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Monday, April 15, 2013

Reward programs and freebies: Breaking my own rules

So it's been a very, very quiet weekend.  There are some tax freebies out there, but nothing that fits into my realm.

Today, and one day last week, I broke one of my own rules: Never buy something just for the freebie.  It's like getting a mileage credit card and paying 24% interest.

But what if the freebie is worth more than what you purchased?  It's for the churners who get the miles and pay off the balance at the end of each month.  Which you do, right?  Because if you are reading this blog and paying a double-digit interest rate on your credit card, that makes me sad.  In my case, that's the way it turned out.

My single favorite rewards app is Mobee, which gives you points for filling out short surveys on local chain restaurants.  Alas, the only restaurants covered are in Boston, but I'm hoping they'll expand.

Mobee has made a number of changes to the program over the past several months as it attempts to hit sustainable profitability, but one of my favorites is the move to dynamic pricing.  The concept is simple: if they need more reviews from a local restaurant, they'll up the rewards.

Last week, a local deli had a bonanza: 2,000 points for filling out eight quick surveys.  That translates to $20.  I did have to buy something for the survey, but it could have been the cheapest item on the menu; I only needed a receipt.  That $20 more than offset the $8 salad I bought.  Would I have gone there for lunch anyway?  Probably not.  Was I happy to get a salad and an extra $12 for free?  You betcha.

I got a little hosed today, so here's where to watch out.  I have the good fortune to work right in downtown Boston, so there are about 400 restaurants within a few square blocks.  Granted, about half of those are at Quincy Market, where no self-respecting Bostonian would eat*, but I still never know what to have for lunch.  Fortunately, Au Bon Pain also had the 2,000 point offer, four surveys at 500 points each.  So I bought my sandwich and did my first survey.  And then the other three surveys disappeared.  Oops.  That sandwich ended up costing me $2 after subtracting out my points, but apparently, I'm not as smart as I think I am.


*It is considered acceptable to walk through Quincy Market and make a lunch out of all the samples that the vendors hand out.  I recommend the Chicken Teriyaki at Megumi's and the mac & cheese samples right next to it.

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