Save money with customer reward programs

Customer rewards programs often translate into pure savings if you’re careful with the programs, Hamm writes.

Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor
Customers order food at Panera Bread bakery-cafe in New York City in this June 2012 file photo. Hamm recommends using the MyPanera customer reward program to save money on dining.

There are a lot of businesses that offer free customer loyalty programs of various kinds. Airlines, hotels, specialty goods stores, drugstores, many grocery stores, gas stations, and many other businesses have found that customer reward programs that save their loyal customers a bit of money can end up making a great deal of money for that business.

Whenever I’m at a business that offers a free loyalty program, I sign up. I figure that if I do manage to visit that business enough times to earn that reward, it’s going to give me something essentially for free. 

One great example of this type of program is the MyPanera customer reward program run through Panera Bread. If you dine there, as I do every once in a great while, the program costs you nothing and seems to just occasionally give you something for free. I earned a free bagel on one visit (which I took home with me) and a free beverage on another visit, both of which were basically surprises when I used my MyPanera card at the checkout. 

The CVS ExtraCare program is another example. You earn “ExtraBucks” whenever you make purchases at CVS (which essentially function as store credit) and are sometimes eligible for additional sales, too. Other drugstores offer similar programs.

I’m in the frequent flyer program for several airlines and in the customer reward program for several hotels, too. In both cases, there’s no additional cost, but I’m gradually building toward free domestic flights and free nights in hotel rooms.

None of these programs cost a thing.

Thanks to Chuck Coker for the photo

There are a few caveats that really make a difference, though.

First, don’t let a reward program impact how or where you shop. Look at them solely as an additional perk on top of the low price you’re already getting. In other words, keep shopping around for the best rates on hotel rooms, flights, and so on.

Second, use a special email address when signing up. I have a Gmail account that I only use for signing up for customer reward programs. I check it every once in a while to look for any great offers, but most of the time I just ignore that account.

Why use a separate account? Doing so makes sure that I don’t get the emails from that company in my main email. I generally don’t want dozens of emails from retailers clogging up my main email address.

Finally, keep your wallet from exploding. If you have a ton of cards like I do, keeping them all in your wallet means having a wallet on the verge of exploding.

Thankfully, there’s a pretty smart and simple way to solve the problem. I use Just One Club Card to put eight customer loyalty cards on a single card. It’s pretty easy – it just takes a few minutes and a home printer to make one. This lets you carry 32 customer loyalty programs on just four cards in your wallet.

Customer rewards programs often translate into pure savings if you’re careful with the programs. With a bit of forethought, they don’t have to generate a bunch of annoying emails for you, either. I find them well worth it, and often use them to save money.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Save money with customer reward programs
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today