It’s said that patience is its own reward, but that doesn’t apply to credit card loyalty programs. In fact, it turns out many consumers are shooting themselves in the foot by being too patient.
Sure, it’s tempting to spend years collecting points to earn that deluxe cappuccino maker, or fly to Bora Bora for a dream trip with our family in 10 years. And in some cases, sad to say, we may never redeem our points, always hoping for a bigger, better reward down the road then watching them expire.
Matthew Lau, has some good advice. “Earn and burn your rewards,” says the CEO and chief editor of Pointshogger.com, a website that provides info on major loyalty miles and points programs in Canada, as well as helping Canadians maximize the rewards on every dollar spent. “They may be worth more today than they will be tomorrow.”
But where do you start? Of course, one easy way to improve your benefits is to reduce your loyalty credit card count and focus on the ones that best match your spending habits. According to the latest research by Brand Bond Loyalty the average number of program memberships per Canadian consumer has increased steadily since 2014 from 10 programs to 12.
READ MORE: Canada’s Best Rewards Credit Cards 2019
Meanwhile, the number of programs they have actively participated in—meaning they’ve “earned and burned program benefits and rewards” is virtually unchanged at 7, or about 60%.
So, for the cards you already have, how do you even know if you are using these point programs correctly? And how do you avoid leaving money on the table?
MoneySense spent some time talking to some of the sharpest and most avid point collectors in Canada to learn some of the secrets to juicing your points in the loyalty game. One general truth surfaced—that among the various loyalty programs, those tied to credit cards offer the most potential for points hacking. In fact, for savvy spenders and loyalty point collectors, it’s not uncommon to collect up to a million points a year with minimal spending. How do they do it?
We learned from the experts that it’s really not about how much you spend but how you use the rules to your maximum advantage. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced loyalty point collector, here are some expert tips on how to do just that.
If you’re new to the loyalty point collecting game, there are a few basics you should know to get you on your way to loyalty riches.
Identify your spending
The more effort you put into these programs, the more rewards you will earn. But be sure to follow some key rules to make your efforts really pay off.
First, identify your spending habits. Do you spend on groceries, movies, restaurants, or hotels and which stores do you frequent? Estimate how much you spend on each category. Once you’ve done this, then sign up for all the loyal programs of these stores that you think will interest you to start earning points. For travelling, for instance, it would be airlines, hotel and car rental programs. The best news? These programs are generally free.
Justin Thouin, co-founder and CEO of LowestRates.ca, agrees. “Anytime you have the chance to double up your points, it’s good,” says Thouin. For instance, Aeroplan is great if you like to take Air Canada (of course, there is an expiry date on that arrangement since the airline said it would launch its own plan and drop Aeroplan altogether. PC Optimum works well but only if you shop at Loblaws, No Frills or Real Canadian SuperStore, and the Optimum points card is worth having if you buy drug store products at Shoppers Drug Mart—plus, it’s a no-fee card so even more bang for your buck.
Track your loyalty points
Once you’ve registered for a few loyalty programs, use an online points manager such as AwardWallet, which allows you to keep track of the loyalty programs you participate in, such as frequent flyer miles, hotel and credit card points. You’ll even get reminders on when your points will expire. Another option is simply keeping a spreadsheet you update on your own once a month.
Pay down your balance every month
Avoid paying interest on your outstanding credit card balance. That just negates the benefits you get from the credit card points you’re accumulating. “Only apply for a credit card if it is within your means to pay off the balance on time,” says Thouin. “That’s the most important rule to follow.”
But if you can do that, then use your credit card all the time—even on tiny purchases that may seem too small to worry about, like a $2 pack of gum, a $4 latte at Starbucks or $3 for Timbits. Pull out your credit card for everything and these small credit card purchases will accumulate points fast.
Shop online for extra points
Never go directly to a retailer’s website. Instead, shop through one of the online mileage malls to earn even more points. RBC, Aeroplan and Air Miles are just three examples of programs that operate online shopping portals that function as electronic malls with access to hundreds of retailers. You’ll also earn extra points at retailers you might not associate with a given loyalty program.
For instance, The Brick won’t ask if you collect Aeroplan or Air Mile points, but you’ll get them if you visit the store through Aeroplan.com or AirMiles.ca. For instance, Aeroplan members can earn one Aeroplan Mile for every $2 spent on everything at TheBrick.com, including furniture, mattresses, appliances and home electronics. All you have to do is provide your Aeroplan card when you do online checkout from thebrick.com. The offer is not available if you purchase these items in the store, so the online checkout at the time of payment is what’s key.
Also note that if you want an even better payoff from your online purchases, skip the shopping portals run by the credit cards and, instead, shop a third-party portal like Ebates instead. Ebates works in a similar way to the points providers’ portals in that you’ll still earn points when you use your credit card but it also gives consumers up to 10% cash back on purchases. Sure, Ebates isn’t going to help you max out your loyalty points, but many times the payout is higher than what you’d typically get through some of the point portals.
Are you extra serious about maximizing your points? Here are seven strategies you should follow.