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Tims Rewards: Tim Hortons’ loyalty program is getting an update

Tim Hortons’ loyalty program is getting a facelift. Less than a year after the launch of its highly anticipated Tims Rewards, the company is overhauling its program in big (and not necessarily better) ways that will come into effect February 26.

In a press release the company describes the changes as an “…exciting expansion of its loyalty program, including access to a wider selection of the menu and launching new exclusive offers.” Financial experts and Timmy fans seem less sanguine about the transformation, with many blaming a decline in profits rather than a desire to make the program better, as the impetus for change.

Certainly, there’s little doubt that the over 7.5 million Tim Rewards members hungrily redeeming all those free coffees and donuts hasn’t helped buoy profits. Furthermore, only about 25% of members are officially registered online, making it hard for the company to gather member data (not necessarily a bad thing if you’ve noticed the backlash some companies are facing for data mining) or entice customers to buy more goods through targeted offers that would then boost sales and profits.

Whatever the reasons for the overhaul, here’s what you need to know about how the changes to the Tim Hortons’ loyalty program will affect you.

The former Tims Rewards (until Feb 25)

  • Rewards were based on a customer’s number of visits
  • You would simply scan your loyalty card (or the app) at each visit and after the 7th get a free coffee, tea or baked good (excluding bagels and Timbits)
  • For a visit to be eligible you had to make a purchase of over $0.50 and visits had to be a minimum of 30 minutes apart
  • Designed to be simple, users didn’t have to worry about tracking points or following complex rules

The new (and improved?) Tims Rewards (as of Feb 26)

  • The program moves to a points-based system, with customers earning points that they can then redeem for goodies
  • Customers are encouraged to officially register their account by either downloading the app to create an account or link their plastic Tims Rewards card to an online account
  • Customers who are registered will earn 10 points for every purchase (min $0.50 pre-tax purchase and visits must be at least 30 minutes apart) and redemptions start after 50 points. NOTE: Regardless of what you spend, you’ll only get 10 points per transaction
  • Tims Rewards cardholders who aren’t registered (i.e. don’t link their card online) will only receive a coffee, tea or baked good after 70—instead of 50—points

Here’s where things get complicated.

With the new plan, registered users can choose one of 14 rewards levels, with each level equalling a set of specific menu item available for a certain number of points (yes it makes my head hurt too).

Examples of the levels according to the press release are:

  • 50 points: hash browns, classic donuts, specialty donuts, cookies
  • 70 points: brewed coffee, tea, Dream Donuts, bagels and baked goods
  • 100 points: hot chocolate, French vanilla, iced coffee, wedges
  • 140 points: Classic Iced Capp®, frozen beverages, espresso drinks, box of 10 Timbits®, yogurt, oatmeal
  • 180 points: breakfast sandwiches, soups
  • 220 points: BELT, farmers breakfast sandwiches, lunch sandwiches, chilli

To see more of the levels the press release says that you’ll need to sign up “to unlock expanded access to the menu.” They really, really want you to register!

As if that wasn’t confusing enough, you must select a rewards level prior to purchase. According to the website “your Points will only be redeemed on menu items that fall within your applicable Reward Level. For example, if you select a Reward Level to redeem Points for brewed coffee and tea, your Points won’t be redeemed on other beverage items or menu items within the baked goods, breakfast, or lunch categories.”

You can change reward levels on the app or via the website. When registered members have enough points, they can redeem for something in their chosen reward level or continue collecting points.

To sweeten the changeover, registered members will enjoy a promotion of two times the points from February 26 to March 18, 2020 and will also receive a reward on their birthday (the exact reward is not specified). Non-registered members are further penalized: they have until April 22, 2020, to link their Tims Rewards cards otherwise after that date they will only ever be eligible to earn coffee, tea, or a classic donut and it will cost them 120 points. That’s almost double the points under the old program.

Tims Rewards vs. McCafe vs Starbucks

While it’s nice that loyalty members will no longer be limited to a beverage or a baked good, members who don’t want to register are heavily penalized, only ever being eligible for baked goods or a coffee/tea for a whopping 120 points (after April 22). Furthermore, the rewards level system is overly complex, and forcing members to pre-choose a level seems more likely to provoke anger and confusion than loyalty.

If the new Tims Rewards has you scratching your head and considering getting your caffeine hit elsewhere, here’s a brief look at how Tims Rewards compares to two other coffee loyalty programs.

McCafe Rewards

McDonalds’ McCafe Rewards program is streamlined and straightforward, offering a simple “buy 7, get 1 free” system, with easy-to-collect stickers that you peel off cups. Simple to use and less complex than the new Tims Rewards, it is, however, limited to coffee only.

Starbucks Rewards

With Starbucks Rewards you get 2 Stars for every $1 you spend. Once you reach 25 Stars you can get things like an espresso shot, dairy substitute or syrup. You can’t get a free coffee or baked item until you reach at least 50 Stars, meaning you would need to spend at least $25 before you get a free item. With Tims Rewards, you only need to spend $2.50 (5 x 0.50) for a basic coffee. Clearly Tim Rewards offers the better bargain, however, if you’ve just gotta have that soy vanilla latte, no foam with caramel drizzle, it’s likely you’ll head to Starbucks regardless.

Double dip with your credit card

No matter what coffee loyalty program you sign up for, you can maximize your rewards with the savvy use of the right credit card. For example, the AMEX Cobalt Card – which is accepted at Tim Hortons—gives cardholders 5 points per dollar on any spending at coffee shops (as well as restaurants, bars, grocery stores and food delivery). Depending on how you choose to redeem your AMEX Membership Rewards points (you’ll get $0.01 per point on travel), you could essentially be earning back an extra 5% on your food purchases.

If you prefer a cash back credit card or no fee card, the Tangerine Money-Back Card will earn you 2% cash back at Tim Hortons (provided you have restaurants as one of your chosen bonus categories).

Card details

  • Annual fee: $155.88 (charged at $12.99 monthly)
  • Welcome Bonus of 20,000 Membership Rewards points when you spend a total of $3,000 in purchases on your Card in your first 3 months of Cardmembership
  • Earn 5 points per dollar on restaurants, coffee shops, bars, grocery stores, and food delivery
  • Earn 2 points per dollar on gas, taxis, public transportation and travel (air, water, rail, or road transport, plus hotels)
  • Earn 3x the points on eligible streaming subscriptions in Canada
  • Welcome Offer: up to 30,000 bonus points in your first year (a value of $300 in statement credits redeemed towards purchases charged to your Card or $225 in American Express® Prepaid Cards)
  • Earn 1 point per dollar on all other purchases
  • Transfer points 1:1 to several frequent flyer and other loyalty programs

Card details

  • No annual fee
  • Earn 2% cash back on purchases in up to three categories of your choice, and 0.5% cash back on all other purchases