Next to credit card signup bonuses, the best way to earn points and miles quickly is through online shopping portals. Last year, when I challenged myself to earn a million points and miles in one month, shopping portals were key to my success. While credit card signup bonuses made up slightly more than half of my million points earned, shopping portals made up most of the rest.
Great portal deals come and go over time. Some of the most memorable (to me) were:
- Feb 2012: Nordstrom 36X, British Airways portal
- May 2012: Sears 15X (30X via double dip), Southwest RapidRewards Shopping
- September 2012: OpenSky 150X, MyPoints portal
- October 2013: Sears 16X (32X via double dip), United MileagePlus Portal
While the above deals were extraordinary, even 9X or 10X deals are worth paying attention to. And, in the past couple of days we’ve seen plenty. Here are some relevant posts I published via my Quick Deals page in the past two days:
Through various mile earning portals, we are seeing bonuses that are usually in the 3X to 5X range bounce up to 9X (9 miles per dollar) and more. As merchants strive to hit their fourth quarter goals, I expect we’ll see more of these big portal offers and maybe even a mega-deal or two (15X or more). Follow my Quick Deals page to stay informed.
Which deals are worth attending to?
For most people, portal deals are worth pursuing only if you can use them to buy something you were going to buy anyway, and at the price you would have otherwise paid. So, for example, if you’ve had your eye on a North Face jacket and you can’t find it significantly cheaper elsewhere, you might as well buy it when you can get 10 miles per dollar for the purchase.
Which deals should be ignored?
Flowers, magazines, and (sometimes) shoes. Online stores like these tend to have greatly inflated prices to go along with their higher than average portal bonuses. Worse, with flowers, you will usually pay huge delivery charges that are not included in the miles per dollar calculation. So, a $30 bouquet may cost $60 once delivery charges and taxes are added in, but you’ll only earn portal rewards based on the $30 portion. One good exception to this is with 1-800-Flowers in which you can buy their Passport service for free shipping for a year. Once you’ve paid for that service anyway, flower deals can sometimes be worthwhile, especially when combined with discounts such as Amex Sync Offers.
Another gotcha to watch out for is when online merchants inflate prices for those who go through portals. It doesn’t happen often, but its not unheard of. Always checkout prices first without going through a portal and then go through the portal to buy.
How to maximize deals
In some cases, it is possible to double portal rewards by going through the portal a first time to buy merchant gift cards and then go through the portal a second time to use those gift cards to buy merchandise. The hard thing is knowing when this will work. In most portals, with most merchants, the terms & conditions say something to the effect of “not valid on gift cards”. Fortunately, in my experience, that’s often not true. Even when the terms say that gift cards are excluded, it is often possible to earn portal rewards anyway. That’s why I maintain the Frequent Miler Laboratory page. This is a place to see what others have reported about what works and what doesn’t, and to share your experience as well.
One big downside to double dipping with gift cards is that you will lose out on extended warranties and other protections often offered by credit cards. When buying electronics or other items in which you may need those warranties, double dipping is not recommended.
How to earn points when you have no planned purchases
If you can’t stand the thought of letting these portal bonuses slip away, you can consider earning points through buying and selling. The simplest version of this is to buy gift cards (in those cases where portals award points for gift card purchases) and sell them to online resellers. You can always find up to date prices for gift card reselling on GiftCardGranny. You can almost always count on losing money through this process, but in some cases you’ll earn enough points and miles to make it worth it to you. Please read, for example, this Quick Deals post: Buy Alaska or Southwest miles for 1.6 cents each. Today only. In some cases, you can come out even or ahead by stacking portal rewards with other offers such as Amex Sync offers. For more, please see: Maximizing Amex Sync offers. Part 4: forget shopping, get points and cash for free.
The next level of difficulty is to buy and sell stuff. The idea is to get as many points and miles as you can while buying stuff that will easily resell at the lowest possible out of pocket cost. This is not for the faint of heart. During my Million Mile Madness escapades I earned almost all of my portal points this way. I resold items by shipping them to Amazon.com for their Fulfillment by Amazon program (in which they resell stuff for you). For more, see: Tips for selling on Amazon.
Planning for the next big thing
If you want to be ready for the mega-deals (15X or great opportunities) that may come any time, I’d recommend at least dipping your toe in the waters early on. If you think you may buy and sell, then try that out in a small way first. There will be a big learning curve all around, and those mega-deals are often one or two day affairs. You may not have time, then, to learn what you need if you haven’t tried things out in a small way ahead of time.
I’m in the process of testing many combinations of portal purchases. In general, if something works with one portal, it will work with the others as well. But, results will vary greatly between merchants and types of purchases. For example, with any given merchant the following types of purchases may or may not result in receiving portal rewards:
- Buy physical (by mail) gift card
- Buy physical gift card and include other merchandise in the cart
- Buy e-gift card
- Buy e-gift card and include other merchandise in the cart
- Use gift card (there usually is no difference between using an e-gift card or a physical gift card)
As you test out gift card purchases or the use of gift cards through portals, please report your results on the Frequent Miler Laboratory page. Thanks!