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: 6-10
6. Collect every point. Some retailers let you bring back a receipt to add points if you forget to show your card at the time of purchase. And be aware of every opportunity; for instance, HBC Rewards cardholders collect points at all company stores – The Bay, Zellers, Home Outfitters and Designer Depot – and for shopping online.

7. Use it or lose it. "Use those points as quickly as you can, and certainly don't wait more than 18 months," says Bruce Cran, president of the Consumers' Association of Canada. Points expire – Aeroplan points, for example, are valid for only seven years. And programs may change how you earn points. In January 2006, for example, Shoppers/Pharmaprix changed its Shoppers Optimum Program: the $75 reward level rose from 34,000 to 40,000 points (a $600 difference).

8. Choose rewards wisely. Redeeming points for big catalogue items such as electronics may not be worth it. "If you buy a barbecue, that could cost you $100,000 in purchases, but the thing's only worth a few hundred dollars, so evaluate anything that you are getting against the marketplace," says Cran. Alexandra Hood of Toronto regularly collects small-value rewards, such as lunch or a jar of peanut butter, using HBC and Shoppers Optimum cards.

9. Trade or top up. At Points.com, you can swap points between programs, and many programs allow you to transfer points to a family member – at a cost. If you're short of a plateau, you may be able to top up; for example, HBC cardholders can redeem 13 million points to receive a 50-inch Panasonic plasma HD television. If they're a little short, they can top up at a rate of $10 for 40,000 points.

10. Think small. Great rewards for loyalty come from small merchants, such as the coffee shop that gives you a free latte after you've bought five or the card store that gives you a free card after you buy 10. University of Calgary Bookstore members, for example, save up to 20 per cent off purchases as they buy more books.

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