Advantage cardJason Alden/Newscast/PA

A new study has revealed an astonishing balance on the loyalty cards of British shoppers. We have £4.3 billion worth of points with schemes like Tesco Clubcard, Nectar and Boots Advantage. The average shopper has an unspent average balance of £115.06 across their loyalty cards, and 40% of holders are looking to spend their points on Christmas. With the right approach, you could get your points to cover a serious chunk of your festive costs.

However, these points may not be the blessing they seem.


Clever spending

A study from Halifax revealed that 92% of people have a loyalty card. The most popular scheme in the UK is a Tesco Clubcard (held by 75% of those questioned), followed by Nectar Card (71%) and Boots Advantage Card (59%).

Almost half of us are planning to plunder our points in order to help soften the blow of Christmas. Some 35% will be putting it towards both food and presents, 32% have saved loyalty points to spend on a Christmas food shop, and 28% are using all their points to buy presents.

The right approach to spending points (and racking them up) could actually shave far more than £100 off your Christmas shopping, because there are some wiser ways to spend your points.

Tesco

Tesco has the most popular scheme in the country, and the survey found an average balance of £72.52 on each card. If you're quick, you can make these go far further. You have until 5 December to exchange your vouchers for double-value vouchers to spend in 12 departments - including toys and bikes, clothing, books, domestic appliances, Christmas decorations, trees and lights, phones and accessories, frozen food, Finest wine and champagne, skincare, cosmetics and fragrances.

Once you have exchanged the vouchers you'll have until 13 December to spend them. This could turn the average balance into almost £150, on festive food, drink and presents - as long as you actually want things from these departments.

And this may not be your biggest possible saving. It's worth looking through the options online to see if there are any other gifts offering more than double value. You can, for example, get a day pass to Alton Towers for £11.50 in vouchers: compared to £45 on the day. Or you could exchange £10 in vouchers for £30 of Hilton hotel vouchers.

Nectar

Nectar is the next biggest scheme, with an average balance of £77.38. This can be built up at a variety of outlets, including Sainsbury's. You can spend it on your Christmas groceries. However, alternatively, the website will direct you to 'double value' deals, which include some theme parks. There are also discount deals, where you get the usual exchange rate but money off. This includes a 25% discount on some magazine subscriptions.

Boots

Boots Advantage is next, with an average balance of £21.70. Here the spending options are more limited, so the extra value comes in earning them. You can earn more points by buying some fashion brands through the Boots treat street website. This means you earn points for buying in online shops like Monsoon, Coast and Reiss. Plus if you shop today, there is a triple points offer if you spend over £60.

Drawback

There are definitely smart ways to make your points go further. However, there is a major catch with these schemes, which is essential to be aware of before you start. These are marketing schemes, designed to make us spend more with a particular retailer.

The report shows that this seems to work. Just over two-fifths (41%) of people said that earning loyalty points affected their decision on where to shop, while 15% of people said that they don't mind paying more for something if it meant they were able to earn loyalty points.

Clearly this is a false economy. Anthony Warrington, director of current accounts at Halifax said: "It's really important to plan and budget for Christmas spending, and we're seeing that people are finding more innovative ways to do that this year. Building up loyalty points throughout the year is a really smart way of softening the blow, but shoppers should think carefully if earning loyalty points means paying more for goods in the first place."

These schemes are funded out of the profits of the retailer: profits they can only make by charging more for the products. It may not feel like it, but you are paying for these points - and for the marketing of them, every time you buy anything from these shops.

It doesn't mean you shouldn't use the schemes. If you are shopping there anyway you're already paying for the scheme, so you should make sure you benefit. However, it's worth being aware that this isn't money-for-nothing that helps with your shopping - it's nothing more or less than a marketing gimmick.

But what do you think? Will loyalty points make your Christmas? Let us know in the comments.