Maximizing Customer Loyalty Programs

Customer loyalty programs are those free programs a person can sign up for at a particular retailer than offers rewards of various kinds for spending certain amounts of money or making certain numbers of purchases. Although it can be a bit of a hassle to sign up the first time, afterwards it is an extremely convenient way to get lots of lucrative coupons and discounts.

I’ve been doing this for years, but I often notice that many people simply don’t participate in such programs. They’re missing out – these companies ship out great coupons and store credit all the time. Might as well collect, right?

Six Steps to Free Stuff

1. Get a new, separate email address

I signed up for a Gmail account specifically to collect the mailings that come from these programs. This prevents my normal email from getting inundated with such things, plus whenever I plan on visiting a retailer, I log into that email address and search for available offers.

2. Always sign up if the program is free

Even if you think you’ll only go to a place once a year at most, a customer loyalty program is worth signing up for. I recommend giving that email address you’ve created (because some plans send out excellent coupons by email), but try to minimize the actual personal data you give to them. If it doesn’t violate the terms of service of the program, I encourage you to give a bogus address and phone number, in fact, because that info is regularly sold to telemarketers.

3. Search that email before you go shopping

I quite often get pretty good offers from various retailers by email, things like 30% off any single book in the store or other things like that. If I’m going to stop at a store to buy a book anyway, that coupon is like gold. Even better, most rewards programs allow you to accrue points for store credit, and they’ll usually email that address each time you reach a store credit threshold – also worth knowing if you’ve built up $20 in credit somewhere.

4. Don’t let the loyalty program affect your purchases

Almost always, I’ve made up my mind about what I’m going to purchase before I ever walk in the door of a store. If I happen to have a coupon, great – if I happen to have store credit, great. But these don’t influence my buying decision, nor does the number of points I might earn for the purchase.

5. Strive to use a card as often as you can when you make a purchase

If you’re at a store, by default ask if they have a customer rewards program. If they do, either sign up or remember that you already have and use that card.

6. If you start collecting a lot of cards, use some ingenuity to keep your wallet thin

You can either make your own customer loyalty card that combines several such programs, or else use the service at JustOneClubCard.com to keep all of your customer numbers and barcodes on one single card in your wallet. If someone asks questions (about 10% of the time for me), just tell the truth: say that you scanned your own cards and put them onto one card to save space in your wallet.

Notes on Free Customer Loyalty Programs That I Use

1. Airlines

I’m a member of the frequent flyer programs for several airlines, but I have by far the most miles racked up with American (AAdvantage) and United (Mileage Plus) because they are the ones that fly the most flights out of Des Moines, the airport I use the most by far. If you fly frequently (as I did for a while), you can really rack up the miles and eventually use them for free airline flights.

2. Best Buy

Their Reward Zone program is solid, effectively offering 2% in store credit on your purchases. Since their prices on most video games are the same or $5 better than games elsewhere locally, I tend to buy my games there and build up credit.

3. Hotels

Almost every major hotel chain has a program, and I’m a member of most of them. Since on the rare occasion we actually use a hotel we tend to make reservations, I just take along the card that I know I’m going to use and then present it at the desk. This has actually earned us a free night at a Marriott.

4. Staples

Although I rarely go there, I do have a Staples Rewards card. Mostly, it’s a rebate program that seems to earn incredibly varying amounts depending on the day and the item purchased. I have used the rebates to get some free office supplies, however.

I use these programs mostly because these are the retailers most commonly available in northern Iowa. In other areas, there are many more choices, from additional retailers to grocery chains that use such programs (like Albertson’s and Winn-Dixie).

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