AT&T's Cricket launches rewards program tied in part to using apps

AT&T Mobility's (NYSE: T) Cricket Wireless prepaid brand is launching its own rewards program and is touting it as the first such program from a no-contract U.S. operator. Customers can earn rewards by taking actions in a variety of different apps and signing up for Cricket services, and then redeem them for gift cards, the ability to enter sweepstakes and make charitable donations.

The rewards program is a result of an exclusive deal between Cricket and SessionM's Mobile Marketing Cloud and mPlus Rewards. The carrier said that the program, dubbed "Cricket Rewards," is accessible through the Cricket Rewards app, the MyCricket app or website.

Non-Cricket customers can even use the Cricket Rewards app to earn points but will not earn nearly as many as Cricket customers, according to Keith Schumann, executive director of marketing at Cricket. The program has been in a "soft launch" for several months but is now open to the general public. He said the program is "extension of our value proposition" of providing services with no taxes and fees on AT&T's network, and will provide "an opportunity for our customers to engage us in a new and interesting way."

Customers who sign up can start earning points through Cricket activities like opening and registering an account, checking in at Cricket retail stores or national retail partners, adding AutoPay or making on-time payments. They can earn even more by using more than 1,500 mPlus Rewards-powered applications. Customers can also earn points through other offers or taking surveys that will be included in the program through social media, events and sponsorship activities. The apps include The Weather Channel, TMZ, MovieFone, and various games like Wheel of Fortune, Dragons: Rise of Berk and Office Zombie.

Users can redeem points for gift cards at AMC Movie theaters, Amazon, GameStop, Old Navy, Sears, Target and more. They can also use points for entering sweepstakes to win big prizes and exclusive experiences. Additionally, customers can redeem points to make charitable donations to local and national organizations including the American Heart Association, ASPCA, the Make-a-Wish Foundation and more.

The amount of points customers can earn is dependent on their actions and behavior, but Schumann said that Cricket's trials found that it's important that "some level of gamification and fun is part of the experience."

Cricket is also teaming up with AMC Movie Theaters to give consumers a chance to earn more points by simply checking in when they see a movie. Schumann said that Cricket will start running ads in thousands of theaters across the country to highlight the program.

There is no limit to the number of points customers can earn, and there is no expiration date on points as long as customers stay engaged or active in mPlus Rewards. If customers have registered for an mPlus Rewards account, their mPlus points will expire only if they are inactive for a period of 90 consecutive days. To avoid being considered inactive, users need to log into their account and claim at least one "achievement." If customers collect mPlus points without registering for an account, their points will expire after 30 days of inactivity, and to avoid being considered inactive, they just need to visit the mPlus rewards portal within an app and claim an achievement, with or without logging into an account.

Other carriers have embraced rewards programs to varying degrees. In May AT&T launched its own loyalty rewards program in conjunction with major brands including ExxonMobil, Macy's, Nationwide Insurance, Rite Aid, Direct Energy, Enterprise Rent-A-Car and Hulu. The program, called "Plenti" and powered by American Express, lets customers earn and redeem points at any of the merchants in the alliance. 

U.S. Cellular (NYSE:USM) shut down its "Rewards" program for its customers as of Sept. 1. The carrier said it did so to have more money to invest to keep expanding its network and maintain its competitive pricing.

Verizon (NYSE: VZ) has launched its Smart Reward program nationwide, giving all of its postpaid customers access to its customer loyalty program. Verizon said its program offers customers discounts and savings of up to 40 percent on brand-name merchandise from more than 200 well-known brands. The program also gives customers offers on local shopping and dining they can redeem directly from their wireless device, as well as travel offers including discounts at more than 26,000 hotels. The program also offers discounts on Verizon-specific products along with gift cards for Verizon merchandise and opportunities to win NFL game tickets.

T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) in January launched a new program called "Score" for all of its prepaid and postpaid customers. Under Score, customers pay $5 per month. After six months in the program, or $30 in fees, members automatically qualify for a free, entry-level LTE smartphone. After 12 months ($60), customers can get discounts on to all T-Mobile LTE smartphones.

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