Halfway and Half-Assed: Loyalty Cards I Have Neglected

Photo credit: Janet McKnight, CC BY 2.0.

A few months ago, as a ritual to keep in touch, a good friend and I started meeting regularly for lunch. The first time we rendezvoused, we met at a deli in Korea Town because it was close to the office where we had once been coworkers. (Erin also likes the place because it reminds her of her time spent teaching English in Korea.) The place is known for its cheap pre-packaged meals, though the formerly $5 box lunches have since jumped up to $7 or more. Still, both out of convenience and a love of Korean food, that deli because the location of our monthly lunch dates.

When paying for my food during one of our visits, the cashier handed me a small folded card, which he stamped twice. The card featured a 5 x 4 grid with “$5” printed in each box.

I love the idea of loyalty cards because, well, I love free stuff. I also like to think of myself as a pretty loyal person. I like finding a service or business that I know is consistently great and using it frequently and recommending it to my friends. There are businesses in almost every New York neighborhood that I adore and feel compelled to visit just because I’m in the area. Consider me a German Shepherd when it comes to patronage.

That being said, I can probably count on one hand the times I’ve actually filled out a loyalty card and claimed my prize.

There are a few things that often hinder me from getting further than a few stamps on my loyalty cards. First of all, sometimes it’s just hard to remember to carry the physical card around. I can’t tell you how often I’ve started a new Hale & Hearty punch card, only to lose it or forget to bring it with me. When I worked in retail, I would go to Hale & Hearty for lunch all the time, and I think I have, like, six cards at the bottom of old purses with a couple stamps each.

I have a David’s Tea “frequent steeper” card that is actually cut out in the shape of a tea tumbler. (Adorable.) Whenever I make a purchase in the store, whether picking up a hot cup of Earl Grey or getting loose-leaf tea by weight, I get a point for every dollar spent. Once I rack up 100 points, I get 50 grams of tea for free, which is up to a $19 value. Unfortunately, I don’t tend to carry a wallet on me when I leave my office, so if I ever want to do an impromptu drop-in at David’s, I’m often caught without the card—and even if I have the card, sometimes I forget that the program is a thing.

A lot of loyalty cards now exist as apps, which should make it easier to remember to use them — after all, I always have my phone on me. However, sometimes app loyalty cards can be overly complicated, especially because they’re usually tied to payment methods. Dunkin’ Donuts has a lot of amazing deals on their DD Perks app: $1 coffees the day after the NY Giants win a game during football season, happy hours with discounted drinks, and other price reductions when you scan the app at the register. With every purchase, you also accrue points, and every 200 points earns you a free beverage.

However, you only earn those points if you pay for your purchases through the app. You basically pre-pay for credit on the app and then whittle down your balance until it’s time to refill. This is fine in theory, but when you’re running to work and want to grab a quick coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts, the last thing you want to be doing is realizing your balance is low and typing your payment information into an app. I also regularly forget my app password, which I have to enter every time I add money, and the password retrieval process is such a hassle that I stopped using the app altogether.

The app for Dig Inn is a little more intuitive. It uses a LevelUp QR code to pay, and for every $99 you spend, you get a $9 credit towards your next purchase. LevelUp connects directly with my credit card, which means that I don’t need to track my balance or reload money onto the app—but it withdraws all my purchases from my account at the end of the month, as a single lump sum. Knowing this, I tend to use the app sparingly, since I don’t want to rack up a big balance without realizing it and get a large charge at the end of the month. (Also, in general, I try to bring lunch to the office to cut down on eating out.)

That being said, the loyalty card has convinced me to go to Dig Inn from time to time. It will just be a while before I earn my $9 off.

The 7/11 app is one of the best loyalty apps I’ve ever used. All I have to do is open the app on my phone, click the screen, and a barcode pops up that the cashier can scan as I checkout. If there are any coupons in the app for something I’m buying, I get the discount. If I’m purchasing a beverage, it will give me a star. All I need is six stars to earn a free drink. This is one of the only loyalty programs where I’ve checked all the boxes and gotten something for free as a reward.

7/11 also does an annual free coffee week for app users. The free coffees you get during that week still give you stars, so I have turned six free coffees into seven free coffees, which is a luxury when you are constantly trying to avoid spending frivolously on coffee. (You know, if you want to ever be a homeowner or something or other.)

My favorite physical loyalty card is my Frequent MOGO Card, which I got from the most delicious Korean Taco place in Asbury Park. For every taco purchased, I earn one stamp; for every burrito, bowl, or salad purchase, I get two. One filled card—ten stamps—earns me a free taco. Two filled cards earn me a burrito, bowl, or salad. The last time I went, my boyfriend’s mom took us on the 40 minute car ride from her house as an unexpected treat, and I was so thrilled to be there that I treated us all to tacos. I have 8/10 spots filled and have every intention of filling this card up, but Asbury is sadly hard to access from our Brooklyn apartment, especially since we don’t have a car.

Now that I’m going to the Korean deli with my friend every month, I’ve made a habit of keeping my loyalty card in the pocket on my phone, so it’s with me at all times. I always make a point to ask to get it stamped at checkout, and I am now about halfway through the $100 spend requirement to get my prize.

But I realized just the other day — I have no idea what this prize is. There is nothing on the card indicating what I may get. I even tried Googling it, and no one seemed to have a straight answer. I always assumed it was a free meal, but some people said they got branded merchandise. One person said they got a 12-pack of seaweed crackers. A few people say the deli stopped doing the loyalty program, but I went just a few days ago and they still stamped my card.

Maybe I’m not meant to reap the benefits of multiple loyalty cards, but I do intend to cash in on this one. Who knows what pot of gold I will find at the end of this rainbow? All I know is that, whatever it is, I will have earned it.

Kimberly Lew sometimes feels like a Norm, looking for her Cheers. www.kimberlylew.com

This story is part of The Billfold’s Halfway Series.

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