Hey there, you’re reading an outdated post! The updated series from March 2013 can be found here.
This is the fourteenth post in a monthlong series. Each post will take about two minutes to read and may include an action item that takes the reader another two minutes to complete. I am writing this for an audience of people who know nothing about frequent flier miles, and my goal is that by the end, you know enough to fly for free anywhere you want to go.
I like to earn miles for things I already do. If I’m already planning to do something without the mileage incentive, the miles are free. And free miles are the best kind. One way to earn oodles of free miles is through online shopping.
Every major airline and credit card loyalty program–except American Express Membership Rewards–has a shopping portal. For instance, google “United shopping” and the first link is to the United Mileage Plus shopping portal. The process for earning miles from these portals is simple.
First, you have to sign up for an account with your frequent flier number. Or for the credit card shopping portals, you need to sign into your online account, and click on the shopping portal.
Once inside, you can search by brand or by which partners are offering the most miles per dollar. After finding the partner website you want to shop from, you click on the link inside the portal to go that partner’s site.
You complete a purchase through the partner’s site, and in a few days or weeks, your bonus miles post to the account associated with the portal you used.
The portal knows where to credit miles by placing cookies in your browser as it sends you off to the external site where you make your purchases.
It’s a simple process, but let me give some tips and cautions, so that you can properly exploit the shopping portals.
1. Do your research outside the portals. If you decide you want to buy a certain laptop from a certain website, that’s the point to go to a portal and click the link to the partner website that sells the laptop. Only buy things through portals that you’ve decided to buy already. Do not impulse shop. That’s why they set up the portals: to make money off your impulse shopping. Let’s turn the tables by only buying what we were getting anyway and banking the free miles.
2. Once you have an item picked out to buy from a certain website, go to evreward.com. If you type in the site you want to buy from, it lists how many miles and points dozens of portals are offering. Multiply the number of bonus points times your valuation of a single point in that program, and you’ll know which is offering the biggest rebate per dollar.
Example: The Southwest Rapid Rewards portal had a promotion to temporarily offer 6 Rapid Rewards point per dollar spent at Target.com. I value a Southwest point at 1.69 cents, so buying through the portal netted 10.14 cents worth of additional points per dollar spent or a 10.1% rebate. During that promotion, that was the best rebate available at Target.com according to my point valuations and evreward.com.
3. Read the fine print of the portal. Oftentimes dollars spent on taxes and shipping don’t accrue bonus points. The fine print also often specifies that you must use a certain credit card like an airline’s co-branded card to earn the bonus through the portal. While many points lovers have found that you’ll actually earn the portals’ bonus points if you use any credit card, be aware of this fine print and that your mileage may vary.
4. Read the Frequent Miler. He’s the king of portals, especially the Ultimate Rewards portal. He doesn’t content himself with a mere 10x. He’ll double dip by buying gift cards at 10x through the portal, then using them at 10x through the portal for a 20x total.
Or sometimes he’ll buy things he doesn’t need in order to resell them for a small loss that is swamped by the points he earns. He’s gotten the Southwest companion pass and tons Ultimate Rewards through portals.
5. Stay on top of limited time promotions. You probably just ignore your junk-mail emails from airlines, but often they are promoting excellent temporary deals through their portal. You may want to start reading them more closely. Alternatively, you can check back here daily, where I’ll be posting about the best portal deals.
Online shopping is a great way to earn tons of free miles. To fully exploit the portals, use evreward.com and your valuation of each mileage currency. With these thousands of miles, you should have no trouble flying in first class for free next month.