Saturday, March 15, 2014

Ulta Points: Spend or Save? A Mathmatical Analysis

This guest post by SexyScientistGirl was reposted with permission.

Ulta has a new rewards program, and it's a little complicated.

Generally, you get 1 point per dollar spent. Sometimes you can get double or triple points, like during your birthday month. Also, if you are 'platinum' you get 1.25 points per dollar spent. Platinum member status kicks in when you spend $400 at Ulta during one calendar year.

Your points expire one year after when they were earned unless you are a platinum member, in which case your points never expire.

You can redeem your points as dollars off of your purchase either in-store or online. According to Ulta, "Most products are eligible for point redemption." The discount per point is also not super straightforward. This is from Ulta's website:

  • 100 points = $3.00 off
  • 250 points = $8.00 off
  • 500 points = $17.50 off
  • 750 points = $30.00 off
  • 1000 points = $50.00 off
  • 2000 points = $125.00 off 

Points can only be redeemed in combinations of these point increments. If you want to redeem 600 points, then you can redeem 500 points and 100 points and receive $17.50 + $3.00 off for a total of $20.50 off the transaction.

It's important to note that the dollars off per point is not linear. If the dollars off per point were linear, then 2000 points would be worth (2000*$3/100) = $60 off, instead of $125 off. So, it looks like, in general, it's better to save up points and spend them all at once. Let's look at this this information visually, in a plot:

In this plot, the points redeemed are on the horizontal axis. The dollars off of merchandise is on the vertical axis. The blue points represent the Ulta Rewards program. I fitted these points with a polynomial. The slope on this line is positive and increasing. This means that, no matter how many points you currently have, you should keep saving your points.

The red points on this plot represent what the points system would look like if the rewards program were linear. This is also the rewards that you would get if you spent your points as you collected them, 100 points at a time. You can see that below 500 points there isn't much of a difference between the two lines. (E.g. You would get $17.50 off from 500 points in you saved, and $15 off if you spent your points every time you hit 100 points.) Put simply, if you are going to earn less than 500 points before your points expire, you might as well spend them as you earn them.

After 500 points, the differences become more noteworthy. 750 points gives you $30 off, rather than the $22.50 a linear model would suggest. 1000 points is $50 off, not the $30 of a linear system. And, finally, 2000 points gives you a whopping $125 off, rather than a mere $60.

In conclusion, if you spend less than $400 (and thus are not a Platinum member) or collect less than 500 points at Ulta in a year, then it doesn't matter very much how you spend your points. Just be sure to spend them before they expire! However, if you spend more than $400 a year at Ulta or collect more than 500 points in a calendar year, then you probably want to wait until you collect as many points as possible to spend them.


  1. This post glossed over bonus points which really are an incredible value.

    Back in December Ulta had 5x points for platinum members (3x for everyone else). If a platinum member spent $320 they got 2000 points ($320 * 1.25 * 5) !! Those 2000 points are good for another $125 in merchandise, netting an almost 40% bonus on what you spend. And the bonus dollars are unrestricted -- you can use them on anything unlike the coupons.

    You also can combine coupons AND bonus dollars. So if you have a 20% off unrestricted coupon, you can get $156 worth of merchandise for your $125 credit.

    I bought so much stuff during that sale, and had recently cashed in 2000 points during the 20% coupon that had in the fall, that there is nothing left I want to buy at Ulta right now. So I'm waiting with my new 2000 points for some new collections or for a future stock up.

    I dream of Sephora changing to a system like this. Way better than "deluxe" samples of stuff I'm hardly ever interested in.

    1. That's fair! I think SexyScientistGirl was more trying to focus on what to do with the points when you have them, rather than making value statements about the points system as a whole.

  2. One thing I'm wondering is how the "never expiring" bonus points for platinum members work. Is that assuming that you will always stay a platinum member? Do they expire if you fail to spend $400 the year after you have earned them?

    1. I think it goes like this: I made platinum last year, so I'm actually platinum through all of 2014. I'd imagine that any points that were made non-expirey by my status would expire at the end of 2014. Though, knowing my habit, I will likely hit platinum again...though they've raised the bar. I think it was $350 a year ago.

      Also, Ulta's rewards program has always been weird and region-y. When I signed up, there wasn't a points program, there was some sort of "get a free product(s) based on how much you spent" program that is still in effect in a few places? Which is kind of a bullshit system if other areas have points. Mine switched over...the end of 2012, I think? So, I don't know if they've finally moved everyone over to the good system, or it's still a regional basis thing.

      FYI, if you have the points system and you really want your birthday gift, check that they a) have your birthday on file and b) you're getting Ulta emails. For whatever reason, I didn't get the email for mine this year. However, I don't really care about a CK mascara, so I'm not too fussed. Last year, the gift was a coupon for...$5 off anything, I think, and that would've made me upset to miss. Though they emailed that, so who knows?

    2. My understanding is that you have to continue to maintain your status in order to avoid points expiration!

      And quinctia-- I think everyone is officially on the new system now. That's my understanding, anyways. Their roll-out was really funky.

  3. Two posts in one day??? I am in heaven... great info as always; thanks Robyn!!!

    1. It's like a solar eclipse!

      Rare, rare events.

  4. I am loving the bonus points system. It's amazing! I got an offer last year for 10x the bonus points, so I spent $100, and essentially received $50 back in bonus points. Like another commenter, I saved up my points waiting for a 20% off sale and scored a ton of stuff. I rarely buy at Sephora now because I would rather get the points at Ulta. I'm saving up for another buying binge when the holiday sets are out and I get another 20% off coupon.

    I'm glad to know about the increased requirement to stay Platinum. I'm sure they sent out an email, but I must have missed that part.

    1. I have never received an Ulta point, haha. I buy from Ulta (occasionally) but my points are at zero.

    2. 10x points?? I've never gotten that offer. Holy crap. With that offer if a platinum member spends $160, they immediately get 2000 points and another $125 in free stuff. Almost like an 80% bonus.

  5. This is really helpful. I am inclined to spend the points as I get them anyway, so I'm glad to know that that is fine, considering I don't plan to spend $500 there this year (I hope).

    1. Just don't go buying any $400 eyeshadow palettes!

  6. I wish points systems *or* coupons existed in this country for beauty stuff *at all* :-P Sure, Lancome has their myLancome program, but I mean like an actual *store* with many (affordable) brands in it.

    OK, Farmers has one, but that feels more like one of those 'spend $1,000,000, and you'll get a $10 voucher' systems, which will net you precisely 1/3 of a Revlon lipstick. :-P

    We do have them at some clothing stores. though.

  7. Until tomorrow it's 5x points on bare minerals...the lipstick and eyeshadow are awesome!

  8. As an Ulta emplyee, I have to make a few corrections. You become platinum at 400 points, regardless of the monetary amount spent to get there. For instance, you could get double points (your birthday month, etc) and spent just $200 or you could cash in on the 5x on Fragrance deal going on right now for members and spent a tiny $80 to become platinum. Point being, it goes by points, not dollars.

    Secondly there are MANY other increments at which you can cash in your points. At 300 points, you can get $9 off, at 1250, you can get $58. There is a whole pages worth (two columns) of acceptable points in which you can "spent" your points. This chart is located at every register at Ulta so just ask to view it or inquire as to where you stand.

    To answer a question I read:
    -Platinum points will never expire and your platinum status will remain for the end of THAT calendar year plus one additional calendar year. If you become platinum anytime in 2014, you are platinum until Decemeber 31st 2015. If you do not become platinum again in 2016, all the points you earn in that year will expire at the end of 2016.

    I also wanted to point out that Ulta mapped out their chart (the page I talked about being at each register) up to the 4,000 point mark and the value and incline in worth of each dollar you spend plateaus at 2,000 and the next column (2,000-4,000) is exactly the same climb as 1-2,000 So, When you go from 2,000 points and gain 100 to get 2,100 you only go from $125 to $128 (a 3% return) where the percentage steadily climbs before the 2,000 mark.

    It was fun finding your blog.
    See you around ;)

    1. I hate to say this, but you may be an Ulta employee but you're absolutely incorrect about how a customer reaches Platinum membership status.

      It's $400, not 400 points. It specifically says so on the FAQ on Ulta's website as well. Spending $200 during your birthday month at 2x points will NOT earn a customer Platinum status. Spending $80 on fragrance during a 5x points on fragrance offer will NOT earn a customer Platinum status. You can check the FAQ here for more information on how a customer actually reaches Platinum status:

      **Spending $400 WILL earn a customer Platinum status. No less than $400, regardless of the amount of points earned.**

      Additionally, logging into one's account on the Ulta website will show a dollar amount progress bar towards Platinum status. The progress bar can be found by logging into your account and clicking on the "ULTAmate REWARDS" drop-down menu at the top of the page and selecting "View My Rewards." (Which is this page:

      The progress bar on your rewards page specifically says: "2014 Qualifying Spend to Platinum Status." It doesn't say qualifying points.

      I'm not asking you to trust me which is why I left the links and to clear up any confusion your post may have caused.

    2. I was thinking the exact same thing. It is totally $400 and not 400 points. I just hit platinum about a month ago.. but I had wayyyyy more points to spend before that.

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