Reaping the Benefits from Rewards Programs

Physician's Money Digest, November 2005, Volume 12, Issue 15

New York Times

Would you like aprofessional chefto share their culinarysecrets withyou in the privacyof your own home? How about takinga hot air balloon ride over the NapaValley followed by a catered picnic?According to a report, all that and more can be yours,courtesy of your credit card company.

These extravagant perks are calledexperience rewards, and they've grownout of the fierce battle credit card companiesare waging to attract new customers.Instead of receiving a tote bagto take to the gym, you may qualify fora 1-year gym membership, as one individualdid when he traded in hisAmerican Express points.

Save for Luxe Rewards

If you're going to spend the moneyanyway, you might as well reap therewards. As Chris Moloney of MaritzLoyalty Marketing explains, experiencerewards create excitement becausethey're often used for somethingthat an individual couldn't or wouldn'tobtain on their own, such as leisureeducation opportunities. Diners ClubRewards offers cooking classes inRome or golf lessons from theOriginal Golf School in Crystal River,Fla. Citibank's Diamond Preferredprogram offers similar rewards. For27,500 points, Citibank cardholderscan get a $250 certificate toward arace car driving school; for 198,000points, you can learn fly-fishing inIdaho and Montana.

Offering personalized rewards is achance for credit card companies towin new customers and promote cardholderloyalty, but the idea is notexactly new. High-end retailers, includingBloomingdale's and NeimanMarcus, have offered special perks tocertain customers using their cards foryears. The difference today is that cardissuers like Diners Club, AmericanExpress, and Citibank have broadenedthese programs to participants whoamass enough points, which is the keyto receiving these rewards.

For example, that visit from a professionalchef will cost you 95,000rewards points through AmericanExpress. The balloon ride and picnicwill set you back 60,000 points withCitibank. If that sounds steep, it maybe, depending on the system yourcard issuer uses for converting dollarsspent into points. In most programs,a point is earned for each $1 or $2spent. In essence, you would need tospend at least $60,000 using yourCitibank credit card in order to amassenough points for the Napa Valleyballoon experience.

New York

Times

But according to the , it could take longer than youthink to reach your experience rewardsgoal. Scanning an American Expresscatalog found that 10,000 pointsmight only be worth $100 in rewards.In that case, you could be waiting quitea while before you can cash in yourpoints. Perhaps that explains why only30% of Americans actually belong to acredit card rewards program, accordingto Maritz Loyalty Marketing.

Use Your Imagination

New York Times

The key with many of these experiencerewards programs is their flexibility.According to the ,only your own imagination limits yourpersonalized reward. Describe thereward of your dreams to most cardissuers, and programs will figure outjust how many points you will need tomake it happen. Just make sure thatthe stars you want to reach for areindeed reachable.

Of course, most card issuers stilloffer the usual merchandise and travelrewards programs we've all grownaccustomed to, supplemented with theexperience rewards programs. So ifyou consider a free weekly car rental agreat reward when you take the familyto Disney World, take heart. Thesimple things in life are still available.