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There are a variety of ways to boost your loyalty account balances with the major airlines and hotel chains. The most obvious is by actually traveling, but you can also earn large sign-up bonuses on various travel rewards credit cards. Additionally, there are a number of ways to earn points and miles through your everyday activity, and today I want to go through one of my favorite methods: airline shopping portals.
Let’s start with a quick overview of what these portals actually do. At the most basic level, they allow you to earn bonus points and miles at hundreds of online retailers by starting at the portal and then clicking through to the retailer’s site (rather than starting there directly). You’re still purchasing the exact same items directly from the merchant, but because you started at the airline shopping portal, you’ll earn additional points and miles at a set rate, generally only on the subtotal of your purchase (excluding taxes and shipping fees). In addition, you’ll still earn points or miles on the actual credit card you use, making this an easy way to double-dip.
Here’s a quick example. Let’s say you were planning on buying a gift from Macy’s for a family member. That item costs $100 if you purchase it directly from Macys.com (plus $20 in taxes and shipping). Since you want to maximize your purchase, you plan on using your Chase Freedom Card to take advantage of the Q4 category bonus at department stores. However, you also notice that the shopping portal of your preferred airline is offering 2 miles per dollar spent at Macy’s. You begin there and click through to Macys.com to complete the purchase.
You’ll thus earn the following:
- $120 x 5 points per dollar on the Chase Freedom = 600 points
- $100 x 2 miles per dollar through the portal = 200 miles
You might be wondering how, exactly, these portals can do this. After all, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. However, there’s no catch here. In exchange for directing you to a specified merchant, the portal will take a cut of any purchase you make from the retailer, and it’ll give you points or miles as a reward. It’s a win-win-win-win situation (if that’s even a thing). You get bonus points/miles, the retailer gets additional business, the airline gets revenue from selling points/miles to the portal and the portal gets a cut from the retailer, which (hopefully) more than covers the expense of buying the points/miles in the first place.
You may be thinking that an extra 200 miles here or 300 miles there won’t make much of a difference, but if you consistently utilize these portals (especially for your upcoming holiday purchases) you can easily rack up thousands of miles in a year. The beauty of this process is that you are earning additional bonuses for things you would’ve bought anyway.
Let’s take a quick look at the major airline portals and highlight some key information you’d need to access each one:
Alaska Airlines: Mileage Plan Shopping
The first carrier with a shopping portal is Alaska, allowing you to earn bonus miles at hundreds of retailers through the Mileage Plan Shopping site. The nice thing about this particular portal is that you don’t need to create a separate login; you can use your regular Mileage Plan username and password to access the portal and ensure that you’re earning miles right into your account. Once you’ve logged in, the navigation is very straightforward, as you can search for a specific retailer at the top right or click on Stores to see a list of all participating retailers:
Once you’ve found the retailer you want, just click on Shop Now to be redirected to the individual site. You’re then well on your way to earning miles, and they should post to your account within 5 days. You’ll also receive an email to confirm the qualifying purchase.
American Airlines: AAdvantage eShopping
American’s shopping portal allows you to earn bonus AAdvantage miles with hundreds of retailers. Unlike Alaska’s portal, the site actually requires you to register for an account using your AAdvantage number, but once you’ve done that, you’re ready to shop! You can use the search bar on the top right to find your store of choice, or you can click on Stores just under the AA logo to see a full list of retailers that partner with the site:
Bonus miles will typically post to your account within 4 weeks but could take up to 8 weeks. However, I’ve found that mine usually appear within a few days.
British Airways: Gate 365
British Airways’ shopping portal is called Gate 365, and it partners with a wide variety of retailers to give you bonus Avios on your purchases. The nice thing about this site is that you can log in with your Executive Club credentials rather than having to create a separate account. You’ll also want to make sure you select your country (either the US or UK) from the drop-down menu at the top to see the offers available to you:
Once you’ve logged in, you can search for a specific retailer at the top right or view them by categories by clicking the drop-down menu at the left. As soon as you’ve clicked through to the retailer’s site, you’re on your way to earning bonus Avios! These will typically appear as “pending” within 5 working days of the purchase but may take up to 40 days to change to “approved” status and post to your account.
Delta Airlines: SkyMiles Shopping
Delta’s portal is very similar to that of American (and is actually run by the same third-party provider). You’ll need to sign up for an account using your SkyMiles number before you can begin earning bonus miles. Once you’re logged in, the navigation is almost identical to that of AA’s site, with the search bar at the top right and a link to see a list of every store the portal partners with:
Your miles will typically post within 3-5 business days of your purchase but could take up to 45 days to appear, depending on the individual merchant.
JetBlue’s online shopping portal is called ShopTrue and probably has the easiest login process out there: All you need to do is enter your first and last names along with the email address associated with your TrueBlue account to access the portal. Once you’re logged in, you can search for a retailer at the box at the top left or use the Categories drop-down to browse similar types of retailers:
Another interesting aspect of JetBlue’s portal is the ShopTrue Notify toolbar. This browser extension for Google Chrome will actually notify you every time you’re on a website that’s eligible to earn bonus points through ShopTrue. This can be an easy way to never forget to go through a portal, though it (obviously) only applies to earning bonus TrueBlue points.
Any points you earn through ShopTrue will typically show up as “pending” within 5 working days, and then it can take up to 60 days to change to “approved” status.
Southwest: Rapid Rewards Shopping
Southwest’s portal is called Rapid Rewards Shopping and partners with hundreds of retailers to allow you to earn bonus points on your online purchases. You can log in to the portal using your regular Rapid Rewards credentials, so no need to create a separate account. Once you’ve logged in, you’ll be redirected back to the main site, and the navigation is then similar to the Delta and American portals. You can search for an individual store at the top right or click on Stores to see the full list:
The site’s FAQ page indicates that the points should post to your account within 6-8 weeks after purchase, though I’ve generally found it to be much quicker.
United: MileagePlus Shopping
The final carrier with a portal is United, allowing you to earn bonus miles with various merchants every time you shop through the MileagePlus Shopping site. You can use your United account number and password to log in without needing to create a separate account. From there, you can find stores just like many of the other portals listed above, by searching or clicking on Stores to see a full list:
The miles should post within 3-5 days, though it could take up to 45 days depending on the merchant.
How Do I Find the Best Offer?
Chances are that you probably have loyalty accounts with most (if not all) of these airlines. As a result, it can be a bit challenging to identify which portal you should utilize for your next online purchase. This is where the CashBack Monitor site comes in. If you’ve never used it before, I’d definitely encourage you to bookmark it for future reference. In essence, the site allows you to pull up a specific retailer and see the earning rate you’d get across all applicable shopping portals. This includes not only airline portals but also cash-back ones (like Ebates) and credit card-specific ones (like Ultimate Rewards).
The site is great for pulling up a specific store but also has some advanced features if you create an actual account. This allows you to set your favorite portals (up to 8) and even allows you to set a specific value for each loyalty currency. The default on the site is 1 cent per point/mile, but if you add the numbers from TPG’s most recent valuations (for example), the site will automatically update the return you’d get on your purchases.
As an example, here’s what the site provides for Macy’s when you use the standard value for the above 7 currencies:
Here’s the same information when you change the values to TPG’s valuations:
This can be a great way to quickly identify which portal would give you the best value, though you’d need to make the final decision based on which program’s currency is most valuable to you.
Accessing the shopping portals is relatively straightforward, but there are a few important things to keep in mind:
- You must click through the link on the portal’s site and then make a purchase from the page that pops up. Don’t navigate away and come back later; you may miss out on the bonus points/miles.
- You must make sure that you have cookies enabled in your browser for the retailer’s site. This is what allows the portal to “track” your purchases and award bonus points/miles accordingly.
- Only use promotions or promo codes found on the portal; if you use others, the purchase may become ineligible for bonus points/miles.
- Be sure to read the restrictions for each merchant. Many won’t count gift cards as eligible purchases for earning bonus points/miles, and others will exclude certain products.
Airline shopping portals are a fantastic way to earn bonus points and miles for online purchases at a variety of merchants. Even if you’re only earning an extra mile or two for every dollar you spend, these earnings can quickly add up and go a long way toward unlocking fantastic redemptions like first-class flights. If you haven’t been utilizing these portals, this holiday season is a great time to start! Hopefully this post has given you some guidance on exactly how to do this.
What are your experiences with airline shopping portals?
Featured image courtesy of LuckyBusiness via Getty Images
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