Easy ways to access free perks from rewards programs
By John Vogan
In a struggling economy with rising food and gas prices, not to mention the increasing cost of college tuition and living expenses—the cost to attend Ithaca College is estimated to be $48,132 next year—what student wouldn’t want free perks and benefits? While many loyalty rewards programs have the outward appearance of catering VIP treatment only to those with loads of money to burn, many would be surprised how easy it is to actually cash in on the perks that ordinary purchases can earn. All the savvy shopper has to do to access these rewards is make sure they’re enrolled in the programs and determine their strategyto take full advantage of them.
The “Friendly (with Benefits) Skies”
For those students who came far from home to attend IC or for anyone interested in traveling abroad, becoming a member of a frequent flyer program makes a lot of sense. It used to be that only travelers who flew a minimum of 25,000 miles or more could even have access to benefits like free checked bags, first class upgradesand priority boarding. But thanks to new airline promotions moving up to elite status may be easier than you think.
Just take US Airways, for example. Last summer, it offered a free 90-Day “Silver Preferred” trial status, which entitled participants to all silver benefits, including two free checked bags and unlimited first class upgrades whenever seats are available.
Checked luggage usually costs $25 a pop, that benefit alone is a pretty good deal. Southwest Airlines offers two free checked bags and awards that can be redeemed in as little as four paid flights.
Tim Winship, an online editor for smartertravel.com and an expert in the science of frequent flyer programs, offers several pieces of advice when navigating through the different programs and figuring out which one works best for you.
“Many [travelers] could be earning many more awards by focusing their mileage-earning in a single program,” he said. Most students find themselves searching for the cheapest flight on Expedia or Orbitz, so the miles they earn are spread over a number of airlines and don’t amount to much.
Red Carpet Treatment at the Cinemas
Enjoying a flick at the movie theaters is another luxury that has become exceedingly expensive over the last several years. Adults now pay about $10 at Regal Cinemas for a single ticket, which doesn’t include a small soda or bag of popcorn ($4.75 each). What many movie-goers aren’t aware of, however, are the freebies they could be earning simply by using a Regal Crown Club card.
Sarah Reeves, a freshman at Seattle Pacific University who works for a local Regal Cinemas, encourages students to join the free program, especially since tickets are pricey enough as it is.
“You get a point for every dollar you spend, which adds up fast,” she said. The program issues rewards after every 50 points earned and alternate a cycle of a free drink, free popcorn, and best of all, free movie ticket. Reeves said anyone who joins the Crown Club will also get coupons for concession stand discounts each time they buy a ticket.
Perks for What Perks You Up
Cornell and IC students alike are major coffee drinkers. Of course local cafes are plentiful in Ithaca, but caffeine addicts and those looking for a good place to study frequent Starbucks.
Unfortunately, the major coffee company has recently announced a raise in prices for the beloved drinks that many find themselves craving on a regular basis. It’s unlikely that they’ll want to give up their coffee fix, but paying to sustain this habit can perhaps at least be slightly more justified with added perks. Starbucks Rewards is a program that automatically keeps track of purchases once you register your card online. For every purchase, customers earn a “star.” Members get perks like free refills on brewed coffee or tea, and once they earn 30 stars, they receive a personalized “Gold Card” with their name on it, which rewards buyers with a free drink every 15 stars and coupons for freebies.
Panera, another favorite among college students, also has a free program called MyPanera.
“I just registered for it this semester and cannot believe how much free stuff I get,” said Lauren Ryan, a senior at Ithaca College. “Every few times I go there I get either a free pastry or drink. I love it when I can order a strawberry smoothie without having to pay for it.”
John Vogan is a freshman journalism major who’d go broke checking bags if it weren’t for “Gold” status. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.