USA look like at CJ Affiliate:


KAYAK also mentions that it can fund certain optimizations with higher CPCs, and encourages companies to reach out to them for discussion.

However, with KAYAK, there are certain restrictions to keep in mind:

  • First of all, the cookie length is only 30 minutes/session, and any click-outs after that time period won’t count towards your commissions.
  • KAYAK only pays for up to 5 click-outs from one user for each search within a session.
  • Any traffic over 2000 clicks with a booking conversion rate below 1% per day won’t be paid for.

Cookie duration: 30 minutes

Payment processing. Commission will be paid around the 20th or 28th of the month following a user’s click-out.

Commission threshold: This depends on individual settings on CJ Affiliate.


Tripadvisor works through CJ Affiliate, and as the terms page states, they offer a minimum 4% commission on completed experience bookings. While that one is pretty straightforward, there are also «commissions for influence» and click-out commission models for hotels with no booking required.

For hotels, the commission structure is similar to KAYAK’s: when a user visits Tripadvisor via a link from your website and then clicks out to any other booking site, you get paid. However, in this case it’s not a set amount of money, like $0.17 or $0.46. Instead, Tripadvisor earns their own referral fee, 40% of which is then shared with you.

The resulting sum depends on various factors, including booking partner, hotel, seasonality, and length of stay. The company doesn’t provide any exact calculations, but offers some examples of monthly commissions for three of their partners.


Cookie duration: 14 days

Payment processing: 60 days, then it is paid around the 20th or 28th of the closest month.

Commission threshold: This depends on individual settings on CJ Affiliate.


As you can see, there is a lot to learn about OTA affiliate partnerships before deciding on becoming a partner yourself. Online travel agency affiliate payouts and cookie durations can vary, and you also have to think about other conditions like your target audience.

Our advice is to make your choices carefully, taking everything into consideration and contacting companies you want to partner with to ask all your questions. This way, you will surely find the top travel affiliate programs to suit your business, and start earning substantial commissions.

Alex loves travel and tech and founded Zoftify to help travel companies use technology more effectively. Before this, he worked in tech consulting, where he led international mobile development teams.

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