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How Free Shipping Cost Me 30,000 Miles — Reader Mistake Story

Jan. 23, 2019
4 min read
How Free Shipping Cost Me 30,000 Miles — Reader Mistake Story
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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Daniel, who missed out on a shopping portal bonus:

My wife and I own a small law firm, and each year we buy holiday gifts for some of our frequent clients. This past year we checked United MileagePlus shopping for holiday mileage deals, and saw an offer for 30 miles per dollar spent at Harry and David. We clicked through to the Harry and David website, where we proceeded to buy over $1,000 worth of gifts. Along with the 1 mile per dollar earned on our United credit card, we anticipated receiving well over 30,000 miles for our purchase.

Unlike other times we have shopped through United’s site, this time we did not receive an email confirming the purchase had been tracked and that miles would be forthcoming. Per United’s rules, I could not reach out to inquire about the purchase until 15 days had passed — the website wouldn't allow it. There was no other mechanism to contact them, so I waited the 15 days and then submitted an inquiry.

Their response accused me of not properly placing the order through MileagePlus Shopping, and basically said there was nothing they could do about it. Despite me being a loyal United MileagePlus member for 20 years and using their website to shop many times each month without a problem, there was no opportunity to appeal, no recourse, no nothing.

To follow up, I called Harry and David, where a supervisor was able to tell me what United wasn’t. Namely, that a free shipping code we used at checkout had trumped the bonus miles we otherwise would have received from United. So instead of receiving over 30,000 miles, all we got is free shipping. I consider myself pretty savvy when it comes to earning points online via credit cards and partners, and I never thought I would be writing you with a mistake story. I hope other readers can learn from it.

Online shopping portals are among the easiest ways to earn rewards, but there are a few quirky rules to keep in mind, like the one that tripped up Daniel. Most portals (including MileagePlus Shopping) specify that entering a coupon code not found on the portal itself makes a purchase ineligible to earn points or miles. You'll often get away with it, but in general you shouldn't expect codes to stack with portal bonuses. If you do use a code and your bonus is then denied, you're probably out of luck.

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Two more common stumbling blocks are opening a merchant's website in more than one tab or window and using an ad blocker or other software that leaves the portal unable to track your purchases. Either can cause your shopping activity to be logged incorrectly (or not at all), so be mindful of your computer settings and display before your session begins. Fortunately, one rule by which you don't have to abide is using a credit card that matches your shopping portal. Daniel didn't have to pay with his MileagePlus card to be eligible for the 30x bonus, so he could have used one that offers a better return on everyday spending.

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending Daniel a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I'd like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to, and put "Reader Mistake Story" in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.

Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!