The first thing I do after shopping is hand over a little plastic card to the cashier. I don’t mean my generous cash-back credit card — I mean a store loyalty card. I have one for every big chain store I shop at regularly. These cards give me rewards on nearly everything I buy, including discounts and points tradable for free stuff.
The savings from loyalty programs — especially when you combine them with extreme couponing strategies — can really help you stick to your shopping budget. Here’s how to make these programs work for you.
How Loyalty Programs Work
Stores offer loyalty programs for a variety of reasons. For one thing, they help the store track your spending habits. Each time you scan your card, the store gets a record of what you buy, allowing it to offer you targeted deals on other things you might like.
Loyalty programs also encourage you to do more shopping at one store instead of spreading your business around. Spending more helps you build up points and reach higher reward levels, such as “silver” or “elite,” which give you better deals. Stores hope this will lead you to shop there more often.
But you don’t have to be loyal to a store to use its loyalty program. Many stores charge nothing to join, so there’s nothing to stop you from collecting a whole deck of rewards cards and using them to get discounts everywhere you shop. The only limit is how bulky you’re willing to let your wallet or key ring get — or, if you prefer digital access, how many apps you’re willing to store on your phone.
Nearly every big chain store has a loyalty program of some kind. You can collect rewards at department stores, drugstores, eateries, supermarkets, and specialty stores, such as beauty and pet supply stores. However, not all loyalty programs are created equal. Here are some of the ones that deliver the best value with the least hassle.
Pro tip: Before you start shopping, make sure you download the dosh app. When you connect your credit or debit card to the app, you’ll automatically earn rewards for shopping at your favorite stores.
Best Customer Loyalty Programs
Nearly all department store chains have loyalty programs. These big stores sell practically everything, so it’s in their interest to entice you into doing as much of your shopping there as possible. Many department store rewards programs get particularly good reviews, including those from both high-end stores and budget chains.
The Loyallist program at Bloomingdale’s consistently gets high marks from deal sites. It’s free to join and has plenty of benefits.
First, Loyallist members get points for every dollar they spend at Bloomingdale’s — in the store, online, and in outlets. You get 1 point per dollar with most forms of payment or 3 points per dollar if you use a Bloomingdale’s credit card. Shoes, cosmetics, and perfume are all worth double points. Plus, if you have a Bloomingdale’s branded American Express card, you get points for using it at other stores as well.
When your point total reaches 5,000, you get a $25 reward card. Unlike many reward programs, Loyallist doesn’t make you fill out a form or log into a website to cash in your points. Instead, you receive your reward card at checkout. You can use it for any purchase in the store or on the website, except in certain restaurants and cafes.
On top of that, Loyallist members get free shipping on nearly everything they buy at Bloomingdales.com. They also get free shipping when buying a product in-store that has to be shipped from another location. The only exceptions are furniture, mattresses, gift cards, and purchases at Bloomingdale’s The Outlet Store.
The JCPenney Rewards program is similar to Bloomingdale’s but even more generous. You only get 1 point for every $2 you spend in the store or on the website, so points don’t build up quite as fast. However, you only need 200 points to collect a $10 rewards certificate at the checkout. So, in effect, JCPenney gives you 2.5% cash back on all your purchases, while Bloomingdale’s gives you only 0.5% to 1.5% back.
There are ways to earn rewards faster. If you have a JCPenney credit card, you get 1 point for each dollar you spend, so points build up twice as fast. The store also offers bonus points on certain items throughout the year. As an extra perk, you get a members-only gift on your birthday.
The Kohl’s loyalty program, Yes2You Rewards, gives you 1 point for every dollar you spend. On the first day of each month, you receive a $5 reward for every 100 points you’ve earned. So not only do you earn a full 5% cash back on every purchase, but you don’t have to collect as many points to get a reward.
Yes2You Rewards also gives you a gift on your birthday and access to special “bonus point events” at various times throughout the year. You can get even more savings offers if you have a Kohl’s Charge cardF. And, like other programs, Yes2You Rewards is free to join.
The only catch is that once you earn a reward, you must use it within 30 days. However, that’s not hard to do. Rewards are good for anything sold in the store, on the website, or via the Kohl’s App.
Macy’s rewards program, called Star Rewards, has four levels:
- Bronze. The basic version of the Star Rewards program is free for everyone. It gives you 1 point for each dollar you spend at Macy’s, Macy’s Backstage, and Macys.com, plus extra points when you shop on specified “Star Money Bonus Days.” For every 1,000 points you earn, you get back $10 in “Star Money” that you can spend on anything in the store except gift cards, services, and fees. Star Money is only good for 30 days after you receive it, but your points themselves never expire. So even if it takes a while, you’ll definitely get to cash them in. The program also provides access to discounts, special offers, and a present on your birthday.
- Silver. If you have a Macy’s credit card or Macy’s American Express card, your Star Rewards membership is boosted to Silver level. At this level, you earn 2 points for each dollar you spend. You also get Star Passes you can use for a 25% discount on any day you choose. That’s on top of all the rewards Bronze members get.
- Gold. If you spend $500 or more in one year on your Macy’s card, you achieve Gold status. In addition to your Silver level rewards, your earnings are boosted to 3 points per dollar spent. You also get free shipping on all Macy’s purchases, with no minimum purchase.
- Platinum. Shoppers who spend at least $1,200 per year on their Macy’s cards become Platinum members. They get 5 points per dollar on all purchases, with no limit to how much they can earn.
If you have a Macy’s American Express card, you can earn Star Rewards with your other shopping as well. The program gives you 3% cash back at restaurants, 2% at supermarkets and gas stations, and 1% at all other stores that accept American Express.
Nordstrom’s rewards program, The Nordy Club, is free to join. It gives you 1 point for every dollar you spend at Nordstrom, Nordstrom Rack, the flash-sale site HauteLook, and the subscription service Trunk Club. You can cash in as little as 500 points for a $5 Nordstrom Note, which you can spend on anything in the store.
The Nordy Club provides other perks for members as well. They get a chance to buy select brands before all other Nordstrom customers, and they have the first shot at Nordstrom’s Clear the Rack sales events. They get free curbside pickup service and free basic alterations. And they gain access to beauty and style workshops in Nordstrom stores.
If you spend enough money in the store, you can unlock even better benefits. Spending $500 gets you “Insider” status, which give you one day per year on which you can earn double points for in-store and online purchases. At $2,000 of spending, you become an “Influencer,” with two double-points days and priority access to style events. The highest tier, “Ambassador,” is for those who spend at least $5,000 per year. They get three double-points days, access to invitation-only events, and a Nordstrom to You in-home stylist.
You don’t need a Nordstrom credit or debit card to use this program. However, if you have a Nordstrom card, you get a few extra perks. For starters, you earn more points overall: 2 points per dollar when you shop with your Nordstrom debit card and 3 points per dollar with the Nordstrom credit card.
Cardmembers automatically gain all the benefits of the Insider tier. They also gain early access to Nordstrom’s annual July sale and up to $100 in alterations benefits each year. Finally, they get a $40 bonus Nordstrom Note for making a purchase at Nordstrom, Nordstrom.com or Nordstrom Rack with their new card the day they’re approved.
Even though Sears has filed for bankruptcy and closed hundreds of stores, its Shop Your Way rewards program is still active in the stores that remain. It perks include:
- Point-Based Rewards. The program gives you 10 points for each dollar you spend at Sears, K-Mart, or Lands’ End. For every 1,000 points you earn, you get $1 off your next purchase. That’s like getting 1% cash back on everything you buy.
- Surprise Points Offers. From time to time, when you check out, you’ll receive a special savings offer. You can cash in these rewards right away instead of having to wait until your next trip.
- Exclusive Digital Deals. You can search the Sears site or the Shop Your Way mobile app for members-only coupons and deals. Just click on a coupon to add it to your account. When shopping online, simply click a link to apply a saved coupon to your purchase. In stores, the checkout register searches through all your available coupons and automatically applies the ones that are usable.
Shop Your Way is free to join. However, for $39 per year, you can upgrade to Shop Your Way MAX and get extra benefits. You earn twice as many points for each dollar you spend, plus an extra 3,000 points per month for free. You also get free two-day shipping on all your online purchases, and you can upgrade to next-day shipping for just $3.99. You can try out the program for 90 days free of charge.
There are two main ways to get discounts at Target. You can use the store credit or debit card, the Target REDcard, for store-wide savings, or you can use the Target Circle program to find deals on specific items. Better yet, you can combine the two to maximize your savings.
The REDcard, which has no annual fee, saves you 5% on everything you buy at Target. That includes clearance items, specialty gift cards, and purchases at in-store Starbucks locations. It also gives you free two-day shipping on most orders at Target.com. It provides exclusive member-only offices, such as special items and gifts. And, as a final perk, paying with your REDcard gives you an extra 30 days to return a Target purchase.
Target Circle is available through the Target app, which is free for either iOS or Android. To use it, just scan through the list of offers before your Target trip and select the ones you want to use. Alternatively, you can scan barcodes to add deals as you shop. Then pay with the Target app to receive your savings at checkout.
If you use a Target Circle offer and pay with your REDcard, the savings stack — you get 5% savings from the card on top of the savings from the Target Circle deal. Both Target Circle and REDcard can also be stacked with additional coupons you can find through the Target app.
The nation’s top three stand-alone drugstore chains — Walgreens, CVS, and Rite Aid — all have free loyalty programs. Using your card at these stores can get you discounts on your purchases, as well as points to spend on future purchases. Here’s how the three chains compare.
The CVS ExtraCare card gives you 2% cash back on nearly everything in the store. The rewards are known as ExtraBucks. Some rewards print out instantly on your receipt when you make a purchase; others pile up and are paid out quarterly.
Either way, you can cash in your ExtraBucks by handing over the printed rewards coupon along with your ExtraCare card. Rewards expire, so make sure to cash them in while you can.
In addition to the ExtraBucks, ExtraCare gives you a variety of special discounts. Members get sale prices on certain items, special offers via email, and coupons that print out on the register receipt. You can also take your card to the ExtraCare Coupon Center in-store and scan it to see coupons and special weekly deals.
9. Rite Aid
Unlike most loyalty programs, Rite Aid’s wellness+rewards program doesn’t use a physical card. Instead, you simply enter your phone number at the register to get your member rewards. The program offers four different types of rewards:
- In-Store Deals. On the store’s shelves, you can find items marked with special deals just for members, such as discounts and buy-one-get-one offers. You can also check the store flyer for coupons and other offers.
- Load2Card Coupons. Each week, Rite Aid gives members special coupons you can view on its website. You can load these coupons into your wellness+ account and check out using your account at the register to get your discounts.
- Wellness+ BonusCash Rewards. When you buy participating items in-store or online, you earn digital coupons that are loaded automatically to your wellness+ account. These rewards are available for use in Rite Aid stores or on RiteAid.com the day after they’re issued, and you can use them at any time in the next 30 days.
- Wellness+ Points. Every dollar you spend at Rite Aid earns you 1 wellness+ point. You also get up to 25 points for each prescription you fill. The more points you accumulate, the more rewards you unlock. You start out as a Bronze member, with access to in-store deals, email offers, and Load2Card Coupons. If you get to 250 points in a single year, you become a Silver member and get 10% off nearly everything in the store for six months. If you make it all the way to 500 points in one year, you become a Gold member and get 20% off all your purchases for six months.
In addition to these perks, Rite Aid offers benefits for senior citizens. They can join the wellness65+ program, which gives them 30% off non-prescription items on the first Wednesday of every month. These “wellness65+ Wednesdays” also include special monthly activities, with featured products and information centering on a different health topic each month. In addition, wellness65+ members are entitled to a free consultation with a pharmacist that includes a review of all their medications and immunizations, a free blood pressure screening, and a discussion of Medicare Part D prescription benefits.
The Walgreens reward program, known as Balance Rewards, goes a step beyond the others. This free program rewards customers not only for their purchases but also for making healthy choices, such as exercising and checking their weight and blood pressure.
With Balance Rewards, you earn:
- 10 points for each dollar you spend in the store
- Bonus points on featured items listed in the weekly sale flier
- 100 points for filling a 30-day prescription or getting an immunization
- 300 points for filling a 90-day prescription
- 100 points for completing a “healthy challenge” related to physical activity or lifestyle
- A chance to win up to 2,000 points for completing all four available healthy challenges
At any time, you can cash in 1,000 points to get $1 off any purchase in-store or at Walgreens.com. Just present your card or enter your phone number at the register and ask to redeem your points. Your points expire after a year or after your account has been inactive for six months.
You can earn points faster by joining Walgreens’ Beauty Enthusiast program. It gives you 5,000 points — enough for a $5 reward — for every $50 worth of beauty products you buy in-store. You also get access to special promotions, samples, a personalized beauty profile and product suggestions, and pro beauty tips and tutorials.
In addition to points, Balance Rewards members get access to special sale prices at Walgreens stores. They can also load paperless coupons to their card or to the Walgreens mobile app, which keeps track of rewards points, prescriptions, coupons, and photos.
Balance Rewards members who are also members of AARP get even more from the rewards program. By linking their Balance Rewards and AARP cards, they can earn 50 points for every dollar they spend on Walgreens-brand health and wellness products and 30 points for every dollar spent on beauty products. They also earn 1,000 points for each vaccination they receive.
Lots of restaurants have rewards cards that earn you free drinks or food. At local eateries, these are often simple paper cards you stamp every time you eat there. When your card fills up, you can trade it in for a free drink or food item.
Bigger chains often have more complex rewards programs with electronic cards that track your spending in dollars. For example, the DD Perks program at Dunkin Donuts gives you 5 points for every dollar spent. When you reach 200 points, you get a coupon for a free beverage. Two eateries that get strong reviews for their rewards program are Papa John’s and Starbucks.
11. Papa John’s
One chain-restaurant program reviewers especially enjoy is Papa Rewards from Papa John’s pizza. With this program, you earn 1 point for every dollar you spend. Every 75 points you earn automatically converts to $10 worth of “Papa Dough,” which you can spend on any item on Papa John’s menu. To cash in your Papa Dough, log into your account on PapaJohns.com and click “Use Rewards.”
There’s no limit on how many points you can earn through Papa Rewards. Reward points do not expire as long as you continue to use your account. However, they will expire if you neither earn nor redeem any rewards for a full 12 months. Papa Dough expires six months after you receive it.
The program also offers special deals and exclusive items for members. For instance, all members are entitled to a free dessert on their birthdays at participating Papa John’s restaurants in the U.S.
The Starbucks Rewards program has been through some big changes since April 2016. Before that, you got 1 star (the Starbucks equivalent of a point) for every visit, no matter how much you spent. When you had 12 stars, you could cash them in for a free drink or food item.
The new program is more complicated. Stars are now based on spending, at the rate of 2 stars for every $1 spent. One day each month is a Double Star Day, on which each $1 spent is worth 4 stars. You can also earn bonus stars for taking advantage of special offers you receive via email.
It now takes 150 stars to earn a free “handcrafted drink.” However, there are several other things you can cash in your stars for. For instance:
- For 25 stars, you can customize your drink with an extra shot of espresso, a flavor syrup, or a nondairy milk option.
- Cash in 50 stars for a brewed coffee, hot tea, or bakery item.
- For 150 stars, get a breakfast sandwich or oatmeal.
- Cash in 200 stars for a lunch sandwich, protein box, or salad.
- Save up 400 stars for a bag of coffee, a signature cup, or one of several coffee accessories.
Unfortunately, stars expire six months after you earn them. That means if you only visit Starbucks once or twice per month, it’s hard to save up enough stars to earn a handcrafted drink before they expire. However, if you link your account to a Starbucks Rewards Visa card or Visa Prepaid card, your stars do not expire.
Being a Starbucks Rewards member gets you a few additional perks as well. You’re entitled to free refills on brewed coffee or tea and a free drink on your birthday. Also, if you have the Starbucks mobile app, you can place an order on your way to Starbucks and “jump the line” when you arrive. And you receive special, personalized discount offers by email.
Most supermarket loyalty programs aren’t tied to your spending level. Carrying a store loyalty card entitles you to special discounts, but you don’t need to spend a certain amount to get them.
With chains like Giant or ShopRite, it makes sense to sign up for the store card even if you won’t use it very often. You get all the benefits of the card just by having it on the few occasions when you need it. However, there are a few supermarkets that reward you specifically for spending more — not with free groceries, but with savings on gas.
Kroger, the nation’s largest grocery store chain, is one example. This company owns over a dozen different brands, including Fred Meyer, Fry’s Food and Drug, Harris Teeter, King Sooper’s, QFC, and Smith’s. When you use your store rewards card at any of these stores, you earn 1 fuel point for every dollar you spend. You get 2 points per dollar spent on gift cards.
Every 100 points you earn is good for a discount of $0.10 per gallon at any Kroger fuel center. You can buy up to 35 gallons of fuel at the discounted rate. If you save up your points, you can get even bigger discounts, up to a maximum of $1 off per gallon. You can also use fuel points at participating Shell stations, but only 100 points at a time.
You can use your points all at once or spread them out over several fill-ups. You can see how many points you have at the bottom of your store receipt or track your point total on the Kroger app or website. The app also shows the date when the fuel points expire. All points earned in a given month expire at the end of the next month.
At Fred Meyer stores, the rewards program is even better. Along with your fuel points, you earn 1 Rewards Point for every dollar you spend at either Fred Meyer or Fred Meyer Jewelers. If you earn 500 Rewards Points in a three-month period, you’ll receive a Rewards Rebate coupon in the mail. You can spend this money on your next shopping trip, just like cash.
The Albertsons family of grocery stores, which includes Albertsons, Safeway, Shaw’s, and Vons, has a similar rewards program. However, its program, called “just for U,” gives you a choice about how to use your points. You earn 1 point per dollar spent on groceries or pharmacy purchases and 2 points per dollar on gift cards. You can cash in these points for discounts on gas at participating gas stations or on specific grocery items at Albertsons stores.
You can also earn rewards at a wide range of specialty stores and other businesses. Here are some programs that get especially good reviews:
- Auto Parts. The AutoZone Rewards program is one of the most generous loyalty programs out there. It’s free to join, and it gives you a $20 credit for every five $20 purchases you make in a year. The credit goes straight to your AutoZone Rewards card, so all you have to do to use it is hand over the card at checkout.
- Beauty Products. Reviewers love the Beauty Insider program from Sephora. This free program gives you 1 point for each dollar you spend. You can cash in your points for products ranging from a sample tube of moisturizer (100 points) to a complete makeup kit from FENTY BEAUTY by Rihanna (7,500 points). The program also gives you a gift on your birthday, free product samples, discounts on specific products throughout the year, free beauty classes, and in-store beauty services. If you spend enough in a year, you can unlock higher levels of rewards, such as more points for each dollar spent, bigger discounts, free shipping, early access to products, and exclusive events. Another beauty store, Ulta, has a similar points-based program called Ultamate Rewards. It also provides a birthday gift and a minimum of 1 point per dollar, but you can cash in your points for discounts on any product Ulta sells. Discounts range from $3 off for 100 points to $125 off for 2,000 points. You can also earn extra points on certain products each month and double points during your birthday month.
- Car Rental. National Car Rental gets rave reviews for its Emerald Club program. Members earn 1 credit every time they rent a car, and they can cash in 7 credits for a free rental day. Alternatively, they can choose to convert their credits to frequent-flier miles or hotel rewards. Members also enjoy a more streamlined rental process and pay no fee for adding a second driver to a rental. The program is free to join, but you must have a credit card. Users who rent cars frequently can upgrade to the Executive or Executive Elite tiers of membership, which require fewer credits for a free rental day and add other benefits, such as free upgrades.
- Electronics. Several deals sites praise the My Best Buy program at Best Buy. Members at the basic, or “Core,” level earn 1 point for every $2 they spend and can cash in 250 points to earn a $5 reward certificate. That’s like getting 1% cash back on all your purchases. Points don’t expire as long as your account stays active, but rewards certificates are only good for 60 days. If you spend $1,500 or more in a calendar year, you reach Elite status and start earning 1 point per dollar. Spend $3,500 or more in one year to achieve Elite Plus status, earning 1.25 points per dollar. In addition, members who use a My Best Buy or My Best Buy Visa credit card earn bonus points.
- Movies. The AMC Stubs program at AMC theaters is free to join and gives a variety of perks. You get 20 points for every dollar you spend, and you can cash in 5,000 points for a $5 reward. You also get discounted tickets every Tuesday, a free refill every time you buy a large popcorn or a reusable popcorn bucket, a free large popcorn on your birthday, invitations to screenings, and other special offers. For $15 per year, you can upgrade to Stubs Premiere and start earning 100 points for every dollar spent. Premiere members also get extra perks, like free size upgrades on popcorn and drinks.
- Office Supplies. Office Depot Rewards gives you 2% cash back on “your favorite supplies, furniture, technology & more.” You also get special members-only offers and rewards for recycling your ink cartridges. If you spend $500 in one year, you become a VIP member and get 5% cash back on paper, toner, and ink, as well as printing, copying, and shipping services. The program is free to join.
- Pet Supplies. With a free Pals Rewards card from Petco, you earn a $5 reward for every $100 you spend. You can easily load your reward onto your Pals Rewards card to use it on your next Petco trip. Members also get free shipping for online purchases and free birthday treats for their pets.
- Sporting Goods. The free ScoreCard from Dick’s Sporting Goods gives you 1 point for every dollar you spend. When you reach 300 points, you can cash them in for a $10 reward. ScoreCard members also get access to special coupons, discounts, and giveaways. At REI, you can pay a one-time fee of $20 for a lifetime Co-op membership. This program gives you an annual dividend equal to 10% of all the money you spend at REI that year. You can spend your dividend at any REI store or online. Members also get access to special events and semiannual “garage sales” where returned products are sold at steeply discounted prices.
The loyalty programs listed above are the best of the best. If you shop regularly at any of these stores, sign up for their rewards programs and reap the benefits.
However, that doesn’t mean that if you don’t use these stores, you should start shopping there just to get the rewards. If a store isn’t convenient for you or doesn’t have what you want in stock, the loyalty program won’t do you much good.
Instead, stick to the stores you like and see if they have rewards programs of their own. They may not be as generous as the ones listed here, but it’s better to get so-so rewards on a regular basis than great rewards every once in a while. Ultimately, the best rewards program is the one you’ll use the most.
Do you use store loyalty programs? Which ones are your favorites?