The last two posts focused on lucrative credit card sign up bonuses. These will be a great benefit to our plans and we’ll likely discuss a few more opportunities in the months to come. However, we also mentioned that not every post is going to be about credit cards. Today we’d like to make good on that promise and instead talk about what we like to refer to as “peripheral travel tools.”
These are things that will help along the way, but aren’t necessarily a main focus.
Shopkick & CheckPoints
Shopkick and CheckPoints are apps where you earn points for walking into stores and scanning items. So as an example, you might receive say 25 “kicks” from Shopkick to walk into Target and perhaps 75 or 150 kicks to scan various items. The typical item might provide 10 or 25 kicks depending. CheckPoints works the same way, but instead they call them “points.”
Once you accumulate kicks or points, you can redeem them for gift cards at places like Target, Wal-Mart, CVS, Best Buy, Starbucks, Papa John’s and those sorts of places. There are dozens of possibilities, but you get the idea: retailers and restaurants mostly.
It depends on the retailer, but these apps require about 250 kicks or 340 points for each $1 worth of gift card redemption. So in the example above you might receive say 125 kicks for your visit to Target, which equates to a gift card value of about 50 cents.
Like we said, this is peripheral stuff – it’s nowhere near as lucrative. And if it requires to you drive say 15 minutes (or perhaps even any minutes) it’s probably not worth your time. On the other hand, if you happen to be at or near a group of stores anyway it can be a fun side trip.
It’s sort of like if you were at Wal-Mart and someone told you that a quarter was lying on aisle 7. A lot of people may not spend the time to go grab that. Us? We’re happy to, even if we didn’t have any particular reason to be in that area – it’s exercise and a few cents.
Anyway, we’ve been doing this for quite some time and the benefits start to add up. For a long time, this meant generating perhaps $10 or $20 here and there, redeem the points for a gift card and use it on a grocery trip – it was a nice bonus.
More recently we’ve been saving up the points and we just recently redeemed a few hundred dollars’ worth in Wal-Mart gift cards. Now this could be used for groceries, but it can be applied for travel as well.
The gift cards come in the form of a barcode on your phone, which you can scan at the register. Our preference is to go to the service desk and ask for the e-gift card to be turned into a physical card.
The physical card can obviously be spent the same as the electronic one, but the physical card has an additional benefit. Wal-Mart gift cards can be used at Sam’s Club. Sam’s Club has gas stations, often with very reasonable gas prices. And it’s a whole lot easier to buy gas with an actual gift card instead of a picture on your phone. So now we’ve turned scanning say laundry detergent into covering upcoming gas purchases.
It’s not worth your time to focus on this primarily, but as a peripheral activity there is some appeal.
If you’d like to try it out, you can use this link for Shopkick – as a bonus, you’ll get $2 worth of gift cards and we’ll get $2. Here’s a link to the main CheckPoints page – you can use the code “echeck” when signing up. We’ll receive a bonus depending on how much you use the app in the first two weeks. The benefit to you isn’t quite as clear, so this could very well be a purely philanthropic effort
The Wal-Mart gift card can aid in travel in other ways as well.
Hotels.com is a booking website, just like Priceline or Expedia (indeed, Expedia actually owns it). There’s a feature where you can exchange all sorts of gift cards for a Hotels.com gift card. The ratio can actually be pretty good depending on the retailer. So for instance, currently you could trade a $100 Wall-Mart gift card for a $103.24 Hotels.com gift card.
That’s an interesting chain of events. You’ve gone from periodically scanning random items for a few months to obtaining a Wal-Mart gift card to being able to book a hotel night. We may or may not end up going this route, but it’s nice to learn about these sort of things as we plan our adventures.
Hotels.com can be interesting for other reasons as well. For every 10 nights stayed, you in effect get 10% off with the “11th night free.” Jeremy and Winnie, at the website Go Curry Cracker, have put out a couple of great posts on this topic:
Never Pay Retail Again (Where they talk about buying discounted Hotels.com gift cards.)
Incidentally, Staples is currently running an in-store promotion offering $10 off each $50 Hotels.com gift card which goes through this Saturday April 1st. (And no, this isn’t a preemptive April Fool’s joke.) It’s an offer that comes up from time to time.
If you’re not looking to book a hotel anytime soon, this deal is probably not that appealing. On the other hand, if you do have some travel plans lined up, 20% off a hotel you might book anyway on one of the other sites is certainly compelling.
e-Rewards is a survey website that we stumbled upon through Southwest. Airlines naturally give miles for flights, but they have ventured out into all sorts of additional things like partnering with rental cars, hotels, restaurants, online shopping and even survey websites.
This has been a reasonable complement. So far we have earned over 10,000 Rapid Reward points using e-Rewards in the last half year or so, which we’d place a value on of ~$150.
The surveys range in length from a few minutes to 30 minutes or more. It’s the same as above – as a primary activity there are better things you can do with your time; the hourly rate is quite poor. However, if you’re trying to avoid watching commercials or waiting for water to boil or something, taking a survey doesn’t require much effort.
None of these items are going to play a major role in our planning. However, you can see the incremental benefits start to stack up. Over the past say half year we’ve begun to stock pile some peripheral tools for our travels. Fifty cents, as an example, certainly isn’t much on any given day.
Yet eventually those half dollars add up to a few hundred here and a few hundred there and after awhile you have a nice little bonus – like a few “free” hotel nights, a consistently full tank of gas for a lengthy road trip or some flights paid with points. Every little bit works towards the common goal.