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Archive for April, 2006

Mother's Day for the Thrifty

April 25th, 2006 at 11:44 am

Mother's Day is fast approaching and you don't want to wait too long to get in on some of the great online deals available on gifts for your mom.

Of course, the traditional Mother's Day gifts include flowers and dinner. By shopping online, using rebates and coupons when available, you can save a substantial amount of money.

~-Flowers-~

FatWallet.com's FatCash program has a 15% off coupon available for 1-800-Flowers.com, plus they offer an 8% rebate on top of that.

GreenPoints.com offers 100 points per dollar (equivalent to a 12% rebate) for purchases at FTD.com. However, there is a clickable coupon available elsewhere (which means it can't be combined with a rewards program rebate) for $10 off any purchase at FTD.com. For purchases under $60, you'd be better off using that coupon. (Google around for it, it'll turn up.) Or, if you're a Discover cardholder, this link will give you 20% off at FTD: www.ftd.com/discovershopcenter/

Ebates.com is offering a 12% rebate on purchases at Proflowers.com.

~-Dinner-~

Restaurant.com sells printable gift certificates for local restaurants at a discount...plus you can use coupon code 78440 for an additional 60% off (expires 4/30).

Have an Entertainment Book? These coupon books are available by city and include restaurant coupons. You may not be able to order one and receive it before Mother's Day, but when you buy online, you can access printable coupons on-site. The 2006 Entertainment Books are now 50% off, plus if you shop through FatWallet's FatCash program, you'll get $5 cash back.

Some restaurants won't accept these discount gift certificates and coupons on holidays -- take Mom a day early or call ahead to be sure.

~-Other Gift Ideas-~

Magazine subscriptions make great gifts that Mom will enjoy year-round. I love MagazinePriceSearch.com, which compares prices at 24 magazine discounters and shares online coupons to help you find the best deal. Some good deals right now include 17 issues of Woman's Day for $3.55, $2.75 for a year of Redbook, and $3.99 for a year of Ladies' Home Journal. No, the first issue won't arrive before Mother's Day, but a copy of the current issue and a note explaining that you've signed her up would do the trick.

Some moms like perfume. Where can you find it on the internet for less? Two of the biggest online perfume stores are FragranceNet.com (free shipping on $60 orders, get a 15% rebate with FatWallet's FatCash, plus save an extra 10% with code MDAY2006) and Perfumania.com (free shipping on $59 orders, and a 6.5% rebate through QuickRewards.net).

What about a personalized t-shirt? Spreadshirt.com sells a ladies' heavyweight tee with one line of text for $22.89 shipped (orders ship within 48 hours). Go through QuickRewards.net for a 7% rebate.

Moms love pictures. Another personalized idea within most people's budget is the Snapbook, by Shutterfly.com. Upload 50 of your favorite photos, choose a theme, and personalize the photos with captions. The final product, a spiral-bound album, is $9.99 for the 4x6 size and $14.99 for the 5x7. Shipping starts at $2.50. Shop through Ebates.com for an 8% rebate.

~-Mark Your Calendar!-~

Whatever you decide to give Mom for Mother's Day, whether it's flowers, dinner, a store-bought gift, or even a handmade card, the important thing is that you don't forget the date! On behalf of mothers everywhere, I thank you.

-~For More Information~-

If you'd like more info on how rewards programs like FatCash, Greenpoints, Ebates, and QuickRewards.net work, as well as reviews of these and other programs, please visit CompareRewards.com.

How Much is a Point Worth? Comparing Apples to Apples

April 19th, 2006 at 05:29 pm

If you're a member of more than one rewards program that pay your rebates in the form of points earned, you may be tempted to compare points at one program to those at another. This is very tricky territory!

"I want to shop at Overstock.com. I see from Sdrawer.com's listing of rewards programs by merchant that I could earn 10 points per dollar by shopping through Greenpoints or 10 points per dollar by shopping through MyPoints. But wow, I could do much better by shopping through Freeride -- they pay 30 points per dollar -- or Memolink, that pays 48 points per dollar! ClubMom stinks, they just pay 4 points per dollar!"

What's wrong with this picture?

It makes an erroneous assumption, that the point value at each of these programs is the same.

All points are NOT created equal. What determines point value is how many points it costs to cash out. One program may offer a lot of points per dollar, but it may also charge a lot of points to cash out for the same value gift card.

In this example, so we can be consistent among programs (since some rewards programs give you a point discount for saving up for a higher value gift card), let's look at the value of a point based on the cost to cash out for a $25 GC.

- At Greenpoints, the cheapest $25 GC costs 19,000 points.
- At MyPoints, the cheapest $25 GC is 3,000 points.
- At Freeride, the cheapest $25 GC is 26,500 points.
- At Memolink, a $25 GC costs 43,200 points.
- And at ClubMom, a $25 GC is 5,000 points.

So this will tell you one bit of information at a glance: of these five programs, a point at MyPoints is worth the most, since it takes fewer of them to buy the same value GC.

But this doesn't tell you what you really need to know -- how do the points compare? A point at Memolink is worth the least of these 5 sites, but they do pay the MOST points per dollar for Overstock. Does that make up for the difference in value?

The only way to tell is to do a little math and work out how much ONE point is worth. If you know how many points it takes to buy a $25 GC, you can figure out how much ONE point is worth, right?

Don't turn that dial! It's not hard math. I'll show you how to do it:

$25 divided by the number of points it takes to buy the $25 GC = the dollar value of one point.

Example -- Greenpoints: $25 / 19,000 = $0.00132. That means one point is worth about a tenth of a cent.

Now, let's do the others.

- MyPoints: $25 / 3,000 = $0.00833.
- Freeride: $25 / 26,500 = $0.00094.
- Memolink: $25 / 43,200 = $0.00058.
- ClubMom: $25 / 5,000 = $0.005.

All these decimal places, all these digits, what to do with this information?

What comes next is easy. Now that you know how much ONE point is worth, multiply that amount by how many points the rewards program will pay you for each dollar you spend at Overstock.

We just calculated that, at Greenpoints, a point is worth $0.00132. They're paying 10 points per dollar for Overstock. 10 points per dollar * $0.00132 (the dollar value of one point) = $0.0132 (the dollar value of 10 points). In other words, when you spend $1, you get $0.0132 worth of points. That's the same as earning 1.32%. (Just move the decimal place to the right two spots.)

Aha! Percentages! That's something you CAN compare across different rewards programs!

Doing the math for you really quick:
- MyPoints pays 10 points per dollar * $0.00833 = $0.0833, or 8.33%.
- Freeride pays 30 points per dollar * $0.00094 = $0.0282, or 2.82%
- Memolink pays 48 points per dollar * $0.00058 = $0.0278, or 2.78%
- ClubMom pays 4 points per dollar * $.005 = $0.02, or 2.0%

Now we can see that MyPoints' 10 points per dollar is worth more than 10 Greenpoints, 30 Freeride points, 48 Memolink points, and 4 ClubMom points...a LOT more, in fact!

And, now armed with this information, you can return to Sdrawer.com and compare what these points programs pay to what the straight percentage rebate programs are paying for Overstock.

Why do some rewards programs INSIST on using points? There are a couple of reasons. For one thing, paying rebates in the form of points confuses the consumer and hides what a program really is offering. In this example, it seems like the 48 points per dollar Memolink pays would be the best option...yet, when you calculate what the points are worth, you find that two other programs actually paid a higher percentage rebate. And ClubMom, with its "measly" 4 points per dollar, was really paying more than the 10 points per dollar Greenpoints offered.

Another benefit rewards programs have in offering points for their purchases is one I've mentioned before -- with a couple of keystrokes, they can increase the number of points it costs to cash out, instantly and retroactively devaluing your points (and thus, dropping the percentage rebate you earned on prior purchases). Sticking with a straight percentage cash rebate program takes that power away from the rewards program owners and keeps the cash in your account. If you'd prefer to go this route, you might want to stick with sites like Ebates, QuickRewards.net, and BabyMint, who tell you in clear percentage terms exactly what they pay for shopping.

Visa Debit Card Rewards

April 18th, 2006 at 07:41 am

If you're a U.S. resident with a Visa debit card issued by a U.S. bank, you may be eligible to receive points on your purchases that you can cash in for gift certificates.

Check to see if your issuing bank participates in the Visa Extras Rewards program. This program pays you one point per dollar for all purchases made with your Visa debit card that are not completed with a keypad and PIN -- in other words, if you use your debit card online or by phone, or if you choose "credit" at the keypad at checkout and then sign a receipt.

This is a free service offered by many banks (though the site says some banks may charge a fee for participation). You can enter your debit card number on the site to find out if your bank participates, without any obligation to enroll.

You'll get 1,000 points for signing up. Earn 1 point per dollar thereafter (remember, purchases you pay for by "debit" and use a PIN don't qualify). There are some bonus point offers available on their site as well.

Rewards include merchandise (Olympics pins, hats, and the like), magazine subscriptions, and gift cards to a variety of stores and restaurants.

A $5 GC costs 2,000 points... so you're not going to get blown away by your return, but if you were going to use your debit card anyway, at least you have the option of signing for your purchases and getting a little something back for your trouble.

Alternatives to MyPoints

April 17th, 2006 at 05:05 pm

If you are shopping online and not earning rebates on your purchases, you are throwing money away!

I've written about rewards programs, where you can earn shopping rebates (or points you can convert to cash or free gift certificates), for several years on my main website, CompareRewards.com, and I've been a member of these types of programs for about ten years.

I've put together a quick list of a few alternatives to MyPoints.com for people who might be concerned about their recent sale and want to try out something different.

ClubMom Rewards - earn gift cards or merchandise for shopping online and offline, with competitive rebates. Co-founded by Meredith Vieira of The View (and soon to be of The Today Show), ClubMom is one of the few sites that allows you to earn rebates on the purchase of gift cards. (If you like to eat at Chili's or Applebee's anyway, why not pay for it with a gift card you bought through ClubMom, earning 10 points per dollar, equal to a 5% rebate?)

Ebates - earn cash paid quarterly (by check or PayPal, when you've earned $5 or more) for shopping online, with pretty decent rebates. They have a great coupon center arranged alphabetically by merchant, so you can combine discount coupon codes with your rebate for extra savings.

QuickRewards.net - earn gift cards or cash for shopping online or completing various offers like signing up for newsletters. Plus, like MyPoints, earn cash for reading their daily email. Shopping rebates are very competitive and credit to your account very quickly (often within 24 hours). You can cash out to PayPal with no minimum and get paid usually the same day... or save up your earnings for a gift card or Disney Dollars.

These are just a few of my favorite rewards programs, but I've received rewards from all three, multiple times, and unlike MyPoints, I have a lot of confidence that they will be around a while (Ebates was launched in '98, QuickRewards in '03, and I think ClubMom's rewards program was also launched in '03).

MyPoints Sold

April 17th, 2006 at 01:26 pm

Last week, United Online (owner of Classmates.com, Juno, and NetZero, among others) bought MyPoints from United Airlines for $56 million.

How is this going to affect MyPoints members? Well, MyPoints has 1.4 million active members (around 4.5 million total), versus around 50 million for United Online (which isn't related to United Airlines, by the way). I imagine they'll try to roll some of their members into MyPoints. But then what?

So far they're not laying off MyPoints' staff, so it's not like they're walking into an empty office building with no knowledge of the rewards program business. They have money; there's no reason they'd shut the program down. But it's still a big question mark how things might change somewhere down the road.

Of course nothing's certain in life or in rewards programs...but points programs are more uncertain than straight cash rebate programs. Why? Because at a touch of a button, the points you earned can be devalued retroactively.

Example: Say you made a purchase at Overstock.com for $100 and earned 10 points per dollar for it, for a total of 1000 points.

Right now, at the current number of points to redeem, that's worth about $8.33. But if, say, they doubled the number of points required to redeem, all of a sudden, you just earned $4.17 worth of points. They halved your rebate...retroactively.

I'm a fan of MyPoints, don't get me wrong. I've been a member since 1999. But MyPoints has clearly been on a downhill slide.

MyPoints was bought by United Airlines in 2001 for $112.5 million, when it had 16 million members. United Online picked it up for $56 million with just 1.4 million active members (4.5 million total members).

Online shopping has exploded since 2001 -- yet MyPoints' membership base went from 16 million to 4.5 million (with under a third of those actually active members). Where did those 12 million+ members go? Why didn't MyPoints' membership GROW instead of shrinking, with so many more people shopping online?

I don't have the answer, just posing the question. There could be a lot of reasons -- competitors like uPromise, which does a much better job of marketing its program... Could be that early entrants into the rewards program scene, also fairly early internet subscribers, were younger, better educated, tech-savvy, and more adventurous online -- understanding the advantages to using a rewards program as a middleman between themselves and the merchant in order to get a rebate. Maybe MyPoints' members just had it with having the number of points required to cash out get increased once or twice a year.

Whatever the cause of its problems, I do know that MyPoints needs a serious investment in marketing if they plan to succeed. People need to know MyPoints is out there, what the benefits are to joining, and how to use the program properly. (Shut down the popup blockers before you shop, don't use coupon codes you got elsewhere, etc.) And customer service has GOT to be improved -- people submitting support tickets in FEBRUARY were getting a canned response about how things were busy from the holidays and response time would be delayed. That's just unacceptable, from a customer service standpoint.

It'll be interesting to watch how this all plays out, but for now, I don't have enough confidence in the program to do any business with them except clicking those BonusMails and doing their occasional surveys.