EBay Turns Points Into Dollars

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Auction site eBay Inc. has unveiled a points-based member program for its 69 million registered users that allows the conversion of airline miles and hotel points into eBay Anything Points.

Charter participants of the new currency effort include Sprint, Hilton HHonors, McAfee Security and Points.com, which represents Cathay Pacific Airways, Midwest Airways and American Airlines' AAdvantage program.

"We're using this program as a way of inviting brand marketers into the eBay community," said Don Albert, senior director of strategic partnerships at eBay, San Jose, CA.

The program lets members avail themselves of special offers and earn points to buy an array of goods on eBay, the world's leading auction site. Points are deposited in members' PayPal accounts.

PayPal is an online payments service acquired recently by eBay that lets firms and individuals send and receive payments using their e-mail addresses. Each Anything Point dropped into a member's PayPal account equals a penny. So, every 1,000 Anything Points equals $10, applicable toward an item bought on eBay across 27,000 categories.

Participation in Anything Points is simple. Users enroll for free at http://anythingpoints.ebay.com. They furnish details like name, address, telephone, e-mail address and date of birth. An ID and password are created in the process.

Once registered, members can earn points by responding to eBay partners' offers or via exchanges with other points programs. The points can be used anywhere on eBay where PayPal is accepted.

Sprint is a case in point for promotional offers. The telecommunications company is promoting its consumer and small-business discount domestic calling plans on eBay. Members who sign up for these plans accumulate Anything Points.

Albert said residential customers signing up for Sprint long-distance services earn 2,500 points, which translates to $25 on eBay. To retain the same customers, Sprint will award another 2,500 points every six months.

"Certainly [Sprint wants] to encourage online bill pay because it really decreases their costs of administering the account," Albert said.

McAfee Security joins next month with its own offer. McAfee Security home users will get Anything Points as a bonus when they buy the company's anti-virus, anti-spam, privacy or firewall services.

Earning points through exchanges is possible by participating in airline miles or hotel programs. So Hilton HHonors members can switch HHonors points for Anything Points and vice versa.

Also, members can earn points through Points.com, a points exchange. The Internet company's pointsxchange service has more than 35 partners including airlines, hotels and loyalty programs. Thus, frequent-flier miles earned on flights can be exchanged for Anything Points.

Anything Points will be marketed to eBay users online. EBay partners will promote the currency in messages to their databases.

EBay seeks to partner with companies in financial services. It is also targeting firms using promotional incentives or companies looking for a currency to reward loyalty.

"We are talking to a wide range of companies, including consumer packaged goods and fast-food kinds of companies," Albert said.

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