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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.

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