Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Loyalty Programs

I'll admit that I do have a weakness for loyalty programs. The allure of points and the promise of free airline tickets, meals, and hotel rooms is enough to get my mouth watering. During my winter cleaning today, I took an inventory of my loyalty programs and decided which stay and which go.

Delta Skymiles
United Airlines Mileage Plus
American Airlines AAdvantage

With as much travel as I do, it is no wonder that these programs provide the most useful benefits to me. Most of my travel has traditionally been with Northwest Airlines (which was recently acquired by Delta). Delta's Skymiles membership card is the only card that I carry with me consistently.

Delta Skymiles is the only loyalty program that will cause me to consciously alter my spending. Yes, the free upgrades are nice, but as a Platinum Skymiles member, I have access to better reservations support and I get accommodated first in the case of irregular operations. These benefits may not sound terribly important, but when snowstorms hit the midwest and airlines have to decide which passengers to send on the next flight and which get the privilege of staying in an airport overnight, I would much rather be Platinum on Delta than nobody on United.

Bottom Line: These are all staying around as I am actively getting some benefit from each of them.

Office Depot Worklife Rewards
Staples Rewards
Granite City Mug Club
Stomping Grounds and Z'Marik's Punch Cards
Marriott Rewards
Gold Points Plus
Priority Club Rewards
Java House JavaPerks (Iowa City)

Mostly, I am a member of the retail programs above for the periodic coupons that they send out; I can count on Office Depot and Staples to mail me a good coupon every once in a while. Staples previously gave free shipping to its rewards program members, but I don't think that's the case any more.

The Mug Club membership is a little different; it gets me into a reception whenever our local Granite City is tapping a new brew. I am not really a beer drinker (I still have the "One Free Beer" coupon that they gave me when I joined) but I enjoy spending time with my colleagues and this card has more than made up for the $10 I paid for it.

The hotel programs require almost no maintenance, don't spam me and might provide some benefit some day. I believe that Gold Points owes me a free hotel room at a 2-star hotel, so I might cash in on that some time when traveling.

Bottom Line: These programs are probably worth less than $50/year each to me, but I'll keep the membership cards around because they are so low maintenance. However, the next time I move, a lot of these will probably go away because it won't be worth it to update my address for most of them.

The stack of punch-cards gathering dust

More than anything, U Promise does a great job of promoting its benefits. I would believe that most people for whom some form of post-secondary education is in the cards have heard of it. However, for me, it's been a waste of time. Over the six years I've been enrolled in U Promise, I have accumulated exactly $2.93 in "college savings" which I can only liberate if I open a 529 account.

This housekeeping exercise has taught me that punch cards to places I only go once in a while just aren't worth it. I'm probably not going to go to Fazoli's seven times in the next year and I know that I'm not going to hit Espresso Royale in Champaign, IL another eight times so what's the point of keeping the punch cards?

Most of these cards got tossed immediately.

How about you? Which rewards programs do you participate in? Do you have a threshold for making a loyalty program worth your attention? If so, what is it?