Updated 21 Feb 2017
From £20,000 in cash to luxury weddings, five-star holidays to £10,000 in Tesco gift cards, MoneySavers have won it all. It's all about 'comping', a potentially profitable hobby.
This guide includes sourcing the right free online competitions, using web gadgets to form-fill at speed, free help with tie-breakers and much more.
Thanks to the Competition Time board's users, especially comping queen VelvetGlove (see her comping guide for lots of the tips below). The aim of this guide is to complement the forum board. Hopefully it will mean more competitions posted, and more prizes for MoneySavers.
The art of comping
It's possible, though not easy, to walk away with swanky gadgets, lavish holidays or thousands of pounds in cash all without spending a penny.
The reason's simple. Competitions are a cheap chance for companies to promote their wares. Giving away a £3,000 Maldives getaway is cheaper than buying a big national newspaper ad. Add to that the chance to collect valuable info on potential customers, and it's easy to see why these contests abound.
What's comping? It's about putting in the hours systematically entering hundreds of free competitions, rather than doing the odd contest. This way, you're statistically more likely to win big. Depending on your work ethic and luck, you could furnish your house, travel the world and boost your bank balance.
Often all entering involves is filling in an online form or sending a postcard, sometimes answering a question or tie-breaker.
Collectively, MoneySavers have scooped £100,000s' worth of prizes, from laptops to luxury breaks, iPods to film premiere tickets. Plus your gains are tax-free, so unlike other ways to boost your income, the taxman won't get any of it.
Success isn't guaranteed
It's crucial to realise you won't immediately be frolicking on a bed of £50 notes. Unlike other money-makers, such as Survey Sites, eBay Selling, Facebook Selling, Earning Cash Online and other ways to Boost Your Income, the rewards aren't guaranteed.
'I won a £40,000 prize bundle, including a holiday to Sweden' the BIGGEST comping win we've seen
While we don't want to give anyone the impression that comping is a sure-fire way to make cash, it is possible to win big. Forumite Pieboyjr recently experienced this first-hand when they netted the biggest single prize haul we've seen in the MSE Forum:
Last week I had a missed call from the Gadget Show turns out I won a prize bundle worth £40,000, which includes a holiday to Sweden with £1,000 spending money, an iPhone 7, an Apple Watch, a 3D printer, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, road bike, mountain bike, MacBook Air, barbecue, 50" smart TV and much more.
Needless to say I'm absolutely stunned and beginning to wonder where on earth all these prizes are going to go. A lovely problem to have though!
They're not alone. In July 2016, Nettie17 won a trip to the Olympics:
I had a phone call from Capital FM yesterday to say I'd won a trip to the Olympics in Rio with £2,000 spending money. Can't believe it, I'm going on the holiday of a lifetime!
In August 2015 Gillfrance bagged an incredible haul from a Channel 4 comp:
OMG! I won a car, holiday to Mauritius and £1k. Took delivery of a fab VW Up car yesterday. My old banger died on me last year and I had been saving madly for a new one. Cannot believe it!
The two-week luxury holiday to Mauritius included water sports and spending money. I am so, so happy!
Forumite Holly Smith's is the biggest ongoing comping success we've heard of see the MoneySaver wins £50k worth of prizes MSE News story for her full account.
I've won £50,000 worth of prizes in five years from entering comps I spot on the MSE comping forum.
It gives me a fantastic lifestyle and I've been able to do things that I would never have been able to otherwise.
- Holly Smith
Just won a £17,000 wedding, including a honeymoon in Dubai and platinum wedding rings. Whoooo buzzin'!
- PINKTEEGAN See her full story.
I'm still in shock. I had a call yesterday to say I had won £22,000, a trip to NYC for four and a private Great Gatsby screening. So grateful for this life-changing prize.
I've won a trip to Las Vegas worth £3,000 and gadgets worth over £26,000 [including a Bang & Olufsen home cinema and Canon SLR camera]. I'm hooked!
The trip to Vegas was amazing. We got to stay at the MGM, go quad biking across the desert, front-row tickets to the Cirque du Soleil and a helicopter trip over the strip. We got picked up by limos everywhere.
100s of competitions in one place
The Competitions Time forum board is where this site's most dedicated compers post hundreds of contests.
There's a real community there, with hundreds of enthusiasts who love to share the competitions they find. They know it diminishes their chances of winning that contest, but sharing their research increases opportunities for everyone.
You gotta have a system
Don't just pick at random systematically work through the competitions on the board, so you don't miss any beauties.
And you can do just that and keep track using the Competitions Time forum board. Scroll down to the bottom of the forum board to the 'display options' box. Now tell it to sort threads in order of 'thread start time' from the beginning, and 'descending'. This will sort the competitions into chronological order to reduce the chances of missing the deadline on each.
Use the page numbers to go back to the page showing the oldest (still open) competitions. This is usually page 200ish. Work through the posts to complete them all would take several days, as there are so many comps posted.
At the end of a session, write down the last competition you entered. This way you have a record of where you got up to for next time.
Keep track of what you've entered
Some promoters exclude people who enter multiple times. To keep track of completed contests, press the tick button at the bottom of the post. Next time you visit the board, it will show a green tick next to that comp. Alternatively, press X to skip one. You must register and log on to the forum to do this.
Always read terms and conditions to check if it's one per household rules vary for every competition.
Don't forget to thank the MoneySaver who posted the comp by clicking the button below their post.
Dodge the inevitable spam
Let's be frank companies usually set up competitions to get your email, number and other personal details. So take steps to avoid being deluged with marketing bumf.
Set up a dedicated email address
Never use your normal email address. It'll be immediately flooded with spam. Instead, set up a dedicated email ac. As a powerful free option, Gmail's among the best.
There's usually a way to choose not to get 'further communications' to avoid most of the marketing. Be careful with the wording though. Sometimes adjacent check-boxes mean different things the first an 'opt in', the second an 'opt out'. If there's no way to opt out, consider whether you really want to enter.
Get a comping batphone
If you don't want to give out your mobile number, consider getting a cheap pay-as-you-go Sim just for comping communications.
A Sim is the small (roughly 2cm by 1cm) microchip card you insert into a phone when it's first set up. It provides the identity of a phone for the mobile network, so it can recognise, bill and send calls to individual customers.
When you temporarily change the Sim card in your phone, you'll have a different number. The Sim card is usually located behind the battery on the back of the phone. See the Cheap Mobiles guide for more info.
How to junk the junk
All members of the Direct Marketing Association agree to a code of practice pledging not to send advertising mail to any individual who has indicated they don't want it. To stop the junk, you can sign up online to the Mail Preference Service and Telephone Preference Service. See full info plus more ways to stop unwanted mail, texts and calls in the Stop Spam guide.
Be picky about the competitions you enter
It may sound obvious, but focus your time on entering contests with goodies you actually want to win.
Many prizes are non-transferable, so if the prize is a tour of Stamford Bridge with Antonio Conte and you can't stand footie, give it a miss. As well as freeing up your time, it could make another MoneySaver's dream come true.
Of course, with some contests there is the option to try to sell the prize on eBay. But you're entering the contest based on someone else's efforts to find it, and by doing so diminish their chances. So consider the ethics before entering just to flog.
Check for exclusions and travel requirements in the small print. If a comp means taking a midweek mini-break when you've no holiday allowance left, move on.
Extra-effort comps may boost your chances
Lots of people are lazy, so anything involving a smidgeon of extra effort attracts fewer contestants.
Need to pen a poem, complete a tie-breaker or snap a photo? Try your luck you might be the only entrant. You'll also stand a better chance with highly localised competitions, such as a local paper offering tickets to a nearby theatre.
Pen witty tie-breakers or use a tool to help
A host of competitions require tie-breaker slogans. If you're a wordsmith, this can be an easy way to boost your chances.
Keep 'em short and punchy. Always read through the company's own marketing literature. It has often spent time developing the brand, and will want something that fits it, so that's your clue.
Hunt for answers
The OneAcross site lets you search for answers to crosswords. It also has an anagram solver plug in a word and it instantly generates hundreds of possibilities. For example, did you know that Martin Lewis is "Mini Wastrel"?
Of course, there's also good old Google and Wikipedia for quiz questions.
Enter answers at speed
A free add-on for web browser Firefox, Split Panel lets you split browser windows in half, so you can see two web pages at once. This way, you can copy and paste answers at speed.
Installing it is simple.
If you don't already have Firefox, head to mozilla.org and follow the prompts to install. Then go to Split Panel and hit the 'add to Firefox' button on the left. Follow the prompts and restart Firefox.
Clever auto-fill tools for speedy entries
Next, take a technological grip so you can enter more contests, but spend far less time doing it. Many top compers enter 100 online competitions a day by exploiting tools and tricks to turbo-charge their competition-entering.
One way is to set up a Word document with your particulars on your name, phone number and address. Then when you want to fill in a form, just highlight the info and copy and paste it into the boxes.
To take it up a notch, most web browsers, such as Internet Explorer or Firefox, feature an option to remember your details and fill them in automatically. So next time you start to enter the same thing, type the first few letters and suggestions should appear. This can be a security risk, so avoid on shared computers.
Internet Explorer. Go to Tools, then Internet Options, click the Content tab and press AutoComplete. Put a tick in the box to select AutoComplete for forms. If you have any problems, Microsoft has a guide to its AutoComplete function.
Firefox. Firefox comes with a basic form-filling function. Go to Tools > Options > Privacy and make sure 'Remember history' is checked. This doesn't always fill out forms correctly first time, so try downloading the Autofill Forms add-on, which is more sophisticated.
Turbo-charge your form filling
While you can set browsers to remember basic information such as names and addresses, they aren't that intelligent and often put the wrong info in fields.
Free web program Roboform is a form-filling weapon that easily outguns typing alone. It stores info such as addresses, phone numbers and postcodes and uses them to automatically fill in online forms.
The details are stored on your computer. All you need to remember is the crucial master-password to access them.
One consideration is Roboform blindly fills out form details in the same way as spambots, which spammers use to send scores of entries. So some firms may mistake you for a spambot and block your entry. We've no stats on how many competitions will block you this way, but if you're worried, try AutoHotKey instead.
How to set up Roboform
Go to Roboform and download the program. Once the software is installed, find the Roboform icon on your browser toolbar and click 'Identities' to create a new ID. Then simply fill in all the details you want it to remember about you, eg, name, address, postcode, date of birth.
When you see a form you want to fill in, click the Roboform icon and select your identity. This will magically fill in the blanks with your details (do double-check though).
Roboform can also remember user IDs and passwords. Think twice about doing this they are best stored as little as possible.
You need to set a very secure master-password for Roboform use a long mix of numbers, letters and different cases.
Customise your keyboard
To get things done at top speed, there's a way to customise your keyboard shortcuts.
Let's imagine you've got certain words that you use over and over again '29 Acacia Road'. You can automate that phrase using a bit of free software called AutoHotKey. Then all you have to do every time you want to enter, say, the first line of your address, is press 'Alt' and '4', and like magic the words '29 Acacia Road' appear in the form.
To do this, you need to write a 'script', a plain text file with personalised instructions for the program. This sounds uber-nerdy, but it's actually pretty simple.
How to write and use an AutoHotKey script.
Step 1. Write your script. Once you've installed AutoHotKey, open a basic plain text file in Notepad. Huge thanks to VelvetGlove for writing this script.
Every ! sign stands for the Alt key and every number is the number you want to use for that shortcut. Each line in the file creates a different action. For example putting '!1:: Send I Love MoneySaving' means that holding down the Alt key and pressing '1' will write 'I Love MoneySaving'.
If you want to use the Windows logo key instead of Alt, use # instead of !.
Step 2. Save the file. Once the plain text file is edited, save it on your desktop, and be sure to end the file name with .ahk. In the 'Save as type' box, you must select 'All files', or it won't work.
Step 3. Run the file. Now it's time to run the file. Find your personalised file on the desktop, and double-click on it to make it run. Then find the AutoHotKey icon on your toolbar, right-click it, and press 'Reload this script'. You can now use the shortcuts.
Step 4. Edit the file. Once the file's up and running, it can be edited at any time. Just find it on your desktop and right-click on it to edit the script. After it's saved, right-click on the AutoHotKey tool bar icon and select 'Reload this script'. This will make the changes.
For a more advanced guide, use AutoHotKey's tutorials.
Speedily open multiple links
Often competition board threads involve opening lots of links to different contests. Google Chrome users can open several threads at once with the free LinkClump add-on. It lets you draw a box around a group of threads and open them all just right-click and drag.
Quick email contest entry
For email entries, draft and save a template email with your name, email, address and telephone number, so you can fire it off quickly. Remember to leave a space for the answer.
Got a top tip we haven't listed? Feed back in the 40+ Comping Tips discussion.
Free £400 daily postcode prize draw
Sounds too good to be true, but it's legit. The Free Postcode Lottery is a fun competition that's been running every day since April 2011, and the prize is £400 a day. Several forumites have got lucky:
I won the Free Postcode Lottery a couple of months ago, nearly £500!
Simply register your email address and postcode (over-18s only) online at Free Postcode Lottery, where a registered postcode is selected randomly at noon each day for the £400 jackpot.
You'll have to check online before noon the following day to claim it the prize goes up by £400 each day it's unclaimed and the pot is split if multiple winners with the same postcode claim.
MSE's Deals team are all big fans (they even have a winner in their midst!). For a full guide, read their Free Postcode Lottery guide and to win with similar sites, see MSE Jordon's 10 Free Lotteries blog.
Boost postcard entries
Never pay for postcards. Cinemas and library tills always have plenty of freebies. Buy sticky labels and print them out with your details to speed up entries.
With stamps, the only difference between first-class and second-class is that with first, Royal Mail aims to deliver your letter or packet the next working day. It aims to deliver second-class by the third working day. So unless the closing date's near, don't buy first.
Win via Facebook and Twitter
Twitter. Many MoneySavers have separate Twitter accounts one for comping and one for everyday use. To enter contests, you usually need to 'retweet' a firm's tweet (ie, repost it on your feed). Always do this directly from the promoter's Twitter page to be in with a chance.
Scour for comps by searching for #Competition, though check they're based in the UK. Another cheeky way to scout out contests is to follow other compers to see what they're entering you can find and follow these compers by again searching for #Competition and checking who's entering those you find.
Facebook. Facebook comps usually involve 'liking' a company's page, so this is for those who don't mind their mates seeing what they're up to.
The temptation's to set up two Facebook accounts, yet it's against Facebook's rules to have two, and a few MoneySavers have been banned for this.
It's hard to search for competitions on Facebook, so try searching for 'Facebook' on our Competitions board.
Snap up prizes on Pinterest and Instagram
Snap-sharing networks Instagram and Pinterest are buzzing with contests. Even better, forumites reckon these get fewer competing entries than those on Facebook and Twitter boosting your chances of success. Prizes can be tasty, as Elmo34 found:
I entered a photo for a Very.co.uk Instagram comp and won a lovely Samsung camera. They messaged me and it arrived the next day!
Here's how to get involved:
Instagram. Entering on Instagram usually involves posting a photo entry and using a hashtag such as #MoneySaver.
Hunt for contests by searching #Competition on Instagram, though you'll need to wade through irrelevant results and check they're based in the UK. Also search for 'Instagram' on our Competitions board.
Before entering, search for other entries with the same hashtag to ensure yours stands out from the crowd. Finally, don't set your profile to private or promoters won't see your entry.
Pinterest. Many companies run competitions via the social scrapbook Pinterest, which lets users share favourite images and create virtual pinboards.
Find comps by doing a Pinterest search for 'competition', googling or, again, searching our Competitions board.
Competitions usually involve pinning or reposting an image or following the promoter's instructions to create a pin board representing their brand. If you're worried about other compers copying your board before you've officially entered, set it to "secret" until you're ready to make it live.
Depending on a contest's end date, you could be notified the next day or next year. The small print usually explains whether you will be contacted by email, phone or post. Often the postie just turns up with a parcel (every door knock is exciting).
For a tiny minority of competitions, promoters ask people to return to the site to see if they've won. This will be in the terms and conditions. You could also try Googling your name to see if wins appear.
Always read all emails carefully, as winning notifications often don't have obvious subject lines. And don't forget to post on the I won! I won! I won! board to share the good news.
Filter winning emails
To help sort 'you're a winner' messages from spam, set up rules to automatically filter winning emails into a special folder.
These emails often feature the words 'congratulations', 'won' or 'winner', so automatically move messages with these words in the body or subject line into a competition wins folder. This option's usually found under Edit, Options or Tools on your email account's menu bar.
Check your spam folder
Also, check spam folders in case a vital communication's slipped through. So many prize wins could be missed by not checking your spam folder on a regular basis. Your spam folder clears after a certain amount of time (depending on your email provider), so check frequently.
On Facebook, you'll need to check your spam folder for private messages, as companies sometimes use these to contact you about winning a prize. In your messages, go to the 'message requests' folder, then click 'filtered requests'.
Bag a TV quiz windfall
There are thousands of pounds up for grabs on TV game shows and getting on is easier than you think especially if you Play Your Cards Right (sorry).
As an example, scores of applicants fight to appear on the likes of Deal Or No Deal and Catchphrase, yet newer shows can struggle to find contestants. MSE Jordon's TV Game Shows blog lists 15 shows to apply for now and how to boost your chances of getting picked.
Win £100s via mobile apps
Comping apps let you win prizes on your smartphone for doing challenges such as scanning products in shops. Some have won big on these apps forumite poohbear1 says: "I won an iPhone it really paid off!"
Because people need to go to the trouble of installing these apps, your chance of a win is increased before you even start. See our full Comping apps blog for a full how-to.
Don't forget to reply
Some promoters say you must reply within a certain amount of time or they'll withdraw the prize. Reply on time to avoid the heartbreaking scenario of missing out on a big prize.
Keep tabs on prizes
It's worth keeping a list of prizes you've won, in case they don't materialise. Usually promoters are not purposely withholding the goodies they just need a little nudge now and again.
Know how to complain
If a prize doesn't arrive or it does but it's faulty, first politely prompt the company (contact details should be in the terms and conditions).
If you get an unsatisfactory reply or hear nothing, get in touch with the Advertising Standards Authority.
All advertising and marketing must follow a code of conduct called the CAP Code which sets out how competitions and promotions have to be run. If you think a competition has failed to meet these rules, check the ASA's website to see if your complaint falls under its powers and make a formal complaint.
Post your own finds
The competitions board is a community, and etiquette dictates you post your own finds, as well as looking at the ones already posted. It's unscientifically believed that posting your own comps increases your chances of winning.
Don't worry too much. The board is a friendly place, and you're allowed to walk before you can run. If you don't find any comps, you can still help by researching answers.
How to post in the free online competitions forum
First use the search function to check it's not duplicated, otherwise some people may accidentally enter twice. At the top left of the forum, there's a search box. Use a few different terms to be doubly sure.
There's a specific format to post comps in, so people can search and track competitions. When writing the title, first put the end date, then a description of prize, like this:
E: 05/08 Win £100 Nandos gift voucher
If there's an age restriction, add this to the end of the title, eg, (U16). If a comp has an end time, as well as date, post this in the title too.
Then just post a link to the competition, explaining in your own words what the prize is. Some firms complain about copyright when details are copied and pasted wholesale.
Where to hunt out comps
Comps are everywhere: magazines, newspapers, websites, shops, the telly. Scrutinise flyers in shops, supermarket shelves and websites. The more obscure the publication or product, the better chance of you being the first to post it on the forum.
It's worth browsing WHSmith's magazine shelves for publications with comps. If you're feeling brave, you could note down the details. Your local library's another good bet; they're stocked full of magazines and papers.
The competitions board's only for comps that are free to enter, though those requiring a stamp, a postcard or a text are fine.
Work out your potential return
While blind luck is out of your control, you do have control over the number of comps you enter. After some highly sophisticated number crunching, we came up the following surprising statistic: the more you enter, the bigger the chance of winning. So get that mouse clicking.
The trick's setting a weekly target auto form fillers can help. To give you an example of a typical return, MoneySaver JadeCripps says:
In one year I won £1,713 worth of prizes. For that I put in approximately 1,500 hours or four hours per day.
I enter on average 50 to 500 comps per day and have calculated my win rate at being 1/1,000 comps entered. Seeing as this worked out at £1.14 per hour, it's only worth doing if you enjoy entering comps.
You don't have to pay tax
Just like betting on sport, your winnings in the UK are tax-free. The exception's if your employer runs an incentive competition for staff for example, the salesperson who sells the most cars wins a trip to Ibiza.
Don't pay for comps listings
When looking for comps, you may come across websites and magazines charging to view lists of contests. Never pay to register with a competitions site. Often they just focus on obvious contests, and can't compete with the army of kindred spirit compers using this site's forum.
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Check it's legit
If you have any suspicions about a competition, flag up your worries with seasoned compers on the Competitions forum board.
All companies should be listed on the official Companies House site, the Government register of UK firms. Be wary if its records show a PO Box address or just an email.
You can also find out who registered the site, and when, on the Whois database, or study the site's worldwide web ranking on Alexa. Anything in the top 100,000 means it's reasonably big a good, though not foolproof, indication of legitimacy.
Be wary of 'free' holidays
A common timeshare company ruse is to say you've won a totally free, no-strings-attached holiday... but first you need to listen to a presentation. These are best avoided. For more on this, read former MSE Rose's Don't try to sell a timeshare to a MoneySaver blog.
Look for the competitions kitemark
There's a voluntary stamp of approval for competitions provided by the Institute of Promotional Marketing.
To include the stamp logo on a competition's advertising, promoters must get it approved by the IPM's legal experts, who will check it conforms to Advertising Standards Authority codes.
The stamp doesn't feature on every legit competition, but if you do see it, it's an indication though not a guarantee of legitimacy.
Get free anti-virus software
Everyone needs protection software, especially compers, who may click on hundreds of new sites each day. Without up-to-date protection, if you're defrauded, banks could argue negligence, leaving you liable. A host of professional-level Free Antivirus Software is available, including crucial regular updates.
Avoid pay-to-enter contests
Most contests are for promotional purposes. Those that require fees are essentially lotteries and gambling. While the cost of a stamp's fine, beware this takes away from any winnings.
Be extremely wary of premium rate phone contests. You could be listening at £1 a minute for five or 10 minutes before you hear any details.
If you've 'won' but the company demands a fee or deposit, walk away.
Join local comping groups
There are groups around the country that meet regularly to discuss wins, trade entry forms and chat about comps. It's a great way to meet new friends and discuss your favourite hobby.
I joined the South East Essex Compers group and since joining, I've won more prizes by being told about low-entry promotions and met lots of new comping friends.
- MSE Jordon
Have a comping wish list
It helps to have a comping wish list to keep you motivated and focused on what you want to win. If you have obscure prizes on your wish list, there are ways to win them even if they're not the main prize.
For example, if you want to win a family holiday during the school holidays, and most holiday prizes exclude those dates, try looking for competitions that offer holiday vouchers without exclusions. If you want a day trip to London, try winning smaller prizes such as restaurant vouchers or theatre tickets.
Guaranteed ways to boost your income
There are a host of new ways for canny MoneySavers to boost their income without banking on Lady Luck. Small amounts quickly add up.
Try selling old junk for cash with our eBay and Facebook selling guides. Plus see the Boost Your Income guide for over 60 money-makers.
Freebies, freebies, freebies!
Comping isn't the only way to grab quality stuff for nothing. Whether it's song downloads, free tea, Harry Potter bookmarks, or gym passes, if you know where to look, it's all available on the web.
We've catalogued 100s in our Freebies, Freebies, Freebies guide. If you don't want to scroll through hundreds, you can spin the Freebie Roulette to see what it stops on.
Plus hundreds of top-quality used goodies are available every day across the country for free via giveaway sites. Read the Freecycle & Freegle guide for a full how-to.
Earn cash from your sofa
If you've a computer or smartphone, there are a host of small ways to boost your coffers, as well as comping. The internet's opened up new forms of online work, as firms need folks to do tasks such as crowdsourcing info, data entry and content writing. Our 34 Make Money Online Tips guide lists the top sites and apps that pay.