Sephora vs. Ulta: Which Rewards Program Will Save You More Money?
There’s really no better way to get your fave beauty products on a budget than signing up for a rewards program. Top brands like Smashbox and bareMinerals may offer rewards and free birthday perks, but we can’t deny that two stores beat all others when it’s time to mix up your makeup bag: Sephora and Ulta Beauty. Between skincare products and makeup brands for all budgets, plus salon-quality solutions for every type of hair, it can get a little confusing when picking between the two beauty retailers. To help you out, we crunched the numbers to better understand which store will save you the most money.
Sephora or Ulta?
Let’s look at the basics of the two stores’ rewards programs first.
Both Sephora’s Beauty Insider program and Ulta’s Ultamate Rewards program offer members access to three levels of benefits. The difference is the amount of money that each level requires its members to spend per calendar year.
- Insider: $0
- VIB: $350
- Rouge: $1,000
- Member: $0
- Platinum: $450
- Diamond: $1,200
Right away, we can see that it is more affordable to reach the second level of membership at Sephora, gaining you access to more free gifts and points.
Looking closer at each level, Sephora and Ulta offer members a variety of benefits, some of which are the same and some that are different. For instance, all members on the first level receive a free birthday gift and one point per dollar spent. After that, the two rewards systems offer unique benefits to their members.
- Insider: Access to seasonal savings and two-day shipping for just $15 per year
- VIB: 1.25 points per dollar spent, a free birthday gift or 250 points, and access to seasonal savings and two-day shipping for just $15 per year
- Rouge: 1.5 points per dollar spent, a free birthday gift or 250 points, and access to seasonal savings and free two-day shipping
- Member: A free birthday gift and double points during your entire birthday month
- Platinum: 1.25 points per dollar spent, a free birthday gift, double points during your entire birthday month, a $10 birthday coupon and your points never expire
- Diamond: 1.5 points per dollar spent, a free birthday gift, double points during your entire birthday month, a $10 birthday coupon, your points never expire, everyday free shipping on purchases of $25 or more and an annual $25 beauty services rewards card
At a glance, you may think Ulta offers more for its members than Sephora. However, when it comes down to which program will save you more money, it’s all about crunching the numbers.
Which store offers more for your makeup purchases?
Over the course of the year, there may be staple makeup essentials you repeatedly buy. You might think that it doesn’t matter where you buy those items, but if you want the rewards, it does.
For this example, I looked at four items that I know I would buy multiple times throughout the year and ran the numbers to find out at which store I would reap the most rewards. The four items cost the same price at both stores.
- Clinique Foundation: $29
- Too Faced Mascara: $24
- NARS Lip Gloss: $26
- Clinique Face Moisturizer: $39
Let’s say I purchase these four items every three months. That’s a total of $118 every quarter, or $472 every year. According to the levels of both rewards programs, this amount would allow me to qualify for the second tier at both stores — VIB at Sephora and Platinum at Ulta.
As a VIB member at Sephora and a Platinum member at Ulta, having spent $472 per year, I would get 1.25 points per dollar spent, or 590 points at both.
At Sephora, I’d also get to choose between a free birthday gift or an additional 250 points, plus receive access to seasonal savings and two-day shipping for $15 per year. Additionally, I’d be able to cash in my points for full- and trial-size products at the Rewards Bazaar, as well as beauty experiences. With 590 points, I could “buy” five small items, two medium size items or one large product, like a bareMinerals set, custom makeover or Drybar hair products.
At Ulta, I’d get the basic free birthday gift and double points during my birthday month, plus a $10 birthday coupon and my points would never expire. On top of that, with 590 points, I’d also receive $17.50 off my next purchase.
So now the question is which store gives me more for 590 points? Are Sephora’s products in the Rewards Bazaar worth more than the $17.50 discount at Ulta? Let’s do a little more math.
If I used 500 of my 590 points to get the Drybar products in Sephora’s Rewards Bazaar, I’d receive four travel size items: On The Rocks Clarifying Charcol Shampoo, On The Rocks Replenishing Lightweight Conditioner, Detox Dry Shampoo and Prep Rally Prime and Prep Detangler. To calculate their individual worth, I looked at what a full-size bottle of each one costs based on the amount in ounces/milliliters, and then divided by the amount that is in the trial-size versions:
- On The Rocks Clarifying Charcol Shampoo: Full-size is $26 for 250 mL, so trial-size is $3.12 for 30 mL
- On The Rocks Replenishing Lightweight Conditioner: Full-size is $26 for 250 mL, so trial-size is $3.12 for 30 mL
- Detox Dry Shampoo: Full-size is $23 for 150 mL, so trial-size is $1.61 for 10.5 mL
- Prep Rally Prime and Prep Detangler: Full-size is $23 for 148 mL, so trial-size is $2.64 for 17 mL
Total cost for four Drybar trial-size products, worth 500 points at Sephora: $10.49
Ultimately, Sephora’s rewards for 590 points could result in $10.49 worth of products, while Ulta’s rewards results in a $17.50 discount. When you add in the other benefits, Ulta also gives you a free birthday gift and a $10 coupon, whereas Sephora only gives you the choice of a free birthday gift and 250 points.
In this comparison, Ulta is the winner with the better rewards program. Members will receive more discounts in return for spending their money. However, it truly is all dependent on how much you spend per year at these stores.
If you only spend $350 per year on products, you’d be a level-two VIB member at Sephora, while only a level-one member at Ulta. In that case, you’d earn 1.25 points per dollar at Sephora, earning you 438 points, good for one medium product in the Rewards Bazaar. At Ulta, you’d only earn one point per dollar, earning you 350 points, or $10.50 off your next purchase. If we were to calculate this all out again, we may find that Sephora is the winner if that medium product is worth more than $10.50.
Regardless, there are budget-friendly ways to enjoy shopping at both Sephora and Ulta. So before putting any products in your carts (in the store or online), consider the five tips below.
1. Calculate how much you spend on makeup per year. Sephora only requires members to spend $350 per year to move up to level two VIB status, while Ulta requires members to spend $450 per year. That’s a $100 difference to consider, and it may not be worth it to you.
2. Consider where you can find your fave beauty brands. Ulta offers more beauty brands with lower price points, while Sephora focuses more on high-end, luxury brands. Depending on your beauty routine, you may benefit from shopping at Ulta where you can access both your Tarte bronzer and Covergirl lip gloss, saving you more money in the end. However, spending less money on each product could also prevent you from leveling up in Ulta’s reward program.
3. Keep an eye out for flash sales and freebies. Both Ulta and Sephora offer daily deals like free shipping on purchases of $50 or more, 25-piece beauty bags with online purchases of $60 or more or even free samples with purchases of $25 or more. All of these deals could save you a decent amount of dough. And with all of those free samples, you’ll be set with enough makeup to get you through the year.
4. Don’t knock brands by Sephora or Ulta. These beauty retailers know makeup, so it’s no surprise that their own brands are amazing. The plus? They’re also more affordable. For instance, Ulta’s full coverage liquid concealer is just a budget-friendly $9.
5. Don’t discount at-home beauty routines. The absolute best way to save money on beauty products? At-home beauty and skincare routines. Consider unique ingredients like quinoa for a face mask or rose water and cold milk for under-eye dark circles, which you can buy at your local store.
Sign up for Savvy Saver by Swirled, our newsletter featuring budget hacks and important (yet fun) financial info. Saving money just makes cents!
Sign up for our newsletter.
Say hello to the best part of your day.