Maximizing Online Purchases With Airline Shopping Portals
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Many of my friends wonder how I rack up hundreds of thousands of points and miles each year. While some of it comes from business travel and credit card bonuses, I also try to take advantage of every single opportunity to accrue bonuses for the purchases I make. One of my favorite ways to do this also happens to be one of the simplest: online shopping portals. Today, I’ll go through the top airline shopping portals to show you just how easy it is to pad your accounts by making purchases online.
Let’s begin with a quick review of what exactly these shopping portals do. In essence, each one is a third-party website that offers you an incentive for shopping at various retailers. In exchange for directing you to a specified merchant, the portal will take a cut of any purchase you make from the retailer, and it’ll give you points or miles as a reward. It’s a win-win-win-win situation (if that’s even a thing). You get bonus points/miles, the retailer gets additional business, the airline gets revenue from selling points/miles to the portal and the portal gets a cut from the retailer that (hopefully) more than covers the expense of buying the points/miles in the first place.
In order to use these sites, all you need is a loyalty account number with the airline (though some portals require you to sign up for an account using your frequent flyer number). Then, you simply go through your portal of choice when you shop online, find your merchant and click on its link. As long as you complete the transaction from the page that opens, the portal will track your purchase and award you bonus points/miles based on the final dollar amount.
Remember that the points or miles you earn through these shopping portals is in addition to those earned on the credit card you use, and you can use any credit card you want. This allows you to still take advantage of category bonuses (like up to 3x Membership Rewards points when you use the Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN to shop at office supply stores), since you’ll earn points or miles through the portal and on the credit card. This is what’s known as double-dipping, and it’s a great way to increase your earning potential!
Here’s a quick run-down of the shopping portals from major airlines:
American Airlines: AAdvantage eShopping
The American Airlines shopping portal partners with over 850 online stores to award you bonus AAdvantage miles on your purchases. If you’re already an AAdvantage member, you’ll need to use your frequent flyer number to sign up for an account with the portal. Once you’ve created an account, simply use the search bar at the top to find either a store or your desired product:
Once you have done so, simply click on the merchant’s link to be redirected to its site. Then, use that new page to make your purchase, and that’s it! Bonus miles will typically post to your account within 4 weeks, though it sometimes takes up to 8 weeks.
You can also take advantage of certain coupons and discounts through the site. You’ll see any applicable offers when you find your desired merchant. Some require a coupon code, while others are automatically applied. For example, here’s what JCPenney was offering through the AAdvantage eShopping portal at the time of writing:
By adding one of those codes to my cart at checkout, I would still be eligible to earn 4 AAdvantage miles per dollar in addition to getting up to 30% off my purchase. Sounds like a deal to me!
British Airways: Gate 365
British Airways makes earning miles through its portal a little easier, as you simply use your Executive Club account details to log in. Gate 365 partners with over 300 online retailers, offering you up to 12 Avios per dollar spent. Like with American’s portal, you can search for stores or products, or you can simply click the Start Shopping icon after logging in to see a list of all stores.
Here’s an example:
At the time of writing, you could earn 4 Avios per dollar at Nordstrom, and it’s as simple as clicking Shop now and then completing your purchase. You can also click on the bonus offers to take advantage of certain discounts and coupon codes. The bonus Avios will post to your account within 40 days.
Delta Air Lines: SkyMiles Shopping
Delta’s shopping portal works like American’s (and is actually run by the same third-party provider); you’ll need to use your SkyMiles account to sign up before you can begin earning bonus miles. The site navigation is also very similar to American’s. The search box is at the top right of the homepage, and some recommendations and “Top Stores” are just below it. You can also click View All Stores at the left to see the entire list.
As with the others, once you find your desired merchant, simply click Shop Now (or click on one of the individual offers) to start earning bonus miles. According to the FAQ page, the miles could post to your account within three days, but may take as long as 45 days.
Southwest Airlines: Rapid Rewards Shopping
Southwest is another carrier that makes it very easy to use its online portal. From the landing page, simply log in and enter your Rapid Rewards number or username and password. The site will then redirect you back to the landing page and allow you to begin shopping. No separate account required!
Navigation is similar to the American and Delta portals (again, it’s managed by the same third-party provider). Search for a store or product at the top right, or browse current offers at the left. When you complete a purchase with a retailer through this site, the bonus points should post to your account within 6 to 8 weeks, though some exceptions apply.
United Airlines: MileagePlus Shopping
United’s site also doesn’t require a separate sign-up; instead, you’ll simply log in using your MileagePlus number and password by clicking “Login” at the top right. There’s no secret to navigating this site, as it works just like the others. Use the search box at the top right or browse offers at the left. Then, just click on Shop Now or a specific offer to navigate to the merchant’s site. Complete a purchase and the bonus miles should post within 3-5 days, though some could take up to 45 days.
Finding The Best Offer
If you’re like me, you have accounts with all of these carriers. So how do you decide which one is the best for a particular purchase? Fortunately, there’s a site called EVReward.com that compares the earning rates of these portals (and others like Ebates and Ultimate Rewards). Search for your desired retailer and note the different amounts of points, miles, and/or cash back provided through each shopping portal.
For example, here’s the comparison of earning rates for Staples (at the time of writing):
EVReward isn’t perfect; I’ve certainly found some discrepancies in the past, so you should double-check the earning rates once you click through to a shopping portal. Also, you’ll see that the British Airways portal is not listed on EVReward. If you’re interested in earning bonus Avios, you’ll need to investigate that directly on the Gate 365 website.
In addition, not all points and miles are created equal, which is why TPG releases his monthly valuations to capture the typical value you can expect out of each type of currency.
To help decipher this complexity, here’s a table with current earning rates (and rates of return, based on TPG’s valuations) for some popular retailers on each of the aforementioned portals. All values are in miles or points per dollar.
|Home Depot||1 mile/$ (1.4%)||3 Avios/$ (4.5%)||1 mile/$ (1.2%)||1 point/$ (1.5%)||1 mile/$ (1.5%)|
|Groupon||3 miles/$ (4.2%)||N/A||2 miles/$ (2.4%)||2 points/$ (3%)||2 miles/$ (3%)|
|Macy’s||3 miles/$ (4.2%)||6 Avios/$ (9%)||2 miles/$ (2.4%)||2 points/$ (3%)||2 miles/$ (3%)|
|Nike||4 miles/$ (5.6%)||6 Avios/$ (9%)||2 miles/$ (2.4%)||3 points/$ (4.5%)||2 miles/$ (3%)|
|Petco||3 miles/$ (4.2%)||5 Avios/$ (7.5%)||2 miles/$ (2.4%)||2 points/$ (3%)||2 miles/$ (3%)|
|Walmart||1 mile/$ (1.4%)||4 Avios/$ (6%)||1 mile/$ (1.2%)||1 points/$ (1.5%)||1 mile/$ (1.5%)|
As you can see, there is some variation, but value truly is in the eye of the beholder. Even if one retailer is technically more “valuable” through Delta’s portal, the extra SkyMiles don’t help if you have no need for them.
While the process of using online shopping portals is relatively easy, there are some important things to keep in mind:
- You must click through the link on the portal’s site and then make a purchase from the page that pops up. DO NOT navigate away and come back later; you may miss out on the bonus points/miles.
- You must make sure that you have cookies enabled in your browser for the retailer’s site. This is what allows the portal to “track” your purchases and award bonus points/miles accordingly.
- Only use promotions or promo codes found on the portal; if you use others, the purchase may become ineligible for bonus points/miles.
- Be sure to read the restrictions for each merchant. Many won’t count gift cards as eligible purchases for earning bonus points/miles, and others will exclude certain products.
- Consider using gift cards. While you generally can’t purchase gift cards through these portals, you can still use gift cards to pay for the purchase. This is really valuable for Chase Ink Plus cardholders at merchants like Target and Home Depot. You can buy gift cards from office supply stores (to earn 5x Ultimate Rewards points), and then use those cards to pay for purchases through an airline shopping portal, earning even more bonus points/miles in the process.
Most of us shop online, and this is a simple way to make those purchases more rewarding. Earning 1-2 additional miles per dollar may seem insignificant on small purchases, but they can really add up in the long run!
What are your experiences with using airline and other shopping portals?