Green Shield stamps began our love affair with reward schemes. Now Alison Brace takes a long, hard look at where our loyalties should lie.
Are you feeling loyalty-schemed out? Then it's time to take stock of all those plastic cards in your wallet and rationalise. Since the demise of the Green Shield Stamp the UK's first beloved rewards scheme consumer loyalty has become a complex issue worthy of diploma status.
Green Shield stamps came unstuck in 1973 and turned into Argos. Airmiles, launched 15 years later, now holds the record for being the longest-running loyalty programme.
Now, it seems, it has earned another plaudit. As well as being the oldest scheme, according to research, its points are worth the most by far in the consumer rewards marketplace.
Each Airmile you gain is worth 7.8p, according to moneysavingexpert.com, compared with Tesco Clubcard points, which are worth just 1p in store or Nectar points, which eke out to little more than half a pence each.
Many consumers still believe Airmiles are for frequent fliers only and have long since dumped their statements in the filing cabinet or bin. But since the company, owned by British Airways, started linking up with retailers in 2005, it has had far less to do with planes and now prefers to be known as a "frequent buyers" scheme. And its rewards are no longer all flights.
If you think you have Airmiles somewhere, but have long since lost the paperwork, it's easy to reinstate your account either by visiting their website at www.airmiles.co.uk or calling 0870 55 777 22.
Some 120 retailers now give away Airmiles as long as you pay through the programme's website. Also, the major ferry companies award Airmiles, as well as Shell and Southern Electric. Airmiles, owned by British Airways, also teamed up this summer with Lloyds TSB to offer Airmiles on its new Duo credit card. There are 500 bonus miles awarded just for signing up.
In reality, earning Airmiles is not dissimilar to gluing in those Green Shield stamps it is a loyalty scheme that does not rely on your loyalty to one retailer.
So, if you believe your loyalty is wearing a little thin with an array of different retailers, then Airmiles could be the way to streamline your rewards.
You can shop the high street and channel your points through one rewards system. If you convert your Tesco Clubcard vouchers into Airmiles, for instance, pound;2.50 will give you 60 Airmiles. If you spend pound;100 a week at Tesco, you will earn 1,248 Airmiles over a year enough for two annual passes to Legoland, or return flights to Zurich, Vienna or Amsterdam.
Similarly, for every pound;5 spent at John Lewis online, you earn one mile. But Martin Lewis of moneysavingexpert.com warns that because of budget airlines, flights are no longer "fancy".
"In general, after evaluating the points' worth, using Airmiles for experiences such as the London Eye and Legoland proves better value than flights and car hire," he says.
If you're curious about the true value of your loyalty scheme points and whether you'd be better getting rid of them take a look at moneysavingexpert.com's loyalty point checker. Here you can check against 40 different schemes.
"Once points' values are transparent, you can clinically assess their worth," says Martin. "The golden rule is never choose where you shop because of loyalty schemes, yet shop somewhere with a scheme and always use it. Watch for the vicious circle of loyalty."
GET YOUR JUST REWARDS
Take stock of your reward cards and ditch those that really aren't worth your long-term commitment.
Scheme What each point is worth
BA Miles 0.7p
WH Smith 0.1p
Boots Advantage 0.1p
(in store) 1p
Tesco Clubcard (Deals) 4p
What Airmiles can buy
5,200 flight to New York
3,500 health spa day for two
1,700 off-road driving session
1,300 dozen bottles of wine
525 Legoland annual pass
180 adult ticket for London Eye