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Thursday, December 18, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 8/3/2014

Businesses working hard to score points with consumers

BY MARY ALICE POWELL
BLADE COLUMNIST
Mary Alice Powell Mary Alice Powell
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Now, let’s see, how many points have I earned at the gas station? And how many points have I accumulated at the supermarket?

The number of businesses that offer points as a marketing tool seems to include just about everywhere we spend money. This came to mind at the post office when I mailed a package and bought stamps. No points were involved as they would have been at the supermarket across the street where card-carrying customers earn cents off on gas, but only at the local station.

I mentioned to the clerk that the post office is about the only place that doesn’t offer points.

I wouldn’t have been too surprised if the clerk had said, ah hah, because you mailed a heavy package to Seattle in a box we sell, and also bought stamps, you have earned 37 points. If you keep track of your points when you have earned 550 you will be entitled to a package of free envelopes.

That, of course, is ridiculous, but so are a lot of the points promotions that come in the mail and are offered in businesses.

My inspiration to write this column was sparked by a Marriott Rewards email informing me that “for a limited time” I could earn 70,000 points.

That sounded inviting until I read further: The points would be granted only if I applied for a credit card and subsequently charged $2,000 on the new card.

Because I am a member of the Marriott rewards program and do stay at Fairfield Inns and other motels in the chain, I have 21,794 points in my account, according to Marriott. I have never known how many points are needed to receive a free night’s stay, and I really don’t expect to ever get one.

Unfortunately, I don’t have time, or a secretary, to maintain accounts on all the points that I could subscribe to. I tend to patronize the companies that do business the old-fashioned way, with less hassle.

The opinions of friends differ. 

One friend, who is retired and so frugal he asked me to split a shrimp cocktail at lunch, has no interest in points to save money. “I just can’t be bothered,” he explains. “My attention span doesn’t cover such things.”

But another friend who is 30 years younger and helps care for grandchildren appreciates the gas discount program at a Marathon station. He buys milk, ice cream, potato chips, and lottery tickets at the station to receive gas price rewards. The program calculates cents off on fuel, not points. The purchase of a gallon of milk is rewarded with two cents off a gallon of gas, for example.

Rather than use the minimum cents off immediately he waited until his purchases built to 42 cents off a gallon. “Then I got 20 gallons for $2.83 a gallon. That’s a big savings,” he said.

Walgreen’s Rewards Balance program is one that I subscribe to, mostly because if you don’t have the card, giving the telephone number accesses the membership.

Last week at a Walgreen’s, I spent $21.36 for one product. Wouldn’t you know, the product was not on sale or eligible for points? Furthermore, only the products with blue tickets were eligible that day and I didn’t see anything that I couldn’t live without.

Featured products change weekly so consumers who are really into the points thing can visit the store to check out the products with blue tickets for that week.

The Walgreen cashier was quick to point out The Blade’s Sunday ad of the upcoming three-day award of 5,000 points with a purchase totaling $25 or more. According to the Walgreen program, each 1,000 points earns a $1 discount.

I picked up Speedy Rewards membership cards at a Speedway station, but I have not officially registered. Three cards are issued; one for your wallet, and two to attach to the car keys.

If I do register it would mean taking the time to go into a station to determine my points at the Redemption Terminal. I don’t have an updated mobile device to learn the total points earned, which is an alternative to using the terminal. Here’s a sample of Speedy Rewards listed in the brochure. For 900 points, rewards include any size coffee, fountain freeze, tea, or a roller grill item.

If you have 1,250 points you can get a slice of pizza. Fuel rewards are, of course, the most attractive. On a Speedy Rewards card to get 10 cents off a gallon of gas requires 1,750 points. For every gallon of gas purchased, 10 points are awarded and for every dollar spent on most items in the store, 20 points are given.

For those of us who have difficulty balancing a checkbook, such numbers can be a real bookkeeping challenge.

Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor. Contact her at: mpowell@theblade.com.



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