How to earn bonus points on department store purchases this holiday season

Dec 9, 2020

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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card and Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card, Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Whether you prefer shopping online or popping into a brick-and-mortar store, chances are you’ll spend money at a department store this holiday season.

Even though department stores aren’t a popular bonus category on most credit cards, there are plenty of ways to earn more points and miles on your purchases.

In this article, I’ll show you all the ways you can earn bonus points on your department stores this holiday season. We’ll start with credit card rewards and then move into other rewards-earning methods you may not know about.

Let’s dive in!

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Earn bonus points with a credit card

Chase Freedom Unlimited Credit Card
(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

Most points-and miles-earning credit cards don’t offer bonus points on department store purchases. That said, you can earn bonus points when you pay with a credit card that earns more than 1x point per dollar spent on all purchases.

One of the best cards for this purpose is the Chase Freedom Unlimited®. The card earns 5% cash back on travel booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal, 3% cash back on dining and at drugstores and 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.

While the Freedom Unlimited is branded as a cash-back credit card, you can turn cash back earned with the card into Chase Ultimate Rewards points if you hold a Chase card with an annual fee. This includes the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Ink Business Preferred Credit Card. Simply use the “combine rewards” feature and your cash back will convert to points at 1 point per $0.01.

So in the end, you’ll get a nice 1.5 points per dollar on department store purchases. This is a 3% return based on TPG’s most recent valuations.

Alternatively, you can use The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express and earn 2x points per dollar on all purchases (on up to $50,000 per calendar year in purchases; then 1x). This card earns American Express Membership Rewards points, so you’ll earn 4% back on department store purchases when you pay with this card.

Another card to consider is the no-annual-fee Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express (see rates and fees), which earns 2% cash back on purchases made in the U.S. at the following select department stores:

  • Bealls
  • Belk
  • Bloomingdale’s
  • Bon-Ton stores
  • Boscov’s
  • Century 21 department stores
  • Dillard’s
  • J.C. Penney
  • Kohl’s
  • Lord & Taylor
  • Macy’s
  • Neiman Marcus
  • Nordstrom
  • Saks Fifth Avenue
  • Sears
  • Stein Mart

Use your shopping to earn a sign-up bonus

You can also use planned holiday spending as a way to meet the minimum spending requirement on a new credit card. There are lots of great offers to consider, including the 60,000-point sign-up bonus on the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card when you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.

Additionally, Chase has upped the sign-up bonus on its Southwest credit cards. The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card and Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card are each offering a Companion Pass® through 2/28/2022 plus 30,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

Whatever card you pick, you’ll walk away with a stash of points you can use to book an upcoming post-holiday vacation.

Related: The 11 best elevated credit card offers to sign up for this month

Rack up points with shopping portals

Regardless of the card you use for your purchases, stack all your online shopping with an airline, hotel or cash-back shopping portal to earn even more points.

Most major loyalty programs offer a shopping portal, and you can use a site like evreward.com or cashbackmonitor.com to compare offers for different portals. For example, here are the current shopping portal bonuses for Saks Fifth Avenue:

These portals let you earn bonus points on your online purchases. The number of points you’ll earn depends on the portal you use and where you shop. So using the Saks Fifth Avenue example above, you’ll earn 6x British Airways Avios per dollar spent on your purchase. This means a $100 purchase would net 600 Avios. Not bad if you ask me.

Using one of these portals is simple. Simply head to the shopping portal you’d like to use and log in with your loyalty credentials. Then, search for the department store you’d like to shop with and click through the portal’s “shop now” link before making your purchase. You’ll be redirected to the department store’s website where you can make your purchase as normal.

The points will be deposited into your account within a few weeks of making your purchase. Keep in mind that this only works for online purchases, so you may want to opt for curbside or in-store pickup if you want to go to a brick-and-mortar store to get a last-minute gift.

Related: The beginner’s guide to airline shopping portals

Amex Offers and your Saks fifth avenue credit

If you haven’t used your Saks Fifth Avenue statement credit from The Platinum Card® from American Express (up to $50 each in the first and last six months of the year), you should do so before the end of December. The card comes with a $550 annual fee (see rates & fees), airline though the large fee is largely offset by this Saks credit, an annual Uber credit (for the U.S. only) and an annual airline fee credit.

This credit is easy enough to use — just make an in-store or online Saks Fifth Avenue purchase with your Amex Platinum. The $50 credit will be automatically applied to your statement. Just note that you can’t use the credit for Saks Fifth Avenue gift cards.

While you’re logged into the Amex website, check your Amex Offers. These offers are a great way to save money on purchases you already planned to make, and you might even get some new gift ideas. These offers are generally targeted, so on my Amex Platinum card I see offers for bonus points at Saks, Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s.

Amex Offers for Department Stores
(Image courtesy of American Express)

Simply make your purchase as normal and pay with the Amex that has the Amex offer attached to it. The bonus points or cash back will be added to your account shortly after making a purchase. If you have a Saks Fifth Avenue Amex Offer, it can generally be combined with the Amex Platinum credit too.

Related: These Amex Offers will help you save money and make life easier right now

Bottom line

Retailers compete to get a sliver of your holiday shopping, so there are plenty of offers waiting out there for holiday shoppers.

By using the right credit card, taking advantage of bonuses at online shopping portals and remembering to use Amex Offers and other holiday coupons, you can earn bonus points and save money on purchases you already planned to make.

Depending on how much you need to spend this holiday season, you could inch closer to a post-pandemic trip. Who said gift-giving can’t be rewarding?

For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Everyday, please click here.  
For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card, click here.

Additional reporting by Ethan Steinberg

Featured image by andersphoto/Shutterstock

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