Tesco Clubcard is changing - and in a real departure for the world of supermarket loyalty cards, it's not getting any less generous. In fact it's getting easier to use - and more useful.
Commentators have been predicting the demise of loyalty cards altogether. In the past year or two we have seen schemes become less generous, as supermarkets try to cut costs to compete with the discounters. Sainsbury's cut the value of points earned at the supermarket, Tesco, meanwhile, dropped its famous Clubcard boost (in which is would double the value of points in certain departments), and Waitrose has tinkered with its free tea and coffee offer - to stop people merely popping in for a drink and leaving without buying anything.
In the white heat of competition between the supermarkets, there were plenty of people who predicted that the end was nigh for these schemes altogether.
Why revamp at all?
However, talk of the demise of these schemes is premature. Clubcard has been a vital tool for Tesco in the war of the supermarkets. When it launched the Clubcard in 1995, it saw one of the most dramatic overnight shifts in spending in the history of the supermarkets - with shoppers spending 28% more at the store - and 16% less in Sainsbury's.
Since then, the arrival of more cards has diluted the effect, but it still engenders loyalty among the supermarkets - and provides access to incredibly valuable data. Tesco has decided that Clubcard is worth investing in, and it has overhauled the scheme.
One of the biggest changes is to the card itself, which has become contactless. It has also revamped its smart phone app. so you can sign up through the app, and show vouchers in store rather than having to use the ones sent through the post.
Of course, it's worth highlighting that if you want to make the most of the scheme, you really shouldn't spend a penny of them in store. By far the most cost-effective approach is to swap your Clubcard points for vouchers with certain other companies - known as 'partners' - because some offer up to four times the value in vouchers.
One enticing change is that it has added new 'partners': Hotels.com and Uber. This is a major change for people who currently use their vouchers for hotel stays. At the moment you can swap the points for vouchers worth up to four times the value to spend at some of the largest chains. The trouble is that with these schemes, the hotels only have very limited numbers of rooms available for Tesco customers, and will charge them their top rate. Obviously it will only cost a quarter of this in Clubcard points, but the full rates in places like central London are eye-watering.
With Hotels.com, conversely, you get three times the value of your points, and you will pay the same rate as everyone else - so you should be able to stay for fewer points. There is a catch, because you cannot collect Hotels.com Rewards (the website's own loyalty scheme). You don't get any rewards from the hotel itself either - but even when you subtract these benefits, you're still getting around two-and-a-half times the value for your points.
Uber users, meanwhile, may find the Clubcard deal particularly handy, because you can get three times the value of your points if you use them on taxis - which could make your taxi habit dramatically less expensive. If you haven't used Uber before, it's worth giving it a go - not least because when you download the app you'll get free credit.
You can also exchange points with partners in denominations of 50p rather than £2.50. This will stop the remainder of any vouchers going to waste.
The reaction online has been mixed. There are those who argue that this is simply the flip side of the deal - after Tesco dropped its double points events. There are others who prefer to save money at the discounters, and don't believe the points are worth paying more for.
There are also those with concerns about the Uber deal. Black cab drivers are furious; those with serious concerns about the business model at Uber (and its impact on drivers) are threatening to stop shopping at Tesco altogether; and those with concerns about the safety procedures for female passengers are not impressed with the new deal on their Clubcard.
For bargain-hunters, meanwhile, the changes look set to make the scheme more rewarding. As ever, it doesn't mean it's worth altering your shopping habits, or spending more on your shopping in order to take advantage. However, if you already shop at Tesco, you're already paying for the scheme, so you may as well take advantage of everything it has to offer.