Some people think that if they don’t fly or stay at a hotel often enough, they have no chance of earning enough miles or points for free travel. That’s simply not true. These days, loyalty programs are a business in and of themselves and offer a myriad of ways to rack up miles from co-branded credit cards to online shopping malls. All you need to do is purchase items you were going to buy anyway through these portals to get bonus points.
Here’s how it works. Airline and hotel loyalty programs, as well as banks that offer their own reward systems (American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and Citi ThankYou), maintain online shopping malls where you can link to hundreds of online retailers. Just click through the links to the store of your choice, make a purchase, and you’ll earn miles or points. It’s that easy.
Of course, there are ways to maximize your miles and points earning potential when using these portals. Here are a few tips:
Which Mall Makes the Most Sense?
The rainy season is coming up and you lost your good umbrella. You know that Sears sells the model you want. Many of the shopping portals offer links to this retailer, so which online mall do you choose? You should consider your travel goals and go through a mall that will reward you with the type of miles or points that you need for your dream trip redemption.
You’ll also want to determine which mall offers the best reward for shopping at that particular store. EVReward.com is a terrific site that makes it easy to compare which portal is offering the best dollar per point ratio. The homepage features a dialogue box. Simply type in the store name you’re interested in shopping at and click “Find Rewards”. The site will tell you the rewards being offered at an array of online malls.
Don’t Spend More Just to Get Miles or Points
Comparison shop to make sure you’re not overpaying for merchandise just to get a reward. And watch out for the added cost of shipping. Oftentimes, you can find good deals at online retailers which will also ship your purchase for free. If you subscribe to ShopRunner you get free two-day shipping at dozens of online retailers like Drugstore.com, eToys, eBags, MacMall, and Lord + Taylor. (American Express has run promotions in the past in which it gifted its credit-card holders with an annual subscription to ShopRunner. The subscription can save you a considerable amount in shipping fees if you do make a lot of online purchases. Returns are free too. ShopRunner offers a free 30-day trial period.)
Triple Dip with Gift Cards
The use of gift cards can really maximize your online shopping purchases. It works like this:
First Dip–Go through the online shopping portal to the store of your choice to purchase a gift card. (Read the fine print at the mall. Not all merchants’ award points for gift card purchases, but many do.)
Second Dip–Use a points-earning credit card to purchase the gift card.
Third Dip–Return to the store (making sure you’re still signed in to the online shopping mall) and order your umbrella.
Tip for Business Owners: If you have the Chase Ink Plus or Bold business credit card, you get 5 points for every dollar spent at an office supply store. Staples sells gift cards (physical and those delivered electronically) for many different stores and restaurants. This is the most lucrative way to purchase gift cards.
Let’s go over an actual online purchase and travel goal so you can see the power of online shopping portals. We talked about buying a new umbrella from Sears. Let’s also say that you are a Chase Ink credit card holder. Finally, you’re saving for a dream trip to Tahiti so you’ll need American Airlines miles to get there. Let’s use American Airlines AAdvantage eShopping Mall for this example. (If you want to put that dream into reality, read French Polynesia for Free.)
1. Log in to the AAdvantage eShopping Mall and search for Staples in the “Find a product or store dialogue box. You’ll see that you’ll earn 2 miles for every dollar spent at Staples (minus shipping costs). Click on the portal link that will take you to Staples.
2. Once at Staples, click the Gift Cards tab and search within the E-Gift Cards area (electronic delivery). Put a $50 gift card in your shopping card. You’ll earn 100 American Airlines AAdvantage points from the mall ($50 x 2 miles).
3. Continue to the checkout. Staples doesn’t charge a fee for electronic delivery of gift cards so your total is $50. Use your Chase Ink credit card to pay for the purchase. You’ll earn 250 Chase Ultimate Rewards points ($50 x 5 points).
4. Return to the AAdvantage eShopping Mall and make sure you’re still logged in. Link to Sears and put the umbrella you’ve had your eye on in your shopping card. The portal reward at Sears right now is 12 miles per dollar. The umbrella costs $50 so you’ll earn 600 AAdvantage miles ($50 x 12 miles). (At the time this theoretical order was placed, Sears was offering free shipping on orders over $45 so shipping could be free too.)
Total earnings: 700 AAdvantage miles and 250 Chase Ultimate Rewards points
You can see how quickly those miles and points can add up if you plan your online purchases.
Some Helpful Hints
Always log in to the online shopping mall and make sure you link to the retailer of your choice through that portal.
Always take screen shots of the entire ordering process. That way, if your miles or points don’t post, you have detailed evidence that they should have.
Watch for free shipping deals and high mile/point-to-dollar rewards. Flower delivery services like FTD and 1-800-Flowers often offer bonuses up to 30 miles per dollar spent.
Remember that miles and points will be deducted from your account if you return the merchandise you bought.
Get Started Today
Here’s a list of a few of the most popular online shopping portals that offer rewards for each purchase.
Air Canada Aeroplan eStore
American AAdvantage eShopping Mall
Avianca LifeMiles e-Store
British Airways BA eStore
Choice Privileges Online Mall
Delta SkyMiles Shopping
Frontier EarlyReturns Mall
Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles Online eMarket
Hilton HHonors Shop-to-Earn Mall
Marriott Rewards Shop My Way
Southwest Rapid Rewards Shopping
United MileagePlus Shopping
US Airways Dividend Miles Storefront
Virgin Atlantic Shops Away