Even consumers who spend strategically by using certain credit cards, or remain loyal to one airline, don't always reap the benefits of the points they earn from purchases or the miles they rack up.
The big problem: Tracking all of those rewards points or miles can be complicated -- and understanding the rules governing how you can redeem them can be even more so. For many consumers, it just seems like more trouble than it's worth, says Alicia Rockmore, a co-founder of Buttoned Up, a personal-organizing company. But by neglecting to use them, you could be missing out on hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in discounts and other perks.
To help you track and get the most out of your hard-earned points and rewards, there are a handful of Web sites out there to help. Here are a few worth considering:
- Just One Club Card. If you're always scrambling at the checkout looking for your store discount cards, this site may help. Just One Club Card lets you replace all those frustrating frequent shopper cards that clog your wallet with a single card you can print out at home. Users don't have to fill out any forms or pay any fees to use the service. They just type in the barcode numbers of up to eight of their store discount cards into a form on the site. The site then generates a new card that can be used in lieu of all those other cards. Just One Club Card currently works with 185 stores, including Best Buy, CVS and Stop & Shop. Note: The service doesn't work with rewards cards that have credit card accounts attached to them.
- MileTracker. This application from USA Today and Deskport Technologies tracks all your frequent-flier and loyalty program account statuses, activities and summaries. Just download the free program, type in your account information and MileTracker will summarize your accounts and give you current rewards points, miles or other credit status. It also summarizes sales and travel news from USA Today.
- Points.com. Track your rewards miles and points for free. If you want to unload them, you can swap with other users on the site's Global Points Exchange, GPX, for a fee. There's a processing charge of $6.95 per trade, plus whatever trading fees are set by the airline or rewards program.
Gift cards are another sticky wicket for consumers these days. Given the growing number of retailers declaring bankruptcy, consumers with gift cards need to "use it or lose it," Rockmore says. Spend your gift certificates now, especially if the retailer is small or locally owned, she says.
If you don't trust yourself to use your gift cards in a timely manner -- or at all -- try using one of these sites:
- GiftCardTracker.com. Enter all the gift certificates, online gift cards and rewards you've accumulated, and this site will store your gift certificate information and automatically remind you via e-mail which cards you have and when an expiration date is approaching.
- Plastic Jungle. Have a bunch of unwanted gift cards for stores you never shop at? Try selling them on this site, which lets you swap cards with other users or sell them for cash. Listing cards is free, but the site charges 10% on any successful transactions. Bonus: Transactions on Plastic Jungle are guaranteed, so you don't run the risk of receiving a gift card with little to no balance.
This article was reported by Kate Klonick for SmartMoney.
Published March 17, 2009