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Get Rewarded for Holiday Shopping

With customer loyalty programs, you can wrap up your holiday gift list for less—and fill your own stocking, too!

Whether you’re shopping for holiday presents, booking your flight home for the holidays or making everyday purchases such as groceries, gas, clothes, classroom supplies or books, you can make your hard-earned dollars pay you back with customer loyalty reward program cards, apps and codes. You’ll still be buying the same items, but when you use rewards programs, you’ll get more value for the money you spend.

Incentivizing loyal customers has become a big business. Rewards program memberships have grown at a strong, steady rate since 2000. According the latest data published by Colloquy, loyalty programs boasted 3.32 billion memberships in 2014.

Target your loyalty for optimal rewards

The average U.S. household belongs to 29 rewards programs but uses only 12 of them. “By spreading your shopping over that many programs, you risk diluting the rewards value you get back,” says author Jeff Berry, senior research director at Colloquy.

Berry suggests weeding out programs you rarely or never use, or those that no longer fit your lifestyle. Focus on using the memberships that you and your family like the best and use the most as well as those that offer rewards you actually want to use.

For example, if you tend to travel more often by car than by plane, choose a loyalty program that gives you fuel rewards instead of frequent flyer miles.

Double up for bigger rewards

Seek out “twofer” loyalty programs that boost your savings or let you accumulate points faster—fast enough to make changing your shopping habits worthwhile, Berry says. Some retailers and grocery stores offer cards that give you a discount on regular items and extra savings on its in-store pharmacy purchases.

“Another example is booking a flight with a loyalty program credit card where the purchase awards you both airline points and credit card points,” Berry says.

Look for loyalty programs that reward you with “soft benefits” that add convenience or save time, or both. Banana Republic offers free alterations for loyalty members, and Kroger’s free apps provide coupons and shopping list tools. Other program benefits could include members-only shopping hours, check-in lines, free shipping and more.

10 WAYS TO GET REWARDED FOR SHOPPING

Signing up for and participating in rewards programs is definitely worth the time and effort. The money you end up saving can be applied to other expenses or used to splurge on something you might not be able to afford otherwise. After all, Berry says, “We all deserve something special from time to time.”

Here are 10 types of rewards programs to consider adding to your “favorites” list:

1. Drink up Starbucks rewards

If you rely on Starbucks to keep yourself fueled throughout the school day, then consider registering a Starbucks Card. As you accumulate stars for visiting, you’ll be rewarded with special coupons and even free items.

For the holidays, snap up some gift cards to hand out as presents. Your recipients can add the value to their own Starbucks app account.

New members get a free drink or food reward on their birthday, plus coupons, special offers and exclusive invitations. When you reach the next level, you’ll enjoy free refills of coffee, iced coffees and tea. Gold level members get extras such as a free favorite drink or food reward and other benefits.

2. Fill up your grocery cart—and your car—for less

Many grocery store chains offer rewards programs to help loyal customers save money on groceries and gas. One example: Safeway’s Just for U and Club Card rewards programs gives members Club Card Specials prices not available to non-members, personalized deals that can be used multiple times before they expire, and opportunities to multiply gas rewards earned. The more you buy, the more you save on gas—up to $1 a gallon per fill-up at Exxon, Mobil and Safeway stations.

Other grocery chains offer similar programs, including Giant Food, HyVee, Winn-Dixie and more.

3. Dine out with delicious discounts

When you take a break from holiday hosting to head out to your favorite restaurant, ask a server or manager if there’s a rewards program you could join. Or check the restaurant’s website or a recent receipt to sign up online.

For example, Lone Star Steakhouse give members coupons via email, special prices, free items and other deals. And Red Robin, a hamburger chain, gives card-holding members free birthday meals, every 10th entree free, advance notice of new menu items, and reduced-price appetizers and desserts.

Foodler, an app (iOS, Android) and website, uses your location data to find the best local restaurants and cuisines in the U.S. and Canada. Customers earn points with every order (points never expire) that can be redeemed for FoodlerBucks; Apple, Starbucks, or Amazon gift cards; Foodler T-Shirts; or cash.

4. Stock up on wellness rewards

Staying healthy during the holidays is a top priority, and you may even find some fun stocking stuffers in the aisles of your local drugstore. Walgreens members get coupon savings, price reductions and future cash-back rewards for purchasing participating items. You also can use the Walgreens app to scan QR codes for bonus deals. Walgreens’ Balance Rewards let you earn points to redeem for cash savings on your next purchase or on “Happy Cash” money-back rewards. Members earn points for every prescription and immunization, and Steps With Balance members earn points for following healthy lifestyles, such as walking and regular weigh-ins.

Check your favorite drugstore’s rewards program deals, including CVS, Rite-Aid and more.

5. Rack up tailor-made savings

Nordstrom sells clothes, shoes and accessories for women men and children, and members of its rewards program earn points when shopping at Nordstrom, Nordstrom Rack and Nordstrom.com. Those points can be cashed in for merchandise.

The Nordstrom program offers four levels of membership, and “each level unlocks more rewards and new experiences.” For example, when you become a Level 4 member, you’ll get free alterations.

Other clothing retailers offers rewards programs, including Macy’s, Kohl’s and more.

6. Get credit-card rewards

Earn even more when you pay with a credit card that gives you rewards you like, want and really will use. To earn more cash back on the things you buy most, consider the NEA Cash Rewards Card. You’ll earn 1% cash back everywhere, every time, 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs and 3% cash back on gas, up to $2,500 in grocery/wholesale club/gas quarterly spend. And there’s a special incentive for new account holders: You can qualify for a $150 cash rewards bonus by using your new Cash Rewards credit card to make at least $500 in purchases that post within 90 days of your account’s open date.

>> Find out more about the NEA Cash Rewards Card

7. Ink a rewards deal

Educators who use lots of printables would love to find ink cartridges in their stockings. Printer manufacturers such as Lexmark, Epson, Canon and HP offer savings through customer rewards programs, which helps a lot if you’re a fan of printables in your classroom. For example, after your first $30 purchase at HP’s My Print Rewards, you can save 10 percent on ink and toner with free next-business-day shipping and also save on printer-related items such as paper, photo paper and more. Members also receive coupons and email coupon codes for additional savings.

You also can join rewards programs at office supply stores such as Staples to receive rewards for recycling empty ink cartridges, which in turn can be used to buy even more ink.

8. Get groomed for savings

Pets need presents, too! Petco’s Pals Rewards program gives members preferred pricing on hundreds of products, plus exclusive discount coupons. Members earn rewards dollars for the pet food, treats, toys and grooming services they buy.

PetSmart’s PetPerks rewards program gives members exclusive in-store discounts, personalized coupon offers and shopping rewards, and “Customized Deal Alert” emails that notify you when your favorite products go on sale.

9. Get wowed by WOWPoints

When you shop at NEA Click & Save, you’ll earn WOWPoints with each purchase, which you can save up and use to make future purchases on anything from airline tickets to cotton balls. Each retailer listed will display how many WOWPoints you’ll earn with your purchases.

After you make your first NEA Click & Save purchase, you’ll become a one-star member. For every 1,000 WOWPoints you accumulate within a calendar year (Jan. 1-Dec. 31), you’ll step up to the next star level. Once you hit 5,000, you’ll reach the five-star level, where extra perks will kick in.

Five-star members earn points at the same time they burn points on purchases. “Basically, it’s just more savings on top,” says Ian Field, an NEA Click & Save account representative. At the five-star level, your earning power is turbocharged: You’ll get 50% more WOWPoints per purchase!

For more details on how to earn and redeem WOWPoints, sign in at NEA Click & Save and check out the FAQ section (accessible via the “Help” link at the top right corner on the NEA Click & Save website).

10. Branch out via catch-all shopping apps

Shopkick is a location-based smartphone app (iOS, Android) that rewards shoppers just for walking into participating stores such as Best Buy, Macy’s, Sports Authority, Crate & Barrel and more. You’ll get more rewards points, called “kicks,” when you scan items and make purchases. Shopkick claims to be “the most widely used real-world shopping app.”

With iBotta, a free app for iOS or Android, you can earn rewards through actions, such as by reading facts, watching a video or taking a poll. Then, redeem those rewards to pay for purchases next time you shop. “The best part is that you earn real money, not points or other made-up currencies,” the company says, and 100 percent of what you earn can be transferred to PayPal or Venmo as soon as you earn $5 or cashed out for a gift card after you earn $2.

CheckPoints lets you collect points when you watch videos, take quizzes, shop online, search and more. Those points pay off in rewards big-name gift cards. And you can enter to win giveaways of free gas cards, shopping sprees and other benefits.

Points.com helps you track and manage more than 100 top loyalty programs, including frequent flyer miles, hotel points and credit card rewards. The program displays your latest reward balances and stores member account numbers, and it lets you convert points, miles and rewards from one loyalty programs to another, trade points with other Points.com members (fees vary for member-to-member trades) or convert points to PayPal funds.

This article was published in NEAchieve!, our monthly e-newsletter. Sign up to receive helpful tips and information delivered to your email inbox.

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