Reward points are great… so great in fact that I decided to write a whole blog about them! However, recently I talked about applying caution when redeeming points (here), and today’s post is about thinking through your approach to earning points. Ultimately points are a marketing tool, and whilst they create lots of opportunities, sometimes it’s easy to be caught out.

Points, points, points…

I realised this recently when I was looking at my American Express ‘save to card’ offers. I skipped past a number of statement credit offers and immediately gravitated to two small scale bonus points offers. As I was saving them, and adding them to my ‘to do’ list, I questioned whether I’d have been as quick to note them down if they’d been equivalent cashback offers. One was 500 points on a £15 spend at Tesco, and I acknowledged that (given that I don’t usually shop at Tesco) I might not have been quite as excited about a £5 off on £15 spend voucher. Logically that doesn’t make much sense though, if I’m lucky 500 points might be worth £5 on a decent travel redemption, whereas £5 cashback is guaranteed to be worth £5 anywhere! Whilst Amex is just about as flexible as it gets, points are always restricted, they tie you to select retailers and their value can change.I guess the reason points are so attractive though (Amex points in particular) is that, for me at least, they become a restricted pot for travel and luxuries. The fact they aren’t cash, means they don’t disappear into the general everyday budget, so they become a travel ‘savings pot’. In the above example, £5 cashback at Tesco would likely be spent on more shopping, whereas 500 Amex points is £5 off my next flight or luxury hotel stay. I know which of these sounds more appealing to me…!

Retailer Points

I find the best approach to points is to make sure you grab every opportunity to earn them, but ONLY on money you’d be spending anyway (and only if you’re confident you’re getting the best deal). In the example above, I spent the £15 at Tesco on items we would’ve bought at another supermarket anyway. The reason I usually love American Express points in particular, is because (except for save to card offers) the points are normally earned for the transaction itself, not the use of a specific retailer. Generally you just need to go about your normal spending, but put it on the right card. In contrast, with something like Nectar points, where you’re tied to specific retailers and can easily be led into thinking that it makes sense to use Sainsbury’s every time, even where you might end up spending more on the same items.


For example:

Your rationale for shopping at Sainsbury’s is earning points and you spend £100. You earn 200 Nectar points worth £1.

If you could’ve got the same items, for even £98.50 at ASDA, then you’d have been better off – and the £1.50 savings could be spent anywhere, and not restricted to Nectar retailers.

For the retailer, obviously a points return (as opposed to cashback), makes a lot of sense. It ties you to returning to the store, and likely you’ll spend more than just the points when you do. In addition the ‘real’ value of the items you redeem your points for, are obviously less than the sale value.


Spend Targets

The other area where caution is required is in relation to spend targets. For example, the American Express Gold Card offers a 20,000 points (22,000 via our link), bonus for spending £2,000 in 3 months. I wrote a post (here) with some tips for improving your chances of hitting these.

Again, this only really makes sense if you’re spending money on the card which you’d be spending anyway. Whilst the points have a potential value of £200 (or a minimum value – as a statement credit – of £90), this is false economy if over those 3 months you’ve spent over £200 more, because you’re determined to reach that target.

That said, if generally you spend £2,000 on cards over a three month period anyway, then the Amex Gold card is exactly the kind of offer which makes me love points so much. If you have the card for one year, and spend money you’d be spending anyway on it, then for zero extra outlay you could bag a reward flight to Barcelona and airport lounge passes to use at each end (plus other benefits). This is where points are effectively more ‘fun’ than cashback – especially if you like researching how to make the most of them.


Of course, if redeeming points seems like too much effort, then the Amex cashback cards, with potential bonuses of up to £125 may make more sense.

Conclusion

So earning points is fantastic – but make sure it’s on your terms. Spend what you’d spend anyway, and organise the points systems to fit that. Find the right cards, with the right spend bonuses, and the best loyalty schemes for your spending. Let your spending dictate your point collecting, not the other way around.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Amex Gold card read my review here, and my posts about what 20,000 points will get you here. The 20,000 points post are increasingly becoming by far the most visited on this site – so someone must be finding them useful!

If you’re intending to apply for any American Express card, then use our referral link here for additional bonus points/cashback. This page includes a table showing you the bonus for each eligible card.


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