The holidays are the perfect time to spoil your friends or family, but the costs can quickly add up.  From Xboxes for the kids to concert tickets for the husband, money seems to escape from your purse in a way that just doesn’t happen at any other time of year.

“The holidays are a good time to make use of those rewards points that have been accumulating all year.  Take a look at your various loyalty programs and see what kinds of rewards they are offering in terms of products or services.”

Star advice

Anna Wallner and Kristina Matisic, stars of the hit TV shows The Shopping Bags and Anna and Kristina’s Grocery Bag, know all about how to make those hard-earned dollars stretch that little bit further when the holiday season comes around.

“The holidays are a good time to make use of those rewards points that have been accumulating all year,” says Anna. “Take a look at your various loyalty programs and see what kinds of rewards they are offering in terms of products or services.”

“Some programs offer access to many retailers.  It’s a great way to use points to buy gifts for everyone on your list.”

Holiday entertaining can be one of the biggest costs of the season, so it’s a good time to cash in on any food points. “You may find you have enough to cover the holiday turkey, festive napkins, wrapping paper — you name it,” says Anna.

Some stores even allow you to turn points into hard cash. This is a great way of taking a substantial chunk out of your holiday entertaining budget.

“Choices Market grocery stores allow you to collect points until you reach the threshold, at which point you get $20 toward your next purchase,” explains Kristina. “Same is true for the online reservation system Open Table: once you collect enough points you get a cheque to use at the Open table restaurant of your choice.”

“If you’ve accumulated many points and don’t plan to use them, consider gifting those as well.  Who couldn’t use the points for a free flight?”

Flying high

Whether we’re visiting family overseas or escaping the Canadian cold for some much needed sun and sand, the holiday season is a period when international travel peaks. Of course, you can use your reward miles and points to book flights, but it’s worth looking into your rewards program more closely; you could be entitled to further benefits.

“You may be able to apply points to hotel bookings and car rentals,” says Kristina.  “Also, check for rewards offers on excursions and activities that are offered at your holiday destination.”

If you decide to stay in town for an icy Canadian holiday, why not spring the surprise of a lifetime on a family member who’s had a tough year. “If you’ve accumulated many points and don’t plan to use them, consider gifting those as well.  Who couldn’t use the points for a free flight?” says Anna.

Try to find a loyalty or reward program that has clear guidelines about how and where you can spend your reward points.

“We see travel points programs where it’s easy to accumulate masses of points, but once you want to cash them in, flights never seem to be available,” says Kristina.  “We like programs that offer as much flexibility as possible.”

To be a successful holiday shopper you need to be aware of special promotions and offers — these can slash your budgets dramatically and might even leave a surplus that allows you to buy a little secret gift for yourself.

Finding what works for you

Every holiday shopper has different budgets, tastes and needs, so it’s important to not just sign up for a loyalty program because your best buddy loves it. It’s got to be a plan that’s going to yield the most benefits for your specific spending habits.

Anna and Kristina both like Avion’s reward program. “We find it offers the most flexibility in terms of travel,” says Anna.  “A set number of points translate into a set number of dollars, which can be applied to any flight, on any airline — it doesn’t get much easier than that.  The only thing to remember is you need to book at least two weeks in advance.”

To be a successful holiday shopper you need to be aware of special promotions and offers — these can slash your budgets dramatically and might even leave a surplus that allows you to buy a little secret gift for yourself.

“Keep an eye out for double or triple points days at stores ” explains Kristina. “With some plans, you can collect more points for the very same purchases — points that can go towards gifts and other holiday necessities.”

If you find it difficult to keep track of points, only sign up for programs and stores that you use regularly.

The holidays are a time that can be tough for some people, so remembering and donating to those less fortunate is an act that truly epitomizes the traditional holiday spirit.

Holiday spirit

The holidays are a time that can be tough for some people, so remembering and donating to those less fortunate is an act that truly epitomizes the traditional holiday spirit.

“If you want to use your points to truly do some good this holiday season, the Canadian Red Cross accepts points from certain programs rewards, in lieu of cash donations,” says Kristina.

Joe Rosengarten
editorial@mediaplanet.com