Too Good to be True

S&H Green Stamps

My skepticism toward customer reward programs began with S&H Green Stamps. Along with colds, oatmeal, and Allen Nielson’s cooties, they burdened my childhood.

The stamps were given as a reward for purchasing groceries and gas. They came in gummed sheets that had to be glued into booklets, which were redeemed through S&H’s catalog or at its redemption centers.

Mom collected her S&H stamps in a shoebox. When it was full, she dumped stamps and booklets on the kitchen table and told her children and any strays to start licking. We argued about whose pages were the least misaligned and stacked our filled booklets in a moist tower. Speaking with difficulty because of our gummed tongues, we tried to convince Mom to trade the stamps for toys; but she held out for an iron or maybe pillow cases.

After I left home, I collected stamps of my own, but used a damp sponge to glue them — going to college evidently improved my problem-solving skills. I remember wandering around the redemption center in Reno as a newlywed, clutching my booklets, looking for Christmas presents to send to my family. But I didn’t have enough stamps for anything anyone would want. That was the year I gave my 10-year-old brother an imitation leather shaving kit.

He never sent a thank-you note.


Today, I experience similar frustrations with coupons. I diligently rip coupons from newspaper advertisements and magazines because I’ve read that people save hundreds of dollars a year with them. Not me.

First, I have trouble keeping track of the validity dates. I invariably present a coupon to the checker before its time or after its passing. Then, embarrassed by my inability to read numbers, I buy the product anyway.

I also have difficulty finding the products specified, even when I put on my glasses and bend double to examine the bottom shelves. If I do find something that matches a coupon, I’m so thrilled I buy it — even though I don’t need it and never have. Last week I came home with Triple Awesome Grape Kool-Aid.


Airline frequent-flier miles also make me crazy with blackout dates and limited seat availability: “Actually, ma’am, you can only use those miles on Tuesdays during the months of February and July of alternate years on flights to Detroit or Helena, and we have only three seats available on each flight so you’d better book soon. Thank you for flying with us.”

I was once included in a class action suit against an airline now defunct. If I could confirm my flights over a five-year period with either ticket stubs or a completed form detailing my flight dates, itinerary, and fare, I would be eligible for free flights.

After arduous hours of researching my credit card and bank statements, I submitted my evidence, dreaming of a free flight to Tahiti or at least Topeka. Eight months later, I received $100 worth of vouchers in $10 denominations that had to be used within a year. Only one voucher could be used per trip. Excluding blackout dates. Pending availability of seats.

Here’s an idea for all corporations wishing to reward my loyalty: could you forget the rewards and lower your prices instead?