Top 6 shopping portal myths


Online shopping portals are a fantastic way to earn extra points, miles or cash back for purchases you plan to make anyway.  Simply sign onto your favorite portal, click through to the merchant of interest, and shop.  I often write about shopping portal deals and opportunities where it is possible to earn outsized rewards for your shopping. Every time I write about these deals I get a lot of similar questions and comments, many of which are based on inaccurate beliefs about shopping portals.  So, without further ado, here are the top 6 myths I’ve observed and my take on the reality behind them…

Myth 1: Bank portals require payment with the bank’s credit card.

Take Chase’s Ultimate Rewards Mall, for example.  When you click through from the portal to a merchant, a screen pops up saying (among other things): “Check out with your Chase card and your extra points will automatically appear in your statement.”  Any reasonable person would interpret this to mean that you must check out with your Chase card to earn extra points, but that’s simply not true in practice.  In fact, there is nothing in the mall’s Terms & Conditions stating that paying with your Chase card is required (see “Ultimate Rewards Mall T&C“).  I’ve personally earned hundreds of thousands of points through the Ultimate Rewards Mall when paying with non-Chase credit cards or even with gift cards. 

That said, there are real risks to using other forms of payment.  When things go wrong, for example, it can be difficult or impossible to get the bank’s customer service personnel to help.  They’ll tell you that the use of their credit card is required and that they don’t see the purchase on your account.  Worse, in some cases, points or cash back might be confiscated.  One reader recently reported that he now has a negative cash back balance with his Discover card account.  Shop Discover had apparently discovered that some rewards were issued for purchases made with a different form of payment and they reversed out those rewards after he had already redeemed them.

Verdict: Mostly false, but proceed with caution.


Myth 2: Airline portal requires payment with airline branded credit card.

I hear this myth most, for some reason, with regards to the AAdvantage eShopping portal.  The truth here is very simple.  You do not need to pay with an airline branded credit card.  In fact, you do not need to own an airline branded credit card to take advantage of these portals.  There are times, though, where having an airline branded credit card can help.  With the United MileagePlus portal, for example, MileagePlus cardholders are often offered more bonus miles for the same merchants.  Even then, though, it is not necessary to pay with your MileagePlus card to get those increased bonus points!

Verdict: False


Myth 3: The portal determines which purchases qualify for points or cash back

It’s not the portal, it’s the merchant that decides which purchases qualify.  When a person clicks through from a portal to a merchant, the portal earns a commission on any resulting sales.  Then, part of that commission is used to pay for the points or cash back that you earn for your shopping.  If the portal earns a commission, then you’ll earn your bonus points.  Often, merchants won’t pay commissions for things like gift card purchases.  Some have even more restrictions (I’m looking at you Sony store).  So, it is not the portal that determines which purchases result in bonus points, it is the merchant.

Verdict: False


Myth 4: Portal says “not eligible on gift cards” so I won’t get points for buying gift cards.

Most portals have standard language that appears with most merchants that says that gift card purchases are excluded. The truth, though, is that it depends entirely on how each merchant reports sales to the portal. Some merchants report gift card purchases as regular purchases. Others do not. The Frequent Miler Laboratory is a good place to look for the ones that do award points for gift card purchases.  Note that it is often the case that the purchase of physical gift cards count, but e-gift cards do not.

Verdict: Varies by merchant


Myth 5: Portal says “not eligible on gift cards” so I won’t get points for using gift cards.

With most merchants, you will get points or cash back regardless of how you pay.  There are a few exceptions, though.  For example, Lands’ End explicitly allows points to be earned on the purchase of gift cards, but not on the use of gift cards.  The funny thing about this is that Lands End gift cards can be used at Sears and Kmart, both of which have the opposite stated policy.  So, one could double dip and stay true to the terms & conditions by buying gift cards from Lands End to get points, and then using the gift cards at Sears or Kmart to get more points!

Verdict: Usually false, but varies by merchant


Myth 6: When things go wrong it is the portal’s fault

When shopping through a portal, it’s not unusual for your purchase to go unnoticed and unrewarded.  It’s natural to think that the portal you shopped through was at fault, but it probably was not.  Many things can go wrong, very few of which are under the control of the online portal.  Here are some examples:

  1. Your computer’s configuration may prevent the portal from tracking your purchases.  For example, some portals require the use of Javascript and/or Cookies.  If your browser has either of these turned off, the portal may not be able to work correctly.
  2. Software on your computer may prevent proper tracking.  Things like ad blockers, spy ware, and third party browser toolbars can silently ruin your chance for portal points or cash back.
  3. For whatever reason, the merchant may not have accurately reported your purchase.
  4. Usually there is an affiliate network between the merchant and the portal.  If the affiliate network has technical problems, then you’ll experience portal problems.

For a discussion of how to practice safe portal shopping, please see “How to ensure your portal points.”

Verdict: Usually false, but many portals could do a much better job with customer support


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