Beginner's Guide to Shopping Portals

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Shopping online is a staple of American life, and it continues to grow every year. In 2021, as many as 230 million Americans will make an online purchase of some kind.

Beyond allowing customers to shop around for that perfect deal, online stores relieve shoppers of the need to leave their home. Now, simply click a couple of buttons and wait for your products to arrive.

One of the other, often-forgotten, perks of shopping online is the ability to use a shopping portal to save even more. Unfortunately, knowing which portal to use and when can be a daunting task to the uninitiated. To make things easier, we've put together this guide to shopping portals and some mini-reviews of our favorites.

Online Shopping Portals Feature

What is a Shopping Portal?

In a nutshell, shopping portals are a way to boost your savings or earnings by splitting a commission.

When a shopper navigates to a store's website via a shopping portal and makes a purchase, the store pays the shopping portal a commission. This commission is then shared in part with you, the shopper, in the form of cash back or bonus points or miles.

Depending on the store and the portal used, the shared commission can be as little as one bonus mile per dollar spent or as significant as several thousand bonus miles on a larger purchase. In either case, the earnings add up quickly!

What is Stacking?

‘Stacking' is a beloved term in the points-and-miles community. It refers to the strategy of maximizing each purchase by layering multiple methods of earning and saving at once. Online shopping portals play a critical role in this strategy.

As noted above, shopping portals earn revenue by referring customers to online stores. As such, any strategies to earn rewards or get discounts that don’t interfere with using a referral link from a shopping portal to reach the merchant's website can generally be stacked for additional savings. Examples include:

  • Redeeming a coupon or discount code on the merchant’s website
  • Discounts, bonus points, or statement credits triggered by paying with a specific credit card, including Chase Offers or Amex Offers
  • Points or cash back earned by using a rewards credit card to pay for your purchase.

For a stellar example of stacking, check out Joseph Petrovic's post on how he saved over $200 on a new pair of headphones.

Related Post — If You Don't Stack, You're Wasting Money

Pay with the Right Rewards Card

Perhaps the easiest way to extract extra value from an online purchase is to pay with the right rewards card. There are two approaches to consider. The most common strategy is to maximize the value of the points you earn on the purchase.

Optimize for the Value of Rewards Earned

If your goal is to maximize your overall value, these three factors should guide your choice:

  1. Can you make progress to earning a valuable reward by putting this spending on a specific card? For example, if you’re working on the spending requirement to earn a welcome bonus, other factors like the number of points you’ll earn per dollar spent are less important.
  2. Do you have a card that earns more than one point per dollar with this type of merchant? For example, there are great cards for earning extra points on travel, dining, or groceries.
  3. If you can’t earn extra points based on the merchant category, the best option is to use a credit card that earns a solid return on all purchases. Two of our favorite cards in this category include the Citi® Double Cash Card and Chase Freedom Unlimited®

When to Pay with a Card that Earns Fewer Points

There are three situations where you might be better off ignoring the advice above:

  1. If you need to earn a specific type of points for an upcoming trip, you may want to simply choose a card that earns the points you need—even if you end up with fewer of them.
  2. If you can earn a bonus or statement credit by paying with a specific card, that may be better than earning more points per dollar. For example, if you're targeted for an Amex Offer that awards a $15 statement credit on a purchase of $50 or more, you might want to use the card tied to that offer.
  3. With some purchases, it may be more important to pay with a card that offers purchase protection and extended warranty benefits. When I buy a laptop or other big-ticket item, I usually opt to pay with a card that will give me up to $10,000 in insurance coverage if something happens to my purchase—rather than the card that earns a few more points per dollar spent.

How to Find the Most Rewarding Shopping Portal

Whenever you make an online purchase, one of your first steps should be to check an aggregator tool. These websites help online shoppers get the most bang for their buck by collecting all of the shopping portal offers or coupons in one place.

Two of the most popular aggregators include:

  • CashBackMonitor – This website neatly displays the offerings of practically every shopping portal. This makes it easier to choose the portal to use.
  • Evreward – Similar to how CashBackMonitor collects shopping portal offers, Evreward collects online store coupons. Simply search for the store you intend to shop with and see any eligible coupons available.

Tips for Shopping Portals

Using any shopping portal is a reasonably straightforward process, but things can still go wrong. Between purchases not tracking or payouts registering at the incorrect rate, getting your owed commission can be a headache. To ensure that things go smoothly, we recommend following these steps:

  • When using a shopping portal, always start with an empty cart. If there are already items in your cart from a previous visit, you risk not receiving the bonus miles for those items.
  • Once you're on the merchant website, don't leave the window before checking out. Your original shopping trip was tied to the shopping portal, but your return may not be.
  • Your web browser needs to have cookies enabled for portal bonuses to track.
  • Always read the full terms of each bonus to ensure that the purchase you intend to make will qualify.
  • If possible, take screenshots throughout the buying process. That way, if things go sideways, you'll have proof of your purchase and portal use.

Bank & Cash Back Shopping Portals

Rakuten

Originally founded as ‘Ebates' in the late 1990s, Rakuten is one of the oldest shopping portals on the internet. As such, its platform is among the most reliable in terms of commission and customer service. Better still, it maintains one of the best selections of partnered merchants and regularly offers lucrative referral/welcome bonuses to new customers.

Rakuten functions primarily as a cash-back portal. However, in early 2019, it launched a partnership with American Express. Now, Amex CardMembers can opt to earn Membership Rewards points instead of cashback on their purchases. Depending on how you value Membership Rewards points, this has the potential to improve your returns drastically.

It's also worth noting that you don't need to pay with an Amex card to earn Membership Rewards through Rakuten. You could pay with a Chase Ultimate Rewards card, earn your normal points per dollar from Chase, and still receive additional Membership Rewards from Rakuten.

For a more in-depth look at one of our favorite shopping portals, check out our dedicated guide to using and maximizing Rakuten.

Chase Shopping Portal

Chase Ultimate Rewards are one of the most popular flexible rewards currencies in existence. Besides offering a number of valuable transfer partners, point collectors can also redeem points towards other travel purchases for between 1.0–1.5¢ per point through the Chase Travel Portal or as straight cash back at 1¢ per point.

Most people earn their Chase Ultimate Rewards points by spending on several popular credit cards, including:

But if your goal is to rack up Chase Ultimate Rewards points in a hurry, you owe it to yourself to check out ‘Shop Through Chase‘.

As Chase's dedicated shopping portal, users can collect Ultimate Rewards points for every dollar spent at over 400 online stores. Moreover, Chase allows members to select their favorite stores and receive email notifications whenever the payout rate increases.

If you stack this with your earnings from using a great everyday spending card like the Freedom Unlimited, it's possible to significantly increase your Ultimate Rewards balance after only a few purchases.

TopCashBack

TopCashBack is an English-born site that, like Rakuten, has also been around for a while. It offers lucrative cash-back rates that often match or beat competitors like Rakuten.

One important thing to keep in mind with TopCashBack (or any shopping portal, really) is how long it takes to receive your payout. In the case of TopCashBack, it typically takes a few months for your commission to become payable. Moreover, per TCB's FAQ page, purchases early in a month can take longer than those towards the end. While not a huge deal, this is certainly worth considering.

Mr. Rebates

Mr. Rebates is another old-school shopping portal, founded in 2002. While it doesn't offer bells and whistles like in-store cash back or alternative payout options, it makes up for it with one of the widest selections of partnered merchants. Otherwise, it operates much the same as Rakuten or TopCashBack. Again, the key is to double-check an aggregator like CashBackMonitor to see which portal offers the best return.

Barclays

Besides Chase, Barclays is the only other major U.S. bank to offer its cardmembers a dedicated shopping portal.

Barclaycard Rewards Boost offers certain cardmembers the ability to earn even more points than what they already earn through spending on their card alone. For example, when used in conjunction with my Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®, I can currently earn up to 25 Miles per dollar at select merchants. Since each mile is worth 1¢ apiece when redeemed against travel purchases, this represents up to a 25% discount.

Airline Shopping Portals

American Airlines

American Airlines operates its own shopping portal called the AAdvantage eShopping Mall. It offers AAdvantage members a way to accelerate their AA earnings through normal online purchases.

As you might expect, it functions much like every other shopping portal. However, instead of earning cash back, you'll earn AA miles. To use it, you'll need to create an eShopping account using your AAdvantage frequent-flyer number. (The AAdvantage online shopping login is separate from your American frequent-flyer account).

Once you've created an account, you can scroll through the best bonuses by selecting “Explore Stores and More” and then “Big Deals”. The portal regularly offers increased bonus opportunities as well as the ability to automate your portal earnings with a Google Chrome Extension.

Related Post — Supercharge Your Miles with the AAdvantage eShopping Portal

Alaska Airlines

Alaska's Mileage Plan Shopping Portal is practically identical to AA's in every way. It includes popular brands like Walmart, Home Depot, Best Buy, and Kohl's, typically offering between 0.5–5 miles per dollar spent.

Continuing the similarities, Alaska also offers a handy Google Chrome Extension to automate the process. Moreover, the portal often features raised bonuses for meeting specific shopping criteria. Keep an eye on our current shopping portal bonus post so that you can time your purchases right.

British Airways

We love British Airways Avios specifically for their flexibility and value towards domestic rewards on American Airlines. If you feel similarly, you can collect more Avios from your everyday purchases via the British Airways Executive Club eStore.

In general, the Executive Club eStore offers relatively lucrative bonus rates, though store selection seems somewhat limited. However, that could simply reflect the differences in merchant preferences for the U.S. and the U.K.

Okay, store selection isn't THAT limited…

Delta Airlines

SkyMiles Shopping is Delta's private shopping portal, offering lucrative earning rates and bonuses to SkyMiles collectors. But similar to other airline portals, you need to create a separate log-in account to utilize it.  On the plus side, though, it's possible to look through earning rates without signing in.

JetBlue

JetBlue's TrueBlue Shopping is a great way to rack up TrueBlue points with regular purchases.

The portal functions like any other airline shopping portal. However, it also provides a couple of additional features beyond the options of other airlines:

  • Standardized Earnings with Featured Merchants — The earning structure for TrueBlue Shopping is a bit more predictable than other portals. For many partnered stores, members can expect a flat 3X points per dollar spent.
  • Card-Linked Offers — In addition to online shopping, JetBlue also offers a way to earn bonus points for in-store purchases. TrueBlue members can register an eligible card and receive bonus points for purchases made with partnered merchants.

Singapore Airlines

Singapore KrisFlyer miles are fantastic for booking flights in Singapore's world-renowned premium cabins and flights on Star Alliance partners. To help KrisFlyer members reach their next redemption, the airline operates a shopping portal called KrisFlyer Spree.

The partnered merchants are a bit limited for Americans, as the portal naturally caters to Singapore shopping preferences. However, there are still plenty of places where shoppers of all nationalities can earn extra KrisFlyer miles for their purchases.

It's also worth noting that instead of quoting earning rates as points per dollar, Singapore displays earnings as points per US$10 spent.

Southwest Airlines

Southwest's shopping portal, Rapid Rewards Shopping, is virtually identical to that of AA and Alaska. It offers bonus Rapid Rewards points for purchases at over 850+ merchants.

The real selling point for Rapid Rewards Shopping is the fact that bonus points earned count towards Companion Pass qualification. That means that in addition to earning extra points, choosing Southwest's portal for your online shopping can help you achieve one of the most valuable “elite statues” in the airline industry.

Related Post — How to Earn a Southwest Companion Pass

United Airlines

United MileagePlus Shopping is one of the better airline shopping portals available. Not only does it maintain lucrative bonuses at over 900 stores, but it also offers card-linked bonuses for in-store purchases and a Google Chrome Extension to automate your earnings. Plus, if you hold a United credit card, you can earn even more.

As of this writing, United MileagePlus Shopping offers a bonus for new users. Regular members can earn 500 bonus miles after making $25 in purchases in their first two weeks. Meanwhile, United cobranded cardholders can earn 1,000 bonus miles after making $25 in purchases in their first two weeks.

Lastly, United MileagePlus Shopping regularly introduces limited-time offers for meeting certain purchase criteria, particularly around the holidays. Keep an eye on our post for shopping portal bonuses for all current options.

Hotel Shopping Portals

Choice Hotels

Fans of Choice Privilege points are in luck. Choice currently offers the only shopping portal paired with a major hotel loyalty program. The Choice Privileges Mall allows members to earn bonus points at a respectable number of merchants, though not as many as other shopping portals. Some of its most popular partner merchants include Walgreens, Home Depot, Macy's, Kohl's, and Bed Bath & Beyond.

Even better, the Choice Privileges Mall also offers card-linked offers and a downloadable ‘Points Booster' Toolbar‘ for Safari and Chrome.

IHG

While IHG doesn't currently offer a full shopping portal, Rewards Club members can receive bonus points for Apple purchases. Thanks to IHG and Apple's partnership, loyalty members can earn 4 IHG points per dollar spent on eligible Apple purchases. Simply go to the partnership's dedicated website and register the email associated with your IHG Rewards Club account. The points should automatically show up in your account ~30 days after your transaction.

Final Thoughts

One of the pillars of award travel is to maximize every purchase you make. When making a purchase online, a shopping portal is one of the easiest ways to do that.

While the sheer number of shopping portal options can understandably cause ‘analysis paralysis', the key is to always have a plan. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What points or miles do you need for your next redemption?
  • Which points are the most difficult to collect otherwise?
  • What other stacking options are available for this transaction?

The answers to these questions will give you a good starting point for which portal you should consider. Then, use an aggregator (like CashBackMonitor) to see which one offers the best return for your purchase. A couple more clicks, and you're well on your way to earning tons of points.

Ready for more? Check out our guide to Dining Rewards Programs.

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Comments

  • I use several shopping portals.
    Even though for the majority of my expenses I use Topcashback, American Aadvantage Shopping and Alaska Mileage Plus Shopping.

  • I’m going to bookmark this page since I wasn’t aware there were so many choices.

    I find myself using the airline portals occasionally to extend mileage expiration for family members by making small purchases. I have noticed that some attempts are successful while other are not even though I’ve used the same laptop and the same browser with ad-blocker turned off …

  • Rakesh Misra says:

    Thanks again for a wealth of knowledge. Loads of different options, which could get confusing; cashback is a no brainer win win. I’ll persevere with the different shopping portals to identify the most rewarding ones relating to my purchases.
    BW.

  • Shopping portals are definitely part of a good points and miles earning strategy. I used to use the airline specific portals but I have since moved to the flexible points portals — Rakuten, earning membership rewards, is definitely my favorite. Absolutely one of the best uses is while booking hotels and rental cars as you earn but still get all the elite benefits. I think it is only Hyatt that doesn’t use any of these portals, but I’d love to be wrong about that — if anyone knows of a portal that does have Hyatt, please share that info!

  • I love my Rakuten! I am focusing on getting MR and using their site and the credit card has given me a great return on points. I didn’t find that the airline portals really helped me getting my miles up. I find it sometimes too much of a hassle to make sure I have the right items for the points/miles.

  • Great post. Portals are an absolute must for beginners and experts alike. Wasted points otherwise.

  • I tend to go with the cash back site since money is the easiest way to use compared to miles and hotel points which has a lot of restrictions on how to use it and who you can transfer it to. I only go with those sites if I am missing a bit more points to complete the miles needed to get my award or to extend the expiration of my miles.

  • Fun game to play, but remember you dont win every time. Its a hit or miss at best.

  • I would love to hear about shopping portals for those of us not based in the US.

  • Oh my gosh, I didn’t know about the Apple/IHG partnership! I just bought all new products too. So bummed. As for the cashback portals, however, I’d also recommend Dosh, especially for those who take advantage of the periodic VGC deals at OD/OM.

  • I start with Cashback Monitor for every online transaction, it is the best site! I definitely use it to set up alerts if I know I have an upcoming purchase as well.

  • My issue with shopping portal is that there are so many that it gets overwhelming trying to find the right one to use. For now, I like going to evreward to see which ones offer the highest and going from there.