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I am always surprised when I find out that not everyone uses shopping portals for all of their online purchases. Some people don’t even know what a shopping portal is! So I am on a mission to fix this and stop people from leaving money, points and miles on the table.
What Are Shopping Portals and How Do They Work?
But first things first: what exactly IS a shopping portal?
Simply put, a shopping portal is a third-party website that offers you an incentive for clicking through their portal on the way to the website you actually want to visit.
When you click on the store’s name, the portal receives a small commission on any purchase you make and you get miles, points or cash back as a reward. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.
Some shoppers might be concerned about privacy, and that’s a valid concern. However, in my opinion, in this day and age everyone, including my internet provider, my credit card and every single retailer that I visit with or without the portal, is spying on me. So, for a change, I might as well get a cut of the pie, and actually get something in exchange for my information.
When shopping through the portal, the shopper doesn’t pay more. Rather, many actually find discount codes for you to save money. The portal doesn’t get paid unless you buy something, so they are trying to entice shoppers by compiling various promotions. The portals fiercely compete with each other for our business. The competition in this space really ramped up in the last few years, which is a huge win for us, the consumers.
How to Use a Shopping Portal
My every single online shopping expedition starts with visiting Cashback Monitor. This handy shopping portal aggregator collects data from lots of different portals and puts them in a neat table. So let’s say I needed to buy a new dress from Macy’s to wear to our awesome 10x Travel Las Vegas bash. I typed in Macy’s in the search field and Cashback Monitor showed me all the portals and their payout rates.
Why is it important to check there before every single shopping trip? Because the payouts change daily. On the day when I was writing this article, Top Cashback and American Airlines offered increased payouts, a lot more than they usually offer.
Another neat feature is the best rate history.
Click on the Best Rate History link and you can see the highest and the lowest payout rates. If you have a large purchase to make and the rate is low right now, it might be worth waiting a bit for the rate to come up.
It’s up to you if you’d rather earn cash back or airline miles or even Chase Ultimate Rewards points on your purchases.
When you click through to the shopping portal of your choice, for example American Airlines shopping portal, you’ll see again how many miles or points you’ll be earning and all the available promotions.
You’ll need to create an account with each portal and they’ll send you emails with all the new promotions.
When booking paid travel, don’t forget to use the shopping portals, because they are good for more than buying shoes and back to school supplies. When I was writing this article, Rakuten offered 10% back on IHG hotel bookings.
This is not the first time I have seen this promotion, so keep your eye out if you have paid stays coming up. Even if you already booked something, it might be worth canceling and rebooking, assuming the price stayed the same and there’s no cancelation penalty.
You can even earn miles or cashback on purchases made with large online travel agencies such as Orbitz or Hotels.com.
Why Are Shopping Portals Great for Consumers?
Let’s say you have some orphaned airline miles in an account you haven’t used in a while, but you don’t want to lose those hard-earned miles. Usually (but not always), any activity on the account will reset the expiration clock. Have AA miles expiring in the next couple of months? Click through the AA shopping portal, buy something small, or big, and you’ve extended the life of your miles! It’s that easy!
Or, let’s say you want to book this great independent boutique hotel through the Chase travel portal but you are a few points short. Well, with the holidays coming up, now is a good time to earn some extra points on the shopping you’ll be doing anyway.
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Shopping Portal Promotions
Around all major holidays and big shopping events, airline portals run great promotions that let you earn big bonuses on top of their regular payouts. These promotions usually have spending thresholds but that’s an opportunity to earn a good chunk of points.
Some of the recent promos included “spend $250, get 500 AA miles,” “spend $500 get 1000 United miles,” and so on. I’d even split my purchases to take advantage of as many promos as possible and to maximize the mileage earning opportunities. Back to school shopping time is a big event on shopping portals. So if you can, try to time your purchases to these big promotions.
The bonuses are usually for the cumulative amount, so you can shop at a couple different stores in the specified time frame and still qualify for the bonus. United’s Back to School bonuses are often very generous. I earned 2,500 miles just buying the things I was going to purchase anyway.
Best Shopping Portals
All major U.S. airlines have shopping portals. I mostly fly United, so that’s what I’ll use for the majority of my online purchases. Alaska, Southwest and American Airlines also have robust portals. Pick an airline portal that’ll earn you the most amount of miles for the airline you fly most often.
For cashback, I like Rakuten (formerly Ebates) because they pay out every three months and don’t have any payout minimums. Recently, Rakuten rolled out a new option to earn American Express Membership Rewards points instead of cashback. If you value Membership Reward points, this might be a better option. Membership Rewards points are really versatile and transfer to many great airline partners.
If you already have a Rakuten account, you can now go into your account settings and change how you would like to be paid. When you click on American Express option, you’ll need to sign in with your Amex account.
If Top Cashback has a better rate, that’s what I’ll use, but I need to remember to go back and withdraw my money.
Chase shopping portals offers a great opportunity to boost the Ultimate Rewards points balance. If you are using the Chase shopping portal, make sure to click through the right card, as the earning rate might be different for different cards, like what Cashback Monitor is showing below.
Some portals like Rakuten and United have a browser extension that’ll flash a reminder every time you go to a merchant’s site. That definitely helps me to remember to use the portal.
Additional Information and Important Reminders
I hope you now see the value of the shopping portals. Here are a few additional thoughts and important reminders:
- You must click through the link on the portal’s site and then make a purchase from the page that pops up. Do not navigate away and come back later, because you may miss out on the points/miles for your purchase
- Enable cookies in your browser for the retailer’s site. This will allow the portal to track your purchase and award you the points/miles
- Shopping portals provide a great way to keep your miles/points from expiring
- Only use promotions or promo codes found on the portal. If you use other promotions, the purchase could become ineligible for points/miles. If you found a better promo yourself, check the T&C to make sure you’ll still qualify for the bonus
- Read T&C carefully. I’ve recently bought something on Cole Haan site and used Top Cashback. The fine print said that in order for the purchase to track, I needed to start with an empty shopping cart. So I went back, emptied my shopping cart and clicked through Top Cashback again
- Buying gift cards is a bit trickier. Read the restrictions for each merchant, as some won’t count gift cards as eligible purchases for earning cashback/points/miles. You can, however, still use gift cards to pay for the purchase
- Don’t miss Rakuten’s in store cash back. You’ll need to connect your credit card first, but this is another awesome opportunity to save money
- If you are going to be using cashback portals, don’t sign up with too many. Some portals have payout minimums and if you are shopping through too many strictly cashback portals, you might have small amounts sitting in lots of different accounts
- The points/miles earned through these shopping portals are in addition to those earned on the credit card of your choice. So feel free to take advantage of any category bonuses, Amex offers or opportunities to reach a minimum spend
- You can use any form of payment to pay for your purchases. Even when you are using one of the airlines’ portals, you don’t have to pay with that airline’s co-branded credit card
- Remember to not overspend in your pursuit of miles and points. Only buy things you were going to buy anyway. Overspending or carrying a credit card balance aren’t worth the points and miles earned
I almost never buy anything at a physical store anymore. I even buy some of my family’s groceries online. It’s so easy to shop from your couch these days and the shopping portals make it even more enticing. And don’t forget that you can save money or earn miles and points for your paid travel too!
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Editors Note: Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.