* The gracious host, Ms. Thrifty, of this week’s Carnival of Personal Finance has been kind of nice to feature my article in this edition’s fine selection of PF articles. Please head on over to check it out.
Last week, I wrote a post about Visa’s #smallenfreuden campaign and some of the problems I saw with using your credit card for every day purchases. Some of my readers commenting on my article pointed out the benefits of being able to earn rewards points on credit card purchases. As long as you paid off the balance on your credit card every month, you can put all those extra points towards cool stuff like free vacations. Who could argue with that?
For me, I don’t feel comfortable enough using my credit card in this way. I don’t have a great track record with credit and I want to focus on only spending money that I have available in my account. I need to practice staying within my limits before I feel I can trust myself with using my credit card and paying off the balance every month. Generally, here’s what my relationship looks like:
It starts out simple enough, it’s like the first few months of a romance. I meet credit and I discover we have a spark. There’s that rush of emotion as we experience all our firsts. First latte purchase, first dinner out, first concert together…so many great moments, truly the beginnings of a be-yoo-tiful relationship.
I then start to wonder about my feelings about credit. We are starting to get serious and I’m getting more excited about the possibility of a future together. Vacations! Imagine the fun we could have together on the Mayan Riviera! I could go parasailing, it’s a once in a lifetime experience after all. What’s $500?
Electronics, furniture, and appliances – oh my! 55 inch television? It’s the store display unit so it’s a deal – at $2300 instead of $3500. Think of all the movies we can watch together! All the bonding moments playing Portal or Mass Effect on Playstation 3! (Ironically, the effing TV is smarter than I am, but that’s not what this post is about)
Then I cross a line somewhere and credit suddenly becomes a bit of an obsession. I live and breath credit. I want to think about credit all the time. I want to be with credit all the time.
All of a sudden, anything seems possible. I start living in a strange world where everything is fine as long as I can eke out another $50 from my over-the-limit balance. No big deal, I’ll make more money in the future and what’s another $20 a month in payments, anyway? This happens until credit doesn’t want to have anything to do with me. I am now the stalker girlfriend that credit can’t get away from. Yes, that’s me.
But what to do when you want to earn rewards points without using a credit card? I’ve come up with a solid list of rewards programs that allows you to rack up points pretty quickly if you’re diligent with researching the special offers and strategic with using your card.
Rewards Points: Airmiles
This one has been around since 1992 and was the first of its kind in Canada. It’s gone through a couple of reincarnations since hitting the market but it remains one of the most popular and widely used loyalty programs out there with over 10 million collector accounts.
There are tonnes of ways to earn points with your Airmiles cards – if you watch the flyers, you can get some pretty sweet deals that can get help you pile those on miles. Safeway has those collect a hundred Airmiles if you spend $100 on groceries coupon or sometimes buy XYZ brand and earn XX Airmiles.
When you’re looking to spend your Airmiles, you can either redeem them for cash (Airmiles Cash Rewards) or buy stuff directly with your miles (Airmiles Dream Rewards).
With Airmiles Cash Rewards, you can go into a business that sponsors this program and make a purchase like you would with cash – provided that you have the right amount of miles. There are a bunch of guidelines around how to use this program – you can read more here.
With Airmiles Dream Rewards, you can use your miles to buy things through the Airmiles shop. It’s the more traditional Airmiles set up – you can get tonnes of things this way as well.
Airmiles also has an app available for smart phones that lets you do cool things like check your account balance and browse the rewards catalogue. The really exciting feature is that you can use the app to check into a store and peruse the bonus offers available based on a GPS radius. In other words, you can find out if your favourite store will have specials or offers that you can take advantage of locally.
Rewards Points: Scene
This is the only entertainment based rewards program available in Canada. Scotiabank and Cineplex entered into a partnership that allows you to swipe your debit card or use your Scene card and earn points with every purchase. The card also gets you a discount at the concession stand in a movie theatre and other sponsored locations.
You can then use the points to get free movies, music, concert tickets and other exclusive rewards. They’ve expanded the program quite a bit since it first started – restaurants are now joining in the fun and you can spend your points for a nice meal out. I have a Scotiabank account and use my Scene points on a regular basis – I’m a movie buff but these points can pay off even if you only go to the movies once in a while. Read more about the Scene program here.
Rewards Points: Shoppers Optimum
This is Shopper’s Drug Mart’s wildly successful program for people who want to take advantage of a straightforward rewards system and great offers on their wide selection of goodies. They have different offers and sales every week that can earn you bonus points and save you cash bucks. It’s not unusual to see their flyers and a free $25 gift card to Tim Horton’s with a $50 purchase. Their weekend sale prices are amazing and if you keep an eye on their flyers, you can pick up anything from groceries to Christmas presents for dirt cheap. Very easy to use and very easy to redeem – just show your card at the cash register and they run through your purchase using only the points. Bingo bango – done. Read here to learn more about Shoppers Optimum.
Rewards Points: PC Points
These little gems are earned through swiping your bank card and earning free groceries with every purchase. A partnership between PC Financial and Loblaw’s lets you earn points through every day purchases that you can redeem for almost anything available at Superstore. The points system is easy to redeem as well and there’s a lot of choice on things you can purchase with your points: groceries, photo finishing, clothing (they’ve got good stuff), and anything else you can pretty much think of at your local store (think Real Canadian Superstore, Joe Fresh, No Frills, etc).
You can also earn through banking with PC Financial, get 10,000 points when you set up a direct deposit to your account and five points for every time you spend a dollar using your debit card – 20,000 points will get you $20 in free groceries, for example. The points never expire and there aren’t a whole bunch of complicated rules you have to follow to access your rewards – very straightforward. Read more here.
How about you readers? Do you use rewards points? What works best for you?
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