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Best ways to take advantage of reward points

June 23, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Reward points can be easy to get, but when it comes to claiming the points, you could end up frustrated and sitting on a stockpile of unredeemed points.

Americans racked up about $48 billion in reward points last year. In fact, research shows the average household has 18 loyalty program memberships, but nearly one third of the points are never redeemed.

Karen Stealey wanted was a free exercise bike to add to her home gym. The working mom saved up her credit card points for years.

Melissa Cenker wanted to use her reward points on a flight to Hawaii. She even paid for grad school and business expenses with plastic to save enough miles.

"We were stock piling and watching them add up," she said.

But when these women tried to cash in their points, they hit a dead end.

"I tried to buy the bike for about six months, and every single time I went on, it was out of stock," Stealey said.

Stealey's bike was finally discontinued, and Cenker said when she was ready to book her flight, it was no longer available.

"That was the only date that worked for us," she said.

Stealey and Cenker aren't the only frustrated consumers. Though the Better Business Bureau doesn't track complaints about points programs specifically, it does tell say that a quick review of its credit card file shows hundreds of complaints about rewards.

According to a recent survey, at least $16 billion in rewards points go unredeemed every year. That's about $205 wasted per U.S. household.

The top reasons people don't redeem rewards are they forget or don't have enough points. Some sites charge you a fee to sell or trade points. The chairwoman of the Retail and Advertising Marketing Association does admit that not all programs make it easy for you to claim your prize.

"It's really the fault of the business. If we make it so hard for you to redeem your cards then we failed you," she said.

How can you be sure you get your reward? Well, before you sign up for a program:

  • Know the rules about a company's program
  • Pick the one that has the lowest point requirement to get a reward
  • Stick to that retailer or use that one credit card to reach your goal faster

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