If you have to buy it, get the best deal!
How do you get the best deal at Ulta? As a deal lover, Ulta is one of my favorite places to shop. Ulta encourages deal stacking, which is a lot harder at retailers like Sephora. Some deals are a little harder to find, because it rewards our digging efforts with a larger bounty. I’m half-joking. Most people will place orders without putting too much effort into finding a deal, and Ulta knows this. For those willing to do the research and put in the time, Ulta gives us the deals we need to place an order. If you’ve mastered the art of deal (like Tony Schwartz), I’d love if you can think of anything else. There are always new things to learn, so I will edit this if I discover something new. I’ve seen guides to getting the best deal at Ulta before, but they’re not usually comprehensive and miss many important tips. Details scare some people. If you’re scared of detail, click that little X and back out now. Do not say I did not warn you!
The most important step to getting the best deal at Ulta is signing up for the UltaMate Rewards Program. If you are new to the program, using a referral link will get you $10 off your first purchase of $30 or more. Send a referral link to a friend and you both get $10 off. This is a very lucrative rewards program and arguably the most valuable of any retailer (now that Birchbox eliminated points for monthly reviews on its subscription). Although with point multipliers at Ulta (which we will touch on later), even the old Birchbox rewards program looked amateurish compared to Ulta. UltaMate rewards replaced an inferior program at Ulta with its national launch at the beginning of 2014. Only select cities tested this program in 2013, so this program is actually in its infancy. That means it may take time for larger companies to see what Ulta is doing and change to compete. It also means less frequent shoppers may still be familiar with the old rewards system, which mostly rewarded products that were always out of stock (like Ipsy).
UltaMate rewards members receive deal notifications via mail and email. Receiving both are important to getting the best deal, so I do not recommend opting out of either. Every time Ulta runs a major promotion it mails a catalog. These catalogs are usually placed in online orders received around the promotion as well. Catalogs have a detailed listing of many upcoming deals. At times, they even have special coupons to redeem. The previous catalog included a coupon for a free deluxe Benefit Ka-Brow! Clean-Gel Brow Color with Brush or a Benefit Browvo! Conditioning Primer. There was no purchase required for anyone who presented it in store. I spent money when I picked up my brow primer, because I picked it up with a gift that required a purchase. This offer is no longer available, but I will let you know when more pop up.
If you do not receive a catalog, Ulta usually places them online in the static link on the left column called current ad. I have received catalogs that are not placed there, but many of them are. These online catalogs are not perfect replicas of the physical ones, because they usually exclude coupons placed in the mailer. The online version did not include the Benefit freebie, and many do not include whatever coupon the mailer places on the back cover. That is not always the case though. There are coupons for 20% off a hair tool and a $37 blowout in the current online catalog, and I have not actually received a physical catalog for the one listed online. It never hurts to check the online catalog to make sure you have the latest one.
Ulta sometimes mails and emails special offers, including some of the 20% off prestige coupons. These are usually unique offers, so they contain a one time use online promo code, and a one time in-store use bar code. Unique online codes are different from unique bar codes, so an offer with both is good once online AND once in store. The promo codes on mailed coupons are always different from those emailed. That means you get two offers instead of one. This also means that you have two online coupons AND two in-store coupons. There are times when the offer is only mailed or only emailed.
There are magical gifts Ulta only mails to select accounts. I have not received any yet, but there were already two this year. Select Platinum members received a Benefit Goof Proof Brow Pencil or an Urban Decay Vice Lipstick Sampler. Really lucky members received both! Many time sensitive offers are only emailed. These offers include: Beauty Breaks (a 4-6 hour sale that offers a select gift with purchase), one day only steals (a special pop-up sale that ends when the day is over), point multipliers, GWP Offers, and more. Coupons to pick up free birthday gift(s) are only emailed. If you opt out of emails, you will miss a lot of incredible deals. Of all methods important to getting the best deal, emails are number one. Certain sites (like mine) can help those who do not receive emails with select deals, but many deals are unique or have unique codes.
Whether shopping in store or online, make sure you know which gift with purchase offers are available. Many offers are available in store and online. The catalog is a great place to start, but it does not list all offers. It is important to check the online gift with purchase section. If you are checking the gift with purchase section linked in the left column, you are not seeing all gifts. Compare the first GWP link in this paragraph to the second, and you will always notice the first link will always have 1-2 extra items. That is because typing gift with purchase into the search bar always yields more results than clicking into the link Ulta provides. Any time I link it, I always link to the option that gives you more, but I linked to the lesser offer this time to show you the difference. Most of the offers in this section are for specific brands, but general offers hide in here. General offers are almost always online only.
Once you’re aware of the available offers, be proactive in getting them. When shopping online, some offers will give you a message to add it to the cart. Those are easy to remember. Others will not, so make sure you add those from the offer link. If you’re shopping in store, make sure you ask for any free gift you qualify for that the agent does not automatically give you. There are so many gifts with purchase behind the counter that even the most on the ball employee would have a hard time remembering all of them. At times, they run out faster in store or online, so if one option is out, make sure you check the other. It is important to remember that Ulta runs on central time and usually removes offers at midnight the day they expire. If you are on the west coast, offers disappear at 10pm. This also means new offers for the next day appear at 10pm.
Exclusive offers are a little harder to come by. These include: special targeted GWP offers that are only sent to select accounts, affiliate exclusive offers, or partner offers. If I get a special targeted offer that does not require a unique code, I share it on my Ulta Retailer page. I usually share unique codes I am not planning to use as well. Unique offers will only work for the first person who uses it though. I will always mention it when I post a unique offer. Any affiliate offers I am aware of are also linked to my Ulta retailer page, but I cannot find all the partner offers. These are the type of offers where Ulta has a specific person or group create a GWP. When that person refers someone over to Ulta with a special link, s/he gets the referral gift. An example of this is when a Youtuber, like Alexandrea Garza, pairs with Ulta to give her viewers a GWP. Someone pointed me to her video, and I was able to get her amazing bag. It is no longer available, but Ulta will continue to pair with other people to offer special gifts with purchase like hers (although she picked really great items, so they may not be “like” hers.
UltaMate Rewards members receive 1 point for every dollar they spend. If an UltaMate member spends $450 a year, s/he gets upgraded to Platinum status. Platinum members receive 1.25 points for every dollar they spend. All members get 2x points for their birth month. Those who are not opted out of emails receive a coupon for a birthday gift on their actual birthday. It does not require a purchase, but you must pick it up in store within 30 days. The gift has changed every quarter since 2015. Catalogs released at the beginning of each quarter show the upcoming gift, but I will also update the offer on my list of all birthday offers I know of. Those born in the third quarter are lucky, because they get a coupon for a full-size free Urban Decay eyeshadow in Midnight Cowboy. Platinum members also get a $10 coupon good toward anything with no minimum. It is also emailed on their birthday and valid for 30 days, but Platinum members can redeem it in store or online. It will work once online AND once in-store. All members get an offer for 5x points during the month of their account anniversary. This is the date you originally signed up (even if under the old program), and the offer is good for one week.
Points are calculated when you redeem, not when you earn. This is an important distinction. When you reach 2000 points, you can get a $125 shopping credit. If you split them up and redeem 1000 at a time, you will only get two $50 shopping credits. Make sure you redeem in increments of 2000 if you want the best deal. I’ve never saved much over 2000 points, but others have told me there is a 4000 maximum redemption online and 5000 in store. You can redeem 4000 at a time for $250, but you will only get $300 for 5000 points. Any redemption that is not divisible by 2000 is not the maximum value. If you redeem 3000 points, you will get the first 2000 at the maximum value of $125, but the other 1000 will get the lower tier of $50.
Whether shopping in store or online, you can select the amount you redeem. There is no requirement to use all of your points on an order. If you place a $200 order and have 3000 points, you can redeem 2000 ($125) and pay $75. That saves your other 1000 points until you can bank them back up to 2000. You will also receive new points on the $75 you spend. Ulta divides the $125 redemption across all items and calculates new points based on the amount left, so items with better multipliers will not get special weight.
Points never expire for Platinum members. As long as your account is in Platinum status, you can bank them as long as you want. UltaMate members should use their points before they expire, even if it means redeeming them for a lower tier. Ulta only removes points once a quarter, and it removes points that are at least a year old. Any points you earn in quarter three for 2016 get removed when quarter four starts in 2017. You will get an email reminder to spend your points before they expire (as long as you’re opted into emails).
Now, let’s get into why the rewards program is so valuable. If you earned 2000 points one at a time and redeemed them for $125, you are getting 6.25% back on your investment. Unless you are using the Ulta credit card (mentioned below), it is not even possible to reach 2000 one at a time. That means the rewards program should always yield over 6.25% for Platinum members who redeem at maximum value. Points for UltaMate members expire in a year, and any purchase over $450 a year upgrades them to Platinum. Thus, it is not possible for an UltaMate member to reach 2000 points one point a time. UltaMate members can reach 2000 with multipliers though. A $400 purchase at 5x points would get an UltaMate member there without crossing them over to Platinum. It is possible for a Platinum member to reach 2000 points 1.25 points at a time, although it would be very difficult given all the point multipliers available. This means we get a minimum of 7.8% back if we redeem at 2000.
Multipliers go out all year-long. Make sure you activate your multipliers from your email or the My Rewards-My Bonus Offers section of your online account before shopping. The most common multiplier is 2x points for UltaMate members and 3x points for Platinum members. This releases many times throughout the year. Most 5x points offers are specific to a certain brand or type of product, but there are times when 5x points applies to all purchases. We are actually in a 5x points on anything promotion through 07/30/16. Like most 5x points on anything offers, this is a Platinum exclusive. When a brand offers 5x points, it is usually targeted. This means Ulta only provides it to select accounts. There are times when multiple brands have offers at the same time, and you could get all of them or none of them depending on the selection parameters. The best offer is 10x points. It is a one day event at the end of August for Platinum members. Any product excluded from 10x points gets 5x points.
Point multipliers combine! There is no limit to how many multipliers you can redeem at once. If you’re lucky enough to have three, you can use them all. Four at a time is probably possible, but I’ve never seen it. I’ve redeemed three at a time more than once. During my birthday month, I received a 2x points for that, my anniversary offer for 5x points came that month, and a I received an offer for 5x points on Benefit. The result was 10.25x points on the Benefit purchases. A base point gets built into every offer. Each time you add an offer, you have to remove the duplicate base point from a subsequent offer. Platinum members also get a 0.25x bonus, but it never multiplies. This means I got 5x for the Benefit offer + 1x (2x-1 to remove the duplicate base) for my birthday month + 4x (5x-1 to remove the duplicate base) for my anniversary offer + the 0.25x Platinum bonus.
Although certain deals only pop up when there are no multipliers, many pop up during multipliers. It would actually be difficult to purchase many times throughout the year and not hit a multiplier of some kind, which again is why I say you get at least 7.8% back for redeeming at 2000 points. Odds are, you will get a higher percentage, because you will qualify for multipliers along the way.
A Beauty Break is an online GWP that is only available for 4-6 hours. These offers can and will pop up at any time, but they are most commonly offered on Wednesday from 8am-12pm PST. If you do not receive the email, check the online GWP section. Unless it is a rare targeted Beauty Break, they will always be listed online. Without the email, it is hard to predict the ones that do not come on Wednesday. I randomly happened upon one in the GWP section on a Monday night about two years ago and later found that they have night-time offers occasionally. There was only one time I remember receiving an email. While it likely means those special Beauty Break offers are targeted, you can redeem some targeted offers if you know the link.
One day only steals are usually limited to Platinum members. These are offers that are rarely known in advance, and usually only appear in our emails. It is common to receive multiple offers during a major promotion. There are times when all members can take advantage of these special one day only steals. Occasionally, we find out about these offers before the day they go live. On Saturday, 07/30/16, there is a steal open to any Ulta Shopper. The Urban Decay Naked Smoky Palette will be $27 (50% off). I own this and highly recommend it. If you’re shopping online, I suggest getting there right when the sale opens at midnight central time. Those shopping in store should also arrive as soon as their store opens.
When shopping in store, make sure you stop by the clearance section. This is usually near the center of most stores, but ask an employee if you’re having a hard time finding it. Items inside the clearance section vary between stores. Clearance items in store are always discounted deeper than the same item in the online sale section. There is no guarantee items you find online are sold in store, because the online sale section is a lot bigger. It is a good idea to check the sale section even if you’re not going into the store. If you have time to go to a store and are planning on purchasing something from the sale section, I’d chance going into the store. The only exception is if the online gifts (which outnumber the in store gifts) are more valuable (to you) than the amount you could save with a trip to the store. Many promotions are listed in the Special Offer section. If you want to purchase multiples from a specific brand, check this section to see if there are any BOGO offers available.
Ulta accepts and offers a lot of coupons. If you want more details about any coupon I mention here, refer to Everything You Need to Know About Ulta Coupons. I go over all types of coupons and important details about them. There is almost always an offer for Ulta and drugstore branded items. It is usually for $3.50 off $15, 20% off a single item or 20% off the entire (drugstore) purchase. At times, you can get a coupon for a specific item, like 20% off a hair tool. Those are online, at the bottom of your emails, or in the catalog. Manufacturers coupons work if you shop in person. Brand specific coupons give a discount off a purchase within that brand. We covered the birthday coupons above. Referral coupons give $10 off to the person being referred and the person referring someone (up to 10) into the UltaMate Rewards program. Some members get a discount to urge them to start shopping with Ulta again. Coupons for discounts in the salon are usually available. Unique or general offers for a gift with any purchase get emailed to select accounts.
As long as you qualify for multiple offers in store or online, you can add them all. The only exception online is for multiple offers that require a promo code, because only one promo code works per order. If any in-store coupons mention they cannot be combined with other coupons, that would be the only in store exclusion. Otherwise, you are only limited by the amount of offers you are aware of. Most in store coupons combine and many online offers use a link instead of a promo code. I’ve redeemed plenty of orders where I stacked multiple offers. You can always add a free 2-piece sample pack with any online order.
As mentioned above, the 20% off prestige offer is unique. Ulta releases this coupon to UltaMate members five times a year: late January, early April, late July (in 2016, it was late June for Platinum and early July for UltaMate), late October, and mid December. In 2015 and 2016, the July code dropped to 10% for non-Platinum members. It dropped to 10% for non-Platinum members in early April 2016. They exclude: Clinique, Lancome, Dermalogica, Beauty Steals, and Benefit Brow Bar. There are additional exclusions including fragrance and select new releases at times. Waiting for a 20% off coupon is a great way to save, and you never have to wait too long.
All of the deals and promotions above work at different times through the year, and there are times when they overlap with major promotions. The major promotions at Ulta already offer great savings, so they only get exponentially better when combined with other deals. Major promotions kick off with the Glowing Skin Event in early January. During this 21 day event, there are deals, steals, and discounts on all types of skincare products. This is the only major promotion that does not repeat during the year. The Liter Sale offers great discounts on jumbo sized haircare. This event runs with the Glowing Skin event in January and on its own starting in early July. The 21 Days of Beauty Event offers 21 days of deals, steals, and discounts mostly on makeup. This event takes place in mid March and early to mid September. During the Gorgeous Hair Event, shoppers get 21 days of deals, steals, and discounts on anything for the hair. Liters are usually cheaper during its sale, but everything else for hair is usually cheaper during this event than other times of the year. It takes place in May and repeats in October.
The free shipping minimum is usually $50. It does reduce at times to $25 or $35, but shipping is $5.95 if you dip below. Paying for shipping always negates some of the deal, so I suggest shopping in store when you are not going over the minimum. Free Shipping is calculated after discounts are applied, so you must go over $50 before tax. Gift With purchase minimums are calculated before discounts. If you have a $60 GWP in your cart, and a discount that takes $10 off, you only need to spend $50 to get that offer.
Ulta launched a new credit card. It is important to note there are added perks to selecting the MasterCard over the store credit card. A chart comparing the two is below. The official MasterCard will work at any place accepting MasterCard. Something would be amiss to mention Ulta Deals without bringing this up, but I’m not going to get it. While this is a fabulous card, I just have too many cards to justify picking up another one. If you decide to pick this up, you get a 20% discount when you open the card. There is no annual fee. Every $1 spent at Ulta earns a bonus point, and there is a 500 bonus point offer for spending $500 in the first 3 months. Outside purchases even get a point for every $3 spent. If you redeemed at 2000 points for $125, it would take $6000 spent outside to cash that out. That actually equates to 2.083% back (but only if you redeem at 2000 points). The in store rate is 6.25% back. This only includes the bonus point, because you’d get the other points for shopping whether you had the card or not. In other words, this is a very rewarding credit card!
Now, that I’ve covered everything I can think of, this is a reminder to become an UltaMate Rewards Member. This is a referral link for $10 off your first purchase. Remember to check all Ulta offers before placing an online order, because there are always general or brand specific offers that are not targeted. Follow the steps I’ve mentioned, and you could be a deal staking master in no time. This article is not going anywhere, so you can always refer back to it to freshen up on any topic that gets fuzzy. See all Ulta articles and articles on getting the best deal. View my main page for the guide map to the site and deeper deal exploration.
Disclosure: Affiliate and Referral Links