Rule #2: Never buy anything on the internet without getting something extra for your purchase.
It’s something I’ve been preaching on the blog and always try to practice. It might be a few dollars, it might be a lot more, but something is better than nothing. Even better, it requires virtually no extra work. Shopping’s at the top of this page, travel is about halfway down.
Helpful Hint: Clear your browser’s cookies and cache before shopping. It will help your discounts track. If you’re not sure how to do that, it’s a simple process described here.
Shopping Discounts and Rebates
Miles or Points
The easiest way to pick up a bonus is through an airline/hotel shopping portal. Let’s say you are going to shop at macys.com. You can go straight to the Macy’s website and earn nothing extra, or you can shop through your travel provider’s shopping site and, at least in the case of American Airlines, six miles per dollar spent during the bonus period (normally 3 miles/$). Every airline/hotel will be slightly different. Just about every merchant you can think of has a partnership.*
Note: The shopping site will take you to the same macys.com as if you went to the site directly. It just happens that, because you went through the portal, the merchant pays the airline or hotel a commission, which it shares with you in the form of miles or cash. Here are the links to the biggest “shopping for miles” programs.
I’m more a fan of the cash back, also done through shopping portals.
(Note: The cash back portals give me a small commission if you use my links below when signing up. You certainly aren’t under any obligation to do so, but it costs nothing and I really appreciate the support.)
Same deal as above but, instead of getting miles or points back, you get cash. Ebates is the best-known of these programs, but it usually doesn’t pay the most.
There are several cash back shopping portals, but my favorite is Mr. Rebates. It doesn’t always have the single-highest payback for each merchant, but it’s always in the top 20% or so, has a wide variety and, most importantly, reliably gives you cash back without your having to chase them. For example, in the above Macy’s example, Mr. Rebates would give you 6% cash back, instead of miles.
Two others that I’d recommend are Be Frugal and Coupon Cactus. Be Frugal is particularly good with cash back for booking travel, while Coupon Cactus is usually the first or second highest paying for general purchases.
One final option is Top Cash Back, which has high rebates but often doesn’t credit correctly.
If you’re here, you travel. And if you travel, you should get some cash back.
Airlines aren’t particularly generous. American will give you a dollar per order and JetBlue will give you money back on vacations, but your better bet is hotels and car rentals, which still pay some commissions and are happy to pass them along to you. Remember, Be Frugal and Mr. Rebates are your best bet for travel rebates.
Search by brand (e.g., search for “Westin” instead of “Starwood.”). Almost every major hotel chain is covered and will rebate you 3-10%. For example, in the above picture from the Mr. Rebates travel section, you can see that Holiday Inn hotels would give you back 8% on your stay. Just click on the link to book your stay. Remember, the links are taking you right to the hotel’s home page. You are getting something back because the hotel companies give the shopping portals a commission, which they share with you.
Every major rental car company is represented for travel rebates. Again, free money. Coupons should still work and you’ll be entitled to any benefits that the vendor offers.
Online Travel Agents
I generally don’t use online travel agents, such as Expedia, Orbitz or Travelocity. There’s rarely an advantage over the travel provider’s website and you then have a third party involved. In addition, hotels generally don’t give points or elite benefits if you book through an online travel agent. And now, with the three set to merge, both benefits and service will get worse. Each has its own rewards program, but they aren’t particularly generous.
Priceline and Hotwire are also represented in this category. If you use them already, you might as well get a rebate for it.
Having said that, if you are using one, look for the triple (or even quadruple!)-dip, since there’s no reason that you should only get one set of points.
Example: You buy a plane ticket on Orbitz through Mr Rebates. You earn cash back from Mr Rebates (1), Orbitz bucks from Orbitz (2), points from whatever credit card you used to make the purchase (3) and miles on the airline (4). That’s four bonuses for one purchase!
Hotels are a triple dip, because they will usually not give you points if you do not book on their website.
*The “big kahuna” exception is Amazon, which only offers rebates in certain categories, such as toys, clothing and music. You can also shop at Amazon Smile for a donation to your favorite charity.