New from Priority Club: Rental Car Awards

InterContinental Hotel Group's Priority Club Rewards program has made it a point to excel on the rewards side of the earn-and-burn equation. And with such offerings as Hotels Anywhere, Flights Anywhere, and Digital Rewards, the program now boasts what is arguably the industry's widest and deepest roster of awards.

Apparently feeling that there were yet more bases to cover, the program has added yet another option for redeeming points: Cars Anywhere.

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With Cars Anywhere, program members may cash in their points, or a combination of points and cash, for car rentals at airport locations worldwide, "starting at 5,000 points."

It's always nice in theory to have more options. But as is always the case with non-stay awards in a hotel program (or non-flight awards in an airline program), the key question is one of value. How much are your points worth when cashed in for an alternative award; and how does that compare to their value when redeemed for a free hotel night?

For context, a Cars Anywhere test booking showed a two-day rental of an intermediate-sized car at Los Angeles International Airport for 48,000 points from Budget, 50,000 points through Avis. On the rental-car companies' own websites, comparable rentals were priced at $245.50 and $168.40, respectively.

Test booking rentals at other major U.S. airports showed similar points-to-dollars ratios.

On the other hand, redeeming 50,000 points for a hotel stay would net one night at a Category 9 hotel -- the most expensive category in Priority Club's award scheme, reserved for pricey InterContinentals and the like—or two nights in a Category 4 hotel.

At least in the test cases, you would almost certainly get better value for your points if you used them for free hotel stays than for car rentals.

That's not a surprising result. It almost always costs program operators more to offer other companies' products as awards than it does to give away their own inventory. That cost disadvantage means those alternative awards will inevitably be priced higher than the hotel chain's own nights.

There's still the convenience factor, though. Is that enough to make Cars Anywhere a significant step forward for Priority Club?

Judging by the decidedly tepid response on such travel-discussion boards as FlyerTalk (five posts) and MilePoint (three posts), Cars Anywhere is more of a yawner than it is a game changer. For hard-core program participants at least, value trumps all other considerations, including convenience.

As Amyrlin commented on FlyerTalk: "Useful additions, but not very good value for the places I looked."

Reader Reality Check

Have you redeemed points for alternative awards in a hotel or airline program?

Were you satisfied with the value you received?

This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.

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