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Hotel room (Photo: Index Open)

There's been no letup in the unprecedented two-year-long promotional push by hotels to keep room occupancies up in a down market for travel. And the special offers appear set to continue at least through the spring.

It's not only bonus points for free stays. In just the last week, we've looked at cash or cash-like incentives from Marriott and Westin, and an elite-match offer from Best Western.

Here's a new one from InterContinental's Priority Club Rewards program: up to 6,000 bonus points for transactions with any of the program's partners, including the Priority Club Visa card, Hertz, points-for-dining, Netflix, Chase Checking, Points.com, and the Priority Club mileage mall. (Not eligible: Priority Club Gift Points, Transfer Points, Holiday Inn Club Vacations, Chase Home Equity, My Coke Rewards, and airline partners.) ...read more»

Dollar bills on a line (Photo: Index Open)

When you hear someone reference a "loyalty currency," it's not just a flight of terminological wonkiness. Miles and points are widely viewed as having cash value, if not as outright cash equivalents. And on a purely emotional level, consumers often prove to be as engaged with and protective of their loyalty points as they are of their dollars.

Perhaps the common thread is that both are hard-earned.

In any case, it's generally easier and cheaper for travel suppliers to give away points than it is to offer cash or rebates. Which explains why most travel promotions are of the "Earn double miles" variety, rather than "Get $100 cash back."

But there are a couple of current hotel offers that do offer cash incentives—or at least cash equivalents, one in the form of a Visa gift card, the other as an Amazon gift card. ...read more»

Golfing at Quail Lodge Resort (Photo: Quail Lodge Resort)

Earning frequent flyer miles is easy. The challenge is to redeem them, conveniently and for good value.

The airlines have been slow to address that need, preferring to limit frequent flyer awards to free flights. That way, they're limiting the cost of most awards to the real cost of flying one more passenger in a seat that would have been empty anyway.

The upside to that approach is that the airlines can give away a ticket with a perceived value of $400 that only costs them an extra bag of pretzels, a can of Coke, and marginally more jet fuel.

That makes the programs financially viable for the airlines, and potentially highly rewarding for travelers. It's a win-win. Or can be.

But there's a downside to the reliance on unsold seats as rewards: Award seats are limited at best, and not available at all on some flights. ...read more»

Airport Departure Gate Sign (Photo: iStockphoto/Halbergman)

Remember when all frequent flyer award tickets were issued exclusively on a round-trip basis?

It sounds irrational, but it's the same logic associated with the advance-purchase fares most travelers buy for leisure travel, which historically have also been offered only as round-trips.

Whatever its origins, the effect could be maddening. Even if you only needed to fly one way, you'd have to redeem enough miles for a round-trip. And perhaps even more exasperating, it meant you couldn't book the outbound award flight in first (because, say, there were no available award seats in coach), and the return in coach.

The trend these days is definitely in the direction of offering award tickets on a one-way basis, permitting award travelers to mix and match both classes of service and unrestricted and restricted awards. And the cost of a one-way is generally pegged at half the number of miles required for a comparable round-trip. ...read more»

Virgin America seating (Photo: Virgin America)

Virgin America has added a mileage mall to its Elevate program, allowing members to earn points for shopping at more than 150 online retailers....read more»

Hotel room (Photo: Index Open)

Got status? If you're a silver, gold, or platinum elite member of another hotel frequent-stay program, Best Western will accord you equivalent status in its Best Western Rewards program.

Status-matching is a common if unpublicized practice among airlines, but is less of a fixture in the hotel arena. And it's rarely if ever widely and openly promoted, as is being done in this case.

While Best Western's press release doesn't mention other hotel chains by name, it includes the following: "Road warriors who face devalued loyalty programs at other chains will benefit from their Best Western Rewards Elite status by earning special benefits even faster at our hotels ... " The reference to devalued programs would suggest that this marketing initiative is implicitly directed at Hilton HHonors members, whose points recently lost value when Hilton increased award prices at many hotels. But it's open to elites in any and all hotel programs. ...read more»

Credit card on keyboard (Photo: Index Open)

The bonus for getting and using the British Airways credit card is 100,000 miles—enough for two free tickets to Europe. But the promotion could end at any time, so don't dawdle....read more»

Traveler walking in the rain (Photo: IndexOpen)

Is this any time for hotel loyalty programs to raise the price of award nights? Faced with that question, Hilton and Carlson came up with diametrically opposed responses....read more»

United States money (Photo: PhotoDisc)

Yesterday, frequent flyers were the airlines' salvation, pursued and coddled for their outsized contributions to the bottom line. Today, frequent buyers are getting their due....read more»

Hotel bed with rose petals (Photo: Index Open)

With two new perks, the Marriott credit card is improved. But you still might be better off without it....read more»

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