If you are like me, then you are no stranger to signing up for membership cards that help you save money at your local grocery, hardware or electronics store. It’s becoming so commonplace for retail stores to have memberships, to the point where it’s odd if they do not. The unfortunate result is a keychain that has a parade of plastic membership cards increasing the weight of your keys to about 10 pounds? Okay, so maybe it’s a bit lighter, but in my case the cards have started to dwarf the actual keys. These cards were initially in the form of a credit card, meant to be carried in your wallet. Now they come with keychain versions, which at first sounded like a great idea. It’s time to shed the weight, but hold onto the value. We took a look at our favorites in this category and here’s how to just that by replacing your keychain membership cards with an iPhone app.

Best loyalty card apps for iPhone

Key Ring

When using Key Ring, you’ll want to take the time to create a free account with them. What’s great about this particular app is that you can sync your accounts with your online account. If for some reason you lose or restore your iPhone, all of your cards are safely restored by downloading a fresh copy of Key Ring and syncing your account.

Key Ring loyalty card apps

The interface of this application uses a vertical implementation of panes. Swipe down and it reveals a sync and menu option. From here you can drag down to reveal the full group of menus and options.

Key Ring

Adding a loyalty card
Select the ‘Add a Card’ option and you’ll notice the flash get enabled, with the app ready to scan your loyalty card. Using the crosshairs, it will scan the barcode once it’s recognized and auto-select the retailer.

Scan loyalty card

Not all cards utilize barcodes, but they have a solution for that as well. Select ‘No Barcode’ and then you can select from a pretty long list of retailers. For example, Subway’s doesn’t use a barcode, but they were listed. I selected them and added the number manually.

Key Ring also offers an option to join programs based upon your location. This feature worked fairly well. The incentive here is that by adding new cards, you can receive offers from those establishments. When visiting your list of programs upon program launch, it will display the offers available.

What’s great about using an app like Key Ring is the end result. Opening up the app shows all of the stores where you have a loyalty card, complete the brand logos/graphics that you’ve come to expect.

Card Star

Another free app in this genre is Card Star. If this app feels familiar, it’s because they’ve borrowed the same use of panes as the Facebook app. Tapping the menu button reveals an area to manage and add cards. Entry is different on this one, as you’re required to seek out the retailer prior to either scanning or entering the rewards number.

Card Star

Locating Stores Near You, Web Site and more
If you travel often, then this location based feature will allow you to find your favorite stores using Card Star. There is an option to check in using Foursquare, but no easy way to get directions, which seems like a missed opportunity.

Card Star screens

Selecting the ‘Home’ icon at the top will jet you off to the retailers homepage. Great for checking any current specials, sales or other information you’d like to pull up from their website. Pressing the chat-like button will auto-dial their customer service. All of these are nice features, providing more information about the retailer in addition to just your loyalty card.

Bring the coupons to the card
Card Star has partnered with Zavers allowing you to gain access to coupons and associate them with your customer loyalty account. The account is free and my local grocery store showed a few coupons that were available. Typically a grocery store will deduct savings simply by using your card, so I’m not certain there is an express value by having these coupons. I suppose it would depend upon the retailer.

I’m a big proponent and user of loyalty programs. The keychain cards were an improvement over having to carry 10-15 cards in my wallet. It wasn’t enough though as I’d still pick and choose based on frequency with which I’d shop with a retailer. Invariably, I’d find myself at that particular store with no card in hand. Having an iPhone app to manage my loyalty and membership cards is an improvement, but still has some hurdles. I barely let my wife handle my iPhone and now I’m handing it off to some overworked teen who might not be careful with my $400 phone. When testing these cards in real life, I had issues with them not wanting to scan the iPhone. They’d start entering numbers from the iPhone, which would get delayed thanks in part to the screen timing out. It’s far from perfect, but these apps were the best of the bunch.

As we traditionally do with our App Filter feature, we offer up the best app. Key Ring’s ability to sync your memberships with your online account gives it the edge over Card Star, earning it the distinction of being the best iPhone app for loyalty cards. Next time you go to the store, lighten up the load on your keys and let your iPhone do the heavy lifting.