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:

  1. 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!
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

9 Comments

    1. Yes, I felt the same way! I loved the simplicity of Flex Rewards. 500 points, get $5 back. The upgrade is definitely worth it, though — we will now only buy stuff from Walgreens unless we can’t. SMILE!

      Just make sure you use the right phone number when you transition to make sure you don’t lose any current information. A different phone number will result in a whole new account creation.

      I think it’s better to first register online at Walgreens.com, set up your account — with your phone number! — and then go to a store and get a card and let the cashier connect everything through the Duane Reade terminal using that phone number to link everything. They call that “in store activation” and it works best if they do it right — I was one of the first to get a new Walgreens card and nobody really had any idea what to do first or next or last — so all the mistakes were made with me!

      I finally found a high-level computer tech this morning who linked and deleted and updated everything for me over the phone. I’ll test it out in person tomorrow to see if my card will actually register in the store now. The tech said it would take a day for two for all the changes to propagate — like my Duane Reade points transferring to the new system — but my “card in hand” problem that wasn’t giving me the proper rewards credits was fixed.

  1. UPDATE:

    My Duane Reade Flex Rewards did not get transferred to my Walgreens Balance Rewards card as promised by this morning — that’s a $6 loss in real money and not “bonus points.” I will have to find another hour out of my day to call Walgreens and fight through four different people to finally talk to a database guy again who can try to make that transfer happen.

  2. UPDATE:

    Well, I’m sad to report that, unlike Duane Reade’s Flex Rewards where you spent a dollar in the store and were given a bonus point on your card, Walgreens’ Balance Rewards ONLY gives you bonus points for a narrow range of “specially marked” products. No dollar spent = bonus points. What miserable news!

  3. UPDATE:

    My Duane Reade Flex Rewards were finally added to my Walgreens Balance Rewards account last night. 5,860 transfer points! It was called a “Corrective Adjustment” and there are no details about the transaction. I’m glad that’s over!

    1. P.S. — There are some valuable coupons on Walk.Walgreens.com — that you can print out and use in the store, but beware that some Duane Reade cashiers will tell you they don’t accept coupons. Don’t believe them. Just ask them to scan the coupon and they’ll see the discount is valid in the system.