Posted by Elisabeth Leamy, Mon Dec 24 2018, 04:06PM

Help For Holiday Shoppers Who Procrastinate

Gifting "Experiences" Could Be The Solution; Using Points Could Make It Free!

A new study shows more than half of Americans wait until the last month to buy holiday gifts for their friends and family. Thirty percent cut it even closer, waiting until the last week -or even the final day before Christmas. Cleveland, Orlando and Raleigh, North Carolina were the top three cities for procrastination, according to the survey. This national study was fielded by Hilton Honors, which partnered with Sperling`s Best places to poll more than six thousand Americans.

So why are we a "procrastination nation?" It seems Americans are stumped as to what to give their loved ones. And why would a hotel loyalty program want to know? Hilton Honors believes it has some unique -and FREE- solutions that can turn this holiday dread into holiday delight. Here are additional survey findings, along with ideas to make this holiday season merry and bright.

FINDING: 40% of shoppers delayed because they "didn`t know what to buy." IDEA: Gift experiences instead of stuff

40 percent of New Yorkers surveyed said they didn`t know what to buy. Other stumped cities: Boston, Charlotte and Orlando. I sweat this myself when shopping for my dad, especially. Indecision can be paralyzing, and if this is you, it`s time to think outside the box -literally. The hot new trend of 2018 is to give people experiences instead of stuff. Here`s where hotel rewards points come in. By cashing in points, you can go places and experience things you probably couldn`t arrange on your own. For example, as I write this, Hilton Honors Experiences is offering members the chance to walk the red carpet at the 2019 Grammy awards, then stay for the ceremony and rub shoulders with their favorite musicians. Shopping for more of a sports fan? Check out Hilton`s VIP Rose Bowl package. Wine making in Portugal… A Camel ride in Cairo… The list of once-in-a-lifetime opportunities goes on.

As a consumer reporter, I`m impressed with how flexible and customer-friendly the Hilton Honors program is, so much so that I`ve partnered with the folks there to get the word out. Some loyalty programs require too many points, with too many rules, for not enough rooms or seats. Not this one. You can snag some experiences, such as tickets to the lawn days concert series, for as little as 10 thousand points. Redeeming points online is quick and easy, and consider this: when you give somebody an experience as a gift, it`s immediate. You don`t have to worry about shipping and whether your gift will arrive on time.

FINDING: A quarter of survey respondents plan ahead for the holidays. IDEA: Plan a trip for -or with- friends or family, using loyalty points.

Hats off to you, Kansas City, Kansas, Raleigh, North Carolina and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma for being the biggest planners in this recent survey. Here`s an idea for those of you with the "planner gene." Hilton Honors now allows multiple people to "pool their points" to send somebody on a trip or to pay for something like a family reunion or a bachelorette weekend. Travel! Talk about a great holiday gift! Up to eleven different individuals can contribute their points and there are no transaction fees. This is a truly customer-friendly policy that used to be unheard of in the travel industry.

But what if you`re not a great planner? I`m here to tell you that it no longer takes military precision or months-in-advance planning to book a trip using loyalty points. We`re considering surprising my mother-in-law in Clearwater, Florida for New Year`s Eve, and we have our choice of nearly 40 different hotels we can book last minute using points. Then again, we might use our points to send her somewhere and pay cash for our own room. Speaking of which, two little-known tips: The best hotel loyalty programs offer discounted rates to their members, plus free WIFI and sometimes even free meals. And, contrary to popular belief, you`ll score the best room rate by booking right on the hotel`s own website, rather than through an online travel agency.

FINDING: 70% of consumers "look for the best prices online." Another 25% "wait for holiday deals."

IDEA: Redeem loyalty points and get holiday gifts for free!

The good people of Memphis, Oklahoma City and Cincinnati were the most interested in finding good deals, according to this new survey. So this idea is for all the nifty thrifty people out there. I am one of you. What`s even better than a deal? A freebie. Americans are sitting on about one hundred billion dollars worth of unredeemed loyalty points. Why not trade some of those points in for free holiday gifts and give your wallet a rest? Loyalty points are an untapped resource you can use to expand your budget or snag gifts you couldn`t otherwise get.

Here`s an important tip about shopping with points: Some loyalty programs offer only narrow catalogs of oddball merchandise. Instead, seek out a loyalty program that allows you to shop at a big, broad online retailer such as Amazon. They`re your hard-earned points. You should be able to use them to purchase whatever you want.

FINDING: 49% of Americans admitted to regifting! IDEA: Give a gift in somebody`s name instead.

Jacksonville, Florida, Nashville Tennessee, And Salt Lake City, Utah were the cities most likely to regift, according to this national survey. Hey, regifting is very environmentally friendly: Recycle, reuse, regift! But if your list includes somebody who already has everything they need and is likely to regift whatever you give them, why not make a donation in their name to charity instead? Most people don`t realize this is another opportunity to utilize loyalty points. When you donate points, they are converted into cash that the charity can use for the cause.

If your loyalty points are set to expire, this is a particularly good option - although I always recommend joining a loyalty program in which points never expire, as long as you remain active. I also suggest choosing a hotel points program that gives you thousands of choices of charities, so you can donate to a cause you -or your loved ones- care about. Some loyalty programs only give you the option of contributing to their own pet projects. This last, charitable use of hotel points is one more reason that anybody who travels anywhere ever should join a quality loyalty program. It`s free to join and, if you don`t, you`re leaving money on the table.

Whether you`re trying to put your holiday shopping behind you or trying to plan for what`s ahead of you in the new year, consider whether loyalty points can help you do more, see more, give more and live your best life.