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. According the recent data published by Colloquy, loyalty programs boasted 3.8 billion memberships in 2017.
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.
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 Rewards programs gives members Club Card Specials prices 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 per fill-up at Exxon, Mobil and Safeway stations, among others.
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, 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.
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 paperless coupon savings, special promotions and member-only offers. You also can use the Walgreens app to keep track of your rewards. Walgreens’ Balance Rewards let you earn points to redeem for cash savings on your next purchase. Members earn points for every prescription, immunization, and you can even earn points for making healthy lifestyle choices, 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, the Nordy Club, 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 reach the highest level—Ambassador status—you’ll get $300 toward free alterations. But you'll receive special perks at any level.
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 maximize your cash back, consider the NEA Cash Rewards Card. You’ll earn 3% CASH BACK in the CATEGORY OF YOUR CHOICE: gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores, or home improvement/furnishings. You’ll automatically earn 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs, and 1% cash back on all other purchases. Earn 3% and 2% cash back on the first $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club purchases each quarter, then earn 1%.
And there’s a special incentive for new account holders: You can qualify for a special bonus offer 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.
7. Ink a rewards deal
Educators who use lots of printables would love to find ink cartridges in their stockings. Stores such as Office Depot and Staples offer savings through customer rewards programs, which helps a lot if you’re a fan of printables in your classroom. 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, and “Customized Deal Alert” emails that notify you when your favorite products go on sale. 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.
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.
(NOTE: This article was updated October 1, 2019, and deals noted here are subject to change.)