Points or Cash? If Either Is Good, Both Are Better

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."

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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.

The Visa gift card, which can be used anywhere a Visa debit card is accepted, is the carrot being dangled by Marriott for weekend stays completed by April 18 and charged to a Visa card.

Travelers earn a $25 card for every weekend night at JW Marriott, Renaissance, and Marriott hotels, up to a maximum of $50; and a $15 card for every weekend night at Courtyard, Fairfield Inn & Suites, SpringHill Suites, Residence Inn, and TownePlace Suites properties, up to a maximum of $30.

Not bad. But there's an irksome caveat with this offer: To earn the gift card, you must book the Stay for Breakfast rate, which includes breakfast for up to two adults. Naturally, that's not the lowest available rate, so if paying extra for breakfast doesn't make economic sense, the gift card isn't likely to be a deal-maker.

On a positive note, the offer can be combined with Marriott's spring MegaBonus points offer, in effect through April 30. So this is a case where the same stay could potentially earn both cash and extra points.

Elsewhere, Starwood Preferred Guest program members can receive a $100 Amazon.com gift card after completing two stays at any of 120 Westin hotels in the U.S. or Canada by May 13.

The offer applies to Sunday through Thursday arrivals, and up to three cards may be earned during the promotion period.

It's true that an Amazon gift card falls well short of actual cash when it comes to flexibility—you can't pay for lunch, or for a tank-full of gas, with an Amazon card. On the other hand, Amazon has grown into one of the Internet's largest retailers, selling goods across a wide range of product categories, so it shouldn't be difficult to use the card to full effect.

Given that the $100 card can be earned after just two non-consecutive nights, and that there are no onerous rate requirements, this is an offer that could add significant extra value to Westin stays.

And as with the Marriott offer, this promotion can be combined with a Starwood bonus points offer, in effect through April 15.

Points or cash? If either is good, both are are bound to be better.

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