One of my favorite ways to earn miles is by leveraging shopping portals. If I have to buy things anyway, why wouldn’t I want to earn bonus miles?
Right now a few of the major airline shopping portals are offering additional bonus miles as a “Back to School” promotion. You don’t have to be buying school items to take advantage of these bonuses, though the bonus periods do end in the coming days (or today, in one case).
What are the bonuses?
Typically, you can always earn at least one extra point per dollar by using a shopping portal for select merchants. Sometimes a certain merchant will offer extra points (2x, 3x, 15x, etc.), but occasionally the portal itself will offer a promo, like is happening now.
Alaska, American, Southwest, and United are all offering tiered bonuses, making it possible to earn thousands of miles, as follows:
|Program||Bonus period||Tier 1 Bonus||Tier 2 Bonus||Tier 3 Bonus|
|Alaska Mileage Plan Shopping||through August 14, 2016 at 11:59 pm ET||400 miles for qualifying purchases of at least $200||1,500 miles for qualifying purchases of at least $750||n/a|
|American AAdvantage Eshopping||through August 21, 2016 at 11:59 pm ET||700 miles for qualifying purchases of at least $350||1,500 miles for qualifying purchases of at least $750||n/a|
|Southwest Rapid Rewards Shopping||through August 15, 2016 at 11:59 pm ET||250 points for qualifying purchases of at least $150||750 points for qualifying purchases of at least $500||2,500 points for qualifying purchases of $1,500 or more|
|United MileagePlus Shopping||through August 12, 2016 at 11:59 pm ET||500 miles for qualifying purchases of at least $250||1,500 miles for qualifying purchases of at least $750||2,000 miles for qualifying purchases of $1,000 or more|
If these promos seem similar it’s because they are. The same companies run the backends of all these portals. So the concepts are pretty easy — as long as you start your transaction by clicking from the homepage for the shopping portal, you earn bonus miles.
These are in addition to what you’d normally earn for your credit card spend, and in addition to what you’d normally get for shopping at these merchants.
Determine the best portal for your purchase
While these portals are all fundamentally the same, the earnings rates can be different for each merchant. I like to check using Cashback Monitor, which I’ve found to be pretty accurate.
We had to make a rather expensive (for us) tech purchase this month, for example, and after shopping around Best Buy seemed to be the best deal. I also like that they offer a “buy online, pick up in store” option, so I can get my shopping portal points without having to wait for shipping.
According to Cashback Monitor, these portals were offering bonus points for BestBuy:
Two United MileagePlus miles per dollar seemed like a no-brainer for us, particularly when stacked with the Back to School promo.
Register and link your frequent flyer account to the associated shopping portal
If you haven’t already signed up for a particular shopping portal, it only takes a few moments. This is a good point to note that your frequent flyer account might not be the best one to use.
Miles earned through shopping portals can be a great way to keep less-active accounts from expiring, or to build up the balances those who can’t leverage credit cards. My nieces, for example, aren’t old enough for credit cards, but still have a couple of frequent flyer accounts, and this is an easy way to build up their balances.
Of course, it’s also worth mentioning that these promotional bonuses are per account. I you have a lot of shopping to do, breaking the purchases up across multiple accounts could earn you even more miles.
Check Amex Offers
This is an optional step, but if you have any American Express cards, you’ll want to check your Amex Offers to see if you’re eligible for a statement credit or other bonus. Ben writes about many of the travel bonuses, but there are great offers for everyday purchases as well (that Gap bonus will be easy money for many).
Once you add an offer to your card, you’ll receive a confirmation email. I had an offer for 2x Membership Rewards points at BestBuy, which was perfect:
Again, this can be a case where it makes sense to break up your transactions. If you have an Amex Offer for $20 back on purchases of $100, but have $200 of items to purchase, splitting into two transactions can be worthwhile.
Shop (almost) as normal
Shopping portals are pretty easy, but you’ll want to pay attention to maximize your miles.
- I like to use an incognito browser, but I’m not sure it’s still necessary
- Start at the home page for the shopping portal, and make sure you’re signed in to the right account
- Click through to the merchant you want to shop at
- Add items to your cart, and purchase as usual
- Repeat (including going back to the shopping portal) for additional transactions
Keep track of your spend, and follow up on your points
The great thing about these back to school promos is that the purchases are cumulative. You don’t have to spend $1500 in a single transaction to earn those 2,500 bonus Southwest points, for example.
I’ve been keeping a simple spreadsheet with the transaction amounts, and the portal used. My BestBuy purchase was $949, for example, so I made sure to use the United shopping portal for another $50 purchase during the promo period (which is what actually inspired this reminder post, as the United bonus ends tonight).
These bonuses are for net purchases so if you return something, you won’t get the miles. Otherwise, they should post in 8-10 weeks (I generally add a calendar reminder).
You can really earn a ton of extra miles this way. It’s not as efficient as leveraging a great credit card signup bonus, but these are extra points for things you were about to purchase anyway, right?
To use my recent BestBuy purchase as an example again, I’ll end up earning:
- 1,900 Membership Rewards points (from 2x Amex Offer)
- 1,900 United MileagePlus miles (from 2x at BestBuy)
- 2,000 United MileagePlus miles (from Tier 3 Back to School bonus)
Those 5,800 miles certainly take the sting out of a major purchase!
Have you been taking advantage of these August bonuses? Any particularly great deals?