M&S is trialling a paid-for version of its popular loyalty scheme called Sparks Plus, offering benefits like unlimited next-day delivery, free hot drinks and invites to store events.
According to the retailer, Sparks Plus will give customers the “VIP treatment” every time they shop, with a range of perks worth more than £200.
But the cost of becoming a Sparks Plus member is £120 a year.
We look at what’s included, who can apply, and whether it’s worth paying for the premium subscription service.
What is Sparks Plus?
Sparks Plus is like a premium version of Marks and Spencer’s Sparks scheme. In return for a £120 annual fee - which must be paid upfront - you get a range of benefits. These are in addition to the perks you get from the free Sparks loyalty card.
Announced earlier this month, Sparks Plus is being piloted to a small number of customers who are Sparks cardholders. It’s not possible to apply unless you receive an invitation email to “become a Sparks Plus VIP!”
The Money Edit asked M&S when Sparks Plus would become available to all Sparks customers. A spokeswoman said: “Once the trial is completed, we will listen to customer feedback to decide on our future plans.”
She added: “Sparks Plus is one of several trials M&S is conducting, as the business focuses on offering a more personalised and digitally-driven customer experience, with added value and extra treats for a monthly fee.”
If you’re eligible to sign up for Sparks Plus, here’s a list of the benefits:
- Monthly £10 M&S vouchers (these expire one month after the date they are issued)
- Free hot drink each month from M&S cafés
- Unlimited free next-day delivery
- Double charity donations (compared with the free version of Sparks)
- Invites to store events
- A special gift
- Other “exclusive benefits and perks”
How does it compare with the free Sparks scheme?
M&S reckons the perks of Sparks Plus are worth more than £200. The £10 M&S voucher you get each month adds up to £120 over a year - and means you could eventually recoup the £120 fee after a year. Bear in mind that the vouchers do expire, so you need to spend each voucher within a month of receiving it.
If you take advantage of the free monthly hot drink in an M&S cafe, you could save about £34 over a year.
The unlimited free next-day delivery will be an attractive offer for regular shoppers. Next-day delivery normally costs £4.99, so if you placed an order every month, you’d save £59.88.
This means the monthly voucher, hot drink and free delivery could potentially save you £213.88. If you use the free next-day delivery more often for your online shopping, you’d save more.
Is Sparks Plus worth it?
Of course, there may be times when you don’t manage to grab a free hot chocolate or tea, or you don’t actually need the next-day delivery. All customers get free delivery when they spend £60 or more online (although this does take 2-4 working days), and collecting an online order from an M&S store is free.
You’ll need to weigh up how much you’d use the Sparks Plus perks, and also whether things like store events and double charity donations are worth paying for.
For regular M&S shoppers - and there are plenty of people that do the bulk of their shopping at M&S, from food and beauty products to clothes and homeware - paying £120 for Sparks Plus could make financial sense.
But if you only shop there occasionally and perhaps there isn’t an M&S cafe near you so you wouldn’t benefit from the free hot drinks, it’s probably best to give Sparks Plus a swerve.
What are the alternatives?
M&S isn’t the only retailer to create a premium version of its loyalty scheme.
Tesco introduced Clubcard Plus in 2019, which costs £7.99 a month. It offers 10% off two “big shops” in-store each month, 10% off Tesco brands like F&F and Tesco Pet, double data on Tesco Mobile and the option to apply for a Clubcard Plus credit card.
If you prefer to do your grocery shopping online, Ocado offers a Smart Pass membership. You get free delivery, priority access to Christmas deliveries, discounts (like 10% off big brands), plus free samples and gifts.
The cost depends if you want free delivery all week or just Tuesday to Thursday. With the “anytime smart pass”, the fee is £8.99 a month, or you can pay £49.99 for six months or £89.99 for the year.
Alternatively, the mid-week plan costs £3.99 a month, £22.49 for six months, or £39.99 for a year.
One of the most famous paid-for loyalty schemes is Amazon Prime. For £8.99 a month (or £95 a year), users get free delivery, free streaming on Prime Video, unlimited storage with Amazon Photos, and a host of other benefits.
In terms of free loyalty schemes, the two biggest ones are Clubcard and Nectar. These give you points that convert into vouchers or rewards. The more you shop, the more points you get. Tesco Clubcard members can also access “Clubcard Prices”, which gives discounts on products.
Over at Waitrose, the revamped MyWaitrose scheme gives members free Waitrose magazines and a free hot drink with any purchase in-store (you must bring a cup with you), plus a range of other discounts. It’s similar to M&S Sparks in that you don’t build up any points.
MyWaitrose discounts include money off the fish and meat counters on selected days, 5% off dry cleaning and laundry at Johnsons the Cleaners, 10% off Waitrose Cookery School and personalised offers each week.
More on loyalty schemes
- Best supermarket loyalty cards for saving money on your shopping
- Tesco Clubcard vs Nectar card: which loyalty card will save you the most money?
- Asda’s Rewards Scheme: What should you do if you’re ‘missing’ cash rewards?
- Nectar Big Points Bonanza: boost your Nectar points balance this week
- New John Lewis reward credit card: is it worth it?
- Aldi crowned cheapest supermarket
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Ruth Emery is contributing editor at The Money Edit. Ruth is passionate about helping people feel more confident about their finances. She was previously editor of Times Money Mentor, and prior to that was deputy Money editor at The Sunday Times. A multi-award winning journalist, Ruth started her career on a pensions magazine at the FT Group, and has also worked at Money Observer and Money Advice Service. Outside of work, she is a mum to two young children, a magistrate and an NHS volunteer.
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