Consumer Watch: Loyalty may miss the point

By Susan Edmunds

Reward cards may be alluring, but be wary about what you're getting into

Ainsley Cole will spend a little more to earn a Fly Buys point. Photo / Jason Dorday
Ainsley Cole will spend a little more to earn a Fly Buys point. Photo / Jason Dorday

We're some of the world's most prolific users of loyalty cards — but many don't pay off.

In fact, some of the best loyalty schemes, in terms of the return on money spent, are those you get from your local cafe.

BP's chain of Wild Bean Cafes coffee offers a free drink every six or seven purchases.

That's a return of about $4.40 for every $26.40 spent, compared to as little as 62c per $100 on a Fly Buys deal, $5 per $100 at Whitcoulls, or $20 for every $2500 spent on a Farmers finance card.

Fly Buys, the biggest loyalty programme in the country, has 2.4million active cardholders. More than 1.6m New Zealanders now have a OneCard, used to collect points at Countdown.

But it takes a lot of money to earn a reward through most of the country's reward schemes. Two bottles of Soda Stream cola syrup would cost you 90 Fly Buys points this week, or the equivalent of $2,250 spent at New World, Noel Leeming or 2Degrees.

The syrup is on special for $6.99 a bottle at Briscoes, so customers would get a return of about 62c for every $100 spent collecting the 90 points.

Otago University's head of marketing, associate professor Rob Aitken, said the low returns meant offers such as quadruple Fly Buys on special items or on a particular sale were better for retailers than consumers. "It's a positioning tactic that gives Noel Leeming, for example, the opportunity to put an ad out with something different."

At Countdown, shoppers earn one point for every $10 spent and have to save 200 points to get a $15 voucher. That means it costs $2,000 to get the $15 voucher, or a return of 75c for every $100 spent.

The OneCard also allows Countdown to track consumer purchases.

Valentyna Melnyk, of Massey University, said people sometimes became irrational about loyalty schemes and got hooked on collecting them. "They don't think, 'I could be better off shopping at Pak 'n Save'."

She said many points ended up not being used because people forgot about them or they expired before enough were earned for a reward. Fly Buys points expire after 36 months and OneCard offers only have a life of six months.

Raewyn Fox, of the Federation of Family Budgeting Services, said people should be wary of credit cards that offered points. Many had higher fees that cancelled out the rewards earned, she said.

ASB's True Rewards cards offer some of the most useful credit card deals, such as vouchers for petrol and big-name retailers.

But you have to spend $1,950 on a True Rewards Visa Gold card to get a $15 Farmers voucher. The card costs $100 a year in fees.

An analysis by Consumer NZ showed that someone who spent $12,500 on that credit card every year would be $7 worse off after two years, once fees and rewards were taken into account.

ANZ's Qantas Visa fared the best in the Consumer comparison, leaving that shopper $225 better off after two years — but it only offered Qantas frequent flyer miles.

Financial adviser Lisa Dudson said points were best when they were earned on payments that would be made anyway — such as a home loan or when paying bills on the credit card. "Don't change your buying decisions based on them."


Rewards worth it

Baker Ainsley Cole has been a Fly Buys member since the scheme began in 1996 and says she has earned a lot of rewards. "Kitchen appliances, jugs, a feather duvet inner, blankets," she said. She estimates she has collected 20,000 or 30,000 points, which equates to spending roughly half a million dollars. She gets a reward about every six months and shares a Fly Buys account with her mother.

"If you're not into it, it will take a while but we shop at New World, have power with Contact, where we also claim points, go to Z where we can and make the effort to go where we need to go to collect points. "

She will spend extra to get another point but "only if it's $1 more to get the point".

- Herald on Sunday

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a1 at 24 Aug 2014 08:34:41 Processing Time: 834ms