How to win at Rewards Programs

I love a good reward program.

Growing up in a family with three young children and a business to run, I think that money must have frequently been tight for my parents. I don’t recall ever noticing that it was a problem though, because if the toaster broke down, a new one would arrive through flybuys. Grandparent’s birthday coming up? There were department store gift vouchers to spend from credit card points. I learned from watching my parents that if you were patient and consistent, reward schemes could be used to bridge gaps or nab those products no-one ever really wants to spend money on.

Once I moved to Australia, I discovered that loyalty schemes really weren’t as big of a thing- back home in NZ, it seemed to me growing up that everywhere offered Flybuys! I think people of my age saw me as a bit of an oddball as I dutifully signed up for a variety of reward programs and scanned my card with every purchase. What about my personal data?? (Look, if The Man wants to know how many times a week I buy bananas, they’re welcome to that knowledge)

It took a while for points to accumulate but when my trashy plastic smoothie blender started spewing smoke about six months ago, I jumped online & voila! Enough points saved up for a slimline fancy model and free shipping to boot. One less thing that I have to waste my hard earned money on, and a pricier  model than I could have ever afforded to splurge on! Which is win-win, because I’m trusting that it will last longer than an inferior version, and the warrantee is better if it doesn’t. Quality over high-churn plastic, folks!

The benefits aside, nothing every really comes for free, and most Reward Programs are very cleverly set up to slowly tempt you into parting with more of your hard-earned money. Here are a few things I’ve learned (some the hard way), that mean you can be sure that you’re always coming out on top.

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THOU SHALT NOT CHANGE THY SPENDING HABITS

The Man never wants you to have something for free. Any loyalty scheme you sign up to will constantly be trying to edge your spend a little higher, and then just a liiiitle higher again. Resist, friends! If an offer is tempted you to spend more than you’ve budgeted or intended to spend, disregard it immediately. Spending more than you want to means that you’re not winning at all- if you weren’t intending to drop $40 on that shiny new product but the thought of those extra 300 points is oh-so-tempting, step awaaaay from the offer. You’re not that easy to play!

THOU SHALT SIGN UP WISELY

Never really shop at a certain store? Don’t let them talk you into signing up for their reward scheme. You don’t need that sort of clutter in your life and handing over your contact details just results in the temptation of endless sales. Save your buying power for programs where you actually have a chance of redeeming for a reward.

THOU SHALT RECONSIDER PROGRAMS AS CIRCUMSTANCES CHANGE

There are two main supermarkets near my house. Coles offers Flybuys, and Woolworths offers Everyday Rewards. As you can probably guess, traditionally I’ve been more of a Coles girl, preferring to save points towards a product redemption than a cash discount off my shopping. However, recently Everyday Rewards recently upped their game by offering conversion of their points to Qantas Frequent Flyers- the same rewards system my credit cards work towards. What’s a girl to do? With over $100 of Flybuys value stockpiled for a rainy day, my efforts don’t need to be focused there. Time to watch those Frequent Flyer points grow!

THOU SHALT PLAY REWARDS SCHEMES OFF AGAINST EACH OTHER

Here’s the thing- rewards schemes do farm my data. Do I really care? Not particularly- how much I spend on Cookies n’ Cream isn’t information that I would care about handing to a stranger on the street, so I have no problems with the supermarket knowing it either. And there is a massive upside to them tracking my spending. After my switch to Woolworths, you know what happened? Coles got a little bit lonely! They started sending me emails- ‘Spend $90 a week for four weeks and get $50 off your next shop!’

Sorry Coles, that’s more than my weekly budget, and as we all know from the first rule of Rewards Programs, you don’t change your spending to earn a reward. Even spending an extra $10 a week on products I don’t need would have made the $50 reward redundant.

I stick to my Woolworths spending.

A few weeks later- ‘Spend $70 a week for four weeks and get $50 off your next shop!’ Now we’re talking! $50 is a decent chunk of a week’s shopping, so I switch my supermarket for a month and enjoy a final week with a sizeable chunk off my final spend.

Can you guess what happened next? You betcha- I get an email from lonely little Woolworths- ‘Spend $80 a week for four weeks and get 12,000 bonus points.’

Now I know it’s hard to grasp the value of those points, but to give it perspective, Woolworths normally offers one point per dollar spend- so those 12,000 points are a mighty big apple that can be converted into some pretty big savings. I swap back.

Do I think that either of these huge supermarket chains actually care about me as a customer? No way. But I do think that they have very smart computers that track changes in my spending habits and link me to offers accordingly. Make them panic and see what your big dollar reward scheme will do for you.

THOU SHALT NEVER LET THE CREDIT CARD WIN

For the most part, I am SO against credit cards- like most financial nerds, I see the spiraling holes that they can suck people into. Any support that I’m about to offer for their schemes is conditionally that you’re in control of your finances enough to be currently living debt free. Again, THOU SHALL NEVER LET THE CREDIT CARD WIN.

We good? I’ll continue.

Credit Cards offer some of the fastest ways to earn rewards on everyday spends- however when tempted by a credit card reward scheme, it’s important to consider the value of what they’re offering to you. Amex offer a huge return on rewards, but their cards are also hella expensive. Do you want to be paying $400 a year for your card to receive $400 of travel credit you’re realistically not going to have time to use?

And then there’s the other trap, where a card seems reasonably priced, but when you get down to the nitty gritty, the points on offer still aren’t worth it. Indulge your inner financial nerd, google the actual dollar value of the points on offer. For those playing along at home, apparently a Qantas Frequent Flyer point is currently worth around $0.02 (depending on how they’re redeemed). So if a company is offering 10,000 bonus points, you’re looking at roughly a $200 usable value. If the card has an annual fee of $150, is it really worth it? Or if you have to meet a minimum spend to activate those points, is that spend going to push you way above your usual budget? Could it be that they’re really just trying to groom you into a spending habit? THOU SHALT NEVER LET THE CREDIT CARD WIN.

But Abbie, don’t you have a credit card?

You’re right, dear reader. Consider me busted. But while doing all my credit card research, I stumbled across a credit card that was offering me Qantas Frequent Flyer points- the same points I had already collected for flying to Italy and back. If I met their minimum spend for the first three months of the card, I received 50,000 bonus points (to put that in context, I received about 5,000 for flying to the other side of the world). On top of those points, I would continue to receive 1.5 points for each dollar spent- and the kicker?

The card is absolutely free.

The bank is so keen on turning me into a dedicated credit user that they’re happy to offer me a carrot I can’t refuse. Why? They’re trusting that having to meet my minimum spend for the first three months is going to groom me into a spending habit. They’re trusting that I’ll be negligent about paying off my balance every month and they’ll get me with interest. They’re trusting that I’ll either forget to cancel the card, or be so hooked that I’ll happy pay the $249 annual fee the following year.

Falling prey to any of these points means the Credit Card wins –THOU SHALT… I’m not going to repeat the point again, you get it.  You’re playing the banks at a game they pay people a lot of money to ensure you lose. You’ve got to keep on top of the ball if you want to come out on top.

….

THOU SHALT NOT LET THE CREDIT CARD WIN

(Sorry, I couldn’t help myself)

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Do you participate in any rewards programs? Did I miss anything? I would love to hear what you think!


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How to win at Rewards Programs

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