The World of Shareholder Perks and Benefits
Some corporations reward their shareholders with unique perks and benefits
Shareholder perks often come and go in cycles. To qualify for these perks, an investor usually has to have at least one share of stock in certificate form registered in their own name (rather than held in a brokerage account). As many investors no longer hold the paper stock certificates and the majority of stock trading happens online, many companies have stopped offering perks to their shareholders. Some still do, though, and although shareholder perks should never be the primary motivation for investing in a company, they could sweeten the deal.
Companies With Shareholder Perks
When you take an ownership position in the stock of a company, you effectively become one of the owners of the business. You get certain rights as a shareholder, such as invitations to shareholder meetings and the ability to vote on issues that affect the direction of the company. You may also receive dividends or special incentives to invest in more shares.
Although the type of perks that used to be available have mostly disappeared, a handful of companies still offer certain perks.
Berkshire Hathaway: The investment vehicle of billionaire Warren Buffett offers some of the best shareholder perks in the business world. Investors are treated to discounts at Geico Insurance, as well as significant price reductions during the weekend of the shareholder meeting on merchandise from Borsheims Fine Jewelry & Gifts, See's Candy, and Nebraska Furniture Mart.
McDonald's Corporation: The world's largest fast-food chain, McDonald's, rewards its owners with a gift certificate each year, usually for free fries or a Big Mac. This shareholder perk has never been formally announced and, when it is given, usually comes tucked in with the annual report if you hold your shares directly.
Starbucks: Owners of Starbucks have long enjoyed a shareholder perk that will literally perk them up: free coffee. Tucked in with their annual report, investors often find a gift certificate for a free beverage at any Starbucks location.
Carnival Cruise Lines: Carnival Corporation openly celebrates its shareholder perks on its website, though you will need to own at least 100 shares to qualify for the benefits. Qualifying shareholders get a free credit of $50 when they sail six days or less in North America, $100 when they sail seven to 13 days, and $250 when they sail 14 days or longer. Perks are similar for European, UK, and Australian cruises, though the currency type and exact amounts vary.
Ford Motor Company: Owners of at least 100 shares of Ford common stock who have held their position for at least six months can enroll in the X-Plan program, which allows them to pay 4% above employee pricing. Depending upon the model you select, this can save you thousands of dollars on your next car, truck, or SUV.
Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG): Through a dedicated, controlled-access website, registered shareholders of IHG can book hotel stays for discounted prices (subject to availability). IHG owns brands like Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Candlewood Suites, Intercontinental Hotels & Resorts, Hotel Indigo, and Staybridge Suites.
International Business Machines: IBM allows stockholders to receive a special code, giving them access to the employee-only store, which offers significant discounts on computer hardware.
Japan Airlines: Investors who own 100 or more shares of its common stock can save 50% on regular one-way airfare for any domestic flight. The number of coupons you receive increases as your share count rises. For example, if you own 900 shares, you get five coupons for 50% off. For 1,100 to 99,999 shares, you get five coupons plus one coupon per 500 shares over 1,000 shares. For 100,000 shares or above, you get 203 coupons plus one coupon per every 1,000 shares above 100,000 shares. To reward long-term owners, shareholders who have been on record for seven consecutive dates receive extra rewards. Those with between 300 and 999 shares receive an extra discount coupon for every seven consecutive record dates they've invested. Those with 1,000 to 9,999 shares receive two additional discount coupons for the same. Those with 10,000 shares or more receive three additional coupons for the same.
Lindt & Sprüngli AG: For years now, shareholders with voting rights receive a large gift box of assorted Lindt & Sprüngli chocolates. The gift boxes are given to the entitled shareholders who attend the company's annual general meeting in Switzerland, as well as those who do not attend but, instead, vote by proxy before the deadline. The company does not ship the gift boxes outside of Switzerland, so if you're an international voting shareholder, you'll need to arrange an agreement with a friend or business that can accept the gift box on your behalf and ship it back to you through alternative means. That, or you can take a trip to Switzerland and visit the factory on the shores of the picturesque Lake Zurich.
Kimberly-Clark: Michael McDonald at MSN Money claims owners of the common stock who hold it outright have the chance to pay $24.49 for a box that includes many of the firm's products and coupons, putting the total value at $45 per box.
Royal Caribbean Cruises: As with Carnival Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean Cruises lists its shareholder benefits right on the front page of its corporate investor relations site. Also like Carnival, shareholders need to own at least 100 shares to qualify. It awards a $50 onboard credit per stateroom for shareholders sailing for five nights or less, $100 for shareholders sailing six to 13 nights, and $250 for shareholders sailing 14 or more nights. The perks can't be used in the Galapagos.
Companies That No Longer Offer Perks
Paper stock certificates have been pushed to extinction and replaced by the Direct Registration System and other ways to buy stock without a broker, such as direct stock purchase plans and dividend reinvestment plans. As such, many companies have slowly dropped shareholder perks. Not just in the United States, either. In Japan, Nissan Shatai announced on December 17, 2015, that it was ending its shareholder benefit program.
As hyperactive trading continues to take hold and long-term investors become forgotten (even though it's the long-term investors who end up amassing the biggest fortunes), the culture of fostering and rewarding business-like ownership has been lost to some degree.
These companies used to offer perks to shareholders, but over time and with changes in leadership and ownership, the perks have disappeared.
The Walt Disney Company: Back in 2001, the shareholder perk for Disney's stockholders was the ability to pay $39 for enrollment in the Magic Kingdom Club, a 20% discount to non-shareholders. Members received deep discounts ranging from 10% to 30% at all Disney resorts, stores, theme parks, attractions, and events. Disney discontinued these shareholder discounts, but certain shareholders who already had a membership are grandfathered into the plan.
Anheuser-Busch: One of the world's premier beverage companies, Anheuser-Busch owned a chain of theme parks under the Busch Gardens and Seaworld names. Shareholders were given a 15% discount on the price of admission as well as a grab bag full of various "goodies." The company has since merged with InBev and sold its theme park division to The Blackstone Group, thus ending this particular shareholder perk. In 2016, Anheuser-Busch InBev received the European Union's blessing in its proposed merger with SABMiller, combining the world's largest two brewing companies into one.
Churchill Downs: Up until March 2017, investors with 100 shares or more could participate in something the firm calls its Shareholder Pass Program. For this shareholder perk, the company would send two free passes per household, which entitled holders to free general admission at all of the company's racing and off-track betting facilities.
Newell-Rubbermaid: For years, Newell-Rubbermaid gave investors free passes to shop at the employee-only store, where they could find huge discounts on its legendary merchandise and products that weren't sold to the general public. When Newell-Rubbermaid merged with Jarden in a $15 billion deal in April 2016, those discounts were discontinued.
Wrigley Company: One of the greatest investments of all time, the Wrigley Company, the world's largest bubble gum manufacturer and the powerhouse behind products like Juicy Fruit, Big Red, and Wrigley's, was taken private after the billionaire Mars family bought Wrigley to add to their M&M empire. Before this, Wrigley had an excellent shareholder perk—it would send investors 20 packs of free gum every year at Christmas as a "thank you" for investing their money.
Keep on the Lookout
Sometimes, a bit of research will uncover shareholder perks you didn't know existed. If you're in Switzerland and own 75 shares of Weisse Arena AG, for example, you can get a 10% reduction for yourself and your family on all company lift tickets and rentals.
You might even find shareholder perks hidden within the fine print of your investments, encouraging direct ownership. For example, one particular fund gifts almost $205 in free shares to long-term investors for every $10,000 they hold for at least 12 months.
Sometimes you'll run into something like a master limited partnership that allows monthly investors who buy equity through regular paycheck withdrawals to get a 15% discount from the market price everyone else pays. Usually, these are not advertised, as they are meant to appeal to those in the know, like insiders and their family members. If you stumble upon one for a business you wanted to own anyway, it can make your purchase even better.