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. Pre-pandemic surveys showed nearly 4 billion loyalty program memberships, and the jury is still out on how they will fare once we return to normalcy.
Target your loyalty for optimal rewards
The average U.S. household belongs to two dozen or more rewards programs but usually uses fewer than half of them. The drawback of participating in a lot of different programs is that you risk diluting the rewards value you get back.
A good tactic is to weed 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 really want.
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. Some retailers and grocery stores offer cards that give you a discount on regular items and extra savings on in-store pharmacy purchases.
Your NEA membership benefits also can help. Find out how you can “stack” some of your benefits, including when you’re shopping online for holiday gifts or booking travel plans, to maximize the rewards you can earn.
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 rewards programs and using them is definitely worth the time and effort. The money you save can be applied to other expenses or used to splurge on something you might not be able to afford otherwise.
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 on your holiday shopping sprees, consider registering a Starbucks Card. As you accumulate stars for visiting, you’ll be rewarded with special coupons and even free items.
Candy Bar, which tracks loyalty programs, lists the Starbucks program at the top of its 50 best.
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.
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. This can help you whether you’re hosting company and cooking up lots of delicious meals, or if you’re hopping in the car for the long drive to Grandma’s house to celebrate the season.
For example: Safeway’s Just for U Rewards programs give members Club Card Specials not available to non-members, personalized deals, and opportunities to use points for either gas or groceries. The more you buy, the more you save on gas—up to $1 a gallon at Safeway stations, and substantial savings at other participating gas stations.
Other grocery chains offer similar programs, including Giant Food, HyVee, Winn-Dixie and more.
Check out these extra tips to cut your holiday grocery bills.
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, sign up for the Longhorn Steakhouse e-club and receive coupons, 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.
Plus, get tips on how to score Restaurant.com discounted certificates through NEA Discount Marketplace.
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 launched a revised loyalty program in November 2020, called myWalgreens, offering not only rewards on purchases, but also special sales prices and more points for Walgreens brand products. You can even earn points for making healthy lifestyle choices if you join a four-week health challenge and meet the goals.
Check your favorite drugstore’s rewards program deals, including CVS, Rite-Aid and more.
Also, check out NEA Discount Marketplace to see what cash-back offers you may find from wellness retailers. In the left navigation, select “All Stores” and “Health & Beauty” to see what’s available.
5. Rack up tailor-made savings
Nordstrom sells clothes, shoes and accessories, which can make perfect gifts for lots of people on your gift list. Members of its rewards program, the Nordy Club, earn points when shopping in-store or online at Nordstrom and Nordstrom Rack. 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 reach the highest level—Icon status—you’ll get unlimited free alterations and special early access to the anniversary sale. But you’ll receive special perks at any level.
Other clothing retailers offer rewards programs, including Macy’s, Kohl’s and more.
NEA Discount Marketplace has a wide range of apparel retailers offering cash-back deals. In the left navigation, select “All Stores” and “Clothing” to earn cash-back rewards while you shop at department stores, boutiques and everything in between.
6. Earn credit-card rewards
Earn even more when you pay with a credit card that gives you rewards you like, want and really will use. You can use those extra funds to trim the cost of non-sale items. If your budget is under control and you pay off your credit cards every month, opting to pay with a card that earns rewards could make sense.
7. Ink a rewards deal
You can find lots of potential presents at office supply stores, from laptops, printers and cameras, to markers, calendars and more. And of course, educators who use lots of printables would love to find ink cartridges in their own stockings!
Stores such as Office Depot and Staples offer savings through customer rewards programs. For example, spend at least $30 on ink or toner at Staples, recycle your used toner and get $2 back per cartridge. Members can also earn up to 5% back in rewards on store purchases.
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 Treats rewards program gives members exclusive in-store discounts, personalized coupon offers and shopping rewards so you can get points for every purchase.
9. Earn cash back when you shop
When you shop through the NEA Discount Marketplace, powered by Rakuten, you can earn cash back, which will be sent to you quarterly via check or PayPal. Each retailer listed will display its cash back rate and terms.
This popular shopping program is easy to use and can help you make money when you shop online at more than 3,500 retailers. Find out more about how NEA Discount Marketplace works and how you can maximize your cash-back rewards potential.
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, Home Depot, H&M, TJ Maxx, and more. You’ll get more rewards points, called “kicks,” when you scan items and make purchases, as well as when you buy brands ranging from L’Oréal to Nestlé.
The free app iBotta is another popular way to get cash back. The app says it has more than 300 partners with 500,000 locations. It offers cash back through gift cards, links to your existing loyalty programs, or by scanning receipts from offers listed in the app.
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 rewards.
Points.com helps you track and manage some 60 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 program to another, and trade points with other Points.com members (fees vary for member-to-member trades).
(NOTE: This article was updated October 2021, and programs and features noted here are subject to change.)