Everybody wants something for nothing. Believe it or not, every once in a while, that wish can come true. Reward points are a great way to snag everything from gift cards to movie tickets and more.
Everyone probably knows about collecting airline points and credit card rewards (you know how I feel about credit cards, no reward is worth being in debt), but here are a few of my favorite reward programs and how to best maximize them.
All are free and easy to use. If you use any of the following programs, it might be a good time of year to cash in those rewards to supplement your Christmas shopping budget.
What it is: An Internet search engine that rewards you for simply doing your routine Internet searches. Think Google, Bing or Yahoo! but with the capability to collect reward points.
How you get points: Not every search is a winner, but Swagbucks randomly rewards you with “Swagbucks” on a regular basis. You can also get them for completing surveys, watching online videos, printing and using coupons, taking advantage of special offers, referring others and more.
What you can cash in for: My favorite is the $5 Amazon Gift Card which only “costs” 450 Swagbucks, but there are a wide array of prizes from high-end electronics to charitable donations. In the past, I have cashed my entire stash out more than once for a $300 Apple gift card.
What it is: Shopkick is a smart phone app that offers rewards in the form of gift cards.
How you get points: You score “Kicks” or rewards points for merely walking into select stores. You also have the opportunity to gain “Kicks” for purchases made with linked debit cards, looking through mobile catalogs, scanning items in store and referring others.
What you can cash in for: Gift cards and charitable donations. You can score as many as 200 “Kicks” for walking into a store and it only takes 500 to snag a $2 Target gift card, my favorite of the rewards.
Special notes: Coupons are also available on the app so you can save some money while collecting points. Search for Shopkick in the Android or iPhone App marketplace.
My Coke Rewards
What it is: A rewards program for purchasing Coke products.
How you get points: Enter the codes found on Coke caps or packaging either online or via the app or even via text message.
What you can cash in for: Coke product coupons, magazine subscriptions, gift cards, small electronics, Coca-Cola branded products. Most often, I cash mine in for movie tickets so that we can enjoy a flick.
Special notes: Even if you don’t drink Coke products, you can ask family members or friends to collect the caps or codes inside of packaging for you.
What they are: Rewards programs for the two big diaper companies — Pampers & Huggies.
How you get points: Enter codes from purchased Huggies or Pampers. You’ll find these codes inside the packaging. Again, you can ask others to collect them. Free codes are also released online on a regular basis. When I find them, I typically share them on www.queenoffree.net.
What you can cash in for: Kids products or toys or gift cards.
Disney Movie Rewards
What it is: Rewards program for purchasing Disney movies or seeing Disney movies in the theater.
How you get points: Enter codes from purchased DVDs or scan movie tickets to collect points.
What you can cash in for: Disney products, Disney movies, gift cards
Special notes: Even movies seen at the dollar theater qualify for rewards points, so don’t throw away that ticket stub. You can again snag free codes from time to time and the monthly e-newsletter also contains a code, too.
What it is: Many restaurants offer rewards programs where you scan a card and collect points toward free food or beverages.
My favorites: Panera, Qdoba, Starbucks, McAlister’s, Papa Murphy’s
What you can cash in for: Typically free food or drinks.
Special notes: Always ask your favorite establishments — especially local ones — if they have similar programs so that you can collect stamps, punches or scans. Typically you’ll get a freebie on your birthday, too, and be alerted to special coupons or deals.
What it is: Many hotels offer rewards programs where you collect points toward free stays.
My favorites: Wyndham, Marriott Rewards, Best Western, SPG
What you can cash in for: Typically free stays or discounts.
Special notes: Don’t forget to tell employees that you’re a member before checking out and make sure your stay is applied. Plan your trips based around collecting points, too. Plus, memberships in these rewards programs also mean free perks when you stay at a hotel. Items such as free bottled water or free Wi-Fi might be included. So be sure to take a quick step to register for hotel rewards programs before your next stay.
Honorable mention rewards programs — Banking debit rewards programs, Kroger fuel rewards, Target RedCard (debit only), smart phone apps like ibotta & endorse, and cash back shopping sites such as Ebates.
Special Royal Disclaimer: No rewards program is worth going into debt. It’s not a deal if you are still paying for it in the long run. Stay away from offers that sound too good to be true because they probably are just that.
Greenwood resident Cherie Lowe and her husband paid off $127,000 in debt in four years and now live debt-free every day with their two kids. Send questions, column ideas and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org