Odds are, your wallet or smartphone is bursting with them: Loyalty cards — those promises of free groceries, travel and other bonuses. But are they really still worth your time (and your dime)?

Canadians love their loyalty points. A 2017 census by COLLOQUY Loyalty found that we hold 175 million memberships in customer loyalty programs. Some of the most popular, says Matthew Lau, chief editor of pointshogger.com, are Aeroplan, Air Miles, PC Plus, Shoppers Optimum and Scene.

But with the recent news that Aeroplan is decoupling from Air Canada in 2020, along with Air Miles’ recent reversal in its bid to let points expire, are they worth the hassle?

“Absolutely, they are still worth it,” says Patrick Sojka, founder of the blog RewardsCanada.ca. “Despite all the changes and headaches, they still provide huge value.” As long as we take the time to understand the finer points of their programs — on both the earning and redemption sides, he adds.

Here’s how to make your loyalty programs work harder for you:

What’s Your Spend?

Why get a travel reward card if you don’t travel much?

“Where are you putting your money, because that’s the cost that you want to reduce,” says Lau.

For example, the Air Miles program has two very different categories of rewards – ‘cash’ which allows you to instantly redeem your miles towards everyday purchases at its sponsor locations, or ‘dream,’ where collectors cash in points for travel and merchandise.

If your annual spend isn’t going to reach enough in the Air Miles program where you can redeem for flights, Sojka suggests choosing the cash rewards instead that can be regularly to put to use.

Double up: Optimize your purchases by using two cards. For example, use your ‘cash back’ rewards credit card to pay for groceries and present your free grocery store loyalty card. That way, “you’ll still get the cash back on your credit card and then you’ll rack up the loyalty points” at the same time, Lau says.

Go digital: Smartphone apps like Stocard minimize the plastic in your wallet, by letting you scan your loyalty cards. A program called Award Wallet can also help you track points balances and expiry dates. “I don’t have to log in to 40 different accounts, I just log in to the one account and I see everything there,” Lau says.

Sweet Spot: A recent report by Bond Brand Loyalty found that the average Canadian is enrolled in 12 loyalty programs. Sojka says joining somewhere between six and a dozen loyalty programs is likely ideal, as there’s a chance you will be rewarded by all of them at some point.

“You don’t want to spread yourself too thin, but on the other hand, you don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket either, because programs do change,” he adds. Lau also suggests keeping your loyalty portfolio diversified in order to give yourself more options.

Don’t Hoard:  Programs can be devalued so it’s not a good idea to ‘hoard’ your points, says Sojka. Instead, says Lau, keep a specific reward in mind, and know exactly how many miles or points you’ll need in order to redeem for it.

If you set a goal and then cash out, “for sure, you’re getting value out of it,” Lau says.

Helen is a freelance writer specializing in news and feature articles on a variety of business, legal and investment topics. Her work has appeared in publications such as the Globe and Mail, National Post Legal Post, Fund Strategy magazine, Canadian Lawyer magazine, Benefits Canada and the Hamilton Spectator’s Hamilton Business magazine. Prior to embarking on a freelance career, Helen was the Community Content Editor for Stockhouse.com, and she previously worked as Associate Editor of Canadian Lawyer magazine/Law Times newspaper. Follow her on Twitter @helenbnichols