When Microsoft retired the criminally underappreciated Xbox rewards scheme in June of 2018, I was genuinely sad to see it go. Seeing those rewards credits turn into cash was a great way to offset purchases, and a decent incentive to buy direct from Microsoft.

However, most Xbox gamers seemed oblivious to its existence, and that’s a crying shame. The good news though, is the replacement, imaginatively titled Microsoft Rewards, has been available for around a year on your console, phone and PC. In a nutshell, Microsoft Rewards is a free, opt-in scheme which rewards anyone with a Microsoft account in a variety of ways (tip – if you have an Xbox log in, or an Outlook email address, you have an account).

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Using Bing to search daily – it isn’t as painful as you’d think – is my go to daily earner. A maximum of 30 searches a day via desktop yields 3 points a search, or 90 points (Bing’s handy news section usually has about 20 links to get you started), and a further 20 searches on Bing mobile will get you another 60 points. See how easy that was? We’re already at 150 points a day for minimum effort.

But there’s more! Bing will usually present you with a number of recommended clicks (Ever wanted to visit Paris? and suchlike). Clicking these is another 10 points a go. Factor in daily quizzes for 30 points a time (which encourage you to search, but can be easily beaten with a bit of trial and error) and you’re up to about 220-250 points a day before you’ve turned on your Xbox.

Downloading the app for your console will provide you with a few more earning opportunities; follow a link to view this week’s Deals with Gold Sale, for example. All of the above can be done without spending a penny (well, apart from the obvious investment in Xbox, phone and laptop, but I’m guessing most of you have done that already).

Not all of these things will form part of your standard daily routine, admittedly. But maxing out my points takes me less than ten minutes a day, and a quick click through the news headlines (nicely laid out on the Bing homepage) is something most of us would do anyway. For the news averse (and who can blame you?), Bing also has a nice picture search catalogue tucked away under the news.

If you have a partner, flatmate or kid with a Microsoft account, you can boost your earnings by adding them to your Microsoft Family. Each member can gift and receive a maximum of 5,000 points per calendar month. The smart tactic is to use your own account to accrue points for store credit, while letting your buddy account gather enough points for Gold & Game Pass renewals.

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Store credit, either in the guise of Xbox or Microsoft credit (there’s no discernible difference to the gamer, except they go on sale at different times) is instantly credited to your account. Gold & Game Pass subs are delivered by email in the form of a code, meaning they can be transferred to another party.

Be warned though, fake additional accounts are frowned on by Microsoft and will result in a ban, so this method of boosting your return should only be used by those of you with a legitimate second party with no interest in gaming. Likewise, don’t use Bots. Everyone who does gets caught and banned eventually. Bots are bad, kay? Kay.

For those of you who like to shop digitally, the app provides plenty of incentives. At time of writing, buying an Xbox One X will get you 50,000 points, or a more modest investment in renting three movies 2,500. And there are promotions to be had – buying featured games will occasionally net you a boosted return of 100 points per £1 spent, making that purchase of Kingdom Hearts III even more enticing.

So, we’ve established various ways of getting points, but points mean prizes, right? Apart from repetitive strain from all the clicking, what does this scheme get me?

A £5 gift card is 5,850 points (often discounted to 5,000) – easily achievable with clicks alone in a few weeks. 29.250 will get you £25. A year’s Gold? 29,000 – and this occasionally drops as low as 24,000. 3 months Game Pass will cost you 17,000 points – again, discounts are available at times. And if you’re the gambling type? Sweepstakes entries galore! 200 points will get you one Sweepstakes entry, 500 gets you 5, 1000 gets you 25 with a variety of prizes available – an £850 Xbox Gift Card, a Surface Pro or an accessories bundle, for example. This is just my humble opinion of course, but gambling is a waste of time and points. I’ve splurged countless points on sweepstakes when the scheme launched in the UK, and the best prize I got was….more points. Your mileage may vary, but I’d argue for saving, not gambling (and now I sound like my Dad, so let’s move on).

One interesting facet to the saving dynamic is that it has encouraged different spending decisions, at least for me. I bought Black Ops in the Christmas ’18 sale for £35.99, because I was intrigued by the Battle Royale mode. I’m not a COD fan, and not really an online gamer, so there’s not a chance in hell I would have bought that game with my hard earned cash. But using credit I’d earned through clicks? I gave it a shot. It was a mistake, of course. I’ve played about five hours and just can’t get into it. But do I regret the purchase? Not one bit. Psychologically, it just feels different. If I’d spent that amount from my bank account, I’d still be lying awake each night cursing every wasted penny. Hey, I’m Scottish, don’t judge me.

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It’s not all good news – right now there are no rewards for pure gaming. Whereas the old scheme coughed up when you hit achievement milestones, there’s no sign as yet of a similar feature in the revamped programme. The closest thing just now is Xbox Game Pass quests, which provide points for unlocking achievements in particular titles. This has been a bit messy, with a lot of reports of punch cards not registering achievements, but it’s a step in the right direction (and MS Rewards has a dedicated support team, who are very pleasant to deal with). That said, if there’s one thing MS have excelled at in the last few years, it’s listening to their customer base, so there’s till every possibility that we’ll see gaming rewards included in future.

There’s a valid argument that if something is free, then you’re the product. That’s hard to disprove, and Microsoft undoubtedly benefit from the scheme. Be it improved user numbers for Bing (it’s my go to now, believe it or not), or increased ad revenue from all the clicks – let’s face it, they’re not a charity. But the benefits to MS cost me nothing, and actually improve my lot as a consumer of their products. God knows, Google could do with some competition, right?

For now though, even with the omission of achievement based incentives, it’s a no-brainer. I’ve got past my gambling phase and am now hoarding points, with a year of Live well within my sights. If you have an Xbox, and do some web searches every day, it’s easy money. A few minutes each day sees the points rack up (you’ll be surprised how fast it happens), and while it won’t cost you a penny, it sure will save you a few. Lookout for the bonus points for your initial registration, take a couple of tours and make sure your first Bing search each day is for TheXboxHub!