Get the Points?

keep-calm-and-earn-pointsIn need of a gift? Thinking of a family outing to a nearby theme park, but find the prices prohibitive? Contemplating a weekend getaway, but can’t afford costly hotels or rental cars?

You need look no further than to the plastic in your wallet. Not the credit card kind- or even the debit card. No, your passage to merchandise, services and travel lays in your rewards cards.

Often considered for flights and travel rewards only, customer loyalty or rewards cards offer consumers a vast array of options for redemption that can be tremendously supportive of keeping your budget intact, while accumulating the “stuff” that you need.

The key is to identify what it is that you want (i.e. hotel stays, car rental, theme park admissions, etc.) and determine how you and your rewards programs can get you what you need. The catch with rewards programs is that you have to plan far ahead.

Be Proactive

Enrol, enrol, enrol. When booking a hotel room, grocery shopping, doing errands- whatever and whenever the opportunity presents itself, enrol for rewards programs. It may seem like a nuisance- or even an invasion of privacy (you can control contact from the program, by opting in or opting out of their contact lists, while still being eligible for reward accumulation and redemption) but this is a secret and effective savings weapon.

It may also seem pointless (no pun intended) to sign up for hotel rewards for instance, say if you’re on a business trip, because you go once in a very blue moon.

You have to understand how rewards programs work. Many of them are interlinked, and you can transfer your rewards at one retailer over to another rewards system, thus pooling it.

Attach Points to Smart Spending

It obviously is of no savings to run out and spend, spend, spend in order to accumulate reward points. The key to maximizing your points mileage is to plan the shopping and spending that you do already around it.

For instance, grocery stores (like the Metro Chain, who uses AirMiles rewards programs) and the Sobeys Chain (who uses their own Club Sobeys program, but offers conversion to the Aeroplan program free of charge) will often include “bonus points” in their flyers, on top of sales and savings.

These points accumulate very quickly- but again, it takes some planning and being aware.

Use the same mentality for pharmacy runs and gas as well. Numerous gas chains offer rewards points. Many chains, like Chapters and hotel programs, offer the opportunity to convert miles in their retailer programs to bigger programs (like Aeroplan) again, pooling the potential for redemption.

Use Reward Programs for Further Discounts

Reward and loyalty program members are also eligible for discounts for various products and services that may not be readily obvious, so it makes sense to sign up for what you can.

For instance, if you are renting a car, members of various airline specific reward programs receive a discount on their car rental. If you are using points to redeem for your car rental, you can sometimes “double dip” and use a discount in addition to a points redemption, allowing you to get more for less.

Read the Fine Print

Realize that not all rewards and points programs are created equal. There are often hidden fees associated.

Some points programs charge a redemption fee, or require that you pay for the taxes and fees outright. Some points programs use restrictive blackout periods for use. Some points programs don’t let households share a single account, and charge a substantial fee to transfer points between users.

Slash that Bill

If you’re not interested in travel, goods or services, many rewards programs offer the user cash incentives, to use a cash balance as a direct discount off of their bill. This can add up over time, and means that you can get more at the checkout for less!