Maximizing online shopping portals for your holiday purchases
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The holiday season is officially upon us, and if you haven’t even looked at your list of gifts for friends and family members, it’s probably time to get started. While this time of year tends to be about giving, there are many ways to receive some solid rewards for your holiday shopping. One of the best — and simplest — ways to accomplish this goal is to leverage online shopping portals for anything and everything you buy online this year.
Today, I’ll take you through exactly how to use these sites for your holiday purchases so you can jump-start your earnings heading into the new year.
Basics of online 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, miles or cash back at hundreds of online retailers by starting at the portal and then clicking through to the retailer’s site (rather than starting at the merchant directly). You’re still purchasing the exact same items directly from the merchant, but because you started at the shopping portal, you’ll earn a bonus, though it generally only applies to 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 Unlimited to take advantage of the 1.5% cash back it offers on purchases (or 1.5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent if you also have a card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve and can transfer points between accounts).
However, you also notice that the shopping portal of your preferred airline is offering 2 bonus 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 1.5 points per dollar on the Freedom Unlimited = 180 points
- $100 x 2 miles per dollar through the portal = 200 miles
Had you started directly at Macys.com, you would’ve missed out on the 200 extra miles — and you’re still getting the exact same item for the exact same price.
How is this possible?
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 situation (if that’s even a thing). You get bonus points/miles, the retailer gets additional business 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 points there won’t make much of a difference, but if you consistently utilize these portals — especially for holiday purchases — you can easily rack up a significant amount of points, miles or cash back in a year. The beauty of this process is that you’re earning additional bonuses for things you would’ve bought anyway.
Types of online shopping portals
Now that you have an idea of how it works, let’s take a quick look at the major types of shopping portals out there. I generally group them into four different categories: airlines, hotels, credit cards and cash back. However, a recent change to one popular portal has created another category that’s effectively a hybrid of the two.
Let’s dive in to each one so you can get a flavor of the possibilities.
Just about every major carrier has its own online shopping portal, and they all work in very similar ways. While the exact login process may vary slightly, each one will award bonus points based on your purchases across hundreds of retailers. Here’s a handy list of links for the most popular airlines:
- Alaska Airlines: Mileage Plan Shopping
- American Airlines: AAdvantage eShopping
- British Airways: Executive Club eStore
- Delta Airlines: SkyMiles Shopping
- JetBlue: TrueBlue Shopping
- Southwest: Rapid Rewards Shopping
- United: MileagePlus Shopping
In addition to the standard earning rates these sites offer, many will frequently run bonuses to further incentivize you to shop. In many cases, these aren’t based on purchases at a single store but instead cover transactions across all participating merchants over a set period of time. For example, four airlines — Alaska, American, Southwest and United — offered bonus points or miles in mid-November ahead of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Be sure to check our permanent page for these offers throughout the holiday season, as it wouldn’t be surprising to see similar offers come back.
Unfortunately, the landscape in the world of hotel shopping portals is a bit more limited, as only two major program currently offer a portal — Choice Privileges and Wyndham Rewards (the latter of which was just added as part of its April 2019 program changes).
Of course, you can effectively earn bonus points for select hotel programs through the following …
If you want to simply stack your credit card earnings, there are three issuers that currently offer online shopping portals directly, though another one partners with a third-party provider:
To utilize any of these, you must have an open, active credit card account that earns points in the bank’s own program. Examples include the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard (no longer available) or the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. Cobranded cards — like the JetBlue Plus Card from Barclays — are not eligible for these bonuses.
Remember that Chase allows 1:1 transfer to a dozen travel partners, so you could be effectively earning Hyatt points, United miles or British Airways Avios by logging into your Chase account and launching the Ultimate Rewards shopping portal.
The fourth (and final) category of online shopping portals consists of those offering extra cash back on your purchases. This is a great option for anyone who doesn’t want to bother with the hassle of airline miles or credit card points, and in certain cases, you can even earn bonuses for booking hotel reservations through these sites. That being said, going for cash back also adds additional complexity, as there are over a dozen competing sites out there. Some of my favorites include:
Most rates tend to fall in the 1-5% range, though you could find limited-time specials at select merchants or during limited windows of time.
New hybrid option
Another popular portal is Rakuten (formerly known as Ebates), which traditionally fell squarely into the realm of cash-back earnings. However, as of February 2019, it started allowing new members to opt for American Express Membership Rewards points instead. Now, any member can switch their earning preference between the two currencies, where 1% cash back = 1 Membership Rewards point (though this only applies to earnings after the change is made). If you agree with TPG’s most recent valuations — which peg Amex points at 2 cents apiece — opting for Membership Rewards points over cash back effectively doubles your return with Rakuten. It’s a setting I immediately updated as soon as it became available.
How do I find the best offer?
As you can see, this is a dizzying array of options, and if you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’re not alone. Fortunately, there’s an easy way to quickly sort through them all for your next online shopping spree.
Let’s say you’re ready to make a purchase at a specific retailer, but you don’t know which shopping portal to use. You have accounts with virtually every program above, but does that mean you need to manually load each one to see what bonus you’d earn? No, thanks to the magic of shopping portal aggregators like CashBack Monitor. 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 all of the above types of portals, allowing you to quickly compare earning rates and determine which one offers the best return for the individual merchant at which you are shopping.
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.
Important tips and reminders
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.
- 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 bonuses 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 bonuses, and others will exclude certain products.
- Remember to use a travel rewards credit card that offers the best earning rate on your purchase. Most of these merchants don’t fall into the traditional bonus categories, so you’ll probably want to stick with a card that’s good for everyday purchases.
All that being said, you should be able to stack most Amex Offers with bonuses through these online shopping portals. The vast majority of those are based solely on the total amount of your purchase and don’t require any coupon code, so it shouldn’t create any issue.
Here’s an example from earlier this year. For Valentine’s Day, I wanted to purchase flowers for my wife, and I had an Amex Offer for 1-800-Flowers on my Platinum Card® from American Express. The offer required me to spend $50+ to earn 1,500 bonus Membership Rewards points, and at the time, Mr. Rebates was offering 20% cash back on these purchases without needing to add a coupon code. I bought two dozen roses for my wife, and my subtotal was $49.99 ($57.76 with taxes and fees). Since I started at Mr. Rebates and used my Amex Platinum, I earned the following:
- 57 Membership Rewards points from the standard earning rate of 1 point/$ on the card (worth $1.14)
- 1,500 Membership Rewards points from the Amex Offer (worth $30)
- $10 cash back from Mr. Rebates
This brought my effective purchase price of two dozen roses delivered directly to my door to just $16.62. Not too shabby!
Aside from the bonuses, shopping portals are a great option for keeping loyalty accounts active, since spending even a single dollar through a shopping portal can be enough to prevent your points and miles from expiring. That can be a lifesaver if you haven’t banked travel to your account in a while and don’t have a viable option to transfer points in from elsewhere.
Online shopping portals are a fantastic way to earn bonus points, miles or cash back 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 redemptions like first-class flights, luxury hotel rooms or even spending money for your next trip.
If you haven’t been utilizing these portals, now is a great time to start! Hopefully this post has given you some guidance on exactly how to do this.
Featured photo by LuckyBusiness/Getty Images.
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