Rewards giveth, and rewards taketh away

Customer reward programs go by a number of different names: customer loyalty programs, frequent flier programs, shoppers’ club, and so forth.  In exchange for some of your personal information and the ability to laser-target their advertising to you by tracking your purchases, you get discounts or rebates on your purchases.

Maybe it’s just my opinion, but haven’t rewards programs gotten a lot more restrictive recently?  Credit card rewards and store rewards alike seem, well, more effort to redeem than before.  Some cases in point:

  • Going from dollars to points. A 2% rebate on qualifying purchases is $2 for each $100 in purchases.  That’s easy to grasp.  But what about two points per dollar spent?  What does that mean?  It could mean the same thing if you get a $100 check for each 10,000 points you accumulate.  And if you get 10 points per dollar, that’s better, right?  Well, not if it takes 60,000 points to get that same $100 check.  The value of points are a lot easier to manipulate, and they’re a lot easier to devalue discreetly than a raw percentage.
  • Going from automatic rebates to rebates by request. My credit card used to give my cash back rewards as a credit on my next bill.  No waiting, no muss, no fuss.  Now, I have to put in a request to have my rebate sent to me.  More work for me, and more time that they keep my earned rebates.  My last rebate check was $200 — that’s a lot — because I dropped the ball and forgot to request the check when the point balance was lower.
  • Rewards that expire very quickly. A couple of rewards programs I’m in now have points that are only good for one month.  I earn gift certificates, and I need to spend them within a month, or else they vanish off the face of the earth, never to return.  I mean, rewards are rewards, but you’d think after dropping $1,000 and up at a store you’d get more time to use the earned rewards.
  • Higher rewards if you accept vouchers for purchases at the same merchant. One credit card application outlined their reward structure, and rewards redeemed in store credits were higher than for cash.
  • Rewards that are just a pain in the butt to redeem. At one merchant in particular, I have to catch the cashier with my rewards number before she rings up the purchase in order to get credit.  I’ve missed a few purchases because I remembered just a little too late. That, and I’ve needed to call their customer service because the website registration does not work.  The website designer screwed up the form, and it rejects valid input.  A pain!

When it comes to reward programs there is one axiom:  Retailers are quite happy if you never redeem your rewards. They will put obstacles in your way and hope that you forget about them until it’s too late.  So load up your favorite to-do list with reminders to get the rewards you’ve earned.

(Thanks to Funny About Money for including this post in the Carnival of Personal Finance!)

John Wedding

Husband. Father. Web publisher. Musician. John has blogged at Mighty Bargain Hunter since 2005, helping people to recognize life's good deals.

More Posts - Twitter - Facebook - Google Plus


  1. says

    Not surprising, considering the pressure credit card lenders have been subjected to lately (righteously, IMHO) and the fact that the “recession” we’re in is a de facto depression for anyone who doesn’t have a job.

    My AMEX card continues to give a cash kickback. The minute American Express switches to “points” or some other cumbersome scheme, though, I’ll be using cash or a debit card instead! Who has time to fiddle with that stuff?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *