It is hard to equate spending money with free travel, but it is actually possible. Shopping portals are an easy way to collect extra miles when shopping online. If you are new to earning cash and points while making purchases online, this post is for you.
Points or cash, tough choice
There are two main types of shopping portals, one earns cash-back and one earns points. Almost every major airline, hotel, and bank has some kind of shopping portal allowing you to earn points at various merchants. On the cash-back side, you have popular companies like Ebates and TopCashBack which give you a percentage of the purchase total “back” as cash.
The first thing to note is that you cannot earn points from a portal when shopping in-person. It may be possible to pickup the item in a brick-and-mortar store, but it must be purchased online first. The key to earning your rewards is by clicking on referral or provider links so they can track your shopping activity.
These shopping portals use links that place a cookie in your browser to track your purchase on a given website. If you don’t click on a portal link before checking out, you will lose out on the cash-back or points.
What if they don’t give me the reward?
Most of the people I talk to about shopping portals have the same concern. How do I know if the referral link I clicked on is actually tracking? I was one of these people when I started using portal links for day-to-day shopping. I now buy and sell goods in bulk to make tens of thousands in points. Ebates and TopCashBack will send you an email after they see a purchase made through their link.
Some portals have rules about items placed in your cart before clicking on their referral link. What I do is dedicate a browser on my computer to all my shopping portal “shopping”. I do all my research and shopping in Chrome, and then when I know what I want, I go over to Firefox, click the referral link and complete my purchase.
If I had to guess, I have over 250 separate transactions that have been tracked through a cash-back or shopping portal. I have never had a purchase not track or not show up. As long as you read the fine print and click on the tracking/referral link prior to purchase, you will be set.
The ‘Fine Print’
This is the most important piece if you take anything away from this post. You must-must-must read the fine print for each referer, like Ebates for example. If you click on a referral link to start shopping on Macy’s, you may be surprised to know they don’t reward you for Apple products purchased.
For avid “portal” shoppers, we have already excepted this Apple-reality for most portals. If you are new to this and go make a $300 Apple Watch purchase on Macy’s.com, you will be waiting for eternity to get your “6%” cash-back. Sadly, it will never show up in your dashboard.
As you see, Ebates, like MANY others, will not pay you anything on an Apple product purchase. And yes, these shopping portals can see what you order.
Another item you will rarely get rewards on are gift card purchases. Gift cards are a “cash equivalent” and very rarely pay you in cash-back or points when shopping on big-box retailers. If you want to buy gift cards and earn cash-back, you can go through Ebates when shopping on Raise.com which is a gift card reseller. (but again, read the fine print)
If you are new to Ebates, you can use my link to get a bonus of $10 cash-back on your next “confirmed” purchase. You may already be using Ebates, if so I would recommend adding this Chrome browser plug-in which makes tracking purchases super easy. If you hit a site that partners with Ebates, the little logo will start glowing. Just click it and it will track your purchases.
As with any tracked purchase, always compare your cash-back or miles reward rate before making a decision. I like TopCashBack because they payout in about 6-8 weeks generally.
I highly recommend double dipping, which is the process of buying a gift card and earning cash-back, then taking that gift card and making a “goods” purchase earning more cash-back. Almost every portal WILL reward you if you are spending your gift cards, just not on the purchase of a gift card. That is why Ebates and Raise are a good option to buy the gift card first.
Ebates via Raise will give you 1% back not to mention gift cards are almost always discounted. Think of it as a coupon code or free money. If Raise has Macy’s gift cards for 10% off and Ebates pays 1%, that is 11% off when you spend them on Macy’s.com. (also, read the fine print on redeeming gift cards before you purchase them). This would get you 11% off an Apple Watch, but you won’t earn cash-back on the Apple Watch.
Note that Amazon only pays cash-back on select categories. 99% of your purchases on Amazon will NOT pay any cash-back.
The miles dilemma
My favorite site for finding the best payout is CashBackMonitor. Some portals will only pay 3x miles/points but will pay up to 6% cash-back. You’ll need to decide what you can get the best use out of when choosing between cash or miles. I have Southwest Companion Pass, so if a portal pays 2% cash-back or 1x points on Southwest airlines, I will still go with the Southwest points.
There are times that Groupon pays out 10x Alaska Airline miles. If you went on Groupon (via the referral link) and bought a laptop for $500, you’d potentially earn 5,000 Alaska Airline miles. Alaska Airlines recently updated their award chart allowing one-way flights for as little as 5,000 miles.
You could fly one-way from San Francisco to Seattle for 5,000 miles one-way, just for buying a laptop on Groupon. (make sure to read the fine print because they don’t pay out points/miles on HP purchases). Thanks to their generous stop-over rules on Alaska Air, you could even stop in Portland for a few days and then continue to Seattle, all for 5,000 miles.
The big point
If you really want to earn BIG free travel buy using shopping portals, you will need to buy a lot of stuff. That simple. Most people who collect thousands of miles every month do so by buying and reselling. They are either buying goods or gift cards to resell, or both. In the process they are earning ton of points and some cash as profit.
Last month, I earned close to 40,000 miles and over $1,400 in cash while buying and reselling electronics. If you want to start reselling, I suggest starting slow and making sure to cross your T’s and dot your I’s. You want to come out ahead not behind. In order to do so, you need to be methodical and on-point (pun intended).
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