Have you started your holiday shopping yet? Or are you just gearing up for the busy holiday season? In any case, read this before you buy anything else and you’ll see your points and miles balances grow thanks to the things you were going to buy anyway.

It always surprises me how many people haven’t heard about the shopping portals or don’t maximize all the opportunities available today. So I am on a mission to stop people from leaving money, or points and miles, on the table. Whether your preference is points, miles or cash, there’s a portal that works for you.

What’s a shopping portal?

When I try to talk to my friends (and sometimes strangers) about the shopping portals and why they need to start using them, I often find that many people don’t even know what a shopping portal is and how to use one. So let’s start with the basics.

A shopping portal is simply a third-party website where you start your online shopping. It will actually pay you every time you click through on the way to your intended shopping destination. Every time you click through, it tracks your purchases and pays you a small reward. The portal will also earn a commission from the retailer.

If you are thinking, why should I bother to go through the extra step for such a small payout, bear with me, and I’ll show you how all of this adds up and why it’s important.

You aren’t paying a premium by clicking through the portal. Actually, just the opposite might be true – some portals will actually prompt you to use the discount codes they found for you, and you’ll see them prominently displayed. The portal doesn’t get paid by a retailer if you don’t buy anything, so they put a lot of effort into compiling promotions. Different portals compete for your business and that’s good for us, the consumers.

How to Use a Shopping Portal

Cashback Monitor is an aggregator of all things shopping portal-related and where I start every time I am buying anything online.

Let’s say you are shopping for kids school clothes and wanted to check out Kohl’s. Just type in Kohl’s into the search field and it’ll show you all the different portals are paying.

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As you can see, there are lots of cashback portals and airline portals that will pay you to click through their sites. And why is it important to check the Cashback Monitor every time you shop? Because payouts change daily and you’d want to get the best deal.

Another great feature of Cashback Monitor is the Best Rate History. You can see the payout rates over time and if it makes sense to wait for a possible higher payout.

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Should I Earn Miles or Cashback?

Whether you prefer to earn airline miles, points or cash, is a personal choice. Personally, I go back and forth based on the payout rates. In order to earn airline miles on your purchases, you’ll need to create an account with each airline’s shopping portal. I have accounts with three airlines, United, American and Alaska. United and American because I fly them and I like earning the extra miles, and Alaska because I have a small balance there and don’t want my points to expire, so I occasionally use Alaska’s portal to extend the life of my miles.

Using an airline’s shopping portal is a great way to top off your miles balance for a particular award, or to prevent your miles from expiring. Let’s say you are a couple hundred United miles short for a particular award. In that case, just click through United’s shopping portal and buy something you were going to purchase anyway.

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A lot of airlines’ miles don’t expire anymore, but there are still a couple of holdouts like Alaska Airlines that do. Alaska’s miles expire after two years of inactivity, so using a shopping portal is a great way to earn a few miles and extend the life of your miles.

You can use any form of payment and any credit card even when you are using one of the airlines’ portals. No need to pay with that airline’s co-branded credit card, since any card will do.

What About the Shopping Portal Promotions?

Now the best part! Around all major holidays, or even major shopping events, like back to school, all shopping portals will run special promotions. As I am writing this, six weeks before Christmas, a few airline shopping portals are running promotions where you can earn extra miles by reaching various spending thresholds. This usually refers to cumulative spending over the time of the promotion, so every purchase you make adds up to a nice bonus.

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For example, with the current United promotion, you can basically earn 5X on purchases made through United MileagePlus shopping portal! That’s on top the points you will be earning with your credit cards.

If you have a lot of purchases coming up, you can split them among various shopping portals running the promotions to maximize your earning opportunities. After following the shopping portals for a little while, you’ll be able to figure out the pattern for these big spending bonuses.

How to Earn Cashback for Travel Purchases?

If you are not using miles but instead are using cash to pay for travel, don’t forget to check out the portals. This is an example of what to expect if you are using TopCashback shopping portal for booking with an online travel agency.

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Booking a stay at one of Marriott’s hotels? Check out the current promo! These promotions come and go and change often, so always keep checking the Cashback Monitor for the best deals.  

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What Are the Best Shopping Portals?

Well, the answer to this, like to a lot of questions in this hobby, depends on your spending and travel patterns. Some love to use British Airways shopping portal, but I don’t use BA miles so I use the United MileagePlus shopping portal or the American Airlines shopping portal.

If you’d rather earn cash, one word of caution, don’t sign up for too many different portals. A lot of them have minimum payout/cashout amounts and you don’t want to have small amounts stuck in different accounts and no way to cash them out.

For strict cashback, my favorite portal is TopCashback because it often has great rates and there’s no minimum cashout.

One huge advantage of TopCashback is the ability to earn cashback on Amazon devices. Amazon is a tough nut to crack, as we all spend too much money on Amazon, but it’s very hard to find a shopping portal that works with it. At least if you are shopping for a kindle or another Amazon device, you can earn cashback by clicking through TopCashback.  

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Another one of my favorites is Rakuten. It often has some of the best payouts, tracks consistently and offers a cashout option in the form of Membership Rewards. That’s right, you can earn American Express Membership Rewards by shopping online!

Signup for Rakuten

Rakuten is currently offering a tremendous best ever new account bonus.

Signup for a new Rakuten account using the link below,
and you’ll earn $40!

 

If you already have a Rakuten account, it’s easy to switch to earn Membership Rewards. Just go to your account setting and choose how you’d like to be paid.

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Some portals often offer different payout rates when paying with different credit cards. This is an example of the current rates for Macy’s, and as you can see, MileagePlus shopping portal offers a higher rate when you are paying with a United co-branded credit card, 3 miles per dollar, vs. 2 miles if not using a United card.

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If you need to top off your Chase Ultimate Rewards account, pay attention to different payout rates for different Chase Ultimate Rewards earning cards.

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If you keep forgetting to use a shopping portal, get a browser extension button and it’ll flash and remind you to click on it when you shop online. So when you see the Rakuten or TopCashback button flashing, click on it to activate tracking. It really is that simple.

Important Reminders

Here are some additional thoughts and reminders to make your shopping easier:

  • You must click through the link on the portal and then make a purchase from the page that pops up. If you navigate away and come back later, your purchase might not track
  • Don’t forget to enable cookies in your browser for the retailer’s site
  • If you are using promotions or promo codes not found on the portal, check the T&C to make sure you’ll still qualify for the bonus. I’ve had good luck using coupons emailed to me by various merchant – all the purchases tracked with no issues
  • It’s important to read T&C carefully. Some merchants might require you to start with an empty shopping cart or the order might not track
  • Buying gift cards could be tricky. Each merchant will have its own restrictions and some might not count gift cards as eligible purchases for earning cashback/points/miles. That doesn’t prevent you, however, from using a gift cards to pay for the purchase
  • Rakuten also offers in-store cashback. Just connect your credit card first and use it to pay in person. This is another great opportunity to save money or earn Membership Rewards points. Just click on In-Store Cash Back and link the offers to your credit card
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Final Thoughts

We can earn a good amount of miles and points from the couch with just a couple extra clicks. If you find attractive in-store offers from Rakuten, don’t forget to link your card before heading out. And don’t forget to check the portals before paying for trips, since you might find some really attractive cashback opportunities!

Using a shopping portal is a great way to earn a good amount of points and miles as well as prevent your existing miles from expiring. However, it’s important to not overspend in the pursuit of miles and points and only buy the things you were going to buy anyway.

Tell us in comments, what are your favorite shopping portals? How do you optimize your online shopping?

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