How many loyalty cards do you have nestling away in your purse or wallet? Now might be a good time to check as recent research has revealed that we could be sitting on a staggering 5.2billion in unused loyalty points.

Not only do one-in-five of us sign-up for loyalty cards without realising what they can be used for, but a third of us are also guilty of forgetting to carry them around with us and a quarter can't even be bothered to figure out how the loyalty scheme works.

By not taking advantage of loyalty schemes or even to failing to understand what your points entitle you to, you could be missing out on some significant savings.

Still not convinced? Here's what you need to know to make the points you earn from the top 6 high street loyalty schemes go further.

Nectar Card

How do you collect points: Make a purchase at participating outlets and simply swipe your Nectar card at the till or by shopping through the Nectar website when buying online.

Where can it be used: Nectar cards can be used when you shop online or in-store at 100s of places (Sainsbury's, Homebase and Amazon are some of the most popular).

How do you redeem points: Points are converted into pounds which can then be spent on future purchases. You can spend your points as cash by getting your card swiped at the till when you pay in-store. When shopping online, simply browse the Nectar website for the brand you would like to spend your points on. Alternatively, you can also redeemed points in return for gifts or exchanged for vouchers to go to the cinema etc.

What are their points worth:

  • You get 2 Nectar points for each 1 spent

  • 500 points gives you 2.50 to spend

How to make your points go further: Choose how you redeem Nectar points. 1 point is equal to 0.005p in Sainsburys, so try working out the value of gift you are redeeming against. If the cash value of gift is higher then it's a good deal.

Any restrictions: You need to have spent over 1 and earned Nectar points in store in the last 60 weeks in order to be able to redeem points on your next visit (excluding petrol stations).

Any promotions: Retailers and outlets that are part of the Nectar scheme frequently run promotions giving extra or even triple Nectar points. You can stay informed of all the latest offers at the Nectar website.

Alternatively, you can edit the preferences on your Nectar account and choose how else to receive news of current offers.

Tesco Clubcard

How do you collect points: You will earn reward points whenever you spend on groceries, petrol or anything at Tesco direct. Simply have your card swiped at the till or register your Clubcard when shopping online.

Where can it be used: In-store or online at Tesco and affiliate companies such as E-on.

How do you spend points: Reward points are converted into pounds and vouchers of the equivalent value are sent out to customers on a quarterly basis. Your vouchers can be spent at Tesco stores, Tesco petrol stations, online at Tesco.com and at Tesco Direct. All you have to do is redeem your vouchers at the checkout.

What are their points worth:

  • You get 2 points for each 1 spent (also get 1 point for every 1 spend on petrol, mobile phone top-up etc.)

  • Every 100 points gives you 1 in vouchers

How to make your points go further: You can triple the value of your reward points by using Tesco Rewards. You simply exchange your vouchers for rewards for flights, holidays, days out and more. For example 2.50 in Clubcard vouchers can be exchanged for a voucher giving you 7.50 off a meal at Pizza Express.

Any restrictions: You can't redeem vouchers against tobacco, Esso fuels, prescription medicines, lottery products, infant formulae milk, clothing online, DVD's or CD's online. You need to collect at least 100 points by the end of each collecting period to qualify for a voucher.

Any promotions: Tesco frequently run offers whereby you get free points if you spend a certain amount on a certain product. They are also currently running a 'Double Clubcard' points promotion whereby you get 2 Clubcard points for every 1 spent in-store and online at Tesco.

Boots Advantage Card

Where can it be used: In-store or online at Boots.

How do you collect points: Simply swipe your Advantage Card at the till every time you buy something in-store or register you card at the Boots website for purchases online. To get points collected from online purchases added to your card you need to insert it into an Advantage Card Extra Kiosk next time you visit a Boots store.

How do you spend points: Your points are converted into pounds which can be redeemed against purchases in-store at Boots.

What are their points worth:

  • You get 4 points for every 1 you spend

  • Every point is worth 1p off in-store

How to make your points go further: Hold off big purchases for when places like Boots have extra points offer on (usually weekends).

Any restrictions: You can only spend your points on the full amount of whichever item you choose. It is not possible to make part payments. Also, you can't use points to purchase prescriptions, infant milk, gift vouchers, stamps or hearing care.

Any promotions: Boots frequently run offers whereby you get extra or double points if you spend a certain amount on a certain product. Remember to use your card in the 'Extra Offers' kiosk located in stores to get the latest printable discount vouchers.

Airmiles

How do you collect points: You can collect points when you spend on anything from train tickets to petrol, to newspaper subscriptions and groceries at participating outlets and retailers. You collect points on your Airmiles card whenever you make a purchase at participating outlets by simply by swiping it at the till or by following the link on the Airmiles website when buying online.

Where can it be used: Your Airmiles card can be used at supermarkets, petrol stations, online outlets, travel and much more.

How do you spend points: You can spend Airmiles on free flights, cheap hotels or even days out with participating companies. Simply redeem your Airmiles online at the Airmiles website.

What are their points worth: Airmiles do not have a strict cash value like the other schemes, but are reward-based. The number of points you'll collect per purchase varies depending on where you're using your card and what you're buying.

For instance, you'll earn:

  • 1 Airmile for 20 litres of fuel (Shell)

  • 1 Airmile for every 5 or 10 spent online.

  • 1 Airmile for every 1 spent on a holiday or cruise booked through the Airmile website.

  • 750 Airmiles = when you book a flight to UK, Northern France, Belgium or Holland.

How to make your points go further: Air miles are worth 8.5p each which makes them the most valuable reward points out of all the other schemes. If you use Tesco's Clubcard Rewards to swap 250 Clubcard points for 60 Airmiles they will be worth 5.10 instead of 2.50 in-store.

Any restrictions: If you have not collected any Airmiles on your account for 24 consecutive months then any points on the card will expire.

Any promotions: Outlets that accept Airmiles' cards frequently run promotions giving extra or double Airmiles. You can stay informed of any current promotions at the Airmiles website.

Waterstones

How do you collect points: Simply have your card swiped at the checkout whenever you buy something in-store or input your card details at the Waterstones website to collect points for online purchases.

Where can it be used: In-store or online at Waterstones.

How do you spend points: Your points can used for full or part payment against goods purchased online or in-store at Waterstones.

What are their points worth:

  • You get 3 points for every 1 spent

  • Every 1 point gives you 1p off

Any restrictions: Purchases from Waterstone's Marketplace, gift vouchers, electronic gift cards, book tokens, products from in-store concessions and other products from time to time as notified.

Any promotions: You can earn extra points on books by your favourite authors and there are regular promotions and exclusive offers to cardholders. You also can earn 5 eco points against in-store purchases if you don't take a plastic bag and get free copies of the Book Quarterly magazine worth 2.95.

Co-op Dividend

How do you collect points: You collect points whenever you buy something from the Co-operative's family of companies. This includes their legal services, banking or even funeral care, as well as in their stores.

All you have to do is hand over your card whenever you see the membership sticker. For online purchases, simply enter your membership number when prompted.

Where can it be used: In Co-op stores and also at partner organisations like the Co-operative bank.

How do you spend points: Your points are converted into vouchers which can be redeemed in-store against purchases or exchanged for cash. Vouchers will be sent out twice year.

What are their points worth:

The number of points you accumulate per purchase varies depending on where and what you're buying. For instance:

  • You get 1 point for every 1 you spend in store

  • You get 1 point for every 40 you borrow on a mortgage from Cooperative Bank, Smile or Britannia

How to make your points go further: As a Co-op dividend member you'll also receive a share of the annual profits made by the Co-op group. The points you accumulate will determine your exact share and this will be issued either in vouchers or a cheque (if you've earned points via one of the Co-op's financial services.

Any promotions: There are always a number of exclusive offers available to members. You can keep up-to-date with these at the Co-operative website.

Remember: you don't have to stay loyal

Loyalty cards are issued by organisations in the hope that you will shop exclusively with them. But don't be fooled, although you are effectively getting a (very small!) discount when you use a loyalty card, you could be doing your wallet more harm than good if the same items are available for less elsewhere.

So never, ever buy something from a shop just because you'll get loyalty points back. You should always shop around to find the cheapest price possible for whatever you're buying and then, if the store you're spending in gives loyalty points, make the most of this added extra.