Soon, No More Free Trips for Eating Your Veggies

Travel is not the only source of frequent flier miles.  With proper planning, you can often score miles through online shopping, credit cards, and evening dining out.  But another source of miles – grocery shopping – is soon to dry up.  Safeway recently announced that, as of February 28, 2010, it will no longer award airline miles to its customers.  Until then, customers can earn 125 miles for every $250 in purchases at Safeway and other stores within its group.

Although a rate of 1 mile per $2 spent is not great, Safeway’s partnership offered a good deal for regular patrons – and could be combined with airline credit card offers for even more miles.  But this turn-around does not mean customers are necessarily losing out.  There are still other ways to score deals at Safeway.  First, Safeway has had to cut out this program presumably because it is now offering more frequent sales and deeper discounts in face of the economy.  Second, you can still take advantage of online coupons that can be uploaded into your Safeway card for more discounts.  Third, you can enroll your Safeway card with UPromise to earn cash back in your UPromise account for purchasing specific items from various brands including Nestle, Hefty, and Florida’s Natural.  Customers are only allowed to enroll their Safeway card in either the miles program or in the UPromise program, but, with the miles program about to be canceled, that decision has already been made for you.  The cash back rate for groceries on UPromise is generally low, but it is better than no miles or cash back at all, and can be much higher when combined with the eCoupons you can upload from the UPromise site.

If you are close to reaching the $250 threshold for 125 miles, make sure you do that before the end of this month.  But if you are not, you may as well switch your Safeway card to UPromise and start earning that cash back as soon as possible.  To learn more about UPromise, check out our previous post on the program here.

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Get the Coupons, Get the Groceries, Skip the Clipping

If you, like most people, don’t like grocery coupons because of the hassle of clipping, filing, and sorting through them, there is an online solution for you.  We all know about getting coupon codes or printing coupons online through manufacturer, supermarket, and independent sites, but a Procter & Gamble and an AOL website offer something even better – online coupons that can be uploaded directly to your store card.  Once you register your store card at P&G eSAVER and Shortcuts.com, their respective programs, you can scroll through the available coupons and upload as many as you want.  The two programs are affiliated with almost all of the same stores, including Kroger and Safeway, and allow you to use each coupon once.

P&G eSAVER’s coupons cover a wide range of products manufactured by Procter & Gamble, from Pringles to Bounty paper towels and from Nyquil to the Swiffer line.  The number of coupons offered at Shortcuts.com is smaller but covers some popular items such as Cheerios, Nature Valley granola bars, and Betty Crocker products.

New coupons are issued periodically, and there is no penalty for unused coupons.  And just like a paper coupon, they can also be combined with store discounts.  That means that once they are uploaded to your store card, you can forget about them and still get a nice surprise at the check out counter.  All without clipping, filing, or holding up the line as you shuffle through your wallet for coupons.

Five Deals for Your To-Do List This Week (and Beyond)

As your sort through your summer to-do list, here are some deals you may want to know:

  • This Tuesday, July 21st, Starbucks is giving a free pastry from opening until 10:30am with the purchase of any beverage.  Of course this is a good deal for those who usually purchase a coffee and/or pastry on your way to work [if all you want is a pastry, you could theoretically get a discounted pastry by buying a coffee that is cheaper than the pastry].  Check out the official announcement for more information.
  • When we first wrote about Borders Rewards, we noted that the rewards program itself is quite skimpy though the coupons that come with it are great.  Well, until the end of this month, Borders is making up for it – through July 31st, they are giving $5 in Borders Bucks for every $50 you spend in-store or at borders.com.  That’s essentially 10% back, which you can redeem and use in any future purchase.  This should be a good time to restock your summer reading books!
  • A while back we also wrote about the GapCard, which can be a great deal for those of you who shop at the Gap frequently.  It gives you 5 points per $1 you spend at Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy, and piperlime.com, and you receive a $10 gift card for each 1,000 points you earn (basically 5% back).  If you were waiting for the right time to sign up, this may be it: until August 9th, besides the standard 500 bonus points for being a new member, you also get 20% off your first purchase online and double points until the end of the promotion period.  If you are already a GapCard or Gap Silver member, you are also eligible to earn double points through August 9th.
  • If you are a United Mileage Plus member and frequently shop at Safeway, Dominick’s, Vons, Genuardi’s, or Pavilions, register your store card (get one if you don’t have one yet!) with Mileage Plus to get 125 miles for every $250 miles you spend.  Once you register your store card, all you have to do to earn miles is use it when shopping – a pretty easy process to bring you closer to a free trip!  Click here to register.
  • With the recession, more people are going to movie theaters.  As you get ready to check off some new summer blockbusters from your list, you may want to sign up for the Regal Crown Club if there’s a Regal Cinema close to you.  It is a free membership program that awards 1 credit per dollar spent on ticket purchases (up to 15 credits per day) and another 2-4 credits for concession purchases.  And even if you use a corporate discount ticket such as the Super Saver you can still get credits when you redeem them for admission.  With this membership, you can participate in offers such as $1 candy on Mondays and $1 popcorn on Tuesdays as well as earn free popcorn, soda, and movie ticket rewards (rather than redeeming points, you get a reward as you reach each tier).  Click here to see the rewards schedule and sign up.

While not all deals are for everyone, I expect that participating in some of these deals has gotten on your to-do list, maybe next to repotting the plants and visiting local museums.  Good luck!

Paying for Education, One Purchase at a Time

If you have student loans to repay to Sallie Mae or are trying to save for education through a 529 Plan, you may want to use Upromise to help you out.  Upromise is a service that gives you cash for certain purchases from grocery stores, restaurants, online retail sites etc., which can then be transferred to your student loan account or 529 Plan – essentially a cash back program under which the cash is redeemed for education expenses.

To be honest, the cash back rates for Upromise are generally lower than most other programs such as ShopDiscover.  However, Upromise covers a much larger number of merchants and combines different programs to generate even more potential rewards.  Discover’s 5% cash back at Target.com and the Apple Store, for example, beats Upromise’s 2% and 1% rates at these online sites, respectively.  Upromise, however, offers 2% cash back on eBay and 1% on several travel sites, such as Orbitz and Travelocity, while Discover has not partnered with those sites as of yet.  Furthermore, Upromise also gives up to 8% cash back on restaurants that belong to the Rewards Network (for a full list visit rewardsnetwork.com) and on in-store purchases at a few places such as Bed Bath & Beyond (1%) and the Sunglass Hut (6%).

Upromise also allows you to add your grocery cards to your account, so that you get cash back on Upromise for certain items on top of your grocery stores’ discounts and/or points.  Participating stores include Safeway, Harris Teeter, and CVS.

Now the best feature of Upromise I think is that it allows you to add friends and family to your network.  That is, if they create a Upromise account and add you as a beneficiary, they can use the cash back program to help you pay for your education.  Alternatively, for online shopping, you can simply send them a “guest shopping” link, so that they do not even have to sign up for Upromisem but you can still earn cash on the program whenever anyone shops through that link.  So if your mom usually does the groceries and uses store cards, you may want to have her sign up for Upromise and help you pay off your loans; and if your grandparents are coming to visit, you might to want to send them your Upromise “guest shopping” link so that their trip can help you get some money into your 529 Plan.

Picking Up Discounts in the Produce Section: the Benefits of Grocery and Pharmacy Cards

Sign up for the free loyalty cards from your local grocery stores and pharmacies if they offer them.  They cost you nothing (I don’t even get junk mail from them!) and give you exclusive discounts and/or cash back.  Those offers marked by signs hanging under products throughout the store (clearance items, discounts, two-for-one deals, BOGOs, etc.) are usually only available when you use the store card.

I, for example, have a Safeway and a CVS card for these purposes.  One cool feature of the Safeway Club Card is that when you use it, the receipt tells you how much you saved in your purchase through their deals and other coupons.  I saved 25% on my last purchase!  Of course, Safeway cashiers are usually nice enough to ring up a default Safeway card for you if you don’t have/forgot your own.  But (1) you can’t count on them to do that every time and (2) that will keep you from stocking up on points from affiliated programs such as United Mileage Plus or UPromise cash for college (more on that in a future post).

CVS’s ExtraCare card, on the other hand, gives “Extra Bucks” that may be used for any purchase at CVS.  Every 3 months you get Extra Bucks equivalent to 2% of your purchases in the previous quarter, and the weekly specials usually feature several products that also come with Extra Bucks (if you buy the product, you get Extra Bucks that can be used on your next CVS purchase).  A few weeks back, for instance, I bought three boxes of Cinnamon Toast Crunch for $10 and got $5 Extra Bucks.   I used that on my next purchase.  I don’t buy my prescriptions at CVS, but its website also says that you can get 1 Extra Buck for every 2 prescriptions purchased in-store.

The main caveat of CVS’s Extra Bucks is that you really have to remember to use them if you want to transform your everyday purchases into good deals, as they tend to expire after 2 or 3 weeks.  Also, you need to present your ExtraCare card in order to use the Extra Bucks, but that should not be a problem since you should have it on you anyway (i.e., on your keychain) for accumulating all those Extra Bucks.

You probably shop at groceries and pharmacies more frequently than at most other types of stores, and most likely have your local favorite.  If it’s offered, make sure you get and use their loyalty card – claim the chance to be rewarded for helping them stay in business!