(Today’s post is a bit longer than usual but could get you some extra miles or cash. I hope you find it useful.)
I’m trying to encourage people to shop locally for the holidays, but sometimes, that’s impossible. Online shopping, or shopping at a “big-box” retailer, is frequently more convenient and offers better variety. If you do that, you should never, ever shop without getting something back, particularly online. And that includes travel. I have a page dedicated to it here, but there are 24 shopping days left until Christmas and 23 until Chanukah, so a reminder is always good.
What Is An Online Shopping Site?
The concept is simple: If you use a certain site to access a store, the store will give the site a commission, which they will share with you. In other words, you could buy something at macys.com and save nothing, or click on a rebate site to direct you to the exact same macys.com and get something back.* If you are accessing a site directly to make a purchase, you are doing it wrong (with one big exception).
Shopping for Miles
You’ve gotten emails about it before, but every airline has an online shopping portal. They will give you miles for every dollar that you spend, with some paying as high as 20 or 25 miles per dollar spent (Think high-margin stuff like flowers.). I have a list of the airline portals here so you don’t have to hunt around on their sites.
Cash Back Shopping
I usually stick to cash back shopping sites, since the money tends to be worth more to me than the miles, and one of the best times to use these sites is when you travel. You will get rebates on almost all hotel and rental car companies, as well as a few airlines. You will get all of your miles and can use any discounts, AAA rates, coupons, etc. Think of it as making a purchase through your local travel agent. They get a commission, and share it with you. Let’s say that you are booking a Hilton property. One site will give you a 4% rebate. If you are booking four nights at $200 per night, you’ll pay $800 by going to Hilton.com. Or, you’ll pay $768 if you go to Be Frugal and click on the Hilton link there. All sub-brands are included. Remember, the shopping portal is taking you to the exact same Hilton.com that you would go to directly. Using Expedia or Travelocity? No problem. You can get rebates there, also.**
What Can I Buy?
Travel, of course, isn’t the only place you can save money. In fact, you can get a rebate at just about any store that you can think of. You can browse any store by category or simply search for the name of a particular store.
This particular example comes from the site Be Frugal. It’s one of my favorite sites to book travel. Different sites offer different deals, but I’m going to give you three that are consistently among the highest paying.
We’re in the holiday shopping period now, so most sites are offering a little extra to draw you to their pages. But there are always special offers going on, so keep your eyes peeled.
There’s one big retailer that generally does not participate in cashback shopping sites: Amazon. Certain categories, such as jewelry, electronics and clothes do offer rebates, but the biggies, such as books and music, get you nothing. Fear not, though. You can still get some money back for your purchases:
- Shopping through Amazon Smile, the same ol’ Amazon that you’re used to, will help your favorite cause. Amazon will donate 0.5% of your purchase to a charity that you choose.
- Many supermarkets, office supply stores and other locations sell Amazon gift cards. If you buy a gift card with a credit card that pays 5% in those categories, you’ll get your rebate up front. Then, load the gift card to your Amazon account and it’s there for you to spend.
Where to Shop
There are many, many cashback shopping sites. You could go nuts trying to figure out the single best one. But when I do shopping, I always check three.
Please note: These links are referral links and I appreciate if you sign up through them. It’s not a ton of money, but I have a full disclosure policy whenever I could benefit from something.
Mr Rebates is my personal favorite and go-to site. It’s not always the single-highest paying site (although it’s usually in the top 20%), but they are reliable, customer-friendly and easy to use.
Be Frugal is another one that I use frequently. I use Be Frugal almost exclusively for travel, where it tends to offer higher rebates than just about anyone else.
ebates is the best-know cashback site. You may have seen advertising for it. Its offers are generally good and I use them occasionally, as well.
The Bottom Line
If you’re making purchases online but not using a miles or cashback site, you’re doing it wrong. Full stop. Use an airline site for miles or one of the cashback sites above to get something back for each purchase that you make.
*Before you access an online shopping site, you should clear your cookies to start on a “clean slate.” If you access a merchant directly before going to the online shopping site, there is a risk that the purchase will link to your initial click and you won’t get credited.
**You can often double-dip or triple-dip on rewards, but cashback shopping offers the rare quadruple-dip. You’ll get points from the credit card that you use, cash back from the shopping site, points from Expedia/Orbitz/Travelocity, etc. and, finally, you could get points from the provider (airlines, hotel, etc.). With hotels, you’re not supposed to get hotel points if you book through a third-party online site, but you occasionally get credited, anyway.
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And finally, you can apply for credit cards through the Credit Cards for Charity link above. All card proceeds are donated to charity, so please do well by doing good!