Show Your Loyalty

Chances are you have a favorite grocery, gas station, coffee shop and clothing store. When you find yourself visiting the same few stores over and over again, consider asking if they offer a loyalty card.

Loyalty cards (also called rewards cards, points cards or club cards) usually look like credit cards, with a mag stripe or UPC code on the back, and some come with an extra mini-fob perfect for attaching to your keychain. They’re almost always free to sign up for and use, and most are not associated with payment. Instead, they are used as a marketing tool for the store, to encourage more purchases by their best customers (you). Of course, stores also use them to track your purchases, so if you prefer living off the grid, that might not appeal to you. But if you don’t mind sharing information about yourself and your spending habits, there are perks to be had.

Most stores reward their loyalty card holders with special sales or offers not available to the general public—those might be offered in-store at the point of purchase, or they might be emailed or even snail-mailed to you. Other cards offer points or rebates good toward future purchases or even give you a small percentage off everything you buy. A few even offer you a special treat on your birthday. Some loyalty cards are more retro—cardboard versions that allow stores to keep track of your purchases the old-fashioned way—with a hole punch or stamp. (Buy 9 sandwiches, get your 10th free!)

Among major retailers, there are a few holdouts on the loyalty card front. Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Wal-Mart do not use loyalty cards, and some supermarkets have recently eliminated their card programs, opting to differentiate themselves by offering the same savings to all customers. And discount warehouse stores like Costco, Sam’s Club and BJ’s don’t offer loyalty cards, instead charging an annual membership fee to access all the deals under their massive roofs.

If you prefer not to use a loyalty card but still want to get good deals, some stores (mostly groceries) will scan a generic loyalty card at the register so you get the special savings, even if you don’t get the points. If you have a card (somewhere) but have forgotten it, ask the cashier to pull it up using your phone number or email address.

So many stores now offer loyalty cards that’s it’s easy for your wallet to become overloaded with them. If you’d rather travel light, consider collecting all your loyalty card numbers in an app such as Key Ring or CardStar.

And remember—when it comes to shopping, loyalty pays.

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