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Do you know how to play the loyalty card game?

loyalty cards

Nine out of ten of us has at least one loyalty card, but are they a plastic menace or a golden ticket for those dedicated to reaping their rewards?

It’s time to own up. Until I started my research and surveying members months ago, I was one of the 7% without a loyalty card, but now I’m becoming an aficionado.

I remember getting a real buzz as a child, sticking Green Shield stamps into a book for my mum, and this feels a bit similar.

Because, the truth is that to really see the benefit of most of these cards you need to put a fair bit of time and effort into playing the loyalty game.

Here are some of the do’s and don’ts:


  • Shop at the optimum time. For example, stock up when Boots has a mega Advantage Card points weekend (spend over £50), or gives you a double points voucher and has the products you need on a three-for-two offer.
  • Research loyalty scheme partners that make your points go furthest. For instance, some Tesco Clubcard partners, such as Hilton and Mercure Hotels, Hampton Court Palace and the Eden Project,  offer two to four times the face value of Clubcard vouchers. Check the company’s own offers as you often can’t combine them.
  • Get points when you’d use partners anyway. If you buy white goods at Curry’s, why not get Nectar points at the same time?
  • Combine discounts. For example, get a double discount when your myWaitrose Pick Your Own choice (20% off) is also on multi-buy.


  • Don’t let points expire. Most points expire in one to two years on unused accounts. The bigger loyalty schemes can convert unwanted points to charity.
  • Don’t let loyalty cards change your loyalties. For example, a myWaitrose Pick Your Own offer gives 20% off a 130g bag of wild rocket (mixed leaf) salad, taking the price from £1.99 down to £1.59. But if you usually shop in Asda, a similar 120g bag of watercress, spinach and rocket salad is £1 without any discounts.

Card task

Of course, with every loyalty card success comes frustration in equal measure.

I booked a Virgin East Coast Trains journey in January using my Nectar card with the promise that I’d accrue 1,000 Nectar points in the process.

Believe me, it took some doing, so where are those promised points now? I’ve seen hide nor hair of them. In my heart of hearts, I know there was probably something I missed – likely in the terms and conditions.

Then there was the time when I thought I’d get that mega-discount on hugely expensive electric toothbrush heads in Boots, but they were excluded from the dental promotion.

As for myWaitrose points – can I really be bothered to search for the right pack size and product to get the benefit of its Pick Your Own 20% discount on ten products? Or will I feel robbed if I don’t?

How do you feel about loyalty cards? Scourge or cash cow? And, if you’re an aficionado, what tips and tricks have you picked up on your plastic-fantastic journey?


The only ones I get any real benefit from are Boots, Holland & Barrett and Nero Coffee.

Why? Because I don’t have to go to extraordinary lengths to use them. H&B even look you up if you forget your card so you don’t miss out on spending or receiving your points.

MyWaitrose is too much hassle. I could only find 8 out of 10 items that I would buy on a regular basis, and now have been told I have to choose again.

M&S Sparks is also hassle. I logged in to find out I had missed 3 promotions and to wait for the next one. What is the point? I don’t shop there often enough to be bothered with it.

Nectar is also hassle. If they are going to give you extra points for shopping in Sainsbury’s then give them. Why make us jump through hoops to add the promotion to your card?

Loyalty should work both ways. If they want our loyalty, then stop making us jump through hoops for it.

Stefan says:
30 July 2017

I agree with you.


I also find them too much of a faff. They [and account cards] seem designed to let the retailer bombard you with daily drivel, Waitrose in particular and M&S not far behind. We only use Waitrose occasionally, don’t seem to have a card although we are registered and have a ref. no., and can’t be bothered to work out how to get any advantage from the promotions without buying things we don’t want [which, obviously, is the second purpose of these cards].

The Tesco Clubcard seems to be the most useful as we get points from our energy supplier as well as points on our shopping so every month we get £5-£6 worth of vouchers that can be spent in Tesco just like cash. This is simple and straightforward. Nectar isn’t bad although we only use it in Sainsbury’s, BP and Homebase and the points can easily be converted into money off our shopping, but I do not understand why, every time we go through the checkout in Sainsbury’s, we end up with a handful of bits of paper with an inconsistent array of offers on things we have just stocked up on and won’t be needing more of before the coupons expire. We invariably forget to take these vouchers with us when we go out so they never get used; if everyone used them to the max then they would surely be scrapped so hopefully some people benefit from the scheme but it seems very cumbersome for so little commercial benefit and the entire cost of the extensive Nectar operation goes on our bills somewhere.

The loyalty card we are most baffled by is the M&S Sparks card. We have had one since it was launched but have yet to find anything within their complicated promotion system with specified products, limited timings, etc, that suits our needs at the time they are offered. Being thirty miles away does not help but the main problem seems to be that the promotions do not relate in any way to the things we have bought, or might want to buy, in M&S. So we have accumulated tens of thousands of points but have nothing to show for it! It seems to me to be a stock-shifting exercise and not tailored to our ages or tastes in clothes or anything else.

With all stores, we buy things when we need to and not when the retailer would like us to. If the points do not convert into spending money on anything in the store over a reasonable timescale then they are useless and we can do without the ludicrous e-mails. I sometimes wonder what the administration cost of all these schemes is and how much it is adding to the price of goods. Perhaps these are deemed to be customer benefits that big companies are constantly being exhorted to put forward as part of their consumer engagement policies and corporate social responsibility programmes!


John – I registered for a Tesco Clubcard when they were launched. Soon after I received a phone call from the one of their staff and I made it quite clear that I did not want any more nuisance calls from them. Since then, I believe that all I have received is a points statement with vouchers every two or three months.


Tesco leave us alone as well, I am pleased to report. There have been no e-mails or phone calls since I had the card and the only thing we get now is the monthly vouchers and statement. They have cut out some of their confusing refund schemes and stopped giving discount vouchers against specific products, so in my view the Clubcard is the model loyalty card. Their remaining promotion, the brand price guarantee, is useful for the pennies it returns from time to time but it is really an admission of their failure to compete against the other major supermarkets and I think it only works if you buy ten or more branded [not own-label] products – I’m not sure; I take the money and run.


I Totally agree with everything you have written. It used to be seen as a way of creating the “feel good factor”: the benevolent shop giving its loyal customers a reward for shopping at their store. Green Shield Stamps began the craze, but rewarding It never was, and is never even more “was”, now, since, as you rightly say, the offers are mostly useless in stock or expiry dates. Taken seriously, they annoy more than they promote, and taken frivolously, they end up in the bin. Tesco has almost halved the dividend on their loyalty card and mine coughs up far less each quarter as a result. I earn a few pence each month on my Club Card Plus balance and about three pounds a quarter on my Shell card, which cost me nothing except what I lose by paying more for the fuel. You really can’t win and I agree that this particular con wastes resources and does nothing for the consumer. Yet there are those with enough time to scour the world for coupons and who derive great satisfaction when they get a two pizzas for the price of one.

Gordon Eden says:
16 February 2017

I shop where the price is best and make no reference whatsoever to the “loyalty cards”. These cards are a rip-off really to get you to shop in their store. You may gain some small benefit but if you take the trouble to shop around then that benefit is cancelled out by prices being cheaper elsewhere. The truth is that I cannot be bothered to mess about with them, and if I receive any such literature in the post they go straight in the recycling bin. I have too much else in life than to concern myself with loyalty cards. Rant over!


Loyalty cards do not make the slightest difference to me at the end of the day its all about price, anyone or any store that tries to rip me off with ridiculous prices simply does not get my custom.