Making the Best Use of Airline Shopping Portals
Online shopping portals are an easy and rewarding way to earn airline miles. All the major airlines (and a few credit card companies, like Chase and Citi) have websites which link you to many stores where you likely already shop, including major department, book, clothing, and home and design stores. By first visiting a shopping portal, then clicking through to the store's website from there, you earn airline miles per dollar spent.
In some cases, your purchase earns you one or two miles per dollar, but for other retailers you might earn as much as seven or eight miles per dollar. Amy Beth recently purchased sunscreen and moisturizer from Sephora.com via the American Airlines portal, and earned 378 American Airlines miles. Not only is that a nice bonus for ordering something she was planning to buy regardless, but using the portal also keeps your airline miles safe from expiring— earning miles resets the clock on your miles. The real fun is when bonuses come into play, and these are further detailed below. Bonuses on shopping portal spending offer significant opportunities to accrue miles, translating miles to amounts that can earn you a free one-way ticket with just a couple of purchases.
There are basically two times of the year to pursue larger bonuses, both available for a limited time and worth keeping an eye on:
I. Seasonal Bonuses
Portals will run promotions in advance of major shopping holidays and shopping days, such as Black Friday, Valentines Day, and during summer back to school shopping weeks; these require spending a certain amount to receive a fixed bonus. For example, spend $100 to get 500 miles, spend $500 to get 3,000 miles, etc. There’s no restriction on which retailers, you simply need to reach the level of spending through the shopping portal on any number of transactions, via a certain date.
II. Retailer Promotions
Often, a specific retailer is featured as part of a promotion, offering you a greater amount of miles per purchase. The Gap usually offers three miles per dollar, but during a store promotion might offer as much as twelve miles per dollar through a portal. Promotions are often much better on a dollar per point basis than seasonal bonuses, however the choices of stores to shop at is restricted to those that are part of the promotion. These increased offers will almost always be on the homepage of the portal, and occasionally the portal company will email updates as to offers. With miles accrued during promotions, we have earned one-way tickets on British Airways and United, with a single purchase of higher priced items—like camping gear!
Now, the key is to not spend money you don’t need to spend— and trying to spend $1,000 just to enhance your miles balance might seem implausible. To address this, we keep a running list of major purchases that we need, but that we do not need immediately. We need a new tent, but we don’t need it today. When a portal bonus pops up, we buy it then—in some cases, this cinches us an effective 10-20% (or more) off the price, as our miles earnings are of tremendous value.
Consider this scenario: We buy a tent for $300 through a United portal. We earn six miles per dollar and there is an additional 1,000 point bonus. We value United points at 1.8 cents per point, so we have just accrued 2,800 United miles, or $50 toward our next ticket on United—this is on top of the points we earned from the credit card we used, another five to seven dollars, giving us possibly a 20% points rebate on the purchase price of the tent. We recently purchased a new Big Agnes two-person sleeping bag and earned enough portal bonus points (18 miles per dollar!) on backcountry.com to achieve a 40% discount— this is considering the points value we earned with the purchase and the extra value gleaned in purchasing with our Delta Amex.
If you’d rather have cash back than airline miles, there are a variety of portals like Ebates, Topcashback, Mr. Rebates and others that offer money back instead of points. Do note that the rebates are not instant, the cashback site will need to verify the purchase first with the merchant and then generally it takes between 4-8 weeks for the cashback to post, to be sure you haven’t returned the item. One extra bonus element is the many of the cashback sites as do have signup bonuses on your first purchase through their portal.
Topcashback.com offers a $10 bonus after first purchase
Ebates.com offers a $10 bonus after your first $25+ purchase
Mr. Rebates offers a $5 with your first purchase
Banner photo, Virgin Islands National Park, by Derek Wright.