We tested out the rewards programs at Sephora and Ulta, and the winner was clear for one key reason

Business Insider/Jessica TylerTo redeem rewards at either Sephora or Ulta, you need to spend at least $US100.
  • Beauty retailers Sephora and Ulta both offer their own rewards programs.
  • Sephora Beauty Insiders earn one point for every dollar spent and earn free gifts as points accumulate.
  • On the other hand, Ulta’s Ultamate Rewards members earn one point for every dollar spent and receive discounts based on how many points they have earned.
  • Earlier this week, Sephora added new features to its rewards program that make it more similar to Ulta’s than it had been in the past.

As two of the top beauty retailers around, Sephora and Ulta are competitors. One of the biggest differences between them is the rewards program that’s offered by each store.

Through Sephora’s Beauty Insider program, shoppers earn free gifts after they have gained a certain amount of points, which can be earned through shopping in store or online. The program grants access to free makeup classes and an online community. Sephora customers who spend $US350 in a calender year are upgraded to the VIB program and receive extra benefits such as custom makeovers and free monthly gifts. The most loyal customers, who spend $US1,000 in a calender year, are upgraded to VIB Rouge and receive a private beauty advisor hotline, free 2-day shipping, and invites to exclusive events.

Earlier this week, Sephora added new features to its program that allow VIB members to earn 25% more points per purchase, and VIB Rouge members to earn 50% more points per purchase. It also will be offering five times more rewards options for those looking to redeem more than 750 points, as well as expanding its rewards offerings at other tiers to offer a much wider variety of products.

Ulta has a slightly different rewards program. Points are still earned for every dollar spent, but rather than earning free gifts, shoppers can get discounts on anything in the store. While there aren’t perks like free makeup classes or an online community, members have more opportunities to earn double or triple points through store promotions. Platinum members, who spend $US450 or more in a year, earn 25% more points per purchase and are eligible for exclusive coupons and deals. Diamond members, who spend $US1,200 in a year, earn 50% more points per purchase, free shipping on orders over $US25, a $US25 beauty service reward card, and invites to exclusive events.

With both programs, the benefits are more impressive as you accumulate more points. Sephora shoppers can earn gift packages of high-end products, while Ulta shoppers can get hundreds of dollars off a purchase – sometimes getting prestige brand products for free.

To see which rewards program has more to offer, we put both to the test. Here’s what we found:

I signed up for both rewards programs online. Sephora was first.

SephoraSephora’s rewards registration page.

After signing up, I was taken to my new Beauty Insider profile.

SephoraMy Beauty Insider profile.

I was prompted to create a nickname, upload a profile photo, and explore the online community.

The community allows rewards members to join groups, browse makeup looks, and view a Beauty Insider event calendar.

SephoraBeauty Insider’s community offers benefits to rewards members.

You can also chat with other Beauty Insiders as you shop.

On the Beauty Insider homepage, I was able to see all of my recent activity, edit my beauty traits to get custom recommendations, and see what benefits and rewards I was eligible for. Rewards can be redeemed with points, which are earned for every dollar spent.

SephoraSephora shows rewards members their spending history.

I liked how accessible everything about the Beauty Insider program was online.

To put the rewards program to the test, I went shopping at Sephora. You need at least 100 points for the smallest reward, so I had to spend at least $US100.

Business Insider/Jessica TylerMy Sephora purchases.

I bought four products, each from a prestige brand, and spent a total of $US119.77.

I had earned 110 points, so I was eligible for a small reward. I had the choice of an eye shadow stick, lip gloss, or eye cream, all small enough to fit in the palm of my hand. There were no choices as far as brand or colour.

Business Insider/Jessica TylerMy reward was a mini eyeshadow stick.

Considering that I had to spend a minimum of $US100 to get the reward, I hardly think it was worth it – having no choice in the brand or product was frustrating, and I would have had to spend another $US150 to be eligible for the next set of rewards.

That being said, the rewards get better as you accumulate more points. For 2,000 points, you can get a sampler kit from a prestige makeup brand. However, rewards can sell out, and the products are still mini-sized.

SephoraThe rewards get better as you spend more.

Though I only tested the program with a small purchase, I found that the rewards were disappointing compared to how much you need to spend to earn them.

Next, I signed up for Ulta’s program.

UltaUlta’s rewards registration page.

It asked for more information than the Sephora registration, including my home address and phone number.

After signing up for the Ultamate Rewards program, I was taken to a welcome page. The welcome page gives an overview of how the rewards program works. You earn one point for every dollar spent, and use those points for discounts on any product.

UltaThe Ultamate Rewards homepage.

There didn’t seem to be an equivalent to the Beauty Insider community.

On the Ultamate Rewards homepage, you can see how many points you’ve earned, how many points you can redeem, and how much you can save using those points.

UltaThere is a tracker to show you how close you are to Platinum status.

100 points equates to $US3 off any purchase, 750 points equates to $US30 off, 2,000 points equates to $US125 off, and so on.

After signing up online, I went shopping at Ulta. The stores didn’t have identical products in stock, but I bought similar products from the same brands as at Sephora.

Business Insider/Jessica TylerMy Ulta purchases.

I received two free gifts with my purchase thanks to an in-store promotion Ulta was running. I also grabbed a small cleanser at the register because I thought I would be able to redeem my $US3-off reward. My total was $US128.47.

Unfortunately, even though I earned 100 points, I was told I’d have to come back in 24 hours to use my $US3 off because it couldn’t be applied right away. I was able to earn and redeem my points in one transaction at Sephora, but I liked that Ulta lets you use rewards points for discounts on any items in the store.

UltaWith 100 points you can save $US3.

With enough points, you can often get $US40+ prestige products for $US5 or less.

Though the rewards are better at both stores when you accumulate points over the course of a year, I preferred Ulta’s rewards system. While it was nice that Sephora’s points were redeemable right away, the rewards were small, and there was less variety in what products you could get. At Ulta, I could have chosen anything in the store and gotten $US3 off, including sale items and drugstore brands that are already inexpensive.

Business Insider/Jessica TylerOverall, Ulta had a better program.

There was more freedom to spend the rewards on products I actually want, plus I received additional free gifts thanks to in-store promotions.

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