Reward programs: How to make the most of air miles, credit card rewards and other points cards

Do you have a wallet full of points cards for air miles and reward programs? Here are 10 ways to get the most reward for your efforts.

By Sarah B. Hood

Reward program tips: 1-5
This story was originally titled "Reward Programs," in the March 2008 issue. Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!

A remarkable 86 per cent of Canadian consumers identify themselves as participants in loyalty marketing programs. These programs come in many shapes, from Canadian Tire "money" to frequent-flyer programs. Typically, they consist of a plastic card that you present when you buy things from a particular business or its partners; the more money you spend, the more rewards (in discounts or products) you're entitled to claim. Here's how you can enjoy the highest return for your loyalty.
 
1. Buy what you need. A study found consumers will buy up to 20 times as much merchandise in one place if they feel emotionally attached to a loyalty plan. Buy only those things you would normally purchase, but make sure you always collect any applicable points for that item.

2. Use credit wisely.
Affiliated credit cards yield bonus points, but interest can eat up rewards fast. "There's no point chasing rewards if you don't pay off your balance every month," says Kim Barnhardt of Toronto, who uses her HBC MasterCard to collect extra HBC Rewards points.

3. Collect travel points. "Aeroplan is the best if you fly at least a few times a year," says Patrick Sojka, founder of RewardsCanada.ca. It takes a long time to amass points if you're not travelling. "If you don't fly often and don't use a credit card, then Air Miles is better because it has a lot of partners," he says.

4. Diversify. Join at least two programs so that you have lots of opportunities to collect points from partner businesses. Safeway is an Air Miles partner, for example; Racquel Foran of Coquitlam, B.C., shops for a family of five at Safeway, so her Air Miles points add up quickly. "Two or three times a year, we do husband-and-wife weekends in downtown Vancouver hotels using our Air Miles," she says. Racquel has already booked a family trip to Europe this year by combining Aeroplan and Air Miles rewards.

5. Get web-savvy. Visit program websites for bonus offers and new benefit announcements. RBC Rewards and Esso Extra cardholders, for example, can trade points between programs. Shoppers Drug Mart/Pharmaprix Optimum members are automatically covered for three days of family travel insurance.

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