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Using online shopping portals to maximize your online purchases – The Points Guy

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The next big gift-giving occasions, such as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and graduations, are on the horizon. If you’re struggling to find the perfect gift for your loved ones, online shopping portals may be a great solution. Online shopping portals offer an easy way to earn bonus miles or cash back on purchases.

Also, Rakuten offers a one-time $30 bonus for new members who join through this link (and spend $30 within 90 days), so using an online shopping portal can help you save by earning cash back and accumulating points and miles.

In this guide, we’ll explore some of the top online shopping portals and how you can maximize your rewards when shopping.

Basics of online shopping portals

Let’s start with a quick overview of what these portals do. At the most basic level, shopping portals allow you to earn bonus points, miles or cash back at hundreds of online retailers.

All you need to do is log in to your online shopping portal of choice. Then, click the store where you want to shop, and you will be redirected to the store’s website and can shop as normal.

You’re still purchasing the same items directly from the merchant, but because you started at the shopping portal, you’ll earn bonus points. However, this generally only applies to the subtotal of your purchase (excluding taxes and shipping fees).

In addition, you’ll still earn points or miles on the actual rewards credit card you use, making this an easy way to double dip.

Related: The best travel rewards credit cards

ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

Here’s an example. Let’s say you planned on buying a Mother’s Day gift from Macy’s for Grandma.

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That item costs $100 if you purchase it directly from macys.com (plus $20 in taxes and shipping). Since you want to maximize your purchase, you plan to use your Citi Double Cash® Card (see rates and fees) to take advantage of the 2% cash back it offers on purchases (1% when you buy and 1% when you pay your bill).

However, you also notice that Rakuten offers an additional 2% back at Macy’s. You begin there and click through to macys.com to complete the purchase.

Thus, you’ll earn the following:

  • $120 x 2% cash back on the Citi Double Cash = $2.40
  • $100 x 2% cash back through the portal = $2

If you shopped directly on macys.com, you would’ve missed out on the extra $2 you got through Rakuten — and you’re still getting the same item for the same price.

How is this possible?

You might wonder how these portals can do this. After all, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. However, there’s no catch here. In exchange for directing you to a specified merchant, the portal will take a cut of any purchase you make from the retailer, giving you points or miles as a reward. It’s a win-win-win situation for all involved; the merchant gets more business, the portal generates more revenue, and you get extra rewards.

You may think that an extra $5 here or 300 points there won’t make much of a difference. However, if you consistently utilize shopping portals, you can easily rack up a significant amount of points, miles or cash back in a year. The beauty of this process is that you’re earning additional bonuses for things you would’ve bought anyway — an especially savvy move to address some of the cost increases we’ve been seeing.

Related: Best credit cards for everyday spending

Types of online shopping portals

DARREN MURPH/THE POINTS GUY

Now that you know how it works, let’s take a look at the major types of shopping portals out there. You can generally group them into three categories:

  • Airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Credit cards
  • Cash back

However, a change to one popular portal in 2019 created another category that effectively combines the three.

Let’s dive into each one to get a flavor of the possibilities.

Airline and hotel loyalty programs

SHOPPING.MILEAGEPLUS.COM

Almost every major airline has an online shopping portal (as do select hotel programs), and they work similarly. While the exact login process may vary slightly, each one will award bonus points or miles based on your purchases across hundreds of retailers. Here’s a handy list of links for the most popular airlines:

In addition to the standard earning rates these sites offer, many will frequently offer bonuses as an added incentive. In many cases, these aren’t based on purchases at a single store but cover transactions across all participating merchants over a set period.

For example, bonuses may launch around the winter holidays, and others can pop up around back-to-school time. Be sure to bookmark our permanent page for these offers.

Finally, some portals will even allow you to link your credit card and earn additional points and miles for in-store shopping — like this set of retailers through United’s site.

Related: The beginners guide to airline shopping portals

Credit cards

Some issuers currently offer their own online shopping portals where you can stack your credit card earnings. They are:

To utilize any of these portals, you must have an active credit card account that earns points in the bank’s program.

In 2024, Citi entered the credit card issuers’ shopping portal space. Launched as a web browser extension, Citi Shop automatically scans for coupons and other offers at over 5,000 online merchants. These offers include coupons and statement credits.

You’re only able to use the shopping portal if you have an eligible U.S. Citi card. Users can find a list of participating cards when they go to enroll in the Citi Shop program. You can download the Citi Shop extension in your browser’s app store.

Also, Chase allows 1:1 transfers to more than a dozen travel partners. You could effectively earn Hyatt points, United miles or British Airways Avios by logging in to your Chase account and launching the Ultimate Rewards shopping portal.

Although American Express doesn’t have its own shopping portal, there is a way to earn bonus Amex points when shopping online (more on that in a bit).

Cash back

The final category of online shopping portals consists of those offering extra cash back on your purchases. This is a great option for anyone who doesn’t want to bother with the hassle of airline miles or credit card points. In some instances, you can even earn bonuses for booking hotel reservations through these sites.

That being said, going for cash back also adds complexity, as there are over a dozen competing sites out there.

Some of my favorites include:

Most rates tend to fall in the 1%-5% range, though you could find limited-time specials at select merchants or during certain time windows.

Hybrid option

One of the best sites — and the one that TPG staffers use most frequently — is Rakuten. This portal traditionally fell squarely into the realm of cash-back earnings.

However, in February 2019, it started allowing new members to opt for American Express Membership Rewards points, an option that expanded to everyone in October 2019. You can earn Amex points at a ratio of $0.01 to 1 Membership Rewards point, so a merchant offering 1% cash back would instead result in 1 Membership Rewards point per dollar spent.

If you agree with TPG’s most recent valuations — which peg Amex points at 2 cents apiece — opting for Membership Rewards points over cash back effectively doubles your return with Rakuten. Since the site works with over 3,500 stores, it’s among the most expansive online shopping portals. It also has a browser extension that will notify you when a merchant offers a bonus, and it also has in-store offers.

If you’re not a member, you can sign up for Rakuten and earn $30 when you make at least $30 worth of eligible purchases through the portal in your first 90 days (limited-time offer subject to change).

RAKUTEN.COM

Related: Supercharge your Rakuten earnings with Amex points

How do I find the best offer?

As you can see, this is a dizzying array of options, and if you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’re not alone.

Fortunately, there’s an easy way to quickly sort through them for your next online shopping spree.

Let’s say you’re ready to make a purchase at a specific retailer, but you don’t know which shopping portal to use. You have accounts with virtually every program above, but does that mean you need to manually load each portal to see what bonus you’d earn?

Thanks to the magic of shopping portal aggregators like Cashback Monitor, you don’t. If you’ve never used it, you should bookmark it for future reference.

In essence, the shopping portal aggregator allows you to pull up a specific retailer and see the earning rate you’d get across all applicable shopping portals. This includes all of the above portals, allowing you to quickly compare earning rates and determine which portal offers the best return for the individual merchant at which you are shopping.

CASHBACKMONITOR.COM

The site is great for pulling up a specific store and has advanced features if you create an account. This allows you to set your favorite portals and even allows you to set a specific value for each loyalty currency.

The default on the site is 1 cent per point or mile, but if you add the numbers from TPG’s most recent valuations (for example), the site will automatically update the return you’d get on your purchases — as you see in the above screenshot.

Related: Don’t want to miss out on earning bonus points? There’s an extension for that

Important tips and reminders

YULIA GRIGORYEVA/SHUTTERSTOCK

Accessing online shopping portals is relatively straightforward, but there are a few essential things to keep in mind:

That said, you should be able to stack most Amex Offers, Chase Offers, Citi Merchant Offers and bonuses from American’s SimplyMiles site with rewards through online shopping portals. The vast majority of these offers are based solely on the total amount of your purchase and don’t require any coupon code, so it shouldn’t create any issues.

Aside from the bonuses, shopping portals are an excellent option for keeping loyalty accounts active since spending even a single dollar through a shopping portal can be enough to keep your points and miles from expiring. That can be a lifesaver if you haven’t banked travel to your account in a while and don’t have a viable option to transfer points from elsewhere.

Related: Save up to 40% on your next Marriott hotel stay with these new Amex Offers

Bottom line

Online shopping portals are a fantastic way to earn bonus points, miles or cash back for online purchases at various merchants. Even if you’re only earning an extra mile or two for every dollar you spend, these earnings can quickly add up and go a long way toward redemptions like first-class flights, luxury hotel rooms or even spending money for your next trip.

Generally speaking, we recommend Rakuten as one of the best options, thanks to the flexibility of Amex points and the sheer number of merchants on the site, but explore all of the above options to determine which would work best for you.

Now is a great time to start if you haven’t utilized these portals. Hopefully, this post has guided you on exactly how to do this.

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