How to Take the Stress Out of Holiday Shopping

Women wearing red sweater shopping online and using credit card at home office

Stressed out this holiday season? Find out why taking advantage of loyalty points can come in handy during these hectic and busy months.

It’s no surprise that a lot of shoppers wait until the last minute to buy their gifts for loved ones. I sweat this myself when shopping for my dad, especially. Indecision can be paralyzing, and if this is you, it’s time to think outside the box —literally. The hot new trend of 2018 is to give people experiences instead of stuff. That can be as simple as presenting loved ones with restaurant gift certificates or movie passes. But businesses are also lining up to help you plan more elaborate experiences that you probably couldn’t arrange on your own. For example, one hotel loyalty program is offering members the chance to walk the red carpet at the 2019 Grammy awards. Shopping for more of a sports fan? There’s a VIP Rose Bowl package. Have foodie friends? You can use points to send them winemaking in Portugal. And consider this: when you give somebody an experience as a gift, it’s immediate. You don’t have to worry about shipping and whether your gift will arrive on time.

Have the planner gene? The best loyalty programs now allow multiple people to pool their points to send somebody on a trip or to pay for something like a family reunion or a bachelorette weekend. Travel! Talk about a great holiday gift! Look for a program that allows ten or more individuals to contribute their points with no transaction fees. This kind of consumer-friendly policy exists now, whereas it used to be unheard of in the travel industry.

But what if you’re not a great planner? I’m here to tell you that it no longer takes military precision or months-in-advance planning to book a trip using loyalty points. We’re considering surprising my mother-in-law in Clearwater, Florida for New Year’s Eve, and we have our choice of nearly 40 different hotels we can book last minute using our main points program. Then again, we might use our points to send her somewhere and pay cash for our own room. Speaking of which, two little-known tips: The best hotel loyalty programs offer discounted rates to their members, plus free WIFI and sometimes even free meals. Ask about perks like this. And, contrary to popular belief, you’ll score the best room rate by booking right on the hotel’s own website, rather than through an online travel agency.

This next strategy is for all the nifty thrifty people out there. I am one of you! What’s even better than a deal? A freebie. Americans are sitting on about $100 billion dollars worth of unredeemed loyalty points. Why not trade some of those points in for free holiday gifts and give your wallet a rest? Loyalty points are an untapped resource you can use to expand your budget or snag gifts you couldn’t otherwise.

Ever been guilty of regifting a holiday present? Regifting is very environmentally friendly: Recycle, reuse, regift! But if your list includes somebody who already has everything they need and is likely to regift whatever you give them, why not make a donation in their name instead? Most people don’t realize this is another opportunity to utilize loyalty points. When you donate points, they are converted into cash that the charity can use for the cause.

If your loyalty points are set to expire, this is a particularly good option — although I always recommend joining a loyalty program in which points never expire, as long as you remain active. I also suggest choosing a points program that gives you thousands of choices of charities so you can donate to a cause you —or your loved ones— care about. Some loyalty programs only give you the option of contributing to their own pet projects. This last, charitable use of hotel points is one more reason that anybody who travels anywhere ever should join a quality loyalty program. It’s free to join and, if you don’t, you’re leaving money on the table.

Whether you’re trying to put your holiday shopping behind you or trying to plan for what’s ahead in the new year, consider whether loyalty points can help you do more, see more, give more and live your best life. Now that’s good for your health.