For most of us, shopping is a necessity and its occasional joys, like finding the perfect pair of shoes on sale, are balanced by the humdrum purchases of everyday life – a chicken for dinner, a roll of toilet paper for you-know-what. But with a little savvy, you can turn those necessary purchases into something different; you can turn them into a game.
Best of all, the tools for winning are already in your wallet. According to Colloquy, the research arm of LoyaltyOne, the average Canadian is enrolled in 8.2 loyalty programs. So consider them your game cards and get playing!
The Game Plan
Stack the deck
If you love good food but hate air travel, then your airline-specific rewards card isn’t doing you any favours. In fact, if it’s tied to a credit card with an annual fee, you could be paying more than you’re getting back. Ditch it for a card that offers groceries, fine dining experiences or cookware, instead.
Colloquy provides a survey-based tool that can help you find the Canadian rewards program best suited to your lifestyle. It’s a quick way to ensure you’re holding the right hand.
Play your aces
“Double-dipping” is the industry term for the totally legit practice of using two points cards for one purchase, generally by combining a regular loyalty card with a rewards credit card. For instance, you’re on vacation, staying at a Hilton hotel and renting your car from Budget – both Air Miles affiliated companies. Flash your Air Miles card when you pay and charge the services to your Air Miles co-branded credit card and bam! you’ve just doubled your points haul.
Mix the decks
Gift cards can help you score extra points. If you’ve got a Shoppers Optimum card in your wallet (which is likely – it’s the second-most popular rewards card in Canada, after Air Miles), use it to buy a Shoppers gift card for yourself. You’ll get Optimum points when you purchase the card, and you’ll get points again when you use your gift card to shop.
Know when to hold ‘em and know when to play
Save big purchases for deal days. Most loyalty programs run promotions when you can earn extra rewards, like Shoppers Optimum 20x the points days. See individual cards’ websites so you can make the best of bonuses, and sign up for newsletters so you’ve got the inside track on the deals most relevant to your needs.
Here are the promotions pages for the top ten rewards cards in Canada:
1. Air Miles
3. Canadian Tire ‘Money’ – see weekly flyer for bonuses
5. PC Points – sign in to view offers
6. Petro Points
8. HBC Rewards
9. Club Sobeys
10. Sears Card
Know when to fold ‘em
Redeeming your points at the right time can also increase your rewards. Check the links above before spending, as most loyalty programs offer periodic redemption bonuses that will nab you extra value when you cash in. Also, comparison shop when redeeming points, as items or experiences with the monetary value can have widely different points values. For instance, the Toronto Star recently reported that an upgrade to first class on an Aeroplan trip to Europe costs only 1.5 times more than an economy trip. Purchased in cash, the same upgrade costs up to 10 times as much, making first class upgrades a pretty stellar way to spend your points.
Air Miles and Aeroplan offer bonus points through online retail portals. Before you purchase an item, check your loyalty card’s site and see if it links to the store or brand you were planning to buy from. Air Miles Shops connects you to extra points on purchases from Amazon, Apple, ebay, Indigo, The Source, The Gap, and hundreds of other retailers, while Aeroplan has teamed up with Shop.ca to offer extra points. Best of all, you can often score extra points on gift cards for yourself, use them to make purchases you need, and score more points again!
Know when to walk away
Turning your regular shopping into a game can be fun and profitable, but don’t take it too seriously. If you find yourself making purchases you don’t need just to score points, then it’s time to put down the cards and walk away. Remember, gaming should be fun!