Nowadays, it’s hard not to encounter business loyalty programs when you’re out and about. When you go to check out at nearly every store in America, the cashier will probably ask you, “Are you part of our rewards program?” If you answer no, you may get a strange look or be forced to listen while they explain the savings you’re missing. In some cases, they may be right that you’re missing out on the rewards program.
Which business loyalty programs reward their loyal customers the best? And which should you join to unlock the most savings when you shop, dine, or travel? Let’s find out!
What are business loyalty programs, and how do they work?
Let’s start with the basics: customer loyalty programs have been around since long before technology made digital loyalty apps a widespread way to reward loyal customers. Most of us have probably had a punch card of some kind. After a certain number of purchases, you earn something for free. Some businesses still use these sorts of methods, but many have transitioned to digital loyalty programs that are usually accompanied by apps.
Customer loyalty programs are great for promoting repeat business and attracting new customers with incentives. Most rewards programs have a sign-up reward, such as a free item or exclusive coupon you receive upon registering. There are other variations on the theme, but most follow the same formula. Each purchase a customer makes translates into a certain number of reward points. The points are often tracked digitally via an app and often accompanied by a physical rewards card. After a certain amount of points, the customer can redeem them for a reward. It might be a free item, a discount, or exclusive offers and coupons. No matter how it’s structured, the customer loyalty program is designed to benefit both the business and the loyal customer.
How do they benefit me, the customer?
Customer loyalty programs are designed with the customer in mind. The rewards offered are meant to increase customer satisfaction by offering incentives on products customers are likely to buy. It wouldn’t make much sense for a rewards program to offer a reward that no customer would want. Thus, the best customer loyalty programs do their homework to ensure that the incentives offered are ones their customers find desirable.
Often, you will receive a discount on your purchases or a one-time coupon. You may also earn a free item the next time you visit that business. Customer loyalty programs thrive on the expectation that those who sign up are repeat customers or will become repeat customers when they are given an incentive to shop at that business more often. However, if the business is one that you would normally shop at anyway, then incentives and rewards for shopping may increase your savings.
How do they benefit the business?
Once again, customer loyalty programs predicate themselves on the notion that the incentives and benefits offered will encourage repeat business from current and new customers. The goal is to increase sales overall by increasing the number of purchases per customer over a given period. In most cases, people are more likely to shop at places that offer them discounts and benefits, since they may feel that they’re getting a good deal. Of course, this is true. The customer does get rewarded for their loyalty, and a successful rewards program should offer incentives that save them some money.
Other Ways Businesses Benefit
Businesses also benefit from the transaction in more ways than just repeat business. The customer loyalty program also gives them a more distinguished digital presence via the addition of an app and/or an online interface. In addition, the loyalty program increases the business’s social media presence. This allows more opportunity for the brand to implement digital marketing strategies. Through social media, they can promote their products via the loyalty program. It also creates hype among social media users and can increase their following and popularity, thus increasing business.
Loyalty programs can also increase word-of-mouth marketing, which is still a very effective way to build a brand’s reputation and increase the hype. In fact, according to invespcro.com, people are 90 percent more likely to try a new brand if a friend recommended it to them first. When brands implement customer loyalty programs, it generates even more word-of-mouth marketing. The reason is that when customers feel like they’re saving money, they are likely to share their positive impressions with others. And who doesn’t like saving money on their favorite brands and products?
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What are the best business loyalty programs?
Now you may be curious to know which business loyalty programs are the best in terms of the incentives they offer. Although some of the businesses listed may only be available to certain regions, most are national or international brands with locations in every state. Here is a list of the best business loyalty programs in the country, broken down by category. All, if not most, of these are also free to sign up for, which is an added benefit.
This national big-box store chain offers a card that saves you 5 percent every day on in-store and online purchases. You also get free two-day shipping, an extra 30 days for returns, and access to other perks, including 5 percent off in-store Starbucks when you use your REDCard. That’s not too shabby for those who are coffee lovers.
There are two options: a debit and a credit card. The debit card links to your checking account and pulls from your existing funds, usually within a couple of business days. You can also make a cash withdrawal with it of up to $40 at checkout. You get an online account that allows you to view your transactions and manage your PIN. The credit card works like any other charge card in that Target sends you a monthly bill. You also get an online account with it, but in this case, you use it to check your balance and make payments. It’s free to apply and easy to get approved. The Target app accompanies the card, and the 5 percent discount can be combined with their “Cartwheel” offers, which are essentially their in-app coupons.
Kohl’s Yes2You Rewards
Kohl’s department store offers a loyalty program that rewards customers one point for every dollar spent. For every 100 points earned, you receive $5 off your next purchase, applied on the first of every month. You have 30 days to redeem your points on anything in-store or online via the Kohl’s app. You also get other special bonuses like a birthday gift (always fun!) and access to bonus point days where you earn even more per dollar. In addition, when you download and sign in to the app, you get 50 bonus points. That’s already halfway to your first $5 reward!
Office Depot/OfficeMax Rewards
Printer ink is expensive. We all know it, and Office Depot/OfficeMax knows it, too, which is why they set up their own rewards program. You get 2 percent cash back in rewards on purchases, exclusive “Rewards Member Pricing” and bonuses. You also get $2 cash back on rewards when you recycle ink and toner cartridges (up to 10 a month). This is a good incentive to recycle cartridges that saves you money on your next refill at the same time. You also get $2 in rewards when you review their products, up to three times a month.
They also have a VIP Rewards level that you can unlock when you spend $500 within a year. If you’re a heavy office supplies user, then this may not be so difficult. Once you hit VIP status, you get 5 percent cash back on ink, toner, paper, and print services. You also get free two-day delivery and special bonus offers, including a birthday gift. Maybe a printer ink cartridge? No? Well, we tried.
Cars require plenty of maintenance that can get expensive fast. Thankfully, AutoZone offers a rewards program that might save you some cash. It’s a pretty efficient system, and here’s how it works. You sign up through their website, and then all you have to do is make five purchases of $20 or more within a year. It isn’t too difficult to do when it comes to auto maintenance. Once you do, you receive a $20 credit that you have three months to use on pretty much anything in store.
CVS ExtraCare Rewards
CVS Pharmacy offers a rewards card called ExtraCare that gives you 2 percent back in rewards (called ExtraBucks) when you use your ExtraCare card. Some exclusions apply, but most products qualify. You also get exclusive in-store discounts and other special offers.
For all of you who are sports fans, athletes, and/or purveyors of fine athletic wear, the Dick’s Sporting Goods rewards program may be worth considering. You get one point per $1 spent, and once you hit 300 points, you receive a $10 reward. You also get exclusive offers and coupons delivered to your inbox and can be the first to know about new products. The card can also be used at Golf Galaxy and Field or Stream, so it covers a wide range of sporting interests.
For those who are into makeup, haircare, skincare, and other cosmetics, Ulta Beauty’s rewards card may be the one for you. In its basic form, you earn one point for every dollar spent. You can either redeem them when you reach 100 points for $3 off your next purchase or continue to accumulate up to 2,000, which is $125 off. Of course, that assumes you even spend that much within a year. However, there’s also a tiered system. If you spend $450 in a year, you reach Platinum status, where you earn 1.25 points per dollar, and the points never expire. If you spend $1,200 in a year (that’s a lot of mascara!), you reach Diamond status. That’s where you earn 1.5 points per dollar and get access to other special offers and benefits.
However, no matter what tier you’re on, you can redeem your points on anything in-store or online, including beauty services. You also get a free birthday gift and double points during your birthday month.
Hy-Vee Fuel Saver + Perks
If you live in the Midwest, then you might have heard of or shopped at a Hy-Vee grocery store. Hy-Vees also have gas stations, and their rewards program saves you on Hy-Vee gas. Here’s how it works. Designated items will be advertised as saving you a certain number of cents per gallon (up to 20 gallons). For example, buying a certain brand of milk may save you 3 cents off per gallon of gas that month. You then swipe your Fuel Saver card when you go to pump gas, and the discount is applied. The points expire 30 days after purchase.
Then there’s the Perks part, which is basically special offers, deals, and even free products, giveaways, or sweepstakes. You can manage your account online and/or via the app, and of course, it’s free to sign up.
Kroger Rewards Card
The Kroger family of stores may have different names depending on the region, but they all have the same rewards program. It works similarly to the Target REDCard Debit card in that it is connected to your checking account. Like Hy-Vee, it also has fuel rewards that accumulate for every $1 spent. You also save 2 percent on select products in-store. If you already shop at a Kroger store, and you don’t take advantage of its rewards program, then it may be something worth considering.
Chili’s restaurant offers a rewards program that promotes repeat business by giving customers who visit at least once per 60 days free chips and salsa or a beverage. However, My Chili’s also offers personalized discounts on your favorite menu items, such as appetizers or kid’s meals. You also get free dessert on your birthday (who can say no to free cake?), free Wi-Fi, and the option to save your favorites for one-tap reordering on the My Chili’s website.
Chick-fil-A offers a tiered rewards program that gets better the more you spend. In the first tier, you earn 10 points for every $1 spent in-store, online, mobile pay, etc. that can be redeemed sooner or later. You also get bonus food rewards at your local restaurant and a free item on your birthday.
If you earn 1,000 points in a year, you move up to Silver status, where you earn 11 points per dollar and extra benefits, including the ability to gift your rewards to friends and family. If you earn 5,000 points in a year, you move up to Red Status, where you receive 12 points per dollar and a bunch of other exclusive offers.
Dunkin’ Donuts has a rewards program that tracks your points via an app. You earn five points for every dollar spent, and when you reach 200 points, you get a free drink of any size. You also get special coupons and promotions, including double or triple points on certain items and/or on special days.
Starbucks recently revised its rewards system to give you more choices. You receive two stars per $1 spent, and when you reach 25 stars, you can redeem them for a free flavor shot or milk substitute. You can also save them and redeem 50 stars for brewed hot coffee, tea, or a bakery item. The rewards go up from there, with 150 stars redeemable for a handcrafted beverage. There are also bonus star days and, of course, a free birthday treat!
Sign up via the app for Chipotle’s fairly new rewards program, where you earn 10 points for every dollar spent. When you reach 1,250 points, you receive a free entree. There are also extra point days that help accelerate your rewards and bonus points when you try something new. For all you burrito lovers out there, this might just be worth it.
Papa John’s Pizza allows you to earn one point for every dollar spent. When you get to 75 points, you receive $10 off your next purchase, which you can then use on any menu item. You also get access to special offers and deals, as expected. There’s also no limit on the number of points you can earn, and they expire six months after you earn them. Then again, who can wait that long for their next pizza fix?
If Pizza Hut is more your speed, then there’s a rewards program there, too. Pizza Hut offers two points for every $1 spent, which you can redeem for various free items depending on the amount, culminating in a free large pizza for 250 points. Of course, you get other special offers and benefits, faster checkout, and a birthday reward!
Olive Garden Rewards
Gotta love those unlimited breadsticks. When you sign up for the Olive Garden Rewards program at participating locations, you get a $5 off coupon right off the bat. Then, you get one point for every dollar spent, which can be redeemed for appetizers, desserts, and entrees. The points are also redeemable at the Olive Garden family of restaurants, which includes Longhorn Steakhouse and Yard House.
Other Rewards Programs
AMC Stubs Insider
AMC Theatres is a large movie theatre chain, so it only makes sense that they would offer a customer rewards program for loyal moviegoers. AMC Stubs Insider is free to join and works like most loyalty programs. You earn 20 points for every dollar spent and can redeem 5,000 points for a $5 reward and other fun rewards.
However, there are also tiers that you can pay a monthly subscription for, with the top tier being the AMC Stubs A-List. For $19.95 a month, you get 100 points for every dollar spent. Most significantly, you also get to see three movies a week with free online reservations, which is 12 movies a month. That represents substantial savings for people who enjoy going to the movie theater.
What are the benefits of traveling with business loyalty programs?
Business loyalty programs not only allow you to save money on business in or around your locale; they are also extremely beneficial for travelers. Whether you travel for work or leisure, taking advantage of business loyalty programs can save you a lot of money. You can enjoy savings on airfare, hotels, and transportation, especially if you travel often. Here are a few of the most common ways travelers save money through business loyalty programs.
Frequent Flier Miles
Many airlines offer incentives for loyal customers. If you frequently travel by air, then there is no reason not to take advantage of frequent flier reward programs. Here is a list of the airlines with the best frequent flier programs, according to U.S. News’s Best Travel Awards for 2019-20.
- Alaska Airlines
- Delta SkyMiles
- JetBlue TrueBlue
- United MileagePlus
- American Airlines AAdvantage
- Southwest Rapid Rewards
- FRONTIER Miles
- Free Spirit
How do frequent flier miles work?
Airlines and/or credit cards offer incentives to people who travel frequently. However, it’s not quite an every-mile-equals-a-dollar sort of system, although that would be nice. Instead, miles equate to a certain number of points that can then be redeemed for a free airline ticket or other rewards. It works much in the same way other loyalty programs do, just with bigger numbers. For example, you might earn a free round-trip ticket for every 20,000 miles flown.
Frequent flier programs are generally set up in one of two different ways. The first way is directly through the airline itself. However, there are also credit card companies that partner with one or more airlines to offer frequent flier miles when you purchase tickets with that credit card. Some credit cards offer frequent flier miles for one specific airline, while others offer them for any airline.
Here is a list of some of the best credit cards for frequent fliers:
Miles by Discover
This card offers a zero percent introductory APR, no monthly fee, and one mile for every dollar spent. You can use the miles to purchase tickets on any airline, book a room with any hotel, or use any rental service.
This card has no annual fee, and you can earn 50,000 points from the first $3,000 spent on the card. Travel and dining earn you two points per dollar, and all other purchases earn you one point per dollar. Once again, you can spend your points on your airline of choice.
The Southwest Rapids Visa card partners with Southwest Airlines and offers attractive benefits for frequent fliers. You get a free round-trip flight after your first purchase and then two points per dollar spent with Southwest or affiliated hotels and rentals. For all other purchases, you get one point per dollar, and you can redeem them for any Southwest flight.
Blue Sky by American Express
The Blue Sky card offers a zero percent introductory APR and no annual fee. You will receive one point per dollar spent. Every 7,500 points can be redeemed for $100 off an airline ticket, hotel, car rental, or other travel-related expenses. These points can also be redeemed at any airline or hotel, which makes the program a good choice for the flexible traveler.
However, there are other ways to accumulate frequent flier miles without ever having to leave the ground. First, some airlines offer dining programs that allow you to earn miles when you dine at select restaurants in your area. Second, some airlines partner with stores like Target and Best Buy to allow your shopping purchases to count towards frequent flier miles. Third, some credit cards offer substantial airline miles as sign-up bonuses. These are just some of the other ways you can earn frequent flier miles from the ground.
Many of the credit cards mentioned above have rewards that can also be redeemed at hotels, but there are some other aspects of hotel loyalty rewards also worth mentioning. Some hotels offer their own customer rewards programs that are ideal if you or your employer prefers a specific hotel chain.
You can earn points on 30 different hotel affiliates (that’s over 7,000 hotels). Not only can you redeem them on hotel rooms, but you can also redeem them on other travel benefits and even gift cards. There are a plethora of ways to redeem, which makes this rewards program very advantageous for travelers.
Hilton Hotels‘ rewards program guarantees the lowest prices on their programs, plus price matching +25 percent if you find a lower price somewhere else. Like other rewards programs, you earn points on purchases that can then be redeemed for hotel rooms, shopping, and other incentives. Additionally, it’s free to sign up.
Through Wyndham Hotels’ rewards program, you can redeem points at 30,000 properties worldwide. This includes not just their 9,000 hotels but also affiliated spas, resorts, and entertainment. You get 30,000 bonus points if you sign up for their Visa card, which is a nice bonus.
Best Western Rewards
Best Western Hotels offer free night redemption worldwide and other incentives, including gift cards. Something Best Western advertises proudly is that the points never expire, which makes this program attractive for occasional or leisurely travelers who still want to earn rewards but might not do it as quickly. For their Elite tier, they will match the benefits of another reward program’s Elite status.
World of Hyatt
Hyatt Hotels have a tiered rewards system, but the basic level (“Member”) has significant benefits of its own. Members save 10 percent on hotels, and of course, they earn points on purchases that can be redeemed for more than just hotel rooms. There are also other special offers and incentives, such as double points on select hotels or in select locations.
IHG (which includes but is not limited to Holiday Inns) offers rewards for staying at their hotels, traveling, and making purchases at their partner stores and restaurants. Points stay in your account as long as you earn or redeem some within 12 months, and you can redeem them for just about anything, including hotel stays. Some tiers offer additional benefits and incentives, appealing to a variety of different travelers.
Choice Hotels offers another advantageous rewards program for frequent travelers. Points you earn from staying at Choice Hotels can be redeemed for a variety of different rewards, from hotels and vacation rental properties to affiliated restaurants, to airline miles. When you stay two separate times at a Choice Hotel, you’ve already earned enough points for a free stay at more than 1,000 locations.
On With Your Adventure
Whether you’re a frequent flier, a frequent shopper, or just someone who likes getting good deals, there’s a customer rewards program for you. Most are free, and most offer attractive incentives that promote repeat business while rewarding customer loyalty.
In today’s digital age, most rewards programs are tracked or managed via an app and/or online account, making them convenient and user-friendly for local shoppers and travelers alike. For businesses that you already frequent, jumping on board with their loyalty program is likely a savvy way to save money on everyday purchases. For businesses you do not frequent but would like to try, rewards program may still allow you to enjoy sign-up bonuses, birthday rewards, special sales, and promotions.
Travelers, Take Note
For travelers, choosing the right frequent flier program can have substantial benefits that will help you save money, not only on airfare and hotels but also a variety of other products and services. It may be in your best interest to research the different airline and credit card rewards programs and weigh the pros and cons to determine which one is right for you.
Which customer rewards programs do you use (travel or otherwise)? Are there any not mentioned that you think offer favorable incentives?