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The Benefits and Hidden Costs of Loyalty Programs

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I love getting free stuff. Most of us do. A popular way to get free stuff is through company loyalty programs. Whether you are getting free schwag from the Old Chicago Beer Tour, a gold card from Starbucks, or a free burrito from Qdoba, you could be getting a great deal. However, it is not always as great of a deal as you think.

Is the Starbucks Gold Card Worth Its Weight in Gold? Probably not.

The Benefits

The benefits of loyalty programs are obvious. If you are a regular customer and join the loyalty program, you can get lots of free stuff. Free stuff is better than stuff you have to pay for.

My favorite loyalty programs are simple and give you something you would have bought anyway. The Wahoo’s Fish Taco punch card is great. If I go in for ten meals, I get my eleventh meal free. I go there a lot, so the benefit is noticeable.

Other programs, like the Old Chicago World Beer Tour, give you perks for going in regularly. When I got my tenth beer, I got a free deck of cards. Not something I would have really cared about, but it is fun when free stuff day comes around.

The Drawbacks

I recently won two Starbucks gift cards worth over $50. I am not a Starbucks regular, but I decided to register the gift cards so I could get stuff like free refills if I go in to work on the blogs. It wasn’t long before I noticed how far I am away from a Starbucks Gold Card.

If you didn’t know, the Gold Card is given to customers who go in at least 30 times in a year. Every other week is not a ton, so daily visitors getting their latte fix can get the card pretty fast. But you can even go in every week or so and still get the gold.

What do you get for spending all of that money? A personalized Starbucks gift card that is gold and has your name on it. Once you have that, you get a free drink every 15 purchases. At an average of $3 per visit, you have to spend $90 just to qualify for their loyalty program. And that is not a “for life” qualification. You need to go 30 times per year every year to keep your gold status.

What is crazy is how well it works. When I saw I was on track for gold, I got excited and tried to go in more often. When I consciously realized what was happening, I slowed down and went back to my regular Starbucks habit. No reason to spend extra just for a gold piece of plastic with my name on it.

Be Careful, But Enjoy

If it can happen to me, a conscious spender, it can happen to anyone. If you get a loyalty card, don’t go in extra just for the perks. Go in as often as you would have and enjoy the perks when they come, but don’t spend extra money just to get them.

What About You?

Have you been sucked into a loyalty program that led to more spending? Do you enjoy getting perks? Share your experiences in the comments.

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