Tired of scrounging for savings with coupons or daily deals? The expanding field of card-linked offers (see table below) promises a solution – the ability to link deals and coupons to the cards in your wallet and get cash back or other rewards automatically.
Card-linked offers aren’t exactly new. Card-linked airline dining programs have been around for years, and issuers have been experimenting with them since 2010. But there’s been a lot of flux in the field. New players keep entering – most recently Coupons.com, which allows consumers to register Visa, MasterCard or American Express cards (with the exception of a few store-specific cards) and load certain coupons onto them. Both consumers and merchants were requesting such a feature, says Bruce Sattley, senior vice president of product management at Coupons.com.
“The concept is just emerging, and I expect more and more consumers and merchants are going to learn about and use card linked offers,” Sattley says.
Want in on the easy money card-linked offers programs promise? Before you sign up, here’s what to know:
How card-linked offers work
Different programs have their own unique twists, but, basically, card-linked offers work like this: You link deals to your debit or credit card and get cash back credited to your card automatically, simply by using the card at checkout. Other programs (airlines’ dining programs, for example), automatically deposit loyalty points into the rewards account linked to your card. All you need is the card registered with the deals program – no printing out coupons, saving discount codes, loading up your key chain with loyalty cards or fumbling with your phone to show a QR code to the cashier.
Deals vary from a percentage cash back, to a certain dollar amount earned if your purchases ring up to a certain total.
Types of card-linked offers
Card-linked offers can be divided into two categories: programs offered by issuers (which require you to have one of their cards) or open programs that you can sign up for with a variety of different cards.
The issuer-run programs generally function the same way – you search for deals via your bank or card issuer’s website or mobile app and then shop (online or offline) at the participating merchant by the deadline indicated by the deal. This screen shot from Bank of America’s BankAmerideals shows what the interface might look like after a deal has been activated:
As for open, non-issuer programs, “the possibilities are endless,” says Dom Morea, senior vice president of advanced solutions and innovation for global payment processing company First Data. “Websites, mobile apps, social media sites, location-based services, online and mobile gaming, as well as hotel and airline programs have been very successful with card-linked offer programs.”
Overcoming adoption barriers
If you haven’t signed up for a card-linked program and are ignoring your bank’s deals, you’re not alone. In fact, card-linked programs from Ally, Capital One and Chase have all fallen by the wayside in the past couple years. One possible reason: Banks may not be the first place consumers turn to hunt for deals, says Morea.
“There isn’t always the natural connection in consumers’ minds and behaviors between online banking and shopping deals,” he says.
When it comes to non-issuer programs, there are different reasons consumers might not sign up: While banks already have their customers’ card numbers, other companies offering card-linked offers don’t, meaning consumers have to give their information to yet another entity.
“Keying in your card can simply be too cumbersome or time consuming for some participants,” Morea says.
So what could make card-linked offers more palatable? The system is already pretty seamless, but certain things could make it more so. With some programs, you have to log in, select deals, shop and then wait for a few days for a confirmation that you claimed the deal correctly. Morea predicts real-time notifications of deals on consumers’ mobile devices, faster statement credits and immediate confirmation that the deal was successful (either as a text or a notation on the receipt) could make card-linked offers more attractive.
And then there are the types of deals available. A few card-linked offer programs offer local deals, but many are saturated with deals from national retailers and restaurant chains that may not even be in a consumer’s area. Sattley says more card-linked offers for local businesses are a possibility for Coupons.com.
“And geo-targeting of those offers would be the plan, so consumers only see discounts relevant to their location,” he says.
What about privacy?
The Heartbleed bug and the avalanche of retailer data breaches over the past year might have customers holding their card numbers close.
First Data’s OfferWise program (which is used by a variety of merchants and non-issuing card-linked offer publishers) protects cardholder information so that the merchants and companies using Offerwise can’t see it, Morea says. Coupons.com also doesn’t share account numbers with third parties, and the card information it keeps itself is maintained with PCI compliance (the security standards that govern the payment industry), Sattley says.
None of that makes your information impervious to breaches (just ask any company that’s been hacked). What you can do is limit the card-related information you give out.
“I also mention to people that card-linked offer programs should only ask for their card number – not expiration, billing ZIP or CVV number,” Morea says. ”The card number itself is all that’s needed as a unique identifier for the consumer. Consumers should be skeptical of any program that asks for additional card-related information.”
Card-linked offer programs you can sign up for (Updated April 2014)
Want to start getting card-linked offers? The chart below shows some of the programs available to consumers. They are divided into the two types mentioned above — those offered by issuers (which generally require you to have a card with that issuer) and those you can join on your own with practically any card.
We’ll be updating this chart with program changes, but be sure to check with the card-linked offers provider you choose for terms and conditions.
Current Card-Linked Offer Programs
|Program||How it works|
|BankAmericard Rewards||Eligible Bank of America credit or debit card||If you have a BofA card, you're automatically signed up. View card-linked offers via online banking. Activate the deals you want, and make a purchase at the designated merchant by the time the deal expires. Cash back is automatically credited to your debit or credit card.|
|AmEx Offers||American Express card||Connect an AmEx card to the program and search for deals, either by logging in to your American Express account, AmEx's iPhone app, or via a variety of social media channels. Activate the deals you want, use your card to pay and get an automatic statement credit.|
|Fifth Third Bank Prewards||Fifth Third Bank credit or debit card||Register your debit or credit card, choose your deals in online banking, and use them at the correct retailer. You'll get a notification that your Preward has been redeemed, and your card will automatically be credited.|
|PNC Purchase Payback||Eligible PNC check card or credit card||You're automatically enrolled if you have an eligible card. You'll see available offers when logged into online banking. Activate the offers you want, and shop at the retailer designated by those offers. With this program, instead of cash-back statement credits, you earn points (in addition to any points you're already earning with the card). Points can be redeemed for merchandise, travel, cash and gift cards.|
|Regions Bank Cashback Rewards||Regions Visa CheckCard or Regions Now Card||You're automatically enrolled, as long as you have online or mobile banking. Browse offers in online banking or mobile banking, activate them, shop with your card at the designated retailer and get cash back directly into your checking account.|
|U.S. Bank FreeMonee||Some U.S. Bank credit or check cards||This is more of an elusive program. You don't sign up, and U.S. Bank will send you deals based on your shopping patterns. How often? It's completely random. Shop at the store indicated by your FreeMonee gift, and use your card. The amount of the FreeMonee gift will then be credited back to you.|
|MyLinkables||Any U.S.-issued Visa, MasterCard or American Express debit or credit card. Also works with PayPal.||Enroll a card (or PayPal account) in the program online. You can then link offers to your card by clicking on them on the website, or, if the offer is in print media, by scanning a QR code or sending a text to the number printed in the ad. Shop with the correct merchant, and your card (or PayPal account) will be automatically credited.|
|Coupons.com||Visa, MasterCard and American Express (with the exception of a few store-specific cards)||Register a card with Coupons.com via the website or mobile app. Select coupons to load onto card. Use your registered card at checkout, and the savings will be credited back to your account automatically.|
|Bing Offers Card-Linked||Visa, MasterCard (website says support for AmEx is coming soon)||This program is still in beta – and, at the time of this writing, offered only in Seattle. You can register any Visa or MasterCard debit or credit card, activate offers and shop at the designated merchants.|
|Moje||Any debit or credit card||Available only in select cities. Register any credit or debit card (AmEx, Visa, MasterCard, Discover) through the iPhone app. The app will then generate deals near you. You don't have to activate the deals – just shop at the merchants, and the cash back will be credited to your card account.|
|MOGL||Any debit and credit card||Available only in some cities. Shop at any partner restaurant and get 10 percent cash back. Choose to get it credited back to your card, or donate it to a local food bank.|
|vPromos||Any debit or credit card||Enroll at the register, by paying with a card, providing the merchant with their mobile phone number and responding "Y" to the text you immediately receive. You then earn points each time that card is used. After enough rewards are earned, you earn a discount, which is automatically deducted from the total at the register when the customer claims that reward.|