Are Points Programs Actually Giving You the Best Savings?
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I’ve always been a big supporter of deal sites and points programs. But with the huge variety of offers, it can be easy to get swept away in the excitement. So are points programs actually giving you the best savings?
Hotel Points Programs:
Recently, a friend of mine discovered that using her hotel points program didn’t consistently yield the best deal. In fact, for some searches, the rates were actually 50% more for the hotel. This was the amount she would be required to pay above the points she had to spend, plus she had to spend all her points. Wait. What? That’s right. It cost significantly more to use points and pay the additional “extra” than to just rent the hotel room without points. This was a shock! I’ll share the method she used to figure this out and how she still got her hotel stays for less.
Start by putting your desired date and location directly into the hotel’s website without any discounts, offers or points. This gives you the normal price of the room on your specific date. Next, input any discounts and offers you can get directly with the hotel, still without using points. Finally, see what the price is on discount hotel sites.
Now you’ve revealed the lowest cost you can get without using points. (Tip: For accuracy, don’t forget to factor in additional fees you’ll be charged by deal websites like Priceline.) Next, you’re ready to see what the price in points is. By knowing the number of points you need to spend and the best price you can get without them, you can calculate the cash value of your points. You can decide whether or not using points is actually giving you the best savings. And whether or not you should spend or save them. As you work this process, you’ll notice that the true value of your points will vary from hotel to hotel and by the date and room type.
If you still want to use your points but don’t have enough, there may be additional ways to supplement. In the case of my friend, she learned that her points program allowed her to buy the missing points she needed. She calculated that to be a much better deal than fully paying for the rental. Of course, some points programs do not allow any combining of points with cash or the buying of more points. But if you research it, there may be ways to boost your points for less money than it would cost to rent your hotel stay outright.
Daily Deal Sites:
Unlike the days when daily deal companies were fiercely competitive, many now cross promote. For example, Groupon partners with companies such as LivingSocial and numerous smaller deal sites. However, you cannot use a Groupon discount code on the majority of these partner site deals. (The main exception being LivingSocial.) If you input a promo code on Groupon and it won’t take it, examine the fine print. It might be that the deal is not actually offered by Groupon. Check the website of the company offering the deal and buy from them directly with one of their coupon codes.
If you are checking out on Groupon, here are two ways to save even more money. One, activate cash back through Swagbucks. And two, if you buy deals or goods or travel often enough, consider joining Groupon’s loyalty program, Groupon Select. It costs $4.99 a month but saves you an additional 25% off deals, 10% off events and tickets, 10% on travel, and free shipping on goods. (Of course, some exclusions and restrictions apply.)
Gas Loyalty Rewards and Points:
Obviously, you should be collecting points and rewards on things you routinely buy, like petrol. But when it comes to spending those points, you need to calculate their true value. You may not be getting the deal you thought you were. For example, it may take a lot of points to save 10 cents per gallon of gas. If your gas tank holds 18 gallons, you’re really only saving about $1.80 – and that’s if you’re tank is nearly dry. But allowing your points to accumulate longer might get something more valuable, such as a gift card. Of course, what gets you the highest savings depends on your gas station of choice and what they offer.
Along with earning points, gas stations often offer special promotions. They are usually along the lines of “Buy this and earn X number of points”. Protect your dollars by taking advantage of these offers sparingly. If you’re already buying that item anyway, then go for it. But if you’re buying it just to earn the points, stop and calculate what you’re paying in order to gain those points. Then only proceed if it’s a smart financial choice.