Sunday, October 7, 2012

Reaping the Benefits of Loyalty


For the longest time, our family did not participate in consumer loyalty programs because we felt they jeopardized our privacy. Something interesting happened to change all of that: I got a job. This particular job (about which I cannot legally give you too many details) involved processing Worker's Compensation Injury Claims. I was taught very quickly how even a simple call center employee can use certain internet tools to uncover far too much about a person: Their address, phone number, employer information, even their social security number.

That put the loyalty program issue to rest. If someone wants that information enough, they'll find it regardless of whether or not I've ever participated in a loyalty program. You're probably already a member of at least one loyalty program. Most grocery stores use them now. The benefits can far outweigh the potential for obnoxious emails and phone calls.

Before I list off my favorite loyalty programs and how they can help you save on baby supplies or save up for that Disney vacation you've wanted to take the kids on, let's cover one of the best tools in your loyalty program arsenal: The junk mail address. I've never received unsolicited physical mail from an online loyalty program, but I've received plenty of email. I've created an alternate email account just for my loyalty programs, contests, etc. You may want to avoid cluttering your everyday email account by doing the same.

My list of Loyalty Programs & other tips to 
help you save on your next Disney Vacation: 

1. The Disney Rewards Visa

Like most rewards credit cards, the Disney Rewards Visa allows you to earn points for each dollar you spend. These points can later be used on a variety of Disney related prizes including hotel stays and souvenirs. Even better: Just by being a card member, you qualify for added Disney benefits at the parks! There are Character Meet N Greet locations specifically reserved for card members at both Disneyland and Disney World. The lines for these Character Meet N Greets can be expected to be shorter than the average Character Meet & Greet lines because the number of people eligible for the experience is significantly less than the number of EVERYBODY AND HIS DOG that can stand in the other lines. This makes your theme park tickets a better bargain because you're able to do more with the time you have in the parks. Consider this your pre-paid Fast Past for an attraction that would never actually offer a Fast Past. Disney Rewards Visa holders can also score discounts at the Disney Store website.

2. Character Dining (No, really)

I can hear your thoughts: How am I going to save money by spending up to $30 per plate for a meal I could otherwise buy for $10 at a concession stand? By avoiding standing in endless, overheated lines to meet characters, you're increasing the value of the park tickets (which you've already paid for) exponentially and saving yourself the stress of several toddler meltdowns. My favorite character dining experience (the only one that we do every single time we visit Disney World) is at Animal Kingdom's Tusker House. The Tusker House character breakfast is a full breakfast buffet with the absolute best Disney breakfast options: Fresh fruit, cereals, eggs, biscuits and gravy, bacon, sausage, amazing potato wedges, pastries... it really is a complete meal. My best advice is to save this experience until you've visited some of the other parks (not Magic Kingdom, though: If you have little kids, save that one for last). After eating theme park fare for a few days, this bountiful buffet will be easily worth the money you spend on it. In addition to being delicious and easily worth the cash (the price varies depending on when you go and the age of each member of your group), dining at the Tusker House is a great opportunity to cut the amount of time you'll spend hunting down beloved characters for photo ops in the parks. While you're dining, Mickey, Goofy, Donald, and Daisy will come greet you at your table. You are welcome to bring your own camera into the restaurant, so use this chance to take a photo of your kids with the characters. During your meal, your kids may even be invited to "Awaken the Day" by joining the characters in a dance around the restaurant. Mom & Dad can relax - Disney makes sure to return each child to the proper table at the conclusion of the dance. Our kids absolutely love it. Bonus advice: You can book your breakfast at the Tusker House for just before the park opens. This increases the value of your theme park tickets even more because you managed to score Character Meet & Greets without wasting a single minute of your visit to Animal Kingdom! Use your Disney Rewards Visa to pay for your meal and you'll be earning points towards even more Disney magic!

3. Landry's Select Club

If you plan to visit T-Rex (Downtown Disney, Orlando) or Rainforest Cafe (Downtown Disney, Anaheim and Orlando; also in Animal Kingdom, Orlando), you'll want to look into Landry's Select Club. Your $25 membership dues include a $25 credit to your account once it has been activated as well as a $25 reward redeemable during the month of your birthday. Landry's has restaurants in 31 states - so it's possible that you could be earning a free meal at Disney when you go out for dinner closer to home.

4. Disney Movie Rewards


Inside your Disney DVDs, you may notice a little paper with a long nonsensical code at the bottom. DON'T THROW IT AWAY! If you go to DisneyMovieRewards.com and sign up for a free account, you can put all those codes to good use! There are often contests for free vacations and if you don't want to spend your points on contests, you can spend those points on special Disney tours or souvenirs. Entering certain codes may even entitle you to coupons to see new Disney movies in theaters FOR FREE! Example: As of today, I have 2 free admissions to "Finding Nemo 3D" and 3 free admissions to either "Frankenweenie" or "Wreck-It Ralph". Each time I use one of these coupons, I'll set aside $5 for my vacation fund. To get you started, here are two Welcome codes: U13PEKSZZD and FPSNN83JX9.
Be sure to see if you're eligible for any surveys, too:
They can be worth up to 100 points a piece!

5. The Hilton loyalty club: HHonors

HHonors is an amazing loyalty club that we've been members of for many years. In New Zealand, we were able to take the member discount offered for Lake Taupo and stay in a beautiful 3 bedroom luxury suite for less than $600 per night. When we wanted to extend our stay but didn't have the pre-paid member discount... the rack price was closer to $1000 per night. We've had free nights in various places because we have been loyal to this program. You can sometimes get free points by cashing in Coke Rewards points or filling out surveys, too - and that is music to a penny-pincher's ears! 

6. The Coca-Cola loyalty club: MyCokeRewards.com

Coke Points can be found on the cardboard packaging for canned Coke products or under caps from 2 ltr bottles, 20 oz bottles, and even Powerade bottles! The prizes change, but we've managed to score free DVD boxed sets, HHonors points, and even a Disney Gift Card. Right now they're offering a sweepstakes for a Disney Cruise, too!


My List of Loyalty Programs for Parents:

By now, you've probably heard of Groupon and LivingSocial, but there are lots of other programs out there that can help parents save big bucks!

1. Pampers Gifts to Grow
Pampers' loyalty program is great because they often release freebie codes. You can earn lots of points without buying lots of Pampers products. The South Suburban Savings blog has already covered this and they've done a brilliant job, so I'm going to send you over to them for the details (and 100 bonus points!)

2. Zulily
Last winter, my Mother-in-Law found my eldest daughter a beautiful, high quality formal coat for less than $50. When I asked her about it, she told me all about Zulily: A sight that works like a consistent clearance sale for all sorts of children's items.

3. Similac, Gerber, Fisher Price, and more...
If you buy it for your kids, look up the website for it. Chances are good that you'll score some big discounts if not lots of free products.

4. WIC
If you're pregnant, have very young children, or are nursing... you may qualify for government assistance through WIC. WIC is not a hand-out: It's a government nutrition program meant to teach low-income families how to eat properly. Whether or not you qualify depends upon the number of young children you have and your income. Check the site for details. Items typically provided by WIC: Milk, cereal, eggs, fruit & veggies, cheese, beans, and fish.

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