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Ka-ching! Fund your next trip with pocket change

Looking to finance your travel plans but stuck with a dwindling bank account and ballooning credit card bills?

Turns out the solution may be sitting in that bowl or drawer where you toss your spare change. Pour those nickels, dimes and quarters into one of those ubiquitous Coinstar kiosks instead and you can now redeem the balance at Marriott hotels across the country.

Launched as a pilot program in mid-July, the deal is the newest addition to Coinstar’s Coin to Card program and its first effort in travel.

“We believe that one of the impetuses for people to cash in their coins is so they can take vacations,” said spokeswoman Sarah Ward Jones. “With more than 3,700 locations around the world, Marriott was a logical fit for the program.”

For Coinstar, the Marriott program echoes the partnerships the company has forged with Amazon, Chili’s, Starbucks and more than 30 other companies. Unlike the company’s traditional Coins to Cash program, which charges a fee of 9.8 cents per dollar, corporate partners cover the transaction costs so users get full value for their pocket change.

In return, they receive a printed receipt that can be applied to charges for lodging, meals, spa treatments or other services at Marriott hotels. The value never expires, although users do have to remember to bring their receipt with them when they travel.

“People can turn their spare change into a great family getaway or add a dinner or spa treatment to a trip they’re already planning,” said Barbara Shuster, Marriott's director of business-to-business sales and marketing. “Or they can just experience a spa or restaurant — they don’t even have to stay with us.”

For now, the program is available in 17,000 of Coinstar’s 19,000 kiosks. (Some outlets prohibit such deals.) And while neither Coinstar nor Marriott would discuss future plans, it seems likely that other travel providers will see dollar signs in travelers’ small change.

And there’s apparently no shortage of the latter. According to Coinstar, there is approximately $10 billion in coins currently out of circulation in the U.S., the equivalent of $31.83 for every man, woman and child in the country.

Needless to say, 31 bucks and change won’t get you a $149 room at the Courtyard in downtown Orlando (2,980 nickels) or a $300 suite at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas (3,000 dimes) but it might cover a meal or a round of drinks.

It might also provide the incentive you need to get off the couch and see what’s really under those cushions.

Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him at Twitter.

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