You accumulate frequent-flier miles whenever you find yourself cruising at 30,000 feet and rack up loyalty rewards for shopping favorite stores or buying stuff with credit cards.
Now you can earn points for patrolling the virtual aisles of cyberspace.
Taking its cue from the airline, retail and credit card industries, Austin technology incubator Jutera Labs on Wednesday officially launches Perk.com, billed as the first loyalty Web browser. You get "Perk Points" for what you'd be doing via any browser: surfing, searching, shopping.
Loyalty points are redeemable for actual products and services, including gift cards, digital cameras and tablets. Points can also be converted to airline miles or donated to certain charities.
Perk is launching with more than 2,000 merchants, a roster that includes Apple's iTunes, Starbucks Store, 1-800 Flowers, BestBuy.com, Dell.com, MLB.TV, Kohl's, Nordstrom, Bloomingdale's, Urban Outfitters, Sports Authority and drugstore.com. For now anyway, the list excludes major e-commerce stalwarts Amazon.com, Ebay, and Zappos, though Amazon gift cards are among the items that you can get by redeeming points.
As with any browser, you can still visit these and any other sites; you just don't earn points by going there.
Perk is built on top of Google's Chromium "open source" platform, the same technology behind Google's own Chrome browser. The browser is fast. You can use the same browser "extensions" you might employ inside Chrome.
For now Perk can only be downloaded on Windows and Macintosh computers. The absence of a mobile version out of the gate would seem to be a major void for a browser that is so shopping focused. The company hopes to have an iOS version out by June 1, with Android to follow.
The reward points you get by patronizing shopping destinations vary by retailer. At PetSmart, for example, you can earn up to four Perk Points for every dollar you spend. At Walgreens, you earn three points for every dollar. Some lesser-known retailers are (not surprisingly) even more generous dishing out the points: At 101inks.com, which sells ink cartridges and toner, you get 14 points for each dollar spent. You can get up to 35 points at Suzanne Somers' Sexy Forever weight-loss site.
Perk offers other ways to grab points: If you apply for a Discover Card and are approved, your sum is 3,250 points. You can get 1,750 points for making a monthly gift to the ASPCA.
Why would a merchant participate? The pitch is that Perk can potentially drive traffic to a shopping site. And the merchant can also offer coupons to customers as incentives that might lead to a purchase.
You get 50 points for signing up with Perk using your e-mail address. You get an extra 50 points for signing up with your Facebook credentials.
When you land on a partner site, an otherwise gray indicator in the Perks toolbar that shows a running tally of your points currency turns yellow. If you click on the indicator it turns green, and you see more details on how you earned those points, plus notifications of coupons that might be available for the site.
I received a single point every few times I typed in a search query. But the company caps the searches that are good toward points on a daily basis to prevent abuse and to thwart anyone entering nonsensical or repetitive queries just to add to their total.
The points that you do accumulate through searches can be immediately redeemed for rewards.
But when you buy something through a Perk's merchant, you must wait, typically up to 90 days, before you can redeem earned points. That way you can't purchase something merely to pick up the points, and then return the item a few days later. Perk retains the right to revoke points.
Indeed, the 35 points I earned for downloading the Zero Dark Thirty movie inside iTunes is shown in my Perk account as "pending." I can't use them until mid-July.
A given retailer must let Perk know that you spent X amount of dollars at their site. But Perk doesn't know what you actually bought. And the seller has to notify Perk when a transaction has been completed.
The folks behind Perk say they won't sell any personal data or information about your spending habits. Still, if you're the least bit concerned, you can click on a button inside the Perks toolbar to surf privately. Though your browsing and search history won't be tracked, be aware that in that mode you won't earn any points, even at a participating merchant.
If you're more open about how you spend your time online, you can click on a toolbar button to share the page you're on via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or e-mail.
Merchants typically impose terms and conditions. Apple lets you know that buying Macbooks, iPads, and iPhones won't get you any Perk Points, but purchases made inside the iTunes Store, App Store, iBookstore and Mac App Store are eligible for rewards.
Don't expect to earn points for money spent on taxes, shipping or gift-wrapping.
And don't expect to collect a stash of products right away, no matter how prolific you are as a shopper. You'll have to part with more than a few bucks to pile up enough points for a "big ticket" item. A 16GB iPad fetches 55,000 points and a Kindle Fire requires 22,000 points. You even need 550 points for something a lot more modest, $5 gift cards to either Starbucks or Target.
Perk isn't a completely novel idea. To encourage people to use its Bing search engine, Microsoft, for example, has launched a similar Bing Rewards program.
Perk's message to consumers is simple: If you're going to search, surf and spend money online anyway, you might as well get rewarded for your troubles. Consider it a point well taken.