Loyalty Currency and Mental Accounting: Do Consumers Treat Points Like Money?
58 Pages Posted: 14 Dec 2021 Last revised: 23 May 2023
Date Written: May 22, 2023
Problem definition: Loyalty programs have greatly expanded in scale and scope, and loyalty points issued by firms serve as a new form of currency alongside the traditional currency of money. In this paper, we study how consumers decide to pay with points or money for a purchase and how these decisions are affected by consumers' points earning characteristics.
Methodology/results: We develop a model of consumers' payment choices and estimate it on proprietary loyalty program data from a major U.S. airline company using a hierarchical Bayesian framework. Our results demonstrate that mental accounting, the subjective perceived value of points, and the reference exchange rate play important roles in consumers' payment choices. Moreover, the primary points earning source and the total earning level are jointly associated with consumers' attitudes toward points and money: Consumers who earn many points and mostly with the focal firm tend to value points more than money, while those who earn few points or mostly through a co-branded credit card tend to value money more than points. To better understand heterogeneity in consumers' attitudes toward points, we propose a probabilistic segmentation of consumers and identify four behavioral segments with distinctive characteristics. Through counterfactual analysis, we demonstrate how a firm can implement money and point pricing policies to optimally target and influence consumers' payment choices.
Managerial implications: It is important for firms to understand how consumers think about points and decide to pay with points or money as it affects firms' cash flows, profitability, and consumer loyalty and engagement. We demonstrate that firms can design optimal price targeting policies by utilizing the significant level of heterogeneity in consumers' attitudes toward points. Furthermore, our results indicate that firms that are expanding their partnership networks and offering more points earning sources should consider the impact that this would have on consumers' mental accounting of money and points, and consequently their payment choices.
Keywords: payment choice, mental accounting, the reference effect, point currency, loyalty program
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation