6 Brand Loyalty Programs That Are Actually Worth Joining

These brand loyalty programs are worth the extra emails.

There are probably a lot of things that draw you to your favorite stores. The products, obviously, the sales and the friendly salespeople all might be part of it, but a seriously rocking loyalty or rewards program is probably not far behind. Whether a loyalty program is free or has a small fee, if the benefits are plenty, it can be worth all the extra mail and email you’ll likely receive — or even a small yearly charge. (If you tend to pay balances off in full and want to maximize your earning potential, you may want to consider a rewards credit card as well.)

Here are some of the best loyalty programs we’ve seen around.

1. CVS

If not all pharmacies are created equal, then not all pharmacy rewards programs are created equal either. CVS’ ExtraCare Rewards stands out, for starters, because it’s free. Customers earn 2% back in ExtraBuck Rewards every single time they use their ExtraCare card, and additional savings are easy to find through ExtraCare emails, the CVS Pharmacy app and the weekly ad or throughout the store. You can save paper by using the “send to card” option to send selected offers from online directly to your ExtraCare card rather than printing them off to bring to the store.

2. Barnes & Noble

Becoming a B&N member isn’t free — it’ll cost you $25 a year — but if you’re an avid reader, the fee will likely be worth it. For starters, new members receive $50 in bonus coupons for joining. (Use ‘em all and you’ve already made up your initiation fee!) Members also receive member-exclusive savings options, free express shipping online with no minimum purchase, plus 40% off the list prices of current hardcover bestsellers and 10% off the price of other eligible items.

3. PetSmart

Animal owners can join the PetSmart PetPerks rewards program to start saving more on their pet purchases. Membership is free, and members receive discounts on in-store purchases, as well as special coupons sent directly to them in the mail. For more ways to save on your furbabies, sign up for the brand’s auto-ship plan, which provides 20% off and free shipping on the first auto ship order, plus 5% off and free shipping every time after. (Some exclusions apply.)

4. Sephora

For product lovers, the Sephora Beauty Insider Program is a dream come true. Sign up for free on the Sephora site and every dollar you spend earns a point that can be put towards free beauty products. (The points you need to purchase certain products can be found online.) Members also get a birthday gift, access to free beauty classes, and for an extra $10/year members get access to flash two-day shipping on all online orders.

5. Bed Bath & Beyond

Home goods superstore BB&B doesn’t have a specific rewards program, per se, but creating a free account online and providing your home address at the store will supply you with endless coupon offers. The best part? The store usually accepts coupons even after they’ve expired — though you probably won’t need to bother since you’ll likely have a new one waiting for you in your mailbox or inbox by your next purchase, anyway.

6. Starbucks

Pricey as their drinks may be, Starbucks does have a smashing (and free) rewards program. Starbucks Rewards members earn two “stars” for every $1 spent with your registered card to put towards future drinks. There are four ways to enroll in the program (online, through the mobile app, directly from a retailer or through a business affiliate), and you can earn also stars by entering star codes found inside specially marked packaged of Starbucks products as well. Starbucks fans can find more ways to save on their daily cup of coffee (or two) here.

Remember, you don’t want the lure of rewards to lead you to overspend. High levels of debt can affect your bank account and credit score. You can see where your credit currently stands by viewing two of your scores for free on Credit.com.

Note: It’s important to remember that prices for products and services frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms cited in this article may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with the company directly.

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Bass Pro Shops & Cabela’s Are Merging: What Their Credit Cardholders Need to Know

Bass-Pro-Shops-&-Cabela's

Whether your choice of outdoor activities involves a fishing pole and waders or sporting clays and shotgun shells, you may want to take note of this outdoor retailer news — Bass Pro Shops is set to acquire Cabela’s, according to a press release issued Monday.

This approximately $5.5 billion deal will merge Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shops and White River Marine Group, a boating company that is part of Bass Pro Shops.

But don’t rush out to use your rewards or certificates just yet. For the most part, this buyout isn’t expected to affect how you shop or the rewards you get for doing so.

According to the merger announcement, “All Cabela’s CLUB points and Bass Pro Shops Outdoor Rewards points will be unaffected by the transactions and customers can continue to use their credit cards as they were prior to the transaction.” The press release also noted that the loyalty programs at both stores will remain the same, but said there is “potential over time to expand the program in the combined company.”

Part of the announcement included news that Bass Pro Shops is launching a credit card partnership with Capital One. An email from a Capital One spokesperson said “the Capital One transaction isn’t expected to close until the first half of 2017 and is subject to the concurrent closing of Bass Pro Shops’ acquisition of Cabela’s,” however.

The spokesperson also noted that “it’s business as usual for Cabela’s customers.” So, whether you’re looking to add some lures to your tackle box or get a new camo duck blind, you should have the experiences at both Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops that you’re accustomed to.

Getting a Store Credit Card

No matter what gear you need for your next outdoor adventure, it’s important to remember that applying for a store credit card is an important financial decision and shouldn’t be made lightly. If you are a frequent shopper at either (or both) of these stores, it’s a good idea to look at their reward offerings that accompany the card and see if it’s worth signing up for one, or if you could get better perks with a standard rewards credit card.

Either way, it’s a good idea to review your credit before applying for new plastic (you can see a free snapshot of your credit report, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com) so you have an idea of the terms and conditions you’re eligible for.

At publishing time, Capital One products are offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply and ultimately sign up for these cards. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

Image: Susan Washinski

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My Credit Score Dropped 24 Points After Planning a Bachelorette Party

I’ve planned four bachelorette parties in the past five years (and attended five, including my own). I have the planning part down to a science. But this time around I had a little surprise — my credit score dropped 24 points when I checked it on my way home Sunday night.

Now, I should preface this with saying that the damage is temporary. It’s not fair to say the bachelorette party “wrecked my credit” since I’ve already remedied the cause of the credit score drop — my high credit utilization this month (more on how I fixed my credit later).

In my experience, planning bachelorette parties takes a lot of coordination, a lot of ridiculous party store supplies and a lot of PayPal/Venmo/Chase QuickPay account transfers. Most of the parties have been short weekend trips for groups ranging from six to 11 people, so it boils down to a few major expenses: house rental, transportation, an activity and a dinner out. The other things you end up buying— wine tastings, drinks at bars, lunches and breakfasts — tend to get paid for individually, without a joint tab.

The major expenses often require a point person, though — one credit card to rule them all. Even when you find a great house that can accommodate everyone at a very reasonable price, someone has to pull the trigger and put it on their credit card to reserve the space and, when you’re the one (or two) planning the trip, it tends to be you. Then, you collect the money from the other attendees and pay off your credit card immediately.

I’ve never minded doing this. After all, I write for a credit website, I’m very mindful of my credit, monitor my accounts daily, check my credit scores every month, and am constantly thinking about managing my money. For some people, this would be an understandable burden. After all, a house that can accommodate 11 women for a weekend isn’t cheap. If you’re already struggling to pay your balance in full every month with just your normal spending, it may not be the best move. After all, you could be short and then face interest charges.

The Hidden Benefit of Bachelorette Party Planning

There is a notable upside to putting all that spending on your credit cards and then immediately paying them off, though— the rewards. I made $500 off my credit cards last year and paid no interest charges or annual fees. This year, I’ve already made roughly $150, so I’m on pace to beat last year’s total. If you’re using the right credit card, you can really rake in the rewards on the group expenses of a bachelorette party. For example, I used my Chase Sapphire card (read a full review here) and got double points on our group’s lunch bill this weekend.

At the end of the weekend, I simply tallied up all the group expenses and gave everyone a per-person total they owed me. Everyone transferred me the money that day, easy breezy.

Why My Score Dropped 24 Points

So why did my credit score drop so much, exactly?

I had charged enough on my credit cards that I had a 20% credit utilization this month. That means I had enough charges on my credit cards that I had spent 20% of my combined credit card limits. One thing you should know about my spending habits is that I charge nearly everything to my credit cards and then pay them off in full every month— it’s how I make so much money from my credit card rewards. So the bachelorette expenses aren’t that whole 20%. But I normally spend around 10% of my limits, sometimes 12%, and this month the extra charges bumped me up to 20% for the first time in a very long time.

How I Fixed It

This is the easy part. I used the money the bachelorette party attendees paid me and immediately paid off two of my credit cards in full. That’s brought my total utilization down to about 7% right now. (You can see how your utilization is impacting your credit scores for free every month on Credit.com.) I don’t plan to apply for any new credit this month, so a temporary credit score drop is something I can weather without issue. A healthy utilization rate is under 30%, but as you can see from my story, it’s even better to keep it under 10%. I have a good credit score, and still do after the slight ding, and I want to keep it that way.

At publishing time, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for this card. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

More on Credit Reports & Credit Scores:

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