• Bonus Whoring: A Critical Review

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    As consumers, we are constantly bombarded with enticing bonuses/gifts/rewards for joining/opening/using a product or service. We’ve completed several of these offers with varying degrees of success. Here’s how the cookies crumbled.

    What we did:
    Opened an unnecessary checking account
    What we got:
    $125 cash, deposited into the account in $25 monthly increments
    Degree of hassle:
    High. Completing this offer required us to change our direct deposit at work, maintain two accounts at a bank with no local branches, tie up a hundred dollars a month, sign up for a complicated online banking access, and wait half a year for the rewards.
    Would we do it again?
    Maybe. But next time we’d make sure we have a use for the bank’s services and access to a real teller.

    What we did:
    Purchased a winter’s worth of canned vegetables (on sale and with coupons) in one grocery trip
    What we got:
    Two free movie passes
    Degree of hassle:
    Minor. The biggest challenge was hauling it all in from the car.
    Would we do it again?
    Absolutely. The free movie certificates worked like cash and allowed us to have a guilt-free date night. And we made good use of the bargain vegetables too. Two movie tickets would have cost more than we paid for the vegetables!

    What we did:
    Transferred a big balance to a credit card that requires two monthly purchases (no minimum dollar amount required)
    What we got:
    Zero percent interest on the transferred balance and the new purchases until we completely pay it off (or forget to make two purchases a month)
    Degree of hassle:
    Huge. Keeping track of the purchases is tricky because you have to hit that sweet spot in between billing cycles to make sure they both get credited in time. The enormity of the consequences for missing a purchase is so great that it causes stress.
    Would we do it again?
    Probably not. In our case, it allowed us to save hundreds of dollars in interest, and we have a timeline of when it will be paid off. But even with careful management the stress level is just too high for my taste.

    What we did:
    Opened a low-interest, low-minimum-balance-required savings account
    What we got:
    $50 cash bonus
    Degree of hassle:
    Medium. Opening the account was easy, but shuffling money around at every payday was annoying. And after the initial bonus was awarded, the interest was too low to make it worthwhile and we had to close the account.
    Would we do it again?
    Yes. The bonus we earned initially offset the low interest rate. Because we closed it early and kept only the bare minimum in the account, we came out ahead.

    What we did:
    Spammed our friends with credit card offers and similar promotions through a referral website (one of those “get five friends to complete offers, and you get a prize! websites)
    What we got:
    An ipod
    Degree of hassle:
    Low. It didn’t take long to get five friends to complete offers, and we received the ipod shortly thereafter
    Would we do it again?
    Absolutely not. Even though it was easy, we felt kinda dirty afterward. It isn’t cool to ask your friends to sign up for crappy offers just so you can get a prize. Nobody seemed to mind, but we know it wasn’t the right thing to do.

    The bottom line: there are some things (like your time and some minor annoyance) that are reasonable trade-offs. But you should never sacrifice your relationships or morals for an easy buck.

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