How Many Reward Programs Should You enroll In?

Alex Cohen

These days, everywhere seems to have a loyalty program. From the traditional airline and hotel to big-box retail stores such as Home Depot and CVS, every company is trying to keep you as a customer and reward you to keep shopping at their stores.

Having so many programs available is both good and bad. It’s great because as these programs become more competitive we earn more valuable rewards but we’re stuck trying to manage and keep track of so many loyalty programs. It’s gotten so crazy where the average US shopper is enrolled in 14 loyalty programs.

So how many loyalty programs should you enroll in?

The answer to this question should be broken down into two parts:

  • How many programs you should be enrolled in
  • How many programs you should actively engage with

For the most part, there’s no harm in signing up for every single loyalty program, as long as there are no fees and you plan to shop at that merchant again in the future. If you don’t plan on revisiting the merchant it probably doesn’t make sense and it’s just another party you’ve given your email and potentially your phone number to receive marketing.

However, choosing the programs you plan to engage with is much more selective. It typically rewards you to stay loyal to one program per category and do as much of your shopping there as possible. The only time it doesn’t make sense to follow that rule is when shopping at that merchant is more expensive than a competitive store. Ie: shopping at CVS vs. Target.

These are the categories of stores I shop at and the loyalty programs I engage with:

Airlines

I try to exclusively only fly Alaska Airlines and Jetblue. I’m enrolled in both the Alaska Air Mileage Plan and Jetblue’s TrueBlue plan - both of which our team loves and write many different tips and guides around the programs.

Hotels

Although I’m your typical couch crasher when I travel, I tend to stay in Starwood Hotels as much as possible. I’m a big fan of the A-Loft Hotel chain because it’s super modern and pet-friendly. The Starwood Preferred Guest is one of the best hotel programs on the market.

Car Rentals

I’m a bit all over the place when it comes to car rentals. If I need a short-term rental in SF, I’ll stick with Getaround, but if I need anything longer than a couple of hours I exclusively rent from Enterprise. Their Enterprise Plus program gets me a free car rental a few times a year.

Shopping

I’m not the best when it comes to shopping at just one or two department stores. And most of the places I shop at, including Target, Amazon and Trader Joe’s, don’t offer reward programs. Although I do have a Target Debit card which offers a 5% discount whenever I shop there.

Stores like Macy’s and Nordstrom's offer good programs but depending on how frequently you shop there it may be tough to stay engaged.

Tip: Birch will tell you which stores you frequent the most. See which of those offer loyalty programs and make sure you’re enrolled!

Groceries

As I mentioned in the last paragraph, Trader Joe’s is my go-to for grocery shopping. However, if you shop often at Winn Dixie or Safeway, both chains offer very good reward programs. I used to earn around $.10-$.25 off my gas purchases at Shell through the Winn Dixie program.

Coffee

How could I not mention the Starbucks loyalty program in this post?! It’s arguably been the most successful loyalty program ever and Starbucks is launching a rewards debit card soon. Between the free refills and good Wifi, I can’t get enough of the program. The rewards are extremely engaging and I consistently earn 15-20% back on my Starbucks purchases.

Convenience Stores

The last category of programs I actively engage with is convenience store loyalty programs. CVS and Walgreens both have pretty lucrative programs and I tend to look out for CVS coupons. I have noticed that it is usually cheaper to shop at Target for certain items versus CVS, but it all depends on what you’re buying.

Wrapping Up

A good rule of thumb is to enroll in as many programs as you’d like as long as there is no fee. Many can be exciting and reward you when you least expect it. It’s the top way that brands will try to engage with you, so take advantage of the competition between brands and the lucrative programs. Make sure you know which stores are you top shopped and enroll in those programs so you don’t miss out on rewards.

About the Author

Alex Cohen

Alex is the founder of Birch and lives in San Francisco with his two dogs, Duncan and Miller, and his fiance, Sarah. Follow him on Twitter @anothercohen