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Deciphering loyalty rewards cards

Maximizing the number of miles and points collected requires some homework

I currently have 674 “dream miles” in my Air Miles account. According to the website, this isn’t enough to buy me a toaster.
It is barely enough to buy a SanDisk all-in-one 3.0 card reader for my digital camera – after a 30 per cent discount on the price – for 630 reward miles. Oh, joy.
I’ve collected Air Miles for several years now, since 2012, in fact.
In the last month I’ve accumulated six miles – four at the grocery store and two while buying gas. (And this is when I actually remembered to hand over my rewards card to be scanned).
It all begs the question: Why bother?
If you don’t stay on top of your purchasing power, figuring out every deal and best ways to maximize points – no matter what loyalty card program you prefer – it’s just not going to work for you.
Loyalty cards, when used to their potential, can offer any number of free or discounted purchases for such things as groceries, gasoline and air travel.
If you want to “dream” big, putting your eggs in one basket is one option with Air Miles, but it’ll only truly work if you’re a big spender. Otherwise, saving dream reward miles for that exotic trip to Aruba or attending a Shania Twain concert during her cross-Canada tour next spring might take a very long time.
In the case of Air Miles, it would be worth a check to see what percentage of your points are being funnelled into “cash miles” and how much is being diverted into “dream miles.” Your decision is dictated by what you hope to save up for.
So, what is the best way to take advantage of the loyalty card program(s) of your choosing?
There are many websites and blogs to assist with the dizzying number of rules and policies surrounding loyalty rewards/points cards.
Here are some of them: rewardscanada.ca, canadiankilometers.com, dcta.boardingarea.com, and howtosavemoney.ca.
Some tips and tricks are obvious but here are some rules of thumb from Rewards Canada:
• Focus on a few programs but you can join many – it’s best to focus on only a couple of programs such as one for flights, one for accommodations and another for shopping. If you’re shopping at a place or paying for a service that isn’t covered by your primary rewards card, it would be worth it to join a loyalty program that is offered at that business.
• Keep track of your points – while some programs don’t have expiry dates, others do. Expiry dates tend to be one to three years after your last action (earning or redemption). It means keeping track of your points and if you want to keep them ensure that you have activity in your account.
• Look for and take advantage of bonus mile offers – read the emails the programs send you, don’t delete them because you never know when a valuable offer could be hidden somewhere in the email. Make sure you do your research, as others such as your travel agent or online booking engine won’t do it for you.
• Pay for everything using your rewards/points card – it’s by far the easiest way to rack up miles outside of booking a flight or hotel stay. Put everything that you buy on your credit cards right down to the chocolate bar from the corner store. (Just remember to pay your credit card bill in full, and on time, to avoid interest charges). If you have a card that earns 1.5 or two times the points/miles at gas, grocery, and drug stores make sure you use it there.
• Double and triple dip – those are the terms coined when earning twice or three times the number of points or miles collected in one purchase or transaction. This basically involves your mileage earning credit card being used for a purchase where you also earn miles in the same program as the credit card. Buying gas at Esso? Using your Aeroplan Visa or American Express and then swiping your Aeroplan card ensures you are double dipping. Triple dipping is more complicated and mainly involves travel. Certain airlines and hotels offer some sort of mileage bonus if you buy airline tickets through their website directly. Thus the triple dip in this case would be the online purchase bonus, the miles earned on the credit card plus the miles or points earned for taking the flight or completing the hotel stay.
There’s no one surefire method to ensure you’re maximizing your reward card’s potential, but if you manage a level of discipline it could lead to some fruitful gains.
And, with any luck, some of this advice will help me (eventually) save up reward miles for a shiny, four-slice toaster.

Chris Shannon is the business reporter at the Cape Breton Post in Sydney, N.S.
He can be reached via email at chris.shannon@cbpost.com or on Twitter @cbpost_chris.

 

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