The introduction of the first web browser, Mosaic Netscape (better known as Netscape Navigator) in 1994 kickstarted a massive boom in electronic commerce (e-commerce) sites. Was it a mere coincidence that today’s largest e-commerce company, Amazon, was founded in 1994? Of course, in the early days, Amazon sold only books and their site looked primitive compared to their content-rich pages today. E-commerce sites are enabling a new “hobby” (or is it a “sport”?) – online shopping. They provide an easy way to research and buy almost everything for everyone in your life – and, of course, for the “occasional” spending spree. Among key enablers for online shopping, credit cards give a fast and relatively secure method to pay for goods and services on e-commerce sites. While earning points or miles from your online shopping should be a key ingredient in your travel rewards strategy, most credit cards offer minimal rewards for online shopping purchases – often only one point or mile per dollar spent. Of course, some cards offer bonus points or miles for specific categories such as airline flights, hotels, online services, etc. Fortunately, there are easy ways to boost your reward earning from online purchases made via airline, credit card and hotel shopping portals.
The good news is that many airline and hotel companies, and a couple of credit card providers (Chase and Barclays), offer bonus points or miles when you sign up for their shopping portals and click to a store and not going directly. Any subsequent purchases made at the store’s site earns you bonus points or miles – these are in addition to points or miles earned using a rewards credit card. Make sure you sign up for multiple shopping portals with all your favorite airline and hotel loyalty programs before you start shopping online. The various shopping portals often have different earning rates for the same store so a little more research is needed before clicking the buy now button. Further, shopping portals often offer special rewards for certain products or stores throughout the year. For example, United Airlines may offer one mile per dollar at Apple.com, whereas American Airlines may have a special limited-time offer earning two miles per dollar.
Deciding which of the many shopping portals to use depends mostly on your travel goals and, in a related way, the points or miles “currency” you are trying to collect for an award redemption. Even if you don’t have a current travel goal, it is worth collecting at least one airline and one hotel “currency” so you have a stockpile ready for your next trip or stay. I mostly collect miles for United and Alaska Airlines since I live in Los Angeles and they give me a lot of options to travel throughout the U.S., especially to Hawaii and to the U.K. and New Zealand, where my extended family live. I also stockpile Starpoints in my Starwood Preferred Guest account for hotel stays. If you have one of the Chase Ultimate Rewards cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Chase Sapphire Preferred credit cards, you can also earn extra Ultimate Rewards points via their shopping portal.
TIP #1: An important part of your online shopping strategy should include the use of a “shopping portal aggregator”, such as evrewardand CashbackMonitor. These great sites give rewards earning rates for multiple airline, hotel and credit card shopping portals. Before making a purchase, use one of these sites to search for the store you may wish to buy from and click on one of the links to transfer you to the right shopping portal.
TIP #2: You don’t need to use a credit card to earn points or miles when shopping online – debit cards, gift cards or PayPal work just as well. However, it usually makes sense to use a credit card to give an extra layer of security and to tap into special benefits to protect the items you buy from loss, damage or theft; even to extend your product warranty. Combining the points or miles earned via shopping portals with those earned from credit card spending is a smart way to boost your earning rates.
Major U.S. Airline Shopping Portals
Earn United MileagePlus miles for every dollar you spend at over 850 online stores. Sign into the United MileagePlus Shopping portal using your MileagePlus number and account password. The site’s home page displays top stores, sponsored deals and limited time offers. Most of the time, you use the search function to find specific stores and products. The MileagePlus Shopping site includes many of my favorite brands and stores, including Apple, New Balance, Expedia, Bed Bath & Beyond, Best Buy and Samsung. For example, if I am buying a new iPhone I earn two miles per dollar, although as I mentioned earlier, earning rates change often so it is always worth double checking. Clothes, flowers, and many other categories earn even higher mileage rates.
TIP #3: Remember to use shopping portals for purchasing flowers for special occasions, such as Mother’s Day or birthdays. I have used 1800flowers.com or FTD.com. Earning rates of 20 points or miles per dollar are not unusual.
United offers an excellent smart phone app (Apple and Google), MileagePlus X, that provides “on the go” mileage earning, up to five miles per dollar, by purchasing eGift cards to make payments at local stores and restaurants. In addition, if you have the Chase United MileagePlus Explorer Card, you earn a 25% bonus. The MileagePlus X app can also be used to buy and store eGift cards in your smart phone digital wallet or store accounts. To setup the app, log into your MileagePlus account and the app syncs with any payment cards stored in your united.com profile. You search from a list of nearby stores, or via the online catalog with categories such as Entertainment, Food, Home & Garden, etc. If the app supports the store, you buy an eGift card for the total price (be sure to include sales tax) of the item you are buying, or the restaurant bill (include a tip too) you are paying. Within a store or restaurant, you show your smart phone with the open MileagePlus X app, displaying the store’s eGift card number and PIN, to the cashier or server for them to complete the purchase.
I often use this app to pay for meals at local restaurants, including P.F. Chang’s. For online shopping, you buy an eGift card for the total amount of your purchase, including sales tax and shipping/handling fees. Then, you enter the eGift card number and PIN in the site’s payment form (usually under Gift Cards) to complete your purchase. The MileagePlus X app has a feature to mark an eGift card as redeemed (on the app menu click on Purchases to display a list of previously bought eGift cards) to help you keep a list of active (with an unused balance) cards. The MileagePlus X app has a number great options for local shopping and entertainment, including AMC Theatres, Apple iTunes & App Store, Domino’s, Google Play, Starbucks and Uber. Currently, I earn two miles per dollar spent on Apple iTunes eGift cards, and five miles per dollar with AMC Theatres, in addition to credit card spending points or miles.
TIP #4: If you regularly pay for music, movie, app downloads/subscriptions, visit your local cinema, restaurants or coffee shops, pre-purchase eGift cards and store them on your smartphone for quick payment. I keep a few eGift cards for AMC, Apple App Store & iTunes and Starbucks on my iPhone and use them via the Apple Wallet app to pay for movie tickets, Apple iTunes downloads, and cappuccinos!
As with the United MileagePlus shopping portal, American Airlines’ AAdvantage eShopping portal rewards you with AAdvantage miles for shopping at your favorite stores. The portal supports over 950 stores. Unlike United’s portal, you need to register for AAdvantage eShopping separately from your AAdvantage frequent flyer account, although the accounts share a common AAdvantage number. The list of stores is similar between all shopping portals although, as I mentioned earlier, they may offer different earning rates and special offers throughout the year. For example, at the time of writing, I notice AAdvantage eShopping has a limited-time offer of six miles per dollar spent with Apple.
Tip #5: A recently introduced feature of the AAdvantage eShopping portal is a button installed as an extension to the Google Chrome browser. Once you install the button, you log into your AAdvantage eShopping account and Google search results include mileage earning offers. After selecting an offer and making a purchase, a pop-up displays your mileage earnings.
Alaska’s shopping portal, Mileage Plan Shopping, offers mileage earning opportunities at over 800 stores. As with American’s AAdvantage eShopping portal, Alaska recently introduced their Mileage Plan Shopping button extension for Google’s Chrome browser.
Once installed, Google search results include miles reward rates for each store for comparison purposes. If you also installed the American AAdvantage eShopping button you see both Alaska and American earning rates displayed, if the store is supported by both portals. After selecting an offer and making a purchase, Mileage Plan Shopping displays the miles you earned.
Additional Airline and Hotel Shopping Portals
Other major airline and hotel brands offer point or mile rewards for online shopping. Here is a brief, but not complete, list along with links to their sites.
- British Airways Avios eStore – shopping.ba.com
- Choice Privileges Online Mall – choiceprivilegesmall.com
- Delta Air Lines SkyMiles Shopping – skymilesshopping.com
- Hawaiian Airlines Mall – onlinemall.hawaiianairlines.com
- Hilton Honors Shop-to-Earn Mall – shoptoearn.hiltonhonors.com
- JetBlue ShopTrue Mall – shoptrue.jetblue.com
- Marriott Rewards More – more.marriottrewards.com
- Southwest Rapid Rewards – rapidrewardsshopping.southwest.com
- Spirit Online Mall – mall.spirit.com
- Virgin Atlantic Shops Away – shop.virgin-atlantic.com
TIP #6: Points and miles earned with airline and hotel loyalty programs typically expire within a specific time if there is no activity in your account. For example, United MileagePlus miles expire 18 months from your most recent activity. To keep your MileagePlus account active, you earn or redeem miles before their expiration date. Even if you do not expect flying with United in the coming months, earning miles via United’s MileagePlus Shopping portal is a simple way to keep your account active and avoiding the loss of miles you have already earned. Another method, is to apply for and use a United MileagePlus Explorer Card. As long as your card account is open, your MileagePlus miles will not expire.
Stacking Rewards – My Shopping Example
In this example, I describe the process I used to earn points and miles for a wedding gift I bought from Williams-Sonoma. As you may already know, soon-to-be-wed couples select desired products from one or more stores and list them under their registry services. Invited guests buy items from the registry, thus avoiding unwanted or duplicate gifts.
First, I check the evreward site to search for Williams-Sonoma. The site displays a list of Frequent Flyer Miles & Hotel Rewards programs offering shopping rewards. I notice British Airways is offering six Avios per dollar. I click-through to their Avios eStore site and login to my Executive Club account. The portal passes me to the Williams-Sonoma store.
I search for my friends’ wedding registry and scroll through the list of their selected items. I find some good quality stock pots and pans, since I know they like to cook, and add them to my shopping cart. I continue through the checkout process, select the couple’s registered shipping address and enter my contact details (billing address). Not one to pass on an even better deal, I notice a free shipping discount code at the top of the page and enter it in the Promotion Code box and apply it to my order. At this point the Order Summary displays the Item Total, Shipping & Processing (less discount for free shipping code) and Sales Tax for a total price of $228.85.
I open the United MileagePlus X app on my iPhone to buy an eGift card. I search for Williams-Sonoma within the Home & Garden category in the app’s Catalog. I note United is offering three miles per dollar at Williams-Sonoma. I click on the Williams-Sonoma line at the bottom of the store listing and the app displays the store details, including locations of nearby “physical” stores. I click on the Pay now button at the bottom of the screen. The next screen asks me to enter the value of the eGift card I wish to buy, so I enter $228.85 (note: there are limits set for each eGift card type so you may need to buy multiple cards if you need to pay for items over the limit). The app also asks me to select the form of payment or use award miles (you can set a default method if you wish to use the same card each time you use the app). The app synchronizes with payment cards stored in my united.com account. I select my Chase MileagePlus Visa card and click on the Pay now button. I earn 686 + 171 (25% bonus for owning the MileagePlus Visa card) miles for a total of 857 miles. In addition, I earn 229 miles from Chase for using my MileagePlus Visa card. I copy the eGift card number and PIN over to the Williams-Sonoma site to complete the wedding registry gift purchase. Since I linked from the BA Avios eStore first, I earn another 1,260 Avios (6 x 210) – they don’t pay rewards for sales tax or shipping fees. Although thus may seem complicated, it only takes a few minutes extra to follow the other steps to earn bonus points and miles from this purchase.
In summary, for the gift purchase I made at Williams-Sonoma’s online store, I earned the following points and miles:
- 857 United MileagePlus miles with the MileagePlus X app
- 229 United MileagePlus miles with my Chase MileagePlus Visa card
- 1,260 BA Avios with the BA Avios eStore link (via evreward) to the Williams-Sonoma site
A nice total of 2,346 miles towards my next free flight award redemption.
TIP #6: Points and miles are not all worth the same. Their value varies depending on how you use them. For example, if you use them to buy products or gift cards you may net less than 1 cent per point or mile. However, if you use redeem them for travel rewards, such as hotel stays, airline tickets or upgrades, you often get higher value from them. For comparison purposes, I apply a relative value to each point and mile “currency”. For example, I value United miles and BA Avios at 1.5 cents each. In the above example, my reward for shopping online netted me about $35 in relative value, or just over 15% of the total price.
TIP #7: If you plan to make significant purchases online over the next 2-3 months, consider applying for a new credit card that offers a sign-on bonus of points or miles. Thus, when you use your new card for purchases you already intend to make, you hit the spending requirement to earn the sign-on bonus faster. For example, when you open a Citi ThankYou Premier Card account and spend $4,000 within three months of account opening you earn 50,000 bonus ThankYou Points (worth $625 when redeemed for airfare on any airline through Citi’s ThankYou Travel Center, or $500 for gift cards redeemed from the ThankYou Rewards collection). Paying regular bills (auto, home or health insurance, TV or streaming/music services, Internet, cell phone and utility bills) with day-to-day spending (groceries, gas, travel, dining, gifts, etc.) throughout the month with your credit card, you earn the sign-on bonus even faster. But, please only apply for a new card if you have little or no existing debt and are able to pay off your monthly credit card statement balances to avoid interest charges.
I shop online for many types of products and services. I spend a few minutes extra each time to research points and miles earning potential. The use of shopping portal aggregators, such as evreward and CashbackMonitor, helps me to quickly find current reward rates and links via airline, credit card and hotel shopping portals to stores I regularly use. The use of credit cards earns me “stacked” rewards to boost my points and miles balances. And, often, I combine them with the United MileagePlus X app to buy eGift cards to make payments and earn more bonus miles.
It’s as easy as 1…2…3…! Shop away dear readers!!