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Learn to be loyal while avoiding the betrayal – because not all loyalty programs are loyal to YOU.

3 minute read

Every time I look down at my feet these days, I smile. That’s because I snagged a pair of $120 running shoes for $19 last month at one of my favorite stores.

How did I do it? I combined a great sale with cashing in loyalty rewards that I didn’t even know I earned.

I’ve never been one to crowd Walmart’s front door the morning after Thanksgiving, but I still keep an eye out for a good deal on Black Friday. That’s why I sprinted straight to my local running store a day before Thanksgiving last year to scope out upcoming bargains.

“Do I have any rewards in my account?” I asked a salesperson.

“You’ve got $45 in points, but you can’t use them until you finish registering,” he told me. Over the course of two years’ purchases, I’d assumed that the store’s rewards system took forever to crawl toward substantial savings. Instead, I’d missed a crucial e-mail instructing me to complete my registration long ago.

So I finished registering and went back to the store on Black Friday. I bought a pair of $120 Brooks running shoes on sale for half price, applied my rewards points and handed over a measly $19 after taxes for my fancy new footwear.

What’s not in your wallet?

Do you have unused rewards out there, waiting on an additional step you neglected and forgot to finish? It turns out that I had more than one rewards program wasting away.

For one thing, I’d signed up for my grocery store’s loyalty program and then ignored it because it offered only a piddly savings on gas purchases. As I investigated further, I learned that all those store e-mails I’d instantly deleted contained coupons already loaded into my card based on past purchases. Then I noticed a “load more coupons” button in the e-mail, allowing me to save on all kinds of items.

After stumbling onto my shoe store rewards, I decided to delve deeper into my loyalty rewards program at another retailer, Big Lots. A cashier signed me up four years earlier, but the card never registered at checkout. Two more cashiers registered me, but the card still didn’t work. So I gave up. That is, until I realized that I was the one blocking my rewards all this time.

I visited the store’s website, signed in, and realized I still needed to register my card number. I finished signing up and instantly received a $5-off-$15 coupon via e-mail. Now, after every three purchases, I receive a new $5-off-$15 coupon.

Not everyone likes rewards programs due to privacy concerns. However, if you read the terms and conditions when you sign up, you can choose programs that value your privacy. If you don’t want the store to bombard you with e-mails, you can even set up a separate e-mail account specifically for rewards.

It all adds up

Play your loyalty rewards programs right, and you can save a bunch of money every month. Also, don’t forget to take advantage of every “punch card” program in town. Here’s approximately what I saved in one month using rewards programs, sometimes combined with store or manufacturer coupons…

  • Grocery store: $80
  • Coffee Shop: $15
  • Big Lots: $15
  • CVS: $70
  • Papa Murphy’s Pizza: $14 (free pizza)
  • Favorite barbecue joint: $6

Total savings: $200. And that doesn’t even include my new shoes.

The list of loyalty and rewards programs is endless but here’s a tiny sampling:

Maybe it’s time you take a look at all those loyalty cards on your key ring and make sure you’re actually using them. While you’re at it, don’t forget to also do a little online price matching. Sign up for hotel rewards, too — even if you don’t travel that much, since with many chains, points don’t expire.

With retailers and restaurants, you’ve got a plethora of rewards programs just waiting to save you money. So get registered and free up more money to pay off debt or sock away in savings.

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About the Author

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp is a full-time freelance writer based in Kansas City, Mo. Deb went from being unable to get approved for a credit card or loan 20 years ago to having excellent credit today and becoming a homeowner. Deb learned her lessons about money the hard way. Now she wants to share them to help you pay down debt, fix your credit and quit being broke all the time. Deb's personal finance and credit articles have been published at Credit Karma and The Huffington Post.

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