Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Maximizing Mileage - Shopping Portals

It's almost been 3 months since my father last applied for new credit cards, so I'm sure he'll be thinking about what to apply for later in May. But my parents are starting to run out of new credit cards to apply for. The current offers out there now aren't that great, but luckily for them, the new card sign up bonuses are just one way to boost your frequent flyer miles and point balances.

The longer term recurring strategy is to optimize your regular daily spending and making sure you earn as much as possible on everything you'd buy normally.

So I'm gonna start my new series, Maximizing Mileage.

Chapter 1 - Shopping Portals
Chapter 2 - Dining Programs
Chapter 3 - Double Dipping

Since we don't have a car in Manhattan, my parents rely on online shopping to procure just about everything. It reminded me to tell everyone about Shopping Portals which can really maximize the miles/points you earn from your regular spending.

Again, a big reminder about my father's #1 rule: "Do not spend more than you would normally." This rule includes paying for shipping & handling when you can simply walk down the street and pick it up for free. But when you can get Free Shipping, a super easy way to get an extra 1x-10x points per dollar spent is to use the numerous shopping portals.

Shopping Portals - What & Why?

Shopping portals are run by marketing companies that get a commission for sending you to the retailer's website.The retailer is willing to give up some of the sale (as a referral fee) to the website that sent them business. The portal then gives YOU some of their referral fee in the form of miles/points. The retailer gets the sale. The portal gets their portion of the fee. And you get the miles/points.

For example, if my mother wanted to buy more diapers from Drugstore.com, she would first log into her Chase Ultimate Rewards Shopping portal and then click through it to get to Drugstore.com. By making her purchase this way, she will earn an extra 5x Chase Ultimate Reward points for every pre-tax dollar spent. The 5x is in addition to whatever points she would earn having used one of her Travel Credit Cards.

So for a $25 order, she would earn 150 Chase UR points total (125 Chase UR points from the portal and 25 Chase UR points from using her Chase Freedom Card). Even if you assume a UR point is only worth $0.01, that's $1.50 of value on a $25 order (6% back).

Of course, if you're like my father, you can convert 1 Chase UR point into 1 United mile and get 6.0 cents/mile of value, so those 150 Chase UR points = 150 United miles = $9 of value. $9 would be an 36% rebate on a $25 diaper purchase that she was going to make anyway!

But better yet, by using our Citi Thank You Preferred card instead (which gives 5x Citi Thank You Points for drugstore purchases), we can still get the 125 Chase UR points (from the portal) as well as 125 Citi Thank You points. Or we could have used our Starwood Amex credit card and earned 25 SPG points as well. Just depends on which program you want to earn with.

I bring this up because while you're "supposed" to use a Chase credit card when you go through their portal, you can still earn the portal points even if you use another credit card. However, if you have any trouble with getting the points to post, Chase won't be able to see your credit card charge and will be less likely to help you.

Miles/Points Portals

But what if you don't want Chase UR points (or United Miles or Hyatt points)? Well, you're in luck because just about every airline has it's own shopping portal as do many hotels.  Unfortunately though, Starwood doesn't. Here's a list (that I stole from ThePointsGuy.com) of various Shopping Portals you can choose from.
NOTE:  Different portals have different payouts to the same retailers.  For example, if you wanted to buy something from Drugstore.com, you can either earn 5 Chase UR points, 3 United miles, 4 American Airline miles, 7 Hilton HHonors points, etc. And the payouts change frequently (Drugstore.com has been as high as 8-10x on Chase UR as recently as last month).

But lucky for you, you don't have to look up each one. You can just go to EVReward.com and search the retailer you want. EVReward will tell you which portals have which payouts for that specific retailer.

Cash Back Portals

HOWEVER, maybe you're like my friend Baby Peyton and her parents who would rather save money than earn miles/points. Well, you're also in luck! There's a handful of Shopping Portals that just pay you in cold hard cash or even a portal that puts money into your child's 529 College Savings Plan (UPromise).
  • Big Crumbs
  • Ebates
  • Mr. Rebates
  • TopCashBack
  • UPromise 
Of these, the ones my family uses is (1) Big Crumbs (because they're the most reliable for paying out in a timely fashion) and (2) UPromise (thanks mom & dad!). The portal TopCashBack supposedly pays out 100% of their commission to you, but TopCash Back's never worked for us whenever we've used it, so we just stick with Big Crumbs.

The other great thing about Big Crumbs is that it's a Pyramid Scheme. You get cash back for your purchases, but if you refer other people who sign up, you'll make some $ on their purchases through the portal (even if they don't sign up). You'll even earn referral cash from THEIR referrals they get to sign up. Another WIN-WIN-WIN. So tell all your friends!

And yes, these links to BigCrumbs are in fact my links, but you're no worse off using my link and can still get referral credit from your friends, so sign up! Might as well help a baby sister out!

Final Advice

First, remember my father's #1 rule - "Do not spend more than you would normally." In this case, it means don't let the shopping portal payouts lead you to more expensive retailers. So if Diapers.com (2x points) is selling Pampers for $25 while Drugstore.com (5x points) is selling them for $26, we still go for the cheaper price! We'd rather save $1 now than get an extra 80 points (an illiquid form of travel currency). Remember, the goal of this game is to earn free points along the way of your normal spending habits, not to spend more money to get the points.

Second, in order for the retailer to know you were referred by a shopping portal, the portal needs to put a cookie on your browser session to track you. So there's a lot that can throw off the portal transaction.
  • If you go to the retailer website directly, then try to use the shopping portal retroactively, your points may not post.
  • If you close your browser and later return to the retailer website directly, your points may not post.
  • If your browser has an old cookie somewhere, and you use the portal to get to your retailer website, your points may not post.
  • If you take "too long" on the retailer website to make your final purchase, your points may not post.

As you can see, your best chance for a successful portal transaction is to close your browser (and/or clear its history), open a new session, go to the Shopping Portal, use it to go to your retailer website and then complete a transaction in a timely fashion.

And finally, the points take about 1-2 weeks to post, but every retailer website is different. If you don't see your points post after a few weeks, you can follow up with the shopping portal (remember, they want to get paid too!), but you'll need your purchase order # and details so keep those purchase confirmation emails.

Reference Websites

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