- Personal Finance
Points, Rewards, Miles and Loyalty Programs
Discovering Programs to Sign Up for
Airlines do it, Trains do it, Buses do it, rental cars do it. What is it that "they" do? These companies and many others offer rewards based on how much you use their service or buy other products through their service.
Every major airline I can think of offers a mileage reward program. They all have different names, but basically, miles are an incentive to create brand loyalty through use of a carrier and any other branded affiliates, which I will explain in detail.
Miles can be earned through travel, of course, through purchases on airline sites, and through affiliate programs. One of the most popular programs that I am aware of is the dining rewards program that is offered through several major carriers. Using your debit and credit cards at certain restaurants will earn you miles. Sometimes, this may work out to be several miles credited to your miles account per dollar spent. For a new restaurant that was open in a major city I traveled to, the offer was something incredible like 9 or 10 miles for every dollar spent. The tab was easily over $100, so there was an easy addition of 1000 miles credited to my chosen carriers' account. For me, this kept my airline miles from expiring if I would have been near the expiration date. For others who entertain out a lot, this is an excellent way to accrue miles towards a trip. I have friends who have been to Europe and other places with miles being the way that they gained passage on the plane.
Other groups that offer plans are basically anything having to do with the travel industry. Rental cars, lodging, dining plans, they all have plans. If something that you are interested in using does not offer a mile or reward program, look harder, because I have yet to find a major chain that did not offer some sort of incentive program.
Grocery stores are another great example of loyalty programs. Whether you have a loyalty card, belong to their email list or other ways of contact, many grocers have discovered that loyalty plans pay off. From offering instant savings at the register to gathering enough purchase points to get a gas discount, grocery loyalty plans vastly differ.
Other loyalty programs are in all sorts of businesses. Companies see these programs as a valuable part of the tools at their disposal to keep you as their loyal customer. Banks, magazine subscriptions, convenience stores, gas stations, book stores, fabric and craft stores are examples of companies with loyalty programs. Basically remind yourself that if it is a chain, it is much more likely to offer a reward incentive. Your task is to make sure that you are rewarded for spending money with that company.
Some mobile phone companies offer incentives to stay loyal to their carrier, and not just offering a phone at a discounted rate if you remain a customer.
A number of insurance companies now offer pages with affilitates where you can save money by using a service at a prenegotiated price. If you are considering using one of these offers, it is in your best interest to call and determine if you will still accrue miles/loyalty points for using their service to book. If not, call and compare rates.
Tracking the rewards
There is a site called Award Wallet that offers to track your rewards programs. You can join for free, but you can also pay a fee for additional features. I am sure that there are other programs out there that are similar. I find it useful to have one place to log into in order to look at all of my reward and loyalty balances. Additionally, when my laptop was damaged, all of my information was lost. With the website, I was able to log in and retrieve all of my reward information. That was a huge savings.
If you do sign up for any rewards plan, make sure that you document it somewhere. I calculated that one year when my sister did catering that she lost over 50,000 miles on a major carrier by not using her loyalty card when she shopped. A phone call to the store manager was a valuable lesson in making sure that the was credited with the miles that she still had receipts for. The rest were lost forever.
Other Ways to Earn Rewards
There are many other ways to earn rewards. By using certain credit and debit cards, rewards can be added to an account, but also, some legitimate surveys offer rewards in exchange for participation.
For participation in a survey from a well known survey group, I was offered the choice of a very small monetary compensation, a reusable shopping bag, 1000 miles credited to a certain airline miles account, a gift card to a local grocery store or a gift card to a local restaurant. I chose the miles as I was very near a mileage award. The reward miles from the survey put me over the top, and that summer I flew to see a friend a few thousand miles from me.
Occasionally other brands will offer loyalty rewards. Many soft drinks manufacturers offer rewards in exchange for online proof of purchase. Don't try to enter wrong information. Once a package number is entered, the code is redeemed, and there is no chance of using it again. Boxed cereals occasionally have been known to offer points for loyalty, as have tv dinners and other food items. Look carefully at packaging when you purchase a product. You might be surprised to learn that there is a reward program. I discovered that a well known athletic shoe had a rewards program. A friend of mine purchased a good deal of their branded products. Before they stopped the program, she had managed to get a set of hand weights, a water bottle, a free set of shorts and matching top, and finally, a towel with pockets for use in the gym. Not bad for saving little proofs of purchase and saving a receipt. Even if your packaging does not reveal a reward program, still search online. Sometimes, you hit gold.
Read the front and back of receipts from purchases. A reward program I almost missed out on was for a major manufacturer of household products. I needed to have the exact web address to participate in the program. I got several free samples of new products coming out, but even better was that the rewards in the program allowed me to get a brand new hand held steam cleaner for free.
When a Program Ends
Some programs are for products that are discontinued. Other programs are ended because the company is going out of business, or they are merging with another company. In the event that this happens, you will probably get an email or a letter in the regular mail. This email will clearly explain a few things to you as their consumer. Here they are:
- What is happening with the product. Changed, discontinued, or no longer in your area are some common reasons that a program comes to an end.
- How this will affect you. (New product name, no longer made, cannot get it locally.)
- How many rewards you have accrued so far.
- If you are able to redeem them for anything. In the event that a company is going out of business, you may still have a small window to redeem your points for something. There may even be small token items that you could not afford before. Example here was when I had enough points from a cereal company for a set of small key ring flashlights.
- If you are not able to redeem for anything at this time or forever. This may be because the company is going out of business, or if there is a merger and the brand no longer will exist. An example here is when I had enough to redeem for an item, but the program was closed upon a certain date before I received my email.
- If your rewards are going to be transferred to another company or if you will be made a special offer.
When programs end, and you get the email, act quickly. Don't take days or even hours to make decisions about what you would like to redeem. In the event that you are able to redeem your points, do so now. Items go quickly, and once they are gone, they are gone. Example here was when my sister got a notice, checked her points, decided on a small digital camera, but then changed her mind for when she got home. By the time she got home, all that was left were a VHS player (so modern!) and sippy cups.
If there is to be a point transfer, make sure you fill in all of your information correctly at both websites. Redemption sites may or may not be updated correctly if anything has changed. Check to make sure that your points do transfer. I would advise printing the page for records if you are able to,if not,email yourself the screen shot.
Making the Most of Your Shopping Dollar
Before you make any purchase, stop for a moment and consider whether any loyalty program that you are a part of offers the goods or service through them with the award being points for something else later on down the line. Thinking like this will ensure that your loyalty cards become like money in the bank for you if you are aware and consistent.
When I was recently with some friends, we went shopping and my friends made fun of me for whipping out a rewards card of some sort nearly everywhere that we went.
As we sat sipping our tea in the evening, I pointed out that I bought everyone's drink with all of the money that I saved that day. Nearly $45.00. It does add up.
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