Loyalty cards are just not worth the loyalty

23:03, Jul 03 2012

Last year, I achieved one of my private life ambitions. After more than a decade of faithful FlyBuys swiping, I earned enough points to win a reward: a pair of Swanndri socks. I was thrilled.

Despite my joy, the fact that it had taken me 12 years to win a pair of socks was a little troubling. I looked through my wallet and found a card graveyard, useless little tokens of a modern life: Overland, Witchery, Farmers Club, FlyBuys, Airpoints, Onecard, Life Pharmacy, Radius, and Subway, to name but a few.

The other day, I totted up what I'd actually received from years – YEARS – of using them. The grand total was one free sub sandwich, one flight from Wellington to Nelson, and one pair of socks.

I must be a loyalty scheme's ideal customer – I have the points card, so I shop at the store, but not often or dramatically enough for it to cost them a bean in freebies. The points expire too quickly, and I cannot spend enough fast enough to keep up with them.

Countdown's Onecard is my biggest gripe. After spending a fortune on groceries recently, I wondered why in years of membership I'd never reached 200 points and received a coveted $15 voucher. I went on to the website and found out that I simply wasn't spending enough to meet their requirements. You have to shell out more than $2000 every three months – $167 a week – to get your $15 voucher, which is 0.75 per cent of what you've actually spent. Win!

Curious, I requested my Onecard points balance, which arrived in the post last week. It went back to April 2008, and of the measly 590 points I have earned since then, 525 have been wiped. After four years of digging for my Onecard, and mindlessly choosing the special chocolate promotion and special brand of toilet paper just to get a bonus point, I have 65 points in total.


Worse – their wretched points used to last a year, but now last only six months. And two years ago, they shortened the amount of time you had to earn the points, from four months to three. My 65 points will evaporate again soon. What a waste of energy.

I'm sure a lot of families do spend hundreds of dollars a week on groceries, and I would very much like to hear from you if so. Who has things so nicely organised that their mortgage, credit cards, petrol, insurance, power bills, and regular purchases are carefully calibrated to win them something new every few months? Bravo, if so. You're doing much better than I am. But for the rest of us, there doesn't seem to be any benefit at all.

Worse news: The UK's Daily Mail reported on Tuesday that a government unit set up to covertly change the dietary habits of Britons has been in talks with major supermarkets to gain access to their huge shopping databases. That's what bugs me the most about this – while I'm swiping, I'm providing all these companies with data that'll help them sell more crap to others.

The owner of FlyBuys, Loyalty New Zealand, declares itself "obsessed with helping our partners get to know and understand their customers and prospects better, so that they can build a stronger, more relevant relationship with these customers". To you and me, that means more insidious advertising.

That's why I'm not going to bother using my loyalty cards again – or at least, not until I have four teenage boys to feed. Spending more to save more, while giving personal data away for free? The whole exercise seems utterly pointless.


Thanks to everyone who emailed their own woodburner woes. One woman writes that she's installing a low-emissions woodburner, but without an NCC permit, complying with the Government's regulations but not local ones.

"We're comfortable with that," she says.

Lou had a tale to tell even worse than mine, missing out on the replacement deadline by four days. Their Enviro EF3 pellet burner from Switch Energy has the same ongoing problems as mine, all due to too much sawdust in the pellets.

He says: "Now I'm told I need to vacuum out the bottom of the hopper every time I fill up again. I'd sooner go out and chop firewood in the freezing cold, as I used to do, but at least I knew I would have plenty of natural heat, of my own making."

Nick Smith writes: "Your piece has not helped me persuade Linley we might get one." Sorry about that, Nick. And Lucy says that as "a practical greenie", she's hoping we can get pellet burners working up to standard soon. You and me both.