Dennis Armbruster 

While the economy may be on the upswing, real wages continue to be stagnant in the Canadian economy and consumers are continuing to look for ways to stretch their disposable income. If you are among them, the time is right to take advantage of loyalty programs for every bit of value they offer. Here are some quick tips for doing just that.

Read the fine print and make major finds 

Know the terms and conditions of your programs. A quick read of a program’s parameters helps you learn how it fits (or doesn’t fit) your lifestyle. Does your usage mean you aren’t likely to earn enough to make it worthwhile? Do you know the points expiration policy? Consider what is relevant to your lifestyle and if the rewards structure meets your needs and preferences.

Take notice, then use the cards that count the most

If your wallet is bulging with membership cards, join the club. 90 percent of Canadians (vs 74 percent of Americans) belong to at least one loyalty program. The average Canadian household belongs to 8.2 programs, according to the 2013 COLLOQUY Loyalty Census. By spreading your shopping over that many programs, you risk diluting the rewards value you get back. Ask yourself which brands your family likes and uses the most, then pick the best program(s) that fit your lifestyle. For example, do you travel often by plane or by car? This will help you decide whether to collect fuel perks or frequent flyer miles. 

Double your savings with a combo

A loyalty program that doubles earnings in “twofer” deals, for example, helps rack up points fast enough to make adjusting your shopping habits worthwhile. For example, a Target REDcard saves 5 percent on any purchase. But join Target Pharmacy Rewards too, and prescription buys can double savings to 10 percent. Some grocery memberships do the same with fuel programs tied to their in-store pharmacies. Another example is booking a flight with a loyalty program credit card where the purchase awards you both airline points and credit card points.

“Consider what is relevant to your lifestyle and if the rewards structure meets your needs and preferences.” 

Also, stick with programs that demonstrate they know you by giving you offers on products and services you need versus what they want to sell to you. If you share your preferences, wants, and needs, you should see a commensurate increase in value to you and your family.  If you do not, consider whether or not the brand really wants to establish a relationship with you.

Treat yourself to experiential benefits

Practically all loyalty programs come with soft benefits that add real convenience and save time. Banana Republic offers free alterations to its loyalty program members. Many grocery stores including Loblaws offer a phone app which easily downloads coupons and shopping list tools directly onto a member’s loyalty card. Orbitz Rewards offers its members early access to sales and low-price guarantees. Look for add-ons like ease of use, members-only shopping hours and check-in lines, free shipping and special access to events to maximize your time and minimize daily hassles. 

Keep track, keep it simple

It’s back to the basics on this final tip: once you consolidate your spending to the programs you use the most, be sure to redeem the points you earn. COLLOQUY research shows the average household active in loyalty programs earns $622 a year in points and miles but fails to redeem $205 of those rewards. Don’t leave money on the table. Consider using the services of rewards-tracking web sites and aggregators, such as, that help consumers manage their points and miles in a central location.

Dennis Armbruster