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Maximize Monday: Earning Points On Back To School Shopping

by on August 12, 2013 · 3 comments

in Maximize Monday, Shopping

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The summer is rapidly winding down and while back to school shopping can add up to a huge expense, it can also be an opportunity to accrue some major miles and points if you leverage the right shopping portals.

For this week’s Maximize Monday post, I look at how to earn the most miles through online shopping portals and savvy store purchases, as well as smart ways that you can use points for back to school shopping in case you’re looking to save some cash.

The Back To School Study

This school year, Chase teamed up with parenting website Working Mother to survey back-to-school shoppers and working moms about their shopping plans and sentiments at this hectic time of year.

According to the survey results, 41% of working mothers expect to spend more this year on back-to-school shopping than they did last year, with over half (53%) attributing their spending level to the rising cost of school supplies. Surprisingly, 69% of working mothers surveyed plan to do most or all of their back-to-school shopping in-person and the majority plan to use a debit card or check card most often when shopping or paying for back-to-school expenses. For the full results, click here.

Although rising costs are not the best news, at least these hardworking moms can make sure they earn the most points and miles possible for their purchases while still getting their children the supplies they need – and it pays to check whether your state is among those offering a sales tax holiday on school supply shopping during the coming weeks and to time your purchases to coincide so you can save a little extra cash.

Back to school season can equal earning as well as spending.

Back to school season can equal earning as well as spending.

Online Shopping Portals

While many people still like to go into a brick-and-mortar store, online shopping portals are an easy way to maximize both your time and your spending by earning multiple points per dollar on every purchase. If what you buy is not right, you can always go into the store and exchange it afterwards, and you may still be able to keep the portal points.

What are shopping portals?

Basically online retailers pay a commission to websites to refer them business – so these portals are simply intermediary sites where you click through to popular retailers sites and in doing so, a cookie is stored on your computer and you get a certain number of miles/points for every dollar you end up spending.

The best portals for back to school: Before shopping through a specific portal, I recommend going to EVreward.com and comparing how many points/miles each portal is offering at the merchants you’re interested in.

For example, if you search for Staples.com, which is a go-to store for many parents, you can see that American Airlines is currently offering 4 miles per dollar spent at Staples, while Hilton HHonors, Marriott Rewards, Priority Club and Southwest are all offering 2 points per dollar spent. EVreward also details other discount offers at Staples, such as $30 off 1st Generation Nexus 7 Tablet and multi-purpose paper on sale.

US Airways is offering 6 miles per dollar spent at Office Max.

US Airways is offering 6 miles per dollar spent at Office Max.

Another popular store for children and students is OfficeMax.com, and when I searched that on EVreward.com I saw that US Airways if offering 6 miles per dollar spent there, American is offering 3 miles per dollar spent, as is Priority Club. Please note that EVreward is not 100% perfect so always check your preferred portals directly for the most up-to-date earning information.

My favorite portal is probably the Chase Ultimate Rewards earning portal because the points earned can be accrued into your central Ultimate Rewards account and then transferred to partners like United, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt and Southwest. On top of the flexibility factor, the earning ratios are generally better than going through those partners’ portals directly.

If you have the Chase Ink Bold,Ink Plus, Ink Classic or Ink Cash you can double dip by earning 5 valuable Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent at office supply stores (like Staples), plus you can earn an additional 3 points per dollar by shopping at Staples.com through the Ultimate Rewards shopping portal for a potential total of 8 points per dollar. That’s like earning 8 United miles or Hyatt points per dollar!

Always shop through an online portal when purchasing goods online

Always shop through an online portal when purchasing goods online

Even if you are shopping for school supplies in-store, you could consider purchasing some gift cards too and earning even more points by double dipping. Both Staples and Office Max carry Amazon gift cards with no fees at some of their stores that can be used to purchase hundreds of thousands of items (although they cannot be used for Amazon Payments).

I love Staples.com because it allows you to order fee-free e-gift cards from a number of retailers. For actual inventory in your store, you really need to go into the store or call ahead, so I’ve included gift card links and store locators for the top 3 big box retails in addition to the online Staples cards. For more details on maximizing miles through gift card purchases, click here.

Earn Chase Ultimate Rewards with these shopping portals.

Earn Chase Ultimate Rewards with these shopping portals.

Other great merchants to consider for school supplies, books, clothing and electronics include through the Chase Ultimate Rewards shopping mall include:

  • BestBuy.com: Earn 1 extra point per dollar spent
  • Macy’s: Earn 4 extra points per dollar spent
  • Office Depot: Earn 3 extra points per dollar spent
  • K-Mart: Earn 3 extra points per dollar spent
  • Dell: Earn 3 extra points per dollar spent
  • Bed, Bath & Beyond: Earn 3 extra points per dollar spent
  • Apple Store: Earn 1 extra points per dollar spent
  • Nike: Earn 3 extra points per dollar spent
  • BackCountry.com: Earn 5 extra points per dollar spent

Airline Bonuses On Back To School Shopping

Delta Back To School

The Delta Back To School offer allows you to earn up to 500 bonus miles per $150 spent.

If you are a Delta American Express cardholder, you can earn up to 500 bonus miles for every $150 spent, with a maximum of 5,000 bonus miles with their Back to School promotion. The Sky Miles shopping portal also has school-friendly merchandise parters such as Sears (where you can earn 2 miles per dollar spent), HP (1 mile per dollar spent) and Macy’s (2 miles per dollar spent).

United Airline‘s MileagePlus Shopping has a similar deal where you earn 500 bonus miles when spending $75 or more online. You can currently earn 6 miles per dollar spent at Office Max and 14 miles per dollar spent at 4InkJets.com.

US Airways inviting frequent fliers to Do The Math with their Miles Multiplier Special, and earn 3x the miles on back to school specials. Earn 3 miles per dollar spent at Target.com, and 6 miles per dollar spent at Nike.

Online Shopping Portal Bonuses By Retailer

Here are more great back to school shopping deals from some of my favorite retailers:

Staples.com:

OfficeMax.com:

Sears.com

Bed, Bath & Beyond:

One of the coolest features at Bed Bath & Beyond is their “Shop Here, Pick Up There” option. TPG Intern Ryan did this when he went to college, where you shop at your local Bed Bath & Beyond and can take your time deciding what you need for college and then you scan all the items. Then, you let them know where you are going to be attending college and they find the closest store, and when you arrive there all your items are boxed up. You can go through it then to reconfirm and decide if you need to make any changes and then pay. It saves a lot of time, especially on move-in day!

Target.com:

Walmart.com offers bundle deals.

Walmart.com offers bundle deals.

Wal-Mart.com: 

Macys.com

The Staples Reward A Classroom lets you give back to teachers.

The Staples Reward A Classroom program lets you give back to teachers.

Helping Teachers Through Staples Reward A Classroom Program

As I detailed in this prior post, the back to school season also creates opportunities to help teachers all around the country stock their classrooms with much needed supplies with Staples Rewards’ Reward A Classroom program. Simply put, Staples will give 2-5% of what you spend (up to $50 a year) to a teacher who is enrolled in the program to be used for Staples purchases. This requires minimal effort on your part and the teacher automatically gets the credit – no need to keep receipts or submit anything once you are linked to a teach. Each registered teacher can have up to 40 people linked to their account, so they can getup to $2,000 in Staples credit a year, which is no small chunk of change. For all the details on how you can help, click here.

Using Points For Back To School Shopping

When it comes to spending your points at the start of the school term rather than earning them, I recommend American Express Membership Rewards points because of their flexibility. You can transfer them to a number of airlines and hotels, or you can use them for merchandise and gift cards. The gift card redemption is fairly straight forward: 1 point = 1 cent, so a $50 gift card costs 5,000 points. Gift cards can be redeemed at this rate for popular retailers like Old Navy, Gap, Barnes & Noble, Banana Republic, Kohls, Home Depot, Lands End, Pottery Barn, West Elm, Brooks Brothers, Cole Haan, Zappos and Dell.

Delta Skymiles also has a marketplace where you can use your SkyMiles for merchandise. United has the MileagePlus Merchandise Awards & Auctions, with current featured products of popular brand tablets.

BestBuy.com has an online guide for back to college shopping.

BestBuy.com has an online guide for back to college shopping.

On the redemption side, Chase has also partnered with Best Buy, so you can now redeem points for essential back-to-school electronics such as laptops, tablets, printers or even coffee makers for new college students leaving home for the first time. BestBuy.com is making purchasing even easier with their Techfitter program, where students choose what description fits them best from: The Economizer, The Creative, The Tech Wizard, The Go Getter, The Fashion Major or The Dorm Fanatic. Then the site suggests the products to that best fits their needs.

Chase also currently has a selection of featured electronic merchandise that you can redeem through Ultimate Rewards at the same prices you would pay in-store. For example, if an item costs $200 in the store, it would require 20,000 Ultimate Rewards points (plus tax and shipping).

So whether you’re interested in earning extra points on your purchases, or saving some cash by using your points, there are plenty of opportunities this year to maximize your back-to-school purchases and make sure your kids get the supplies they need for an A+ school year.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • trey

    So…for example, if you go through USAirways storefront for Officemax and use Chase Ink, do you get 6 dividend miles + 5 UR points per dollar spent?

  • PW

    Staples also has a 15% off all school supplies card. It costs $10 and applies through, I think, Sept. 21. B & M only.

  • Mark

    Unfortunately the Staples $10 off $100 coupon (92045) is dead.

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