Hunting for hidden assets? Consider cashing in your hotel reward points from customer loyalty programs.

A weakened dollar and approaching holiday season means more consumers are looking to loyalty programs as a resource, and using the perks to offset family travel and gift costs. Around 130 million Americans are expected to rely on loyalty programs this season, according to a poll by Ipsos Public Affairs/SoundBite Communications.

Already

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has seen a spike in transactions as members cash in loyalty reward points for perks, that's normal for the season. But here's the twist, people are using more points more quickly, and for less exotic purchases.

"When the economy turned we started to see more people use their points at a faster pace for things they would typically not spend their points

on," says Don Berg, Vice President of Loyalty Programs for IHG. So, instead a European vacation, many are cashing in their points for a trip to grandmother's house, says Berg.

A popular item for reward card holders is the

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's iPod offered through IHG. Although points are generally redeemed for electronics and sporting goods, around this time of year more people redeem points for jewelry and kitchenware.

It's not just trinkets that come with points.

What can you expect from loyalty programs? There are numerous hotel chains that offer loyalty programs including Choice Privileges and

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Rewards. Depending on the program, loyal customers -or repeat travelers--are offered free nights at hotels, high definition televisions, airline miles and gift cards.

What does it take for a free night stay? Kimpton InTouch Guest Loyalty Program rewards its guests with free night stay after 20 eligible nights and IHG provides its members with a free night stay after around 10 to 15 nights.

Before choosing a guest reward program, Berg suggests:

--Try to select a hotel loyalty program that has a lot of hotels across different type of price-points, not just a lot of hotels overall. Choose a program that has all of your hotel needs met so you can consolidate wherever you stay.

--Choose a program that is not going to put up any barriers when you go to redeem. Many hotel loyalty programs have an expiration deadline; check for programs whose points do not expire, are free of blackout dates, and that offer a wide selection of items to redeem points for.

--Look for a program that has the types of rewards that you want.

If you use your points in the right way, giving, this holiday season should be an easy and less costly process.