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Are birthday bargains worth celebrating?

Retailers are offering presents -- with a few strings attached. Here's a list.

By Karen Datko Mar 31, 2010 11:29AM

This Deal of the Day comes from Kelli B. Grant at partner site SmartMoney.


You don’t need to look much further than your inbox to see that friends and family aren’t the only ones wishing you a happy birthday. Today, plenty of stores and restaurants offer you bargains on (and ahead of) your birthday, but these deals aren’t always worth celebrating.


The birthday marketing tool is particularly common among chain stores. Starbucks gives reward club members a free coffee; Baskin Robbins, a free ice cream cone. DSW loyalty members get a $5 reward certificate, while Express credit card holders receive a $15 coupon toward their next purchase.


For those and other retailers, birthdays can mean big business. For example, an offer of a free dessert may sway where you celebrate, and a good experience could lure you back later in the year, says Miro Copic, a professor of marketing at San Diego State University. Retailers also bank on your bringing paying friends with you when you claim your deal. (Few would choose to eat an ice cream sundae alone, particularly on their birthday.)

Birthday offers can also entice you to spend presents of cash and gift cards, or make an extra purchase with your money. “They want you to think, ‘That $50 gift card [from Mom], combined with my 20% off is going to yield some savings,’” says Catherine Williams, vice president of financial literacy for Money Management International, which oversees nonprofit credit-counseling agencies.

So consider any strings before you take advantage. Even with freebies, you’re usually on the hook for sales tax and tip. Signing up for e-mail lists also adds to the bulk in your inbox year-round.


If the birthday offer is a discount, make sure you can’t get the same bargain or a better one through other coupons or deals, Williams says. For example, for a $75 purchase at New York & Company, a current coupon code for $25 off a purchase of $75 is worth more than the store’s birthday discount of 25%. And many retailers, including Old Navy and Victoria’s Secret, let you use multiple coupon codes per online order, increasing the value of your discount.

Here’s a selection of birthday deals offered by restaurants and other retailers:

  • Aveda: Customers who sign up for the free birthday club get a postcard good for a free Personal Blends product (worth up to $25) during their birth month.
  • Baskin Robbins: Customers who sign up for the free birthday club receive an e-mail coupon five days before their birthday, good for a free 2.5-ounce scoop. They’ll also receive a coupon for $3 off a birthday cake.
  • Benihana: Diners who sign up for the free newsletter, The Chef’s Table, receive an e-mailed birthday dinner certificate worth up to $30. The certificate must be redeemed during the user’s birth month, and it does not include alcohol, tax or tip.
  • Cold Stone Creamery: Customers who join the free birthday club a week before their birthday receive two printout coupons that can be used within the next two weeks. One is good for a free small sundae (ice cream and one mix-in); the other, $3 off an ice cream cake.
  • Dairy Queen: Customers who join the free Blizzard Fan Club receive an e-mailed coupon for a free 16-ounce Blizzard during their birth month.
  • DSW: Members of the free loyalty program receive a $5 reward certificate redeemable during their birth month.
  • Express: Store credit card holders receive a mailed coupon good for $15 off a purchase of $15 or more during their birth month. Users must pay any remaining balance with their Express card.
  • Firehouse Subs: Customers who join the free Firehouse Subs Birthday Club receive a mailed coupon good for one free sub during the month of their birth.
  • McCormick & Schmick’s: Diners who sign up for free e-mail updates during their birth month receive a printout certificate good for one free signature dessert. Members of the preferred guest reward program receive a $30 dining credit.
  • New York & Company: Store credit card holders receive a mailed coupon good for 25% off an in-store or online purchase during their birth month. Users must pay the balance with their New York & Company card.
  • Old Navy: Store credit card holders receive an e-mailed coupon good for $10 off an in-store or online purchase of $50 or more during their birth month. They must pay the balance with their Old Navy card.
  • Petco: Customers who register their pet’s birthday at the free birthday club get an e-mail for 10% off their order during their pet’s birth month. For owners not sure of the exact date, it’s OK to use the pet’s adoption date or another date of their choosing.
  • Red Mango: Customers receive an extra 500 points (equivalent of a $5 coupon) in their Club Mango account.
  • Red Robin: Diners who join the free e-club receive a free burger on their birthday.
  • Sephora: Members of the free rewards program receive a postcard good for a free “Beautiful Eyes” kit containing samples of Sephora brand eye shadow, liner and mascara. The offer must be redeemed within the two weeks before or after the member’s birthday.
  • Starbucks: Members of the rewards program get a free beverage on their birthday.
  • Victoria’s Secret: Customers can sign up for free e-mail updates and get an e-mailed coupon code good for $10 off an online order during their birthday month. They’ll also receive a mailed coupon good for $10 off an in-store purchase during their birth month.

Related reading at SmartMoney:

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