The 9 Most Underrated Loyalty Programs and Tools You Should Use
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If you head online or do business in person with a merchant, there’s a high likelihood you’ll find that establishment now offers its own way to reward regular customers. To me, it almost feels like 2019 is the year of the loyalty program, with everyone from local chicken wing restaurants to diaper companies offering something in exchange for my repeat business.
While many of these programs are far from spectacular, equating to a return of 1% or less, a handful of programs and tools actually offer significant value in return for your business. At the very least, this new trend provides you something in return where traditionally there’s been nothing.
Here are nine programs that can offer a good return on your everyday purchase, many of which you probably didn’t know existed.
This is a pretty revolutionary green energy company that essentially acts as an intermediary between you and your power company. It’s great because it allows customers to pay their power bills with a credit card but charges no fee for doing so, saving you a small monthly transaction fee that the power company itself might tack on for using a card. On top of that, Arcadia guarantees 50% of your home’s power will come from renewable sources.
This is a pretty complex business relationship, but here’s what you need to know about using Arcadia Power to pay your power bill with a credit card and earn points for no fee:
- This is not a third-party energy provider — your bill and power company will stay the same as it currently is.
- Arcadia Power has a free membership program where it buys Renewable Energy Certificates (REC) on your behalf, guaranteeing half of your home’s power comes from green sources.
- There is no up-charge — your bill is still based on your exact monthly usage.
- You can opt-in to a premium membership for $5-$10 per month if you want to ensure 100% of your home’s power comes from renewable sources.
- Arcadia will even monitor the local energy markets and alert you if they find a lower rate than what you’re currently paying.
You can check on the Arcadia Power website for your power company’s availability and sign up for free in order to start paying your power bill and earning credit card points or cash back for no fee. You can also earn a $20 bonus off your next bill, an exclusive offer for TPG readers.
2. Citi Dividend Platinum Select Card
I had to put a single credit card on this list because it’s perhaps the unsung hero of Citibank. This no-annual-fee card has rotating 5% cash-back categories much like the Chase Freedom, but does limit you to $300 in cash back per year.
The Citi Dividend card isn’t open to new applicants, but it’s possible to convert Citi ThankYou Rewards cards with annual fees, like the Citi Prestige and the Citi Premier Card, to a Citi Dividend card. This would allow you to save your credit lines with Citi while simultaneously giving you another no-annual-fee option to earn 5% cash back. Just as an example, this spring’s Citi Dividend bonus category includes 5% back at pharmacies and fitness clubs — pretty darn handy.
3. Fuel Rewards
Shell and the third party-operated Fuel Rewards program have made it fairly easy to never pay full price for fuel at participating Shell stations. Sign-up for the program and you’ll earn instant Gold status, which gives you 5 cents off per gallon on fill-ups for three months (up to 20 gallons per fill-up). You can then maintain Gold status with six fill-ups over the course of the next three months.
On top of Gold status, there are a plethora of ways to earn Fuel Rewards, which all stack to lower the price of fuel on your next trip to a Shell station. Shop at local participating merchants, shop online through the Fuel Rewards shopping portal, book travel through Priceline, link your grocery store rewards to Fuel Rewards, stay at IHG hotels — the list of ways to earn is pretty all-encompassing, enough so that almost anyone should be able to significantly discount the cost of filling up the tank.
A brand new program for Marathon gas stations, Make it Count, has some potential, though it’s not nearly as lucrative as Fuel Rewards. New sign ups currently receive 40 cents off per gallon on your first fill-up of up to 20 gallons. After that, the program has targeted offers in its app that reward you with My CentsOff points, which you can redeem for per gallon discounts on your next fill-up. Most offers center around buying a specific grocery item in the convenience store at participating Marathons, and each offer seems to be good for four uses.
I went to a few different Marathon stations in my local area to try and maximize some of these offers. With two Core Power shake purchases, you’d earn 1,600 points, enough to redeem for 10 cents off per gallon on your next fill-up. A price check showed it’d cost $6 for two shakes in order to save a maximum of $2 on gas. If you were going to buy the shakes anyway, it could make sense, but it’s not a particularly enticing offer.
Last Labor Day, the app did offer double points on everything, which made picking up a few packs of Tic Tacs a worthwhile endeavor, as I like to keep them in my backpack anyway.
The largest problem with this program is that none of the three stores I visited even knew what I was talking about with the app or entering my phone number at the register. The point-of-sale software had been updated and worked, but I had to convince each cashier that the app was legitimate and what I was trying to do was above board. I’m watching for this program to evolve, or for a lucrative offer to show up that makes a trip to a Marathon worthwhile.
This program has been around a few years and isn’t awe-inspiring, but it’s better than nothing. You earn anywhere from 10-144 points per package of wipes or diapers depending on the diaper size, how many diapers are in the package and the line of Pampers diapers or wipes you bought. Sweepstakes entries start at 20 points, and free diapers and baby toys cost 2,100-4,000 points.
If you’ve got a little one in diapers, you know how quickly you go through them. While you may not think you’ll earn enough points, they will add up over time. You might as well be getting something in return if you use Pampers products, and since you can often scan the codes in using the app, the process is relatively straight-forward.
For as long as I can remember, GasBuddy has been a popular website to research local gas prices and prices along an intended driving route. The website also offers Pay With GasBuddy, a way to pay for gas at the pump that also offers rewards, either in cash or Shop Your Way points (which we’ll discuss in a moment).
GasBuddy will issue you a physical card to use at the pump, which is pin-protected and linked to your checking account (see here for security information). GasBuddy then rewards you with 5 cents back per gallon of fuel pumped, or 20 cents if you pay for the monthly membership. You can choose to take your rewards in the form of Shop Your Way points instead, which might end up being a better value.
Speaking of which …
Shop Your Way is the loyalty program of both Kmart and Sears, but if you think it’s not useful, you’re probably mistaken. There are a plethora of ways to earn Shop Your Way points and you can redeem the points online for thousands of items from Kmart and Sears, which can be shipped anywhere in the country. If you happen to have a store nearby, you can even use points for same day in-store pick up.
Popular ways to earn Shop Your Way points include leveraging the Pay With GasBuddy program as well as earning $1 in points for every Uber ride or Uber Eats order, up to $20 a month. Shop Your Way offers rather generous points during promotions and partnerships but tags them with short expiration dates, so make sure you use your points before they expire.
8. Thanks Again
This Atlanta-based loyalty program has partnered with airports around the country to offer you points worth essentially 1% cash back on all your purchases at airport retailers, restaurants and airport-owned parking lots. This probably won’t offer you phenomenal value, but getting 1% back from parking at your local airport on top of credit card rewards is better than nothing.
You can redeem Thanks Again rewards for gift cards, giving you 1% value, or redeem them for airline miles at a ratio of 2-to-1 for most programs. While that ratio doesn’t sound too appealing, it might be worth it to score some hard-to-get Alaska Mileage Plan miles.
The app has always had a place for “special offers,” but in over two years of using it, there’s never been a single offer at any airport I’ve visited offering more than 1 point per dollar.
I don’t know why this handy app centered around saving on gas hasn’t received more attention. You take a picture of your receipt from almost any gas station, and earn 1-2% back on what you spent for gas in the form of points which can be used at participating merchants for free gas or convenience store items. You can also cash out your rewards to PayPal for 50% of their value.
The app also has deals on grocery items at local gas stations based on your location. Typically you save less than a dollar on coffee or snack items — not worth a special trip, but if you happen to be in the store anyway, it can be handy to take a quick peek at the app.
The value of points is certainly no longer limited to travel. If you’re like me, your brain is now conditioned to look for value in almost every transaction you undertake. Sometimes it’s worth the hassle and sometimes it isn’t.
Frankly the above programs aren’t even necessarily the best ones hiding in plain sight. There are other retailers you use everyday that are making it too easy to get outsized value from their loyalty programs or from a combination of several different programs. So make sure to keep your eye trained at the register for a merchant’s loyalty program and then dig in to the fine print to boost the return you’ll get on everyday spending even further.
Featured photo by FabrikaC / Getty Images.
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