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March 10, 2004 -- We're subscribed to every frequent-flyer and frequent-stay program on Earth, and we hope you are, too. There's no downside: the programs are free to join. Especially with frequent-flier programs, even infrequent fliers can find rewards that fit them, such as magazine subscriptions (which only cost a few hundred miles.)

Budget travelers just got a frequent-stay boost with the introduction of a new program, Cendant TripRewards (www.triprewards.com). The new program combines a slew of discount brands into a reward system rivaling more-upscale brands. TripRewards' core brands include:

  • AmeriHost Inn
  • Days Inn
  • Howard Johnson
  • Knights Inn
  • Ramada
  • Super 8
  • Travelodge
  • Villager
  • Wingate Inn
  • Avis and Budget car rentals
  • Fairfield Resorts
  • Holiday Network

You get 10 points per dollar spent on any of these hotels, and can start checking in for free nights starting at 6,000 points (in other words, $600 spent on hotels.) You can also get magazine subscriptions, gift certificates, Amtrak points or miles on Delta, Continental and Air Canada. Yes, Canadians -- TripRewards welcomes you with open arms.

Free nights at Cendant hotels are cheap in terms of points, but that makes sense; free nights at Cendant hotels are cheap in terms of dollars, too. And unlike with the Marriott, Hilton or Starwood frequent-guest programs, you can't save up your points for fancy hotels in the US, as Cendant doesn't own any.

Airline miles are also cheaper to buy with your points. At 2.5 TripRewards points per mile, you end up paying 25¢ per mile -- that's half the price of Starwood, ChoiceRewards or Marriott conversions (both of which, however, have many more airline partners than TripRewards currently does.)

Car rentals are much cheaper with TripRewards than with other programs. A free weekend day with Avis or Budget only costs $600 in accumulated TripRewards points, as compared to $1,500 in Hilton points or $1,000 in Marriott points (they sell a three-day rental for 30,000 points). Starwood sells a $50 Avis gift certificate for the equivalent of $1,250.

(We're basing these conversions on the base hotel points earning rate. So the various items you get will be "cheaper" if you're a Starwood Gold member staying at hotels, and more "expensive" if you're accumulating your points by shopping with a rewards credit card.)

There's no TripRewards credit card, but that's okay -- you can register up to three of your own Mastercard accounts to earn points as you spend. By all means, sign up at www.triprewards.com, and start rakin' 'em in at the Super 8.

Do you have a comment or question about this column? Are you already a member of TripRewards? What's your favorite loyalty program (and why)? Give us your feedback on our Message Boards today.