You know how Microsoft's Bing Cashback program rewards you for using the Bing search engine to buy stuff? Two problems: You have to buy stuff, and you have to use Bing. I'm a Google man.
Swag Bucks rewards you for using a combined Ask.com/Google engine. That's it. Just search the Web like you normally do, earn "Swag Bucks" along the way, and then redeem them for merchandise, gift cards, and other goodies.
Confession: I just signed up for the service yesterday, so I'm not yet in a position to say whether it's as "rewarding" as it sounds. But my friend Pam, who told me about Swag Bucks, had all good things to say, and a little Web reconnaissance bears out her recommendation.
There are multiple ways to earn Bucks. You can start a search from the Swag Bucks home page (just like you would from Ask or Google), or install the Swag Bucks toolbar for Firefox, Internet Explorer, or Safari. Alternately, Swag Bucks plug-ins are available that merely add the engine to your browser's built-in search bar.
Every time you search, you have the chance of winning Swag Bucks. A Buck here, three Bucks there--over time it adds up.
You can also earn by signing up for "special offers" from the likes of DirecTV, Netflix, Discover, etc. This is where Swag Bucks starts to feel a little scammy, but keep in mind these offers are entirely optional.
Like Bing, Swag Bucks also rewards you for shopping at select stores. Every $5 you spend earns you one Buck. Got an old cell phone, MP3 player, or game console? You can trade them in for Bucks.
Finally, you score extra Bucks by inviting friends (the site can import addresses from Gmail, Facebook, etc.) and using referral links and banners like this shamelessly self-serving one:
The Swag Store is home to thousands of prizes. You can get a $10 Starbucks gift card for 130 Swag Bucks (SB), an 8GB iPod Touch for 3,000 SB, a 28-week subscription to Time Magazine for 185 SB, and so on. Shockingly, and almost comically, there's no way to search the store--you have to browse the available categories.
Update (4/21/2010): Swag Bucks recently changed its point system, effectively (and inexplicably) adding a zero to everything. That Starbucks gift card, for example, now costs 1,300 SB. In any case, I have a success story to report: I redeemed 37,000 SB for a $300 Apple gift card. It took nearly a month to actually receive the card in the mail, but it did finally come. Woo-hoo!
Needless to say, it could take you weeks or even months to earn enough SB to get a decent prize. On the other hand, since you're already using Google anyway, why not score some booty for it?
Over to you, readers. Has anyone tried Swag Bucks already? If so, what kind of prizes did you land, and how long did it take? Any problems or concerns to report? Let's hear from you!
Bonus deal: EA's new "Battlefield: Bad Company 2" won't be available until March 2, but right now you can preorder the PC version from Barnes & Noble for just $19.95. (Elsewhere, preorders are going for upwards of $50.) Shipping will run you $4.95--unless you bump your order over $25, in which case it's free.