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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Ben: yes, you would get the miles


FM: Awesome post. Related question: If I go through an airline shopping portal linked to my airline FF account, but make a purchase with my wife’s merchant account (using her CC), would the miles still show up in my airline shopping portal account (and thus post to my airline’s FF account)?


I recently received an answer from one portal:

“Please be advised that members are able to use any card of their choice at checkout except gift cards. Log on to and visit our How it Works section in order to find out what channel the merchant you desire to shop with falls under. While most transactions will appear within 5 business days, some transactions may take up to 30 days to post to your MileagePlus Shopping account. If for any reason your transaction doesn’t post to your account within 30 days from the purchase date, please send us the e-receipt for online purchases. For retail store transactions, please provide the merchant name, purchase date, total order amount, last 4 digits of card used at time of purchase, store number & location.”


The last time I used my Discover card was September 15, 2012 and I’ve gotten $18.69 in cash back since December 2012. (I only recently realized that I didn’t have to use my Discover card and still prefer the UR portal.)


Re #1. Discover explicitly states in each Shop Discover offer that payment with a Discover card is required.

I like ebates because you see a tracking confirmation when you click on the link prior to shopping.


I use the UR mall for 90% of my portal shopping. It helps if you use a different browser for the purchase than the one you normally use for everyday browsing. I use Googke Chrome Incognito Mode and make sure that the shopping cart is empty before purchasing. Try not to get distracted by “shopping” on the site. Just buy the items you want as quickly as possible. Good luck.


I have not had good luck convincing UR to do a courtesy adjustment for purchases where I have not received points, even when using their card. I have sent them the info from my purchase, but they said that the UR system had no record of me clicking through their portal, so there was nothing they could do. Any tips for changing this? Recently I had two purchases (one apple one travelocity) that have not posted. Thanks!


Jane: All you can do is call repeatedly and hope to get a nice agent that is willing to extend a courtesy adjustment.
askmrlee: Yes that’s true, so when Discover claws back the rewards the cardholder wouldn’t have any recourse.
Robert: Yes, that’s a good example of what portals say even though it isn’t usually true.


That’s such a coincidence that you included Myth #5. I never would’ve considered that it might be a problem. I was planning on going through the aadvantage mall to buy something from Land’s End to get the 2000 bonus miles, and since I have a Sears gift card, I was going to pay with it. I guess I will use a regular credit card instead. I would’ve been pretty disappointed to not get those miles.


I work for an affiliate shopping mall similar to those operated by the banks and CC’s . . . and if you use a coupon code then many times the rebate (points/miles/etc.) is forfeited as the merchant considers that “double-dipping” . . . however some reward malls do have their own promo codes that will work in conjunction with the stated rebates


I have noticed recently that some portal (Ultimate Rewards) have this next to the store in the Ultimate Rewards Mall: Not eligible on purchases made with coupon or discount codes that are not found on this site. Can you elaborate more on this? Does this mean that in order to get the points, I cannot use the promotional discount code that the store send me through email that cannot be found on the Ultimate Rewards Mall’s website?


David: Oops, I meant to include that one, but I forgot! In my experience, most merchants give points regardless of what coupons you use (and regardless of whether the portal says “not eligible with coupons or codes not found on this site”, but as Alon said there are some that will withhold payment. I don’t track this store by store so your best bet is to try for yourself with a small purchase to see what happens.