How Much Are Retail Points Worth?
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We spend a lot of time discussing the major rewards programs here at TPG, including Chase Ultimate Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest and American Express Membership Rewards. However, there are many smaller-scale programs out there that are specific to a chain of stores (or even apply to several chains), and these still offer some decent value. Today I want to go through some of these loyalty programs for major retailers to hopefully provide some added benefits the next time you go shopping.
For starters, it's important to note that this list is nowhere near exhaustive, but we did try to capture stores with a nationwide footprint that would be available to a majority of readers. In addition, all of the programs below are open to anyone and are free of charge without needing to apply for a store-specific credit card. While many of them provide greater benefits or enhanced earning rates to cardholders (and I'll highlight these where applicable), you can still join and begin earning without one.
Finally, all of the rewards you'd earn through these programs are in addition to any points or miles you'd earn on the travel rewards credit card you choose to swipe. As a result, you may want to use a card that offers solid earning rates on non-bonus category purchases like the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express. You also may see some of the below retailers on the rotating bonus categories on the Chase Freedom (No longer open to new applicants), so be sure to take that into account when you're deciding which card to pull out of your wallet.
Let's begin with a quick summary of the value you can get from these programs. The following table highlights the return you'd enjoy on your purchases, including any applicable elite statuses or regular bonuses but excluding enhanced earning rates through co-branded credit cards:
|Retailer||Return on Spending|
|Bloomingdale's||0.5% - 1%|
|Macy's||0.1% - 0.2%|
|Walgreens||1% - 1.25%|
As you can see, these numbers vary significantly depending on the retailer in question. Let's now take a closer look at each one to see how you can make your next shopping trip more rewarding.
If you're into electronics and enjoy shopping at Best Buy, hopefully you've already signed up for the My Best Buy Program. Basic members earn 0.5 points for every dollar spent, and once you earn 250 points, you'll earn a $5 reward certificate. Your overall return is thus 1%, though you'll also receive special sales and offers.
In addition, if you typically spend a lot at Best Buy, the program does have two elite status tiers that enhance your earning rates and benefits:
- Elite (spend $1,500 per calendar year): 1 point per dollar spent (2% return), free 2-day shipping on most items with no minimum purchase, 30-day returns and exchanges, priority 24/7 customer service line
- Elite Plus (spend $3,500 per calendar year): 1.25 points per dollar spent (2.5% return), free 2-day shipping with no minimum purchase, 45-day returns and exchanges, priority 24/7 customer service line
Credit card option: Best Buy has two credit cards that boost your earning rates to 2.5 points per dollar spent (5% return) along with promotional financing on large purchases.
Regular shoppers at Bloomingdale's should be taking advantage of the retailer's Loyallist program, allowing you to earn 1 point per dollar spent in-store, at outlets and on bloomingdales.com. You'll also earn double points on all shoe, cosmetic and fragrance purchases (excluding outlet stores). When you reach 5,000 points, you'll get a $25 reward card. This means you're earning 0.5% - 1% back on your purchases, depending on which department you visit. The program also provides additional benefits like a monthly perk sent to your inbox and free shipping every day, with no minimum purchase required.
Credit card option: A Bloomingdale's credit card triples your earning rate, resulting in a 1.5% - 3% return on your purchases. You can also earn Top of the List status by spending $3,500 each year on the card, increasing your earning rates even more and opening up other perks like unlimited complimentary gift wrap.
If you're looking for a way to make the most of your pharmacy purchases, be sure to join the CVS ExtraCare program. You'll earn 2% back on most purchases, and these will be paid out in ExtraBucks on a quarterly basis (as long as you've spent at least $50 in qualifying purchases). Joining ExtraCare will also open up additional in-store savings that are only available to members, and when you scan your ExtraCare card at checkout, you may get special offers printed on your receipt. Just note that several categories of items do not count toward earning ExtraBucks, including alcohol, lottery tickets, prescriptions and gift cards.
Another retailer with its own loyalty program is Gilt, an online shopping site offering insider access to designer clothing, local experiences and luxury travel. Through the Gilt Insider program, which is free to join, you'll earn 5 points per dollar spent on Gilt.com, GiltCity.com (which occasionally offers some nice mileage bonuses) or through Gilt on the Go, the site's mobile experience. You'll also receive 25 points when you refer friends to the program, and there are three elite status tiers for big spenders on the site, giving you early access to sales and additional VIP benefits.
When it comes time to use your points, you'll need to log in to your account to see the various options. Many are simply flat dollar discounts on future purchases, while others may apply to specific types of items or could even get you free domestic or international shipping. Generally speaking, the discounts toward future purchases offer the best value, as every 1,500 points gets you $5 off. Since you'd need to spend $300 to earn 1,500 points and unlock the $5 reward, your return is 1.67%.
Macy's doesn't have its own loyalty program but instead participates in the Plenti Rewards program. As a regular member, you'll earn a measly 1 point for every $10 you spend at Macy's. You can also take advantage of special offers through the program, and when you're looking to redeem, your points are typically worth 1 cent apiece. Even though this represents a terrible return of 0.1% - 0.2%, the nice thing is that you can redeem points across the participating chains, including Rite Aid and Exxon Mobil.
Credit card options: If you open a Macy's credit card, your earning rates actually go up by a factor of 10, giving you 1 point per dollar spent on most purchases. You also have The Plenti Credit Card from Amex, offering you additional bonus Plenti points across different bonus categories.
Another popular department store that allows you to earn points is Nordstom through its Nordstrom Rewards program. When you shop in-store or online (including Nordstrom Rack and HauteLook), you'll earn 1 point per dollar spent, though this earning rate increases on designated bonus points days. For every 2,000 points you earn, you'll receive a $20 Nordstrom Note to redeem for merchandise in the store, giving you a return of 1%.
Credit card option: If you're a Nordstrom credit cardholder, you'll receive 2 points per dollar spent (thus boosting your return to 2%) along with additional perks like early anniversary sale access and triple points day(s) of your choosing.
The final retailer brings us back to the pharmacy. Like the aforementioned CVS ExtraCare program, Walgreens Balance Rewards provides a number of members-only discounts in-store. You'll also earn 10 points per dollar spent on most purchases. However, when it comes time to redeem, the more points you cash in, the better:
- 5,000 points = $5 (1%)
- 10,000 points = $10 (1%)
- 18,000 points = $20 (1.11%)
- 30,000 points = $35 (1.16%)
- 40,000 points = $50 (1.25%)
The other nice thing about the program is that your points don't expire for three years from the date they were earned, which stands in sharp contrast to CVS (where your ExtraBucks earning will not carry over to subsequent quarters if you don't spend at least $50 in qualifying purchases).
Retail loyalty programs clearly don't have the "sweet spots" of many airline and hotel award charts, and I don't know that any of the earning rates or additional perks I mention above would lead me to go out of my way to shop at any of these stores. That being said, if you're looking to spend some money at one (or more) of these retailers, be sure to sign up for the corresponding program to at least get some additional value from your purchases.
What are your experiences with retailer loyalty programs?