The great discount you've used – but never heard of

If you've ever gotten an employee discount on a computer or home-security service, you've used a merchant-funded discount. Here are three slick ways to use them.

El Pollo Loco/Business Wire/File
In Utah, using a Zions Bank credit card at an El Pollo Loco restaurant can net you up to 50 percent discounts on offerings from local merchants. It's one example of a merchant-funded discount.

When it comes to easy ways to save money, merchant-funded discounts are often overlooked, but could be some of the slickest options out there. And while you may never have heard of merchant-funded discounts, there’s a good chance you’ve used them before. These networks provide employee discount programs to all kinds of companies, small and large.

So if you’ve ever bought discounted movie tickets or saved money on a gym membership through an employer, then you’ve used a merchant-funded discount. Here are three more ways to use them that you may not be aware of.

1. Credit card perks:

One great example, Zions Bank, has a cash rewards program set up with hundreds of small merchants in the Utah area. When you use a Zions Rewards card at one of these merchants, you get up to 50 percent off of purchases. This drives incremental business to the small merchants, via the marketing muscle of Zions popular local brochure. It also allows Zions to offer an excellent perk to set its rewards credit cards above and beyond what other banks are offering.

This program, and many others, is offered through the merchant-funded rewards network, Access Development.

If you live in Utah, this is incredibly useful. Why? Because all you need to do, literally, is shop at one of the points of sale listed in your network using your card. That’s it. The credit rebates will automatically show up on your card statement, like any premium cash-back credit card. Examples of retailers in the Access Development network include dining retailers such as Papa John’s, Tony Roma’s, Domino’s Pizza, and El Pollo Loco, as well as movie theater venues such as Regal and AMC. And those are just two categories.

Merchants receive analytical reports that show just how much extra business the program is able to drive to their stores. Both sides win.

2. Fundraising:

Tri Quest, a discount network for fundraising groups, provides discount cards that not-for-profit groups can use to raise funds. Here’s how it works: A sports team or youth group sells the cards to its members and supporters, which offer up to 50% discounts at thousands of different retailers. These are the sorts of savings opportunities that are typically only available through online rewards centers like ShopDiscover or Chase Ultimate Rewards, thanks to the negotiating leverage of large credit card companies. But the companies also agree to underwrite the fundraising effort by allowing the group to keep 60 percent of the purchase price as commission.

That premium is far higher than those offered by traditional stationary and gift-wrap selling programs. And these are national discount cards. They are basically an amped-up, paperless version of the old-fashioned coupon book – but more lucrative for the seller and the buyer.

3. Discounts on services:

Some companies offer ancillary services like roadside assistance and home security. While these are quality offerings, they’re more difficult to sell when times are tough. That’s why companies like ADT are starting to offer money-saving opportunities through discount networks. With the discount, savvy consumers are more likely to buy, and it helps the company make a sale that otherwise wouldn't happen.

These are just three of the ways you can make merchant-funded discounts work in your favor, whether you are a business owner, the head of the PTA, or just a savvy shopper. These programs are all over the place, so keep an eye out for any other organizations, service packages, and memberships that you belong to, since any of them may offer merchant discount opportunities that you aren’t currently taking advantage of.

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