How to use Rakuten (Ebates) to earn bonus cash back or Amex points

Apr 17, 2020

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One of the simplest ways to earn bonus rewards on your everyday activity is through online shopping portals. These sites offer additional points, miles or cash back when you visit a specific merchant through the portal — rather than going directly to that merchant’s website. Using them should be an essential part of buying items online, especially during this time when many travelers are at home due to stay-at-home orders connected to the coronavirus outbreak.

There are dozens of different online shopping portals out there, allowing you to earn credit card rewards, airline miles, hotel points or straight-up cash for your purchases. However, one of the most powerful sites is a hybrid of these. Rakuten — formerly known as Ebates — allows you to select either cash back or American Express Membership Rewards points when you shop online.

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In this guide, we’ll take you through everything you need to know to use the Rakuten site.

In This Post

What is Rakuten?

As noted above, Rakuten is online shopping portal that used to go under the name Ebates. It partners with over 2,500 online retailers, from well-known brands like Target and Home Depot to smaller merchants like Glossybox.com. When you open an account with Rakuten, you’re eligible to earn cash back or Amex Membership Rewards points on purchases you make at these sites. However, you must start at Rakuten.com and click to the merchant through that site; you can’t go directly to the retailer’s website directly.

RELATED: Comparing Amex Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards

How does Rakuten work?

You may be wondering how this is even possible — earning cash back for shopping online seems too good to be true. In its simplest form, Rakuten forms marketing agreements with individual retailers, which then pay the site commissions on purchases that begin there. Rakuten (in turn) then passes a portion of those commissions on to you, the customer.

The retailer gets additional business and both you and Rakuten enjoy a cut of those purchases, essentially a win-win-win for all parties.

How to sign up for Rakuten

To start earning bonus cash back or Amex points for your online purchases, begin by visiting Rakuten.com. Choose how you want to sign-up for an account:

  • Through Google
  • Through Facebook
  • With your email address

From there, follow the on-screen prompts to sign-up for an account.

Regardless of how you join, you’re typically eligible for a $10 welcome bonus when you spend a total of $25 on qualifying purchases within the first 90 days of joining the site. However, it’s currently offering new members the opportunity to earn $30 by signing up by May 1, 2020 and spending at least $30 with participating retailers. This is a great way to jump start your earnings for shopping online.

How to use Rakuten to earn bonus rewards

Once you have an account, be sure to start all of your online shopping trips at Rakuten.com. From the homepage, find the merchant at which you want to shop in the top search box.

As you start typing in the name of the store, the site will auto-fill any matching retailers. Here, I’ve typed in “Koh” as I start searching for Kohl’s, and you see the options that come up.

From that list, select your desired retailer, and you’ll be redirected to it’s individual earning page. This will provide the earning rate(s) as well as a “Shop Now” button.

As soon as you click that “Shop Now” icon, a new window or tab will open up, indicating that you are being redirected to the merchant’s website.

Rakuten automatically creates a shopping trip, and the merchant’s website will load after a few seconds. Do not close that window. Shop as you normally would, and Rakuten will track how much you’ve spent. You’d then receive the bonus rewards in your account, generally within a day or two after completing the purchase.

RELATED: Best credit cards for online shopping

You can review all of account activity by clicking on My Account from the drop-down menu at the top-right corner. This includes all of your individual shopping trips as well as your earnings balance from transactions that have posted to your account.

Does everything count toward earning cash back?

Generally speaking, Rakuten will award cash back based on the subtotal of your purchase. This excludes shipping, taxes and other fees that aren’t tied to the items or services you’re buying. In addition, every merchant will have specific terms that you’ll want to review. For example, here’s what you’ll see for shopping at Staples.com:

Purchasing gift cards will frequently be excluded, and it’s common to see select items or brands not eligible for cash back. Some merchants will indicate that your shopping cart must be empty prior to clicking through from Rakuten. Be sure to review these store-specific restrictions carefully so you know whether or not to expect rewards from your purchase.

Can I use any credit card?

Yes. One of the best parts about Rakuten is that the bonus you earn is based on the subtotal of the purchase. The site doesn’t care how you pay, so you can use a card that offers a category bonus with a specific type of merchant or a card that’s good for everyday spending. Most merchants will even allow you to use a gift card and still enjoy rewards.

What about promo codes?

This is a bit trickier. Rakuten will frequently list available discounts for individual merchants on the applicable pages, like this one (in effect at the time of writing) for Staples.com:

If you click Shop Now next to any offer like this on Rakuten, you’ll still earn cash back on your purchase (assuming you comply with all other restrictions).

However, many merchants will prevent you from earning rewards when you use promo or discount codes not listed on Rakuten, and we’ve even seen TPG readers miss out on thousands of bonus miles due to this. If you receive a targeted mailer or email offer and use that code when shopping through Rakuten, you risk losing out on any earnings. You may still get cash back, but be aware that you may not.

How do I actually get my rewards?

Every quarter, Rakuten will distribute your earnings based on the following schedule:

Purchases posted between: Payment sent by:
Jan. 1 and March 31 May 15
April 1 and June 30 August 15
July 1 and Sept. 30 November 15
Oct. 1 and Dec. 31 February 15

As you can see, it’ll take roughly 45 days from the end of the quarter to receive your payment. However, if your balance at the end of any of these periods is $5 or less, it’ll roll into the next quarter. You’ll never lose the rewards you’ve already earned; they just won’t be paid out until your cumulative balance surpasses $5.

You have the option of receiving a check in the mail or a deposit into a PayPal account, whichever is more convenient.

However, you also have another earning option that might appeal to TPG readers.

Changing your earning preference

In 2019, Rakuten added the ability for all members to select between two earning types: cash back or American Express Membership Rewards points. Many online shoppers initially prefer to receive a check or automatic PayPal deposit, but more advanced travelers may eventually want to switch to Amex points. This option is available to anyone with a Membership Rewards-earning card, including The Platinum Card® from American Express or the American Express® Gold Card.

RELATED: Choosing the best American Express credit card for you

Once you’ve made this change, your earning rate will shift from a set percentage cash back to a set number of Amex points per dollar spent. In other words, a merchant offering 2% cash back will now offer 2 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent — so a $100 purchase would earn 200 Amex points rather than $2 cash back.

Here’s how to change your earning preference with Rakuten:

  1. Login to your account.
  2. Click your name at the top right, then select Account Settings.
  3. Scroll down to the “How would you like to get paid?” section.
  4. Find the American Express section, click on “Switch to Membership Rewards® points” and follow the on-screen prompts to link your Amex account.

Once you have made the switch, all future earnings through Rakuten will be deposited into your Membership Rewards account using the same calendar noted above. However, any existing cash-back rewards will remain in cash and will be sent via check based on the above payment schedule. You’ll even see the exact details on when you switched from the My Account page.

RELATED: How to redeem American Express Membership Rewards for maximum value

How to maximize Rakuten

Once you’ve started using Rakuten to each cash back or bonus Amex points for your online shopping, there are some additional ways that you can maximize the site.

Activate in-store offers

The vast majority of earning opportunities through Rakuten apply to online shopping. However, when you log in to your account, you’ll notice a link for “In-Store Cash Back” at the top.

This allows you to earn bonus rewards when you shop in select brick-and-mortar stores. That being said, you must two two things in order to be eligible:

  1. Add your card(s): When you go to the in-store cash back page, you should see a link to “Add a New Card” near the top. In order to be eligible for these offers, you must add the credit card numbers for any cards you plan to use at participating stores.
  2. Link the offer: After adding your card, you must activate every, individual offer you want to use. This is simple but essential. Visit the in-store offer page, find the merchant at which you plan to shop, then click “Link Offer” underneath it.

Once you’ve done these two steps, you’ll earn the given cash back or Amex points when a linked card is swiped at a participating store.

Look for limited-time offers

Rakuten frequently offers enhanced bonuses for a limited time, and this can be a fantastic way to boost your earnings. In February 2020, we saw a number of retailers — including IHG hotels, Dell and Saks Fifth Avenue — offering 14% cash back (or 14x Amex points). Several others offered 10% back (or 10x Amex points) in March, including a number of home delivery services. Be sure to click on the link for “Double Cash Back Stores” on the Rakuten homepage to see current offers.

Stack with credit card offers

When you shop through Rakuten, you aren’t prevented from leveraging discounts through programs like Amex Offers and Chase Offers. Since most of these post directly to your credit card (rather than being taken off the price at the time of purchase) and don’t require a coupon code, Rakuten still sees the full transaction amount.

READ MORE: Your ultimate guide to Amex Offers

This can also be a great way to use the annual Saks Fifth Avenue credit from the Amex Platinum. You’ll enjoy a $50 credit from January through June and another $50 from July through December. Starting at Rakuten should still allow you to enjoy these credits when you shop at Saks Fifth Avenue.

Refer friends or family members

Once you’ve started using Rakuten, you should get your friends and family members in on the action. When someone creates a Rakuten account based on your referral and spends at least $25 within one year of joining, you’ll earn a one-time bonus of $25 (he/she will get a welcome bonus of $10 if those purchases are within the first 90 days).

And if your account is set to earn Amex Membership Rewards, this will be 2,500 Amex points, worth $50 based on TPG’s most recent valuations.

To start referring others to Rakuten, log in to your account and look for the “Refer & Earn $25+” link at the top of the homepage.

From there, you can send emails directly to friends or family members, or you can share via Facebook or Twitter. You also have the option to copy your referral link and send via text message or with another mode of communication.

RELATED: How to refer friends to earn points, miles and cash credits

Once someone signs up, you’ll see them listed in “Your Referral Activity” at the bottom of the refer-a-friend page. And once they’ve hit the required spending, they’ll shift to the “Qualified” section. Your account balance will then jump by $25 (or 2,500 Amex points), which will be paid out roughly 45 days after the end of the quarter.

Install the Rakuten browser extension

If you don’t want to remember to visit Rakuten every time you shop online, consider installing the Rakuten Cash Back Button. This browser extension is available for Chrome, Safari, Firefox and Edge, and it’ll automatically notify you when you’re on a participating site. Here’s what that looks like when I visit Kohls.com directly instead of starting at Rakuten:

By clicking the icon to activate cash back, Rakuten will log a shopping trip and reload the website. You’ll still earn rewards on your purchase, a nice shortcut in case you forget to start at Rakuten.com.

RELATED: Use these shopping portal extensions to double-dip online

Download the Rakuten app

Finally, you may want to download the Rakuten app to ensure you’re making the most out of the platform. There are a couple of reasons to do so. For one, it allows you to quickly check for in-store offers that you may want to add if you’re unexpectedly shopping at a participating merchant. More importantly, however, there are some merchants that are mobile-only. This means that you can only earn rewards when shopping via the mobile app — like Uber Eats, for example.

Important reminders

While the above strategies can help you make the most of your Rakuten experience, there are some critical things to keep in mind:

  • Enable cookies on your browser: In order for Rakuten to track your shopping trips, you must have cookies enabled on your browser.
  • Clear your shopping cart: Many merchants won’t award bonus cash back or Amex points if you already have items in your cart. When you click from Rakuten to a retailer, be sure your shopping card is clear.
  • Be careful with promo codes: As noted above, using promo codes not listed on Rakuten.com may void your rewards. A 30% discount may be worth it, but if you’re saving $5 on a $500 purchase, it’s probably not worth the risk.

Bottom line

Online shopping continues to play a massive role in consumer spending — with and without a pandemic that keeps most Americans at home. Fortunately, there are many ways to make the most of the purchases you make online, including using online shopping portals. Rakuten is one of the most popular, as it partners with over 2,500 merchants and gives you the option of earning cash-back rewards or Amex Membership Rewards points.

If you’re not currently a member, join Rakuten today and start using it the next time you shop online. You’ll be well on your way to lowering your out-of-pocket cost for many purchases you’re already making.

Featured photo by Tevarak Phanduang/EyeEm/Getty Images

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