Squirreling Gone Wild #27: The Loyalty Card Workaround Plan

Do you ever use any customer loyalty cards, at restaurants or other businesses?

I’m usually not too involved with such cards, but I do keep a few around. When I visit a place, and see one, I’ll pick it up as long as I think there’s an opportunity to go back again.

Recently, I found what an old friend of mine liked to call an “arbitrage opportunity”.  This story will be the 27th edition of the Squirreling Gone Wild series.


I found a place in the area which offered a customer loyalty card that awarded a free sandwich after 7 purchases.  The place itself offered a quality, quick lunch,  and was close enough to where I’ve been working.  So, since I figured I’d go there again, I took the loyalty card that was offered to me.

As I took it, I was a bit preoccupied, so I didn’t really pay attention to what the guy behind the counter was saying about getting me “started” with stamp on the card.  Later, when I looked at the card, I realized what he meant was that he was giving me a card with a stamp on it already and he followed up by adding a stamp for my purchase. So, that was 2 stamps for one visit, on the first visit.  Nice. But, I didn’t think much about it after that.

The next visit, I was in line as he made that same offer to the customer ahead of me. I barely noticed, and wasn’t preoccupied with this loyalty card, but just remembered that I had the same experience. So, I remembered to pull out the loyalty card when I ordered.

First, he asked if I would like a loyalty card, and I said no thanks – I already had one. So, after I paid, he stamped the card.

The Discovery

As I was eating my sandwich, the thought entered my mind: had I not said anything, I would’ve gotten a new pre-stamped card plus another stamp for the purchase. That would have been 2 stamps for this transaction as well. Instead, I spoke up and said I already had a card, and got only one stamp out of this transaction.

For those of you keeping score at home, that’s 2 visits and 3 stamps thus far.

After I figured this out, I made a few more visits. The next time, I walked in and made sure I stood in line with the same guy there. Fortunately, he was working. Not sure if he even recognized me, but he again asked me if I wanted a loyalty card.

This time, I said “Yes”.  I repeated that same thing the next time I was in as well.  He never asked me I had a card, just if I wanted a loyalty card.

The Result

At this point, after those four visits, I was ready to try out my plan.  I walked in, and didn’t see that same guy there. No worries, let’s give this a try.

So, I ordered my lunch, and wasn’t even asked about the lunch card. No big deal, as I didn’t care. Rather, I pulled out the 3 cards that I had collected. Remember:

  • Card #1 = 3 stamps from Visits 1 and 2.
  • Card #2 = 2 stamps from Visit 3
  • Card #3 = 2 stamps from visit 4

Total stamps: 7.  This is what was needed for a free lunch. Unfortunately, the stamps were on different cards.

Never mind that. I asked the lady if I could combine the 3 separate cards since there were 7 stamps in total.

She paused, thought about it, and said “yeah, sure”. And just like that, my sandwich was free!

The Benefit

Normally, 7 visits equaled 7 stamps. That’s what it should have taken to get the free sandwich.

With the stamp-happy guy, it would have been 6 visits for the 7 stamps. 2 stamps the first visit, one for each subsequent visit.

With the plan I hatched, it turned out to be 4 visits for 7 stamps.

Net result: 2 fewer visits for a sandwich. All due to some creative thinking.

OK, OK.  This isn’t a big accomplishment. In fact, I probably didn’t act my age in this one instance, and was perhaps scheming like a broke college kid here:) I know that.  Maybe it’s even along the lines of the guy I know who used delight in saving pennies at the gas station

It’s all good though, and in fun. The bottom line is, it’s just the thrill of using your brain to creatively think of ways to save, while simply asking for the discount.  It’s fun! Again, it never hurts to ask. 

My Questions for You:

Do you ever think of creative ways to save, such as the plan above.

Do you ever get a thrill out of small savings opportunities, even if minor such as this example?


  1. says

    That’s clever! I often think of these strategies but don’t have the guts or the sufficient desire to “arbitrage” to go through with them and risk the wrath of employees or social norms. I also worry about the ethics a bit. Is the arbitrage okay even if the likely intent of use was 7 visits, 7 stamps? He’s not forging them and they give them out freely, but there’s some doubt in my mind.

    • Squirrelers says

      No Debt MBA,

      Good questions. I think there’s a line that we all have to watch, and we should always trust our gut when it comes to integrity. Never want to compromise integrity to make or save money, in my view!

      In this case, they offered a free sandwich for 7 stamps. I might assume that the idea is that 7 visits = 7 stamps. However, they willingly – and without being asked – offered two stamps when giving a new card. That’s the first point. Next, when I later picked up new cards, they weren’t asking if I already have one. They simply offered a card to me on their own on subsequent visits. Finally, when I presented the 7 stamps on multiple cards, I did in fact have what they specifically asked for: 7 stamps. I simply asked if those 7 stamps will work even if they’re on different cards, and they said yes.

      So, as I look at it anyway, I obtained the stamps directly from them as provided, and simply spoke up and took a chance by asking if I could combine the cards. If they said no, I would have been totally fine with it. Either way I’d be cool with it, but it doesn’t hurt to ask, right?

  2. says

    That strategy would never work in my college town where most of the restaurant workers remembered you if you’d been there before. Now my local coffee shop in the city won’t even give me two stamps if I buy two drinks! They will only give me one stamp per visit… It’s like the opposite of gaming the system…

    • Squirrelers says

      Kellen – I suppose every business has it’s policies, some stricter than others. If they want one per visit, then one per visit it is! Of course, it doesn’t hurt to ask for another stamp if you bought a 2nd drink, as long as we accept their decision to turn us down if they do.

    • Squirrelers says

      cashflowmantra – I suppose it is what it is in some cases, right? Your pizza experience is probably typical, which is why my situation with the lunch place was an “arbitrage” opportunity.

    • Squirrelers says

      Robert – funny stuff. Yeah, I do agree with you, not a good move to actually do what you were thinking of doing:)

  3. says

    I use loyalty cards as well as rewards credit cards. I also use dining networks to accumulate frequent flier miles. I have never been offered multiple stamps, but I would gladly take them. I usually bring my lunch so my only opportunity is for dinners out.

      • says

        This is interesting. I’ll have to think on this one. Maybe I’ll write a post on it. :)

        But at the very least, you might be part of why they stop offering the freebie stamp at the beginning of the card.

        • Squirrelers says

          I feel great about getting a sandwich for less visits. As long as we’re totally honest and behave with integrity (which I absolutely did), we should feel good about creatively getting a deal.

          It’s fun when you can get one creatively and have the guts to ask. Sometimes it’s just a matter of asking, which can be really tough for some. It was very tough for me over the years, but I’ve learned to just ask.

  4. says

    Awesome job! I don’t think it’s immature or anything like that, rather it’s smart of you. You play the game, not make the rules.

    -Ravi Gupta

  5. says

    Hey, the stamps are freely offered by the business. You’re just collecting them, and cashing them in later. Nothing to feel “dirty” about. 4 visits, 7 visits, big deal. The sandwich shop makes more profit on the drink you might have purchased.
    And a free sandwich is a free sandwich.

    • Squirrelers says

      101 Centavos – my sentiments exactly! I agree with you, there is nothing to feel dirty about.

  6. says

    I will admit this since we’re family. Okay, I’ve done juvenile things to take advantage. There’s a guy down in the Dunkin Donuts that likes me. I will purposely order a small drink knowing that he will give ma a large. Or I order 2 munchkins and he gives me 6 or seven.

    Separately, the lunch chart guy piles me late container with food for 2 days. It’s so obvious that he likes me that 2 coworkers will go to him when I am there. Horrible, horrible, horrible. But, I never ask for it, and I always smile sweetly and thank them.

    • Squirrelers says

      MoneyCone – I wonder what kind of expression I was wearing on my face as I was eating and thinking of this type of thing simultateously. Must have looked totally zoned out:) Have to admit, if I was with others that day I wouldn’t have had the time to think of anything like this.

  7. says

    I’d feel too bad combining them like that because of the “starter” stamps, but I’ve got to say it would be a good solution to all of these partially filled cards I’ve got laying around from a local restaurant. One thing I love about that restaurant though is that they let you get one stamp per person eating (even though it’s a sit-down restaurant), so you can potentially fill up a whole card in one visit if you have a crowd.

  8. says

    I really don’t like those punch cards because I have to keep track of them between visits. So, I’ve never successfully filled one. I’m impressed you kept all 3 cards!

    However, my husband and I do skirt around the rules at grocery stores on product limits. We each get our own cart and pay separately so it’s two separate transactions.

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