Change is inevitable and after Walgreens bought the iconic Duane Reade chain of neighborhood pharmacies in and around New York City — and decided to keep the Duane Reade logo and name even though the stores are all “Walgreens” underneath the advertising sheath — I have been waiting for the official moment when Duane Reade is no longer really Duane Reade.
That moment happened on Sunday when Duane Reade’s excellent “Flex Rewards” program — spend a dollar and get a point — was replaced by Walgreens’ new “Balance Rewards” program where you spend a dollar and get 100 points. With the Duane Reade card, you hit 500 points and you got $5.00USD; with Walgreens, you have to earn 5,000 points to get the same $5.00USD. There’s nothing quite like unnecessary complication to help make things less simple — especially when a Duane Reade manager told me this morning that the new national Walgreens reward program was copied from what Duane Reade had been doing regionally.
The Walgreens servers are slammed because too many people are trying to sign up for Balance Rewards. What should be a simple upgrade process from one rewards program to another is a terrible mess. New Walgreens cards are not being processed and the servers are not recording proper sales for full rewards credit.
New card activation waiting periods have changed over the last few days from “a few hours” to “tomorrow” to “give it seven days or so” — and one wonders just how and why Walgreens decided to take this leap into a massive new rewards program when their server farms are dying the upgrade heat. Did they really have no idea?
I will say Walgreens.com as an online health portal is quite magnificent. You can manage all your medicine and refills. You can add family members and view all your open and past prescriptions. You can also, eventually, manage your new Balance Rewards and click on transaction numbers to see precisely what you bought.
If you are getting stuck in this transition from Duane Reade to Walgreens, here are some things to keep in mind:
- You have two Rewards “Member Numbers.” One is virtual and the other is real. Your virtual number is the member number that appears on the card in your hand and not, as expected, in your Walgreens.com account. Your online number is your real, permanent, forever, number. The card in your hand is the “virtual” number and it can come and go — say, you lose your card and need a new one — and that loss will not affect your Rewards balance. Walgreens will just “associate” a new virtual hard card with your permanent online member number. Don’t be confused by the numbers. What you see online is the only number that matters. When I took a picture of my new Balance card with my iPhone in the Walgreens App, the barcode on my hard card translated into my online member number. That was a little confusing!
- If your card is not yet registering in the system when you make a purchase, punch in your phone number at the register in the store. Your phone number, like your permanent online member number, is the key to managing all your Rewards. Your phone number is more valuable than your virtual card in hand.
- If your card is not working in the store, save your receipt. Later, you can go online to Walgreens.com and enter your RFN# and the amount paid by hand and that will force the system to update your account and credit the purchase and add your Balance Reward points.
- You will need to call the phone number on the back of your Balance Rewards card to get your old Duane Read Flex Rewards transferred to your new Walgreens card. It is not automatic and it will take a day or two. Don’t lose $5.00USD or more in the transition to the new card! The transition multiplication is 100. 500 Duane Reade points rightfully become 5,000 Walgreens points.
- Duane Reade always told you when you hit the 500 point threshold so you could get your $5.00USD back. Walgreens is different in that they encourage waiting for higher payback. If you earn 40,000 Walgreens points, you get $50.00USD back! That’s a great deal. Don’t trade in your points too early. Patience is worth pondering for a higher payout.
- You still cannot get points for prescription medication. A manager told me this morning that it is against the law in three States: New Jersey, New York and Arizona, to give reward points for prescription medication. She jokingly encouraged me to go to a Walgreens in Connecticut or Pennsylvania because then I could get 1,000 reward points for every prescription filled!
Walgreens have guaranteed me in person and over the phone that once this Balance Rewards transition is in place everyone is going to love it because they will give away points like water. I suppose that’s the whole point in upping the points ante because I’m sure it looks better in an advertising flyer to give away 1,000 points for buying a certain brand of tea rather than just a measly 100 points. It’s all in the sales pitch and we’re all a slave to our reward points master… but not so much in New Jersey, New York and Arizona.