Money Talks, So Should You

Smart tips for choosing retail loyalty programs

Nadine Cheung
by Nadine Cheung, Dimespring Contributor  (@nadinecheung)

Loyalty programs are a great way to cash in on freebies and rewards at your favorite retailers, but while most don’t cost anything to join, there’s still a smarter way to go about being a member.

According to Colloquy.com, the number of loyalty memberships in the U.S. exceeded 2 billion in 2011, while each household averaged more than 18 memberships.

This brings us to our first tip. Choose establishments that you frequent, a lot. The best way to reap the benefits of these programs is to be an above average customer. Signing up with an outlet you never shop at just means another card to carry.

Second, be wary of annual fees. Unless you know that the rewards will more than make up for what you’re spending on membership, you should pass on any programs that charge you to participate.

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Finally, make sure you always have your membership card on hand so you don’t miss out on any qualifying purchases. To do this, we suggest the Cardstar app. This handy application allows you to consolidate all of your cards, so that you can pull them up on your phone when need be. The best part? The app is free.

As for the best loyalty programs to join, we like local drugstores like Walgreens and CVS, since you’re likely to do a lot of shopping there, and can save with coupons and credits toward future purchases. Meanwhile, Amazon’s Subscribe and Save Program saves you 5 to 15 percent on qualifying groceries, beauty products and household supplies that are shipped to you (for free!) on a recurring basis. Commitment-phobes need not worry, though. You can “unsubscribe” to any item immediately after you buy it.

Starbucks has a tiered system that allows customers to earn stars for their purchases. Perks include free birthday beverages, free refills, and, of course, free drinks, but this only makes sense if you count Starbucks as your go-to java joint.

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Retail-wise, we love American Eagle Outfitters for its no-hassle rewards. Each dollar you spend earns you a point, and once you hit 100, 200, 350 and 500 points, you’ll receive a coupon in the mail for 15, 20, 30 and 40 percent off your next purchase, respectively. You also get 15 percent off during the month of your birthday, and a year-round “buy 5, get one free” deal on Aerie bras.

In terms of home goods, Wayfair is at the top of our list. When you become a member of the site’s rewards program, you earn 3 percent on every purchase, which can then be applied to future orders. You also receive $10 if your refer a friend. Other home goods sites have similar programs, but coupled with its easy user interface and great customer service, Wayfair outshines them all.

So, the next time you’re faced with signing up for a loyalty program, keep these tips in mind to maximize your savvy and your savings.

Nadine Cheung is a New York-based freelance writer and editor with a passion for music, movies, pop culture, food, yoga, TV, books and everything in between. Her lifestyle and entertainment content has been featured on AOL, The Huffington Post, Page Six Magazine, Billboard and more.