When is a Reward Not a Reward? When You Pay for it Yourself.


The nature of ‘reward’ has been very much on my mind as we start 2011. Specifically, what type of rewards help people to get the best from themselves.

Rewards that will unleash their creativity, boost motivation and make work more enjoyable for everyone involved.

When trying to find solutions for the workplace, I strive wherever possible to seek answers and examples from other aspects of life.

So let me share two recent examples of ‘reward’ systems I’ve encountered. One unexpectedly good, the other … hmmmm.

Starting with the good:

My eight-year-old daughter usually doesn’t want to come along when I walk our pet dog.

I sympathise. A five mile country yomp? When there’s so much fun stuff to be had elsewhere?

Yet on New Year’s Day the same kid attacked a more difficult, 6.75 mile trek with gusto. So what made the difference?

Well, the people behind the Wildcat Experience, which includes a walk around scenic Newtonmore in the Scottish Highlands, ensure the whole experience is particularly rewarding for youngsters who take part.

Around the route are six way stations, each with a tool to punch a different pattern of holes in a walker’s journey card.

Long after our adult walking companions gave up and headed off to the pub, my young ‘un was adamantly marching on insisting she wanted all six stamps.

The Reward Kitty

Since the surrounding Cairngorms are home to Scotland’s dwindling wildcat population,

organisers of the Wildcat Trail and Wildcat Centre have dotted the village and the route with specially created and colourfully hand-painted models of the animals.

Finding as many as possible added another fun dimension, while encouraging learning about Scotland’s wildlife heritage and conservation.

The result? An exhilarated-yet-exhausted child. Such was the positive experience I happily shelled out £7 at the shop to buy the Wildcat Experience TrackPack.

There was another reward, which we’ll collect over many months to come, since my daughter has now challenged me to come up with interactive ways to make our regular dog walks more fun, more interesting  – and more rewarding.

(UPDATE (Feb 17), You can check out the Wildcat Experience at their website – https://sites.google.com/site/wildcatsnewtonmore/ – and I’m grateful to organiser Janet Davidson for leaving the very welcome comment, below).

Now for the not so good:

I proudly took ownership of my American Express Green Card in 1995, while working as a reporter with the Daily Record.

At the time journalists could be dispatched anywhere at any time, so you always carried your passport, a packed travel back – and an Amex card.

Painful Reward

Long after I should have cancelled the card I kept it, because of the rewards programme. For every £1 spent I collected a point.

For years I’ve paid all of my petrol costs, plus occasional bigger purchases on Amex, for the simple pleasure of watching the points mount up.

Eventually I hoped to collect a flight to Europe for a weekend with the missus or maybe an iPod. Or to reach a nice round figure, say 50,000 points, and donate them to charity.

Then, last month, I noticed an innocuous little charge on the bill: Membership Reward Fee, £23.50.

Turns out this has been slipped on to my bill every year. For 15 years.

I was never consulted about this charge and never gave permission for it. When challenged, Amex admitted the £352 in cumulative charges over the years was more than the approximate £250 value of my 41,000 ‘reward’ points.

They agreed to refund me the full amount of £352 – however, my points collected since 1995 would be forfeit. Despite being appalled, I settled for getting my money back.

Amex still had another little ‘reward’ for me. Instead of refunding the amount, they added it to my bill and demanded an even bigger payment. I then faced further phone, email and admin hassle and had to wait weeks for my credit.

At the end of this unhappy episode, they’ve still taken my points. Needless to say I won’t be an Amex customer much longer.

What have I learnt?

That the greatest rewards are simple free and found in unexpected places.

That there’s no reward in Amex’s hollow, corporate sham of a ‘reward’ scheme – unless you value confidence tricks, enjoy a bitter taste on your tongue and relish reading small print.


7 thoughts on “When is a Reward Not a Reward? When You Pay for it Yourself.

  1. Hello Scott

    I am the person you may have met in the Wildcat Centre on New Year’s Day, also the person who thought up and set up The Wildcat Experience -Newtonmore. I’d like to thank you for writing us up in this very nice way! We continue to find that both children and adults really love the painted wildcats and the hunt to find them. We’re planning to put a few more out this year, so when you come back, you’ll be able to add to your tally! If you had a way of linking to our website, I’d be very grateful. I have taken the liberty of putting a link to your piece on ours.

    Kind regards


  2. Only thing that really soured it for us was that despite having 3 young children all excited that they had found enough cats for a certificate they would only give us 1 between us. They are only cheep colour printouts – nothing fancy – even so, we would have been happy to have given a couple of quid donation for some more certificates. As such we have 2 disappointed children. A real shame.

    • I have discovered this comment very very long after it was made. I’d like to apologise for your disappointment. I am surprised that the person on duty was not able to help with extra certificates in return for a donation. You will realise that this attraction is run by the village woodland trust which is a non-profit making charity. As such we have to find ways of raising funds to maintain the Wildcat Trail and the Wildcat Experience. We therefore work on the principle that visitors receive one certificate per Wildcat Experience Trackpack purchased. Judging by other attractions around here, £8.99 is a very reasonable price to pay for days of entertainment!

      Come back again – we have 129 cats now!

      Janet Davidson

  3. We got 73 cats this week. What a great way to keep a 3 year old interested while out walking! Every now and again we’d here: “CAT!!” which was our cue to look the next one up in the book. It was rather addictive and difficult to stop when we had to go home after our holiday. Would thoroughly recommend it.

  4. Hi would you mind stating which blog platform you’re using? I’m going to start my own blog soon but I’m having a difficult time deciding between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal. The reason I ask is because your design seems different then most blogs and I’m looking
    for something unique. P.S My apologies for getting off-topic but I
    had to ask!

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