Rewards malls turbocharge miles, points, cash
By Dawn Papandrea
September 21, 2015
A good way to rack up credit points, miles and cash back is to shop through a credit rewards mall. But if you’re like many people, you probably aren’t taking full advantage.
“Most people aren’t very familiar with reward malls, which is why they work,” says Jason Steele, senior points and miles contributor to ThePointsGuy.com. If everyone was using them, the creditors and merchants would probably lose money.
So what are they?
“Rewards malls are basically a way to juice your credit card rewards,” says Nicholas Felten, proprietor of Personal Finance Digest, a Saverocity.com blog. In addition to getting points for making a purchase with your card, if you click through to a merchant from the credit issuer’s mall, or portal site, you’ll get an additional bonus on your spending, he explains.
Some rewards malls are offered by the credit card companies. For example, there’s Discover Deals and the Chase Ultimate Rewards Mall. Other rewards malls, portals like eBates and ShopAtHome, cut you a check for your online purchases with participating retailers. And some airlines and travel vendors have their own rewards malls to earn miles or points, such as American Airlines AAdvantage Shopping, Delta SkyMiles Shopping and others.
By doing your online shopping via one of these entryway sites, you’re given additional points or cash back for making purchases from participating retailers, says Steele. “Make a mental note next time you go online to buy something to check out some of the offers,” he says.
How it works
Let’s say you needed to buy a new washing machine. Instead of going directly to a home appliance store in person or online, you might start at your credit card’s mall to see if there are any offers. You might notice that Home Depot, Sears and others are among those offering bonus deals. Just choose the washing machine you want, and your computer will store a cookie to give you credit for the transaction once you finish the purchase on the retailer’s site.
Hypothetically, if the washing machine was $500, and you received 5x rewards from Home Depot, that would translate into 2,500 additional points on your account, or $25 cash back. In other words, you’d be getting what amounts to 5 percent back on your purchase.
“High levels of rewards are available if you’re buying flowers online, for example. You can sometimes get 15-20 points or miles per dollar through the malls.”
— Nicholas Felten,
Personal Finance Digest
Where the real points are
Once you get the hang of using rewards malls, you can be more diligent about getting the most for your spending. For instance, you’ll notice that some types of purchases can earn you better bonuses than others, says Felten.
“High levels of rewards are available if you’re buying flowers online, for example. You can sometimes get 15-20 points or miles per dollar through the malls,” he says. That’s because flowers and other gifts have high margins, so the vendors are able to compete for your business by offering attractive rewards.
If you really want to game the system, you should consider using a site like Cashbackmonitor.com, says Felten. “You just have to type in the name of the merchant you want to shop with, and the site will tell you which malls are paying back what,” he says. For instance, a quick search found that Staples purchases could get you 7 points per dollar through Amex Plenti Marketplace, but just 2 points per dollar via the Southwest Rapid Rewards site.
“A lot of the times you’ll see the same kinds of bonuses from one to the next, but they change constantly,” says Felten. It can be difficult to stay on top of who’s paying out what, but timing your purchases right and choosing the best portal can boost your rewards, he adds.
If you’re wondering how to keep track of the rewards you earn from purchases, be warned that the process is often slow and not without flaws.
“It’s hit or miss, unfortunately,” says Steele. “Companies will wait until they’ve been reimbursed by the retailer until they pay out to you, and that could be a significant wait.” And, the rewards malls don’t typically provide a lot of tools for accountability. If a qualified purchase gets dropped because of a technical glitch, it can be hard to prove that you made the purchase through the mall, says Steele.
Felten suggests taking a screen shot so you have some proof of your purchase. However, he notes that as long as you get the notification upon clicking over to the retailer that your purchase is being tracked, you’ll usually get the credit for it.
Is it worth the effort?
“For people who are aware of these programs and use them, it’s a way of saving a significant amount,” says Steele.