Hotel Room Keys That Double as Gift Cards Are the Next Big Meeting Trend

An easy way to please hotel guests and meeting attendees is to give them free stuff.

But rather than make it notepads or pens that are quickly forgotten, the Sheraton Seattle is giving guests something that makes them happy and energized. Sheraton Hotels & Resorts turned room keys into Starbucks gift cards for the first time this week for its Global General Managers Summit at the Sheraton Seattle. In addition to opening room doors, each card was loaded with $10 to use at five Starbucks locations nearby the hotel. Sheraton is the first Starwood brand to roll out the new card, which suggests meeting attendees at W Hotels and Le Meridien could be next to receive the key card surprise. Although Sheraton partnered with Starbucks, likely because CEO Howard Shultz spoke at the event, the concept gives hotels the opportunity to develop relationships and send customers to local businesses.

The move is also good news for the room key, which some hotels want to get rid of in favor of smartphone apps that allow guests to bypass the front desk.

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Martha Weaver | Marketing Manager
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How We Use Gift Cards

No matter how we give or receive gift cards, they carry a warm touch – and it’s getting even better, thanks to technology. Gift cards, delivered physically or via the internet, give us the ability to recognize people on birthdays, at holiday time, and for personal milestones and achievements. In the 21st century, gift cards are the quintessential feel-good prepaid asset and incentive.

Promotional marketing using incentive gifts has been around for decades, when big brands started coming up with ways to sell their products. Gift cards, as promotional currency, is now part of tens of thousands of everyday programs. “If you get a haircut, you get a gift card; subscribe to a wireless carrier, get a $50 gift card,” said Stone. “The reward aspect of a promotion is increasingly a gift card, and with eGifting it is so much easier and less costly for the retailer. Of course, we all know that Starbucks broke all kinds of records with its Living Social and Groupon offers.”

Michael Hursta, prepaid category manager at First Data, points out that the rise in self-purchasing of gift cards has led to a rise in the number of people reloading. Self-purchasers like to get rewards for reloading. “This is the first phase of connecting loyalty to gift cards,” said Hursta. “The consumer gets a bonus load on the card. He reloads $25 and gets a bonus of an extra $5.”

Retailers may soon be able to direct rewards to get a better sense of who the consumer is. They will deliver an offer in the form of a gift card, but specify what time the card can be used, or what category of products the gift card can be used for. The concept is to get retailers in a place where they can direct spending and get the consumer to try a new product. It requires a technology platform that can direct consumer spending.

Source: The Prepaid Press, read entire article here.

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Why Americans Love Prepaid Cards

The prepaid card business is booming for one big reason: People want to gain more control over their spending.

The cards aren't attached to bank accounts, and you can load and withdraw as much money as you want onto them from ATMs and make payments anywhere that debit or credit cards are accepted. And since you can only spend the amount that you've placed on the card, there's no risk of overdrawing your account and getting hit with overdraft fees. They've become so popular in recent years that celebrities, big banks, drugstores, tech companies and even organizations like Occupy Wall Street have rolled out their own versions.

While often viewed as an alternative banking product for the millions of Americans who lack bank accounts, the unbanked are no longer the primary users of prepaid cards, according to a Pew Charitable Trusts survey that polled 613 prepaid card users. In fact, the majority, 59%, also have checking accounts. Most prepaid card users reported struggling with credit card debt, overspending and overdraft fees in the past -- with two in five customers closing their own checking account or having an account closed after incurring too many overdrafts. And the most common reasons respondents cited for using prepaid cards were to avoid spending more money than they have and to avoid credit card debt.

"I am already negative in my checking account. So with this, I know what I can put on and what I can and cannot use," said one respondent in Pew's survey.

Unbanked prepaid card users said they want to be able to purchase items online. "I'm avoiding banks, and I still have Netflix, so I need to pay for it with some sort of plastic because you can't pay for things online with cash," another user stated. Many people who previously dealt in all cash said they switched to prepaid cards because it's safer than walking around with wads of money in their pocket, and others reported liking prepaid cards because they allow you to make transactions more annonymously -- since they aren't tied to a bank account. Another group of consumers said they simply can't qualify for checking accounts.


Is a prepaid card a good idea?

Fees used to be a big problem with prepaid cards, and still are in many cases. But as demand grows, more affordable options are entering the market -- and some are even less fee-heavy than traditional checking accounts. Overall prepaid cards are shifting their fee models to look more like checking accounts -- getting rid of some of the ancillary fees like customer service fees and charging more consistent monthly fees. This is a positive development, says Pew, since customers are less likely to be hit with charges they aren't expecting.In addition, three of the 10 largest prepaid cards are now issued by banks, which are generally better options because they carry lower -- and clearer -- fees, Pew finds.

There's still a big problem with prepaid cards, however. While federal laws regulate traditional bank accounts, limiting the fees they can charge and requiring certain protections from fraud losses and insurance coverage, prepaid cards remain unregulated.
"While prepaid cards offer many benefits to consumers, they are a relatively new product with little oversight. A lack of protections undermines prepaid cards as a safe and easy way to manage money," said Susan Weinstock, director of Pew's safe checking research, in a statement.

Source: CNN Money

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