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Want freebies? Drink some soda

Trade in My Coke Rewards points for movie tickets, magazines, gift cards, electronics and other goodies. Or just get more soda.

By Donna_Freedman Mar 22, 2012 12:23PM
Image: Hollywood (© Comstock/SuperStock)Diet Coke is my caffeine of choice. I see no reason to pay retail, though, so I use the My Coke Rewards program. Although I could cash in for premiums as varied as garden tools, an MP3 player and a retro toaster, I tend to focus on vouchers for free 12-packs.

Here's how a frugalist does it:
  • Collect points, mostly from other sources (more on that later).
  • Trade them in for a "free 12-pack" voucher (two of them, if I have enough points).
  • Watch for a "buy two 12-packs, get three free" sale.
  • Cash in, and drink up.
In other words, I pay for one (or none) of the 12-packs and wind up with five, which can last me a couple of months. Since each box has a 10-point code, it means an additional 50 points toward my next 12-pack.

Yes, I know sodas aren't great for me. (Boy, do I know it: My sister is a dental hygienist.) But what's life without a little sin? Especially if you brush your teeth afterward? (Post continues after video.)

Each bottle cap from a Coca-Cola product -- including Powerade, Nestea, Minute Maid bottled juices and some varieties of Dasani water -- has a code worth three points. Multipacks bear codes worth 10 to 25 points.

Since a 12-pack voucher costs 250 points, that could mean a lot of soda drinking. But I've got a frugal hack for that, too.

No lids? No problem!

Friends, relatives and an employee at my favorite teriyaki joint save codes for me. I'm a cheerful scavenger who picks up caps and boxes when she sees them, either on the ground or in the trash.

I'm more of a Dumpster wader than a Dumpster diver. But if a 12- or 24-pack is within reach I'll get it, remove the code and put the rest of the box in the recycle bin where it belongs.

My most reliable source, though, is a nearby university. Its library recycle bins bristle with empties, and campus trash cans have separate sections for bottles and cans. When a soda or juice bottle is visible, I remove the tops.

Hey, it's stenciled right there on the bins: "No lids." By scavenging the caps, I'm actually doing a good deed.

Maybe you're thinking, "Take a box out of the trash? Pick a soda cap up off the sidewalk? Disgusting!"

Then don't do it. Leave them for us scavengers. Over the years I've heard from other My Coke Rewards fans, including the lucky stiffs who get not only points for the cap but 5-cent deposits for returning the bottles. (I wish.)

Is it worth it?

Six years ago, when I was really broke, I redeemed single movie ticket/soda combos and put them in my daughter's Christmas stocking. The deal cost fewer points back then; as I recall, it I was 330, compared with 485 points now.

These days I regularly send codes to her and my son-in-law. (You can have one account per person, and as many as five per household.) Their preferred premium is the pair of AMC movie tickets, plus two sodas and a large popcorn. Since that costs 1,100 points, they're glad to accept my extras.

You're allowed to enter up to 120 points per week. Thus, in about a month you can get a single ticket and drink -- frugal fun when money is tight. (For another option, see "Go to the movies for free.")

Obviously, this tactic isn't for everyone. But when tickets cost $10 or more, it starts to sound more worthwhile.

One more tip: Give the recycling bin a tap before reaching in. Otherwise you might be unpleasantly surprised by a wasp attracted to the sweet smell of Vanilla Coke.

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5Comments
Mar 23, 2012 12:33PM
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with the stories of the movie tickets from both you and your daughter, i keep thinking i need to look into this (alas, I'm from pepsi country).  although i'm in the process of weaning myself off the diet (aspartame ya know), you are right, caps do abound without drinking the stuff.

i can get deposits back on bottles and cans where I live but I don't.  unfortunately, we've got a lot of immigrants and seniors in my neighborhood who collect by necessity (I get to know them) so I put mine out.  I consider the un-recouped money a contribution to the neighborhood's well-being.   
Mar 26, 2012 6:49AM
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Last Christmas I bought 2 24 packs at a warehouse store for guests.  Someone had removed the codes.  I called the manager and negotiated a free year membership for the theft.  (It only could have been done in the warehouse.)  Does this count as being frugal?
Mar 23, 2012 2:45PM
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@Bareheaded Woman: I hang on to my cans until a certain pair of "canners," Elizabeth and Jimmy, show up in the alley outside my window. I hate to have the cans fall to the bottom of the bin, where they can't be reached easily.
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I've heard of the coke rewards thing, but it seems like a lot of work.  I'd recommend discount movie vouchers through Workingadvantage.com.  You can see a $14.00 movie for about $8.00.  Get the movie club pass for your theater and you can get free popcorn, soda and tickets after so many visits.

Both Regal Movie Theaters and Clearview Cinema offer this in the NYC area and other regional chains probably offer something similar.  

If you like movie concessions, try asking what combos they have for children.  For example AMC offered a very nice deal with human-sized portions of soda and a frank for less than the cost of a whale sized popcorn or soda.  Why eat that much.
Mar 26, 2012 6:09PM
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@L_Duttinger: It sure counts as being a good consumer. I'm impressed.
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Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.

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