The retail landscape is becoming increasingly more competitive as businesses fight for your hard earned dollars.  One of the fastest growing trends is for retailers to offer customer loyalty programs to differentiate themselves from the competition.  But with so many loyalty programs out there, how do you know which ones are worth joining, and which ones will just end up in your trash?

Types of Loyalty Programs

There are many reasons for retailers to offer customer loyalty programs, and as a shopper you should be on the look out for the kinds of programs that fit your shopping needs.

  • Flight Rewards – In Canada, the two major carriers are Air Canada and WestJet.  Air Canada is a member of the Star Alliance, along with 26 other airlines across the world.  Air Canada has partnered with Aeroplan, and travellers can earn Aeroplan miles with every flight.  WestJet, on the other hand, has developed their own loyalty program called WestJet dollars.  Earn WestJet dollars by joining the Frequent Guest Program or by applying for the WestJet RBC MasterCard.  Unfortunately for Air Miles rewards collectors, WestJet left the Air Miles program back in 2009.  If you fly regularly, stick with one airline to maximize your rewards from these loyalty programs.
  • Hotel Rewards – Some of the most generous loyalty programs in Canada are hotels rewards programs like Delta Privilege and Starwood Preferred Guest.  Not only do members receive rewards just for staying at the hotel, but most programs offer additional recognition for frequent travellers.  From free room upgrades and food & beverage credits, to spa rewards and express check-in, hotel loyalty programs have evolved throughout the years.  The key is to find a hotel chain with properties in most of the cities that you travel in order to accumulate the most rewards.
  • Retail Programs – It seems like every shoe store and clothing outlet have their own loyalty programs.  No wonder Canadians need to manage their rewards cards with a mobile app just to keep track of them all.  While some programs are worth joining simply because they are free and offer a discount on the spot, most shoppers don’t want to enroll in dozens of programs.  The best bang for your buck will be from a retail program offers a broad enough range of products that will keep you coming back to earn more points.  The Shoppers Optimum program offers very generous rewards, including bonus events throughout the year.  Canadian Tire also has one of the most popular customer loyalty programs with their Canadian Tire Money rebate.
  • Gas Programs – With high gas prices forcing consumers to be smarter about their fuel consumption, it makes sense to belong to a gas rewards program like Esso Extra to save on the cost of gas.  Rather than joining every gas rewards program out there, stick with one provider to maximize your savings.  Personally, I like to redeem Air Miles for $20 gas gift certificates from Shell to help supplement my gas budget.
  • Credit Cards – Most Canadians have one or more reward credit cards in their wallet.  This is definitely the most competitive area for loyalty programs.  Most retail stores have partnered with a credit card issuer to offer their own affiliated rewards credit card.  If you pay off your balance every month it makes sense to use your credit card for every day spending to earn rewards like cash back, free gas or groceries, and travel miles.  There are Air Miles credit cards that will help you earn Air Miles faster.  If you are a business owner, look into getting a small business credit card to save money on your business expenses.

Final Thoughts

Today’s shopper is overwhelmed by the number of loyalty programs available to them.  There are only so many programs that you can join to truly benefit from the savings and incentives offered.  The 5 categories listed above are the core loyalty programs offered in Canada.  Smart shoppers should select one or two programs from each of these categories that fit their regular spending needs.

What other loyalty programs are worth joining?

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