Make your birthday extra special – and extra affordable – by scoring free gifts and perks from a plethora of loyalty programs. Here’s what you need to know.
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“Who doesn’t love free stuff, especially on their birthday?,” says Rebecca Gramuglia, shopping expert at TopCashback.com.
Gramuglia says loyalty can pay off if it yields birthday extras. “From following your favorite brand on social media to scouring the internet for freebies, you can find a plentiful number of freebies, deals and discounts at popular stores and chains,” she says.
If you’ve got a birthday coming up soon, here’s how to rack up free swag on your special day.
See related: Annual card bonuses shower extra rewards for loyalty
5 ways to make your birthday extra special
Find out who offers the best birthday freebies
Rachel Dix-Kessler, consumer advocate for comparison site finder.com, says to start by making a list of rewards programs for the companies and brands you like and use most often.
“From there, you should take the time and research these programs, read the fine print and consider giving a customer service agent a call to ask about potential benefits or rewards,” she says.
To save you some time, here are some of the most popular birthday rewards programs, as recommended by the experts:
|Sephora Beauty Insider: Get one free birthday gift per year (choose from beauty products or rewards program bonus points, depending on your membership tier).||Starbucks: Get a free food or drink item on your birthday.||Destination Hotels: 20% discount on your stay, along with unique birthday treats at Destination Hotels locations.|
|CVS ExtraCare Beauty Club: Get one free beauty item on your birthday annually.||TGI Friday’s: Free birthday dessert.||IHG Rewards: Get 1,000 bonus points for your birthday.|
|American Eagle/Aerie: 15% off birthday discount.||Chili’s: Free birthday dessert.||LEGOLAND: Kids under 12 get free admission on their birthday through 2019.|
|Ulta: Free birthday gift, plus earn 2X points in your birthday month.||LongHorn Steakhouse: Free birthday dessert.||Wyndham Hotels and Resorts: 20% discount, plus unique birthday perks at select locations.|
|J. Crew Factory: 20% and free shipping on your birthday.||Firehouse Subs: Free medium sub.|
|AMC Stubs Premiere: Free large popcorn and large drink on your birthday.||Denny’s: Free Grand Slam breakfast.|
|World Market: Special birthday offer.||Baskin Robbins – Free scoop, plus a $3 off coupon.|
Ask for birthday perks if you can’t find them online
While many retail and restaurant brands tell you what you could get for your birthday on their website, you may have to do some digging when it comes to travel loyalty programs.
Airlines or hotels may not advertise birthday perks online, so don’t shy away from asking about them, says Dix-Kessler. And always confirm whether a birthday freebie is available when booking flights, hotel stays or other travel expenses if you’re a loyalty program member.
Pick the perks with the most value
Do your research before taking advantage of any birthday perks or programs, says Gramuglia. That means asking questions such as:
- Will you need to spend a minimum amount to receive a birthday freebie?
- Do you have to be enrolled for a certain amount of time before you can claim a birthday gift?
- If the program is tiered, is there a certain level or status you need to reach to snag a birthday reward?
Smashbox, for example, sends birthday gifts to middle- and top-tier members of its loyalty program. Qualification for those tiers is linked to how much you spend each year.
Most loyalty programs don’t require anything other than your time to sign up, but it’s still important to be selective, says Dix-Kessler.
“You always want to assess the work versus the reward and consider how often you’ll need to use the loyalty program to earn your birthday freebie,” she says.
Dix-Kessler also says to weigh the value of the perk against how much you spend through the program. With Destination Hotels, for instance, 20 percent off is enticing but consider how much you’re really saving if you’re paying a higher room rate than you would at another hotel just to get the discount.
She and Gramuglia agree that skipping a program altogether makes sense if it’s not a brand you love.
“Be smart; don’t just enroll in a program because the freebie is tempting,” says Gramuglia. “If you don’t shop with a particular retailer, hotel, airline, etc., odds are you probably won’t take advantage of the membership perks.”
See related: Celebrating milestone birthdays with reward miles
Sign up early and mark your calendar
If you want to get an extra gift for your birthday, don’t wait until the last minute to join loyalty programs.
“Always make sure you sign up at least 60 days before your birthday, as some companies are very slow at putting you in the database,” says Tom Nathaniel, founder of personal finance site Lushdollar. “Some have waiting periods to prevent abuse as well.”
In other words, don’t try to game the system as this could get you blocked from a loyalty program.
If you’re a few weeks or months out from your birthday, use that time to decide how you’ll use your freebies.
“To maximize, I just recommend taking advantage of the freebies for the day and make it simple,” says Nathaniel.
His typical birthday routine, for example, might include free breakfast at Denny’s, a free sub for lunch from Firehouse Subs, dinner at Benihana, which offers a $30 birthday coupon, and dessert at Baskin Robbins.
“The more you can tackle for the day, the more you can enjoy for free,” says Nathaniel.
If you don’t want to spend the entire day eating out, on the other hand, you might be better off spacing out when you’ll take advantage of your birthday perks.
Make sure you pay attention, however, to avoid losing out on free gifts. There may be a time limit on how long you can use a birthday reward before it expires. Starbucks’ birthday perk, for example, is only valid on the date of your birthday.
Leverage your rewards card, cash back portals for extra savings
If you’re traveling, shopping or dining out on your birthday to get your freebie, paying with your rewards card can be a no-brainer.
Take dining, for instance. If you’re headed out for dinner or dessert, the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card could put 4 percent cash back in your pocket.
“Each quarter can offer more appealing benefits in certain categories,” says Dix-Kessler. “This is where rewards stacking and pairing loyalty programs make the most sense.”
Cash back portals and apps can be another avenue for birthday rewards stacking. These portals and apps feature cash back deals for partner retailers, restaurants and travel brands. When you click on an offer, you can earn rewards through the portal and with your card.
It’s an easy way to double up on cash back earnings. Just remember to watch your spending so debt doesn’t put a damper on birthday celebrations.
“Don’t use a credit card to stack rewards if you don’t have the money to pay off your balance after the purchase,” cautions Dix-Kessler.