Another Shopping Rewards Club? Count Us In

Joyce Eisenberg and Ellen Scolnic write, speak and blog together as The Word Mavens.

As we waited in the airport for a flight back to Philadelphia, we glanced at our boarding passes and were pleasantly surprised to see Group 1 printed at the bottom. Group 1? We are usually in Group 4, along with the woman who forgot she had a 24-ounce bottle of shampoo in her purse.

When the agent announced that the plane was ready for priority boarding, we got up from the plastic seats, ready to go. Then he welcomed those seated in first class.

Then families with small children were “welcome to board.”

Then, “any uniformed members of the Armed Forces.” That seemed fair.

We moved toward the front. Group 1 had to be next.

Then he called for “all members of the Admirals Club, the Advantage Club and those with elite status: the diamond, ruby and emerald credit card holders.”

What credit card did we buy these plane tickets with?

By the time all the “special people” had boarded, we were left standing alone. Turns out that Group 1 wasn’t very special after all.

We don’t recall even being invited to join the Elite Diamond Club.

Many other clubs do want us as members, and not a day goes by without them emailing us with offers of bonus points, free food, rewards and advantages. Sometimes the advantages are dubious, but if you ask us, we’ll likely sign up. We once stood in line to try a cronut and found ourselves signing up for the Delicious Cronut Loyalty Club just in case we ever had the urge to spend $5 again on a trendy iced pastry in a city we rarely visited.

When the clerk in the frozen yogurt store looked at our cups overflowing with Oreo cookie crumbs and wet walnuts, she asked, “Do you want to join our Frequent Eater Yummy Yogurt Club?” We couldn’t resist. We were hoping that the next time we flipped the handle to start the flow of mint chocolate chip, she’d announce: “All members of the super secret Yummy Yogurt Club get free jimmies today.”

We couldn’t resist joining the Shmeer Society at the local bagel store either. But didn’t they used to give you a free bagel when you bought a dozen without making you join their club?

Between us, we now belong to about two dozen loyalty programs. That’s a lot of loyalty.

We can remember a time when we guarded our privacy, reluctant to divulge our email addresses and phone numbers to strangers. But now that we – and everyone else on the planet – can see the front of our houses on Google Maps, we know that privacy is a pipe dream, and registering for all of these rewards clubs doesn’t help.

At the drugstore, the employee at the register prods us to enter our Plenti rewards program number before she’ll even think about ringing up our greeting cards and Q-tips. “You get points and some money off,” she chirps happily every time. We do as we’re told, but invariably we get Plenti of nothin’. At the competing chain, our reward is a coupon for $4 off – next week. Since we just bought $45 worth of cold medicine, it’s unlikely we’ll need to come back in time to use that coupon. It’ll expire on the floor of our car.

We do like our supermarket loyalty program, which provides instant gratification. After we rack up hundreds of dollars in groceries, we scan our super shopper card and watch the discounts pile up. Blueberries: minus $2.50. English muffins: minus 50 cents. At the end of the receipt is the proof: We saved $16.76. Woo-hoo! This will cover our impulse purchases of caramel sea salt gelato and organic cucumber face wash.

Even though the club cards clutter up our wallets, we prefer them to clipping coupons and then searching for each item in the store. We never mastered the art of extreme couponing. We’ve downloaded some reward apps that promise to keep track of what we eat and what we earn, but it’s hard to remember our user name and password. When we do log on, we have to swipe through five screens to choose our salad ingredients and get credit for our purchase.

What do these loyalty clubs get us? When a friend wanted to get a quick appointment with a world-famous gastroenterologist, her membership in the Rita’s Water Ice Cool Customer Club didn’t impress the receptionist enough to get her in to see the doctor.

If only she had been a member of the Elite Diamond Club. That would have put her at the front of the line.


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