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There are a variety of ways to boost your loyalty account balances with the major airlines, hotel chains and credit card rewards programs. The most obvious is by actually doing business with these entities. Whether it’s taking a flight, booking a stay or snagging a large sign-up bonuses on a new travel rewards credit card, all of these can help get you closer to your next award trip.
However, there are also some simple things that you can do every day to increase your earning potential. You don’t have to be a points and miles savant or even care about loyalty programs to do this. Today I want to go through one of my favorite methods: online shopping portals.
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.
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 miles 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. 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: Gate 365
- Delta Airlines: SkyMiles Shopping
- JetBlue: ShopTrue
- 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, three airlines — Alaska, American and United — offered 400 extra miles around Valentine’s Day for spending a total of $200 over a ten-day period. If you had purchased exactly $200 worth of merchandise at a store offering 2 Alaska miles per dollar spent (for example), you would’ve taken home 800 bonus miles during this promotion, a solid haul worth up to $14.40 based on TPG’s most recent valuations.
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:
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 Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. Cobranded cards — like the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard — 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:
Note that Ebates recently expanded beyond cash-back and now offers you the ability to earn American Express Membership Rewards points instead. However, that’s only for new members; if you’re an existing member (like me), you can’t switch your earning preference at this time.
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.
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.
To give you an example, I recently redeemed an Amex Offer I had for 1-800-Flowers on my Platinum Card® from American Express, where I needed to spend $50+ to earn 1,500 bonus Membership Rewards points. Mr. Rebates was offering 20% cash back on these purchases without needing to add a coupon code, so I bought two dozen roses for my wife for Valentine’s Day. My subtotal was $49.99 ($57.76 with taxes and fees), so I earned the following:
- 57 Membership Rewards points from the standard earning rate of 1 point/$ 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 image courtesy of LuckyBusiness via Getty Images
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