The Scoop: As third-party travel booking sites became more popular, hotels began to lose their direct relationships with customers. Travelers, particularly couples on special trips, not only want the best price — they also want the ability to shop around. In 2010, six of the biggest hotel brands in the world came together to find a way to reconnect with customers, and Room Key was born. A hotel booking site, Room Key offers hotel loyalty rates — most often the lowest available — to consumers while allowing them to choose from over 45,000 hotels worldwide. All rooms are booked directly with the hotels, meaning a traveler can take advantage of all the rewards points and perks that come with being a brand loyalist. Room Key continues to grow as it expands worldwide to reward customers while building loyalty.

When third-party hotel booking sites began to flourish in the mid-2000s, a concerning trend became apparent to hoteliers. While customers were getting good deals through a variety of booking sites, their loyalty to hotel brands themselves was waning.

That dynamic had drawbacks for both parties, as hotels lost out on the chance to build relationships and consumers were unable to take advantage of the many perks that come with being a repeat customer.

In 2010, six major hotel brands — Choice Hotels International, Hilton Worldwide, Hyatt Hotels Corporation, InterContinental Hotels Group, Marriott International, and Wyndham Worldwide — came together to find a way to rekindle that relationship with the customer.

That meeting of influential minds led to the founding of a new booking site called Room Key, and its mission was to stand out from the others. The man tasked with running Room Key, CEO Steve Sickel, had a special perspective on how to accomplish that goal.

“My dad used to tell me, ‘Only do what only you can do.’ That means: Understand what your unique strength is and capitalize on it,” Steve told us recently. “Think about the things that only you can do and build off of them. So I have taken that life lesson and incorporated it into work.”

The Room Key logo and a photo of CEO Steve Sickel

CEO Steve Sickel spoke with us about the company’s unique position in the hotel-booking industry.

Thanks to Steve, Room Key found its identity as the only booking site to offer consumers the ability to shop loyalty rates with the added benefit of booking directly with one of over 45,000 hotels around the world.

Since its launch, travelers, particularly couples on special trips, have been flocking to Room Key because of what it so often provides: the lowest possible price on a hotel room. Cost is the bottom line for most consumers, so Room Key started there, but it continues to add hotels and refine its flexible business model to adapt to whatever the user needs next.

Travelers Get Choices, Loyalty Rates, and Benefits of Direct Hotel Booking

The reason third-party hotel booking sites became popular was that they offered more options and lower prices. One of the major drivers for consumers in e-commerce is research, according to a Deloitte survey, and booking a hotel online is no different. Shoppers enjoy being able to compare multiple rooms, rates, and amenities to feel sure they made the right decision.

“The cost of getting it wrong is significant because paying too much or being stuck somewhere you don’t want to be can lead to a disappointing experience,” Steve told us. “So it’s a fairly involved purchase decision.”

In the quest for the best deal, customer loyalty was often a casualty because users were mainly comparing numbers, not recalling their past experiences with a brand. This practice vexed hotels, which wanted travelers to feel more comfortable coming directly to them instead of going through an intermediary. Room Key became an innovative solution to those concerns.

Room Key is built to satisfy all of the demands of the modern hotel booker — including value and selection — but with added benefits that other sites can’t offer, like special rates reserved for faithful customers and the confidence of direct booking.

Because of its powerful hotel partnerships, Room Key is able to promote customer loyalty rates for hotel rooms. When searching, a user enters a destination, travel dates, and the number of rooms and guests to gain access to pricing information. Before booking, the user simply opts in to a hotel’s loyalty program to unlock the rate. In nearly every case, the loyalty rate is the lowest available anywhere.

“Room Key is the only multi-brand travel site that offers as many loyalty rates for as many hotels in the world,” Steve said.

Travelers also prefer to avoid issues that come up with third-party travel sites from time to time, like lost reservations. All rooms on Room Key are booked directly through the hotel, giving a traveler the confidence of their reservation being on file where they are staying. But confidence is not the only benefit of direct booking. A customer can also take advantage of rewards points and can access other loyalty perks like free wifi or breakfast.

“Whatever benefits you get by booking directly through a hotel’s website, you get by booking through Room Key,” Steve told us.

The value proposition that Room Key offers its users has helped its steady growth, but its structure and agility have played a significant role as well.

Rapid Growth is the Product of a Nimble Culture and Consumer Focus

As more consumers realize the value Room Key provides, the site continues to grow and add partnerships.

“The customer reaction has been quite staggering,” Steve told us. “Our bookings more than doubled in the past year because we’re onto something that resonates.”

Graphic showing Room Key's worldwide footprint

Room Key’s size and agility have helped the company establish a sizeable worldwide footprint in just a few years.

Room Key’s growth can partly be attributed to its size. With a disruptive start-up model and a nimble staff, the company can move quickly to introduce new features or to respond to trends.

“Working at Room Key, you can easily pivot and change direction if you need to,” Steve said. “When we see something in the market, we can be on top of it within 24 hours.”

Steve also said that intellectual curiosity is built into the culture at Room Key because possessing a diverse knowledge base, especially outside of the industry, allows the team to approach problems from different perspectives. That structure should serve Room Key well as it continues to expand globally.

Room Key Sees Worldwide Expansion as the Next Horizon

The philosophy to ‘Only do what only you can do’ that helped Steve bring explosive growth to Room Key has solidified the site’s place in the travel industry. And it continues to seek out ways to provide even more.

“We are constantly looking to add brands, but the reality is that we have just about everybody covered in North America,” Steve told us. “Our next horizon will be major brands that sit outside North America. We want to look at adding more brands in Europe, Central and South America, and parts of Asia.”

Purchasing anything from a third-party comes with a few caveats. With other hotel sites, travelers can lose out on the lowest rates, free hotel perks, and even the reservation security that goes along with booking directly from the source.

Room Key has united the most reputable hotel brands in the world to restore their direct relationships with customers by offering value, choice, and confidence.

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