These rewards programs are actually worth your time and money

Banu Ibrahim and Noelle Ike, CNN Underscored
Wed July 4, 2018

Sometimes it pays to be an avid shopper. Many retailers have membership and rewards programs that offer stellar exclusive perks to help you save money on items you were already planning to buy. Better yet, there are programs out there that will give you money back for your purchases.

But not all rewards programs are equal. And the sheer number out there (practically every retailer at this point has some sort of membership program) makes finding ones that are actually worth the investment that much harder.

To make that process a bit less arduous, we've listed 10 rewards programs that are actually worth your time and money. These retailers, which range from bulk-shopping staples like Sam's Club to outdoor essentials purveyors like REI, offer shopping incentive programs that really do reward you.

1. REI

For outdoor enthusiasts, the REI co-op membership ($20; rei.com) is a must-have. A lifetime membership is only $20, and if you sign up by July 9 you'll receive a $20 gift card toward your next purchase (with the coupon code JOINREI), making the membership basically free. As part of the co-op, you'll receive members-only special offers, access to in-store REI garage sales where you can score gently used gear for cheap, and special pricing on REI classes, events and shop services. As an added bonus, the membership pays it forward; every year the co-op invests in the work of various nonprofit partners focused specifically on outdoor projects.

2. Nordstrom

If you've ever shopped at Nordstrom without signing up for the rewards program, you have been missing out on some serious savings. The Nordstrom Rewards program is free to join and you'll earn points for every purchase you make. The concept is simple -- you get one point for every dollar you spend, and once you hit 2,000 points you'll get a $20 Nordstrom Note to spend on anything you want. Your membership and the points you accumulate will also unlock exclusive access to things like bonus points events and specialty events.

3. Marriott

A great option for frequent and occasional travelers alike is Marriott Rewards. This program helps ensure you're getting the most bang for your buck as you collect points when you stay at any of Marriott's 4,700 hotels. It's free to sign up, and you'll instantly get perks such as lowest rates, no blackout dates and free in-room Internet access. The program's three higher tiers are silver elite, gold elite and platinum elite, which include bonuses such as free room upgrades, arrival gifts and guaranteed lounge access. Marriott Rewards has a ton of ways to redeem your points beyond free hotel stays or room upgrades. You can also get members-only access to sports and entertainment experiences like the U.S. Open and Lollapalooza or redeem your points at retailers like Anthropologie or Loft.

4. Moosejaw

One of the most generous rewards programs out there, Moosejaw, offers 10% back on every regular item purchase and 2.5% back on every discounted item purchase in the form of Moosejaw Reward Dollars, which you can use to purchase gear or clothing for free or at discounted prices. You simply apply the reward dollars to your cart, and you can use them on almost anything on the site. Moosejaw also has a tiered rewards program for members who spend $500 or more annually, and the benefits include early access to promotions, free shipping, and bonus mystery gifts.

5. Hilton

The Hilton Honors program is free to join, and a great way to ensure you're getting the most out of your travel experience when staying at any of the more than 5,200 Hilton properties. Just signing up as a member will get you instant benefits such as free Wi-Fi, late checkout and digital check-in, which allows you to check in and choose your room from your phone before you get to the hotel. Accumulate points through your stays to rise to the higher membership tiers -- silver, gold and diamond -- and unlock great benefits like free additional nights, room upgrades and complimentary breakfasts.

6. Sam's Club

Sam's Club currently offers two types of memberships, the Sam's Club Member ($45; samsclub.com) and the Sam's Plus ($100; samsclub.com). Both will give you exclusive access to shop the site and score savings on everyday items, such as groceries and cleaning supplies, and splurge-worthy tech gadgets and appliances. But the Plus membership is where you can save the most money. With the Sam's Plus membership, you'll get $10 back for every $500 spent on qualifying purchases, free shipping with no minimum purchase, early shopping hours to help you beat the crowd, additional savings on certain goods, member-exclusive pricing at select gas stations and extra perks on your glasses shopping (20% off glasses and free shipping on contacts). Talk about an amazing way to save on items you were already planning to purchase.

7. Amazon Prime

By now, you're probably aware of Amazon Prime's membership ($12.99/month; amazon.com), which offers free shipping plans, including two- and one-day shipping, across thousands of items. But Amazon Prime is so much more than just a way to save big on shipping costs. With the membership, you can score exclusive pricing at Amazon bookstores, access Prime Now, which can ship products to you in under two hours, stream thousands of TV and movie titles on Amazon Video, play music uninterrupted with Amazon Music, and shop noteworthy deals during Amazon Prime Day. It's proof that Amazon Prime is anything but a one-trick pony.

8. Barnes & Noble

Attention all bookworms: Barnes & Nobles membership ($25/year; barnesandnoble.com) was made specifically for you. This program, which costs only $25 a year, gives you tons of ways to save on your favorite reads both in stores and online. For starters, you'll receive over $60 in bonus coupons by email once you join. In addition, you get free express shipping on orders (no minimum purchase required), 40% off hardcover best-sellers, and 10% off practically everything else in the store. The membership fee really is a small price to pay for the savings you'll see throughout the year.

9. Sephora

Being a Sephora Beauty Insider is an easy (and free) way to save big on your everyday beauty and skin care purchases. The membership is broken down into three tiers, Insider, VIB and Rouge, based on how much you spend per calendar year. At the bare minimum, you'll receive a birthday gift, have access to free beauty classes and be able to rack up points to use toward freebies. As you move higher up in the ranks, you'll also score free flash two-day shipping on all orders, free custom makeovers, monthly gifts and invitations to exclusive events.

10. Bloomingdale's

Last, but certainly not least, on our list is Bloomingdale's rewards program, called the Loyallist. Loyallist members get points on every dollar they spend at Bloomingdale's main stores and outlet ones, and score double points on shoes, cosmetics and fragrance purchases. The program offers triple points during certain exclusive events. And once you score 5,000 points, you'll receive a $25 rewards card to spend toward your next purchase. For those who shop at Bloomingdale's often, it's a no-brainer.