We all know there can be massive savings at both CVS and Walgreens if you stack your coupons right, but which drugstore has the the better rewards program? Here are my conclusions:
Simplicity and speed at checkout
It took me about the same time to check out at both stores, and I had a good experience at both.
My trip to Walgreens
At checkout, the cashier asked for my rewards card or phone number. I opted for the phone number and the screen prompted me to enter it. The cashier then asked me if I wanted to apply my earned $5 of Balance Rewards Points. I not only left having saved $5, I also had my Register Rewards in hand.
My trip to CVS
At checkout, the cashier asked if I had my ExtraCare card. I didn't. He asked if I had the CVS app—I didn't. He then told me the app is free and I could use it as a digital card and coupon holder on my next visit. I couldn't use my accumulated rewards because the next quarterly disbursement was still two weeks away.
And the winner is…CVS!
Everything else being somewhat equal, CVS wins this round based purely on the cashier's eagerness to help me learn how to save more in the future.
Ease of earning rewards
I'll be honest—it took a bit of calculating to figure out which store makes it easier for me to earn!
I can earn Everyday Rewards points ($1 = 10 points) on qualifying items, plus extra points for prescriptions (1 30-day prescription = 100 points), and healthy lifestyle choices (20 points = each choice). I get Register Rewards (Catalina Coupons) when I make an in-store purchase, and I get special sales prices that are only for Rewards members. Plus, I get access to special paperless coupons.
I can earn ExtraSavings every day when I shop using coupons (printable at kiosk, on CVS receipts, paperless in-app, ExtraCare email). I can also earn ExtraBucks Rewards—here, I get 2% back from everyday purchases plus more rewards from joining the Beauty ($5 = spend $50) and Pharmacy clubs ($5 = 10 prescriptions)—and I can earn additional rewards from purchasing qualifying diabetes products as well.
I go spend $50 at each store. At Walgreens, I earn 50 points, which is equivalent to 5 cents. At CVS, I earn 2 percent of my $50 purchase, which is equivalent to $1.
And the winner is…CVS!
On a sheer apples-to-apples, rewards-to-rewards basis, I have to give the prize to CVS. Yes, they’re a little less flexible about when you can redeem your rewards (read on below), but when you're earning more, I doubt you'll ever hear me—or anyone else—complaining!
I only join a rewards program for one reason—to save money.
At CVS, rewards are disbursed on set dates quarterly and expire 45 days after. If I want to use my rewards quarterly, I must have at least $0.50 earned, and I must use all of them in one shopping trip. Also, I must have spent at least as much as my rewards total, or I will lose the extra rewards. It’s easy to redeem my rewards digitally or via a CVS receipt.
At Walgreens, I can use my rewards anytime after I reach certain minimums. Rewards expire either after six months of account inactivity or 36 months after the date they were earned. I don't have to do anything special to redeem my rewards other than ask to redeem them at checkout.
And the winner is…Walgreens!
Here, I vote Walgreens the winner, simply because I don't worry so much about losing my points. But I know many people who love that CVS offers an extra level of rewards (i.e. they have their regular ExtraBucks promotions plus the 2% quarterly accrual), and I admit that this is compelling too.
Stackable ways to save more
The good news is, both stores are friendly to stackable savings overall.
But here is where the waters begin to part…
Walgreens' coupon redemption policy is cumbersome. If you don't have at least as many items as you have coupons, you have to either add "filler" items (stuff you don't really want) or pick which coupons to use. Plus, you can't use rewards earned from one promotion to pay for other items in the same promotion in that same transaction. BUT, in Walgreens' defense, they still offer Register Rewards (Catalina coupons that print at checkout).
CVS is undeniably the more easygoing of the two in that you can "roll" (use) your rewards in the very same transaction, a cool perk that lets you earn ExtraBucks rewards from one promotional item and use those EBs to pay for another item from that same promotion.
And the winner is…CVS!
So unless you are very attached to Catalina coupons, CVS wins this round for two reasons: you don't need to add filler items to use all your coupons, and you can use EBs to lower your total.
For me personally, I'm still a Walgreens gal overall. I know where everything in the store is, and since my health insurance requires me to use Walgreens pharmacy, it just makes sense for me to spend and earn my rewards there.
But if I were completely impartial—and my health insurance let me choose my pharmacy—I might just become a CVS gal instead!
Related: 11 Things You’re Doing Wrong at CVS