Rewards Programs: Make Your Dollar go further

Pros-and-Cons-of-Rewards-ProgramsNot only is the customer always right, in many ways, the customer is in control—because there is one of you and many retailers and service providers to choose from. Although their products and strategies vary, they have one thing in common: they all want your business.

From sales to price matching to coupons, there are numerous tools that consumers can use to get more bang for their buck. One such tool, that takes some savvy shopping, research and commitment to use are rewards programs. Are rewards programs really worth it? How can a consumer leverage these programs to their best use? What sort of merchandise and service offers the possibility of rewards?

No such thing as free?

Most shoppers will agree that there is no such thing as “free” when it comes to reward programs. While some programs are more lucrative than others, you have to spend money to get compensated- so be aware of the spending psychology here.

Additionally, it is important to read the fine print when it comes to reward redemption. Sometimes you have to pay a redemption fee. Some rewards programs put limitations on merchandise- or other restrictions like time periods or geography.

Also, you are generally responsible for taxes and sometimes for a redemption fee.

Some rewards (i.e. travel) are non-refundable, so once you’ve pledged your hard-earned points, be aware you are possibly taking a risk if something happens and you can go on your trip.

Information boundaries

Realize that, in giving your personal information to a reward program, you may possibly be turning your info over for solicitation purposes. Many rewards programs stipulate that this is not the case, but some do not- and it is worth asking the question. As a rule, divulge the bare minimum in terms of personal information etc. Consider creating a separate email address, so you don’t get spammed and give out cell numbers as opposed to land lines.

Travel Rewards

If you are a frequent traveller, especially for business, rewards programs are an awesome way to increase your travel dollar mileage. Airline reward cards are an obvious choice, but don’t forget to enrol in hotel chain reward cards too. Those points can rack up fast- and then you can score “free” accommodations to take the family on a holiday.

Make Rewards Part of your Shopping Habit

You need things like groceries, pharmacy items and gas, right? Why not choose retailers that will honour your rewards cards, so that you can accumulate points as you go. Assuming that prices are similar, and that you commit to remembering to whip out your card every time you shop, you can accomplish two things at once.

Restaurant Kids Clubs

As a family, you likely frequent family-friendly restaurants because of their kid’s menus and their tolerance for junior diners. Several chains (Boston Pizza, East Side Mario’s and a host of others) offer rewards programs for these junior diners and their parents. In addition to promotions in which kids eat for free, parents receive emails with coupons and other freebies (often for things like free birthday dinners, etc).

Cash Rewards

What are becoming increasingly popular with grocery chains is cash rewards. You accumulate points, which you can later use as cash redemption towards your grocery order.

This is a great frugal tool, as long as you are doing your homework. Some items will be promoted through an “extra points” promotion, rather than through a traditional sale. Make sure that you are not spending more than necessary, just to get a cash discount down the road. One negates the savings of the other.

Think Outside the Big Box

Many local retailers are in the rewards program too, in order to lure community members to their businesses, operating in the glare of the big box stores.

These businesses often rely on relationships and quality service to solidify their customer base, so it pays to ask if they have rewards programs. Think local coffee shops, hairstylists and service shops.  For instance, in addition to competitive pricing, my local esthetician offers a pedicure card (buy ten, get one free), with no expiry date.

If it isn’t readily obvious, ask. The shopkeeper may be willing to accommodate you, and be grateful for the proactive idea.