Play the system and be points in for Christmas
In little over a month, the presents will be wrapped and piled under the Christmas tree, but if you want to have the smug smile of a savvy shopper on your face, make sure you play the system...
How to make loyalty pay:
Most of the big department stores and supermarkets offer their own reward schemes to encourage you to keep coming back.
Earning points for things you already buy is a no-brainer and the rewards can build up quickly. The most popular are Boots Advantage (collect four points for every £1 spent), Tesco Clubcard (one point per £1 in-store) and Nectar (two points per £1 spent).
Don't be a slave to any given store though. You can, and should, consider price first. That said, with a few tricks up your sleeve you can come out on top. For example, you should trade in your normal Clubcard vouchers for Clubcard Rewards online (rather than spending them in-store at Tesco) which boosts a £5 voucher by up to four times its value. Boots hosts several "mega points" weekends in the run up to Christmas and you can earn Advantage points online via www. treatstreet.boots.com.
Reward credit cards:
There are also credit cards offering rewards, but you must be confident you will repay the balance in full each month because these come with high interest rates. If you're not, focus on a card with the lowest APR instead.
There are many reward cards to choose from but pick one that suits spending habits.
For regular travellers the BA Amex card pays one Avios point for each £1 you spend. The current sign-up bonus is 9,000 Avios when you spend £1,000 in the first three months.
Cashback credit cards:
For general spending you may prefer to earn cash rather than loyalty points linked to one retailer. Once again, the number one rule is to pay off the bill each month.
The American Express Platinum Cashback Card offers an impressive 5% cashback on up to £2,500 of purchases in the first three months and 1.25% thereafter. This equates a total of £218.75 cashback if you spent £1,000 per month during the first year, according to MoneySupermarket (although do factor in the annual fee of £25).
The new Santander 123 Cashback Card has introduced 1% bonus cashback on all Amazon purchases to January 31, 2014, as well as the usual 1% at all major supermarkets, 2% at department stores and 3% at petrol stations and National Rail.
Online prices often beat the high street and retailers are increasingly getting sales under way before Christmas, including Amazon.
Avios offers 50% more points than usual when members shop via Avios.com eStore until December 9 plus introductory 500 points if you spend £50 or more.
Beware of three things...
Last year HMV , Blockbuster, Comet and Jessops went out of business and thousands of customers were lumbered with gift vouchers they couldn't spend.
The only exception is if you buy a voucher worth more than £100 with a credit card as this will mean the credit card issuer is jointly liable with the company and should refund your loss.
Christmas charity cards:
Each year the Charities Advisory Trust names and shames retailers using good causes to boost sales, but actually giving little to charity. Buy your cards from charities or via Card Aid instead.
These allow you to put a few quid aside to spread the cost of Christmas, but most don't offer any interest and your money is not protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme – you get both of these things with a high-street savings account.