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Spend & Save

Being Modern: Loyalty cards

If I had a penny for every time I was offered a loyalty card, I'd be on the Forbes rich list. According to recent market research, around 85 per cent of UK households own at least one loyalty card, with 29 per cent of people carrying five or more with them wherever they go. From Co-op Funeralcare to Botox injections, firearms to war veterans, there are now loyalty cards for just about anything.

Where did they all come from? In 1958 Richard Tompkins saw an idea in America and founded the Green Shields Stamps loyalty scheme in the UK. Under said scheme, 6p of shopping equated to one stamp in credit, cashable in either a Green Shield Stamp shop or through a catalogue. The stamps (above) were withdrawn in 1991, but four years later Tesco launched its Clubcard and the rest is loyalty-card history.

Are they worth all the hassle? Well, they are for the supermarkets, which have been known to use them to gather valuable, free information about us – which they then sell to other corporate giants for tens of millions of pounds.

Coffee-shop reward schemes, on the other hand, are relatively harmless. Mostly they adopt the buy-nine-and-get-your-10th-free system, although there are two chains that really take the biscotti. The Costa Coffee Club points system rewards you with five points (at a penny a point) for every £1 you spend – that's £2 (or about one medium latte) every time you spend £40.

At Starbucks, you have to buy 15 coffees to get one free, getting one point – or is it star? – for every coffee bought. When you've bought 50 coffees (50 points, stars; honestly, it's as complex as filling in a tax return) you upgrade to Gold status. And what happens when you go Gold? You get your own expresso machine. Only kidding. You get the odd extra shot of coffee or a drizzle of syrup.

But just before you melt your loyalty cards in revolt, there is still something to be said for returning to the same place time after time and satisfaction to be had from getting something for nothing – even if it is only a dollop of whipped cream.