In the interest of full disclosure, I may receive bonuses in the form of cash, points, or miles when you sign up through referral links contained in my posts. I will always do my best to ensure I am linking to the best deals available, but I encourage you to double check and let me know if I’m missing a better one. You don’t have to use my referral links, but I very much appreciate it when you do.
What are Shopping Portals?
As a way to drive extra traffic and sales to their stores, many online retailers pay websites that link to them via commissions (typically some percentage of the final sale price). Some of these websites pass the commission on to the customer via cash back, points, or airline miles. These websites are Shopping Portals and they come in several forms, often with different terms, regulations, and reward percentages. By adding a couple extra clicks to your online shopping, the extra 1-10% off your purchases will add up quickly. Depending on the store and percent rewarded, many items you normally buy in store may actually become cheaper to start ordering online and shipping straight to your house. A great feature of online portals is that they can often be combined with multiple other offers (coupon codes, Amex offers, and credit card bonuses for example), further optimizing your money.
Types of Shopping Portals
Cash Back Portals
Cash back portals are the most straightforward and simply return a percentage of what you buy back to you via check, PayPal, or other cash equivalent. I have signed up for several myself, but there is a large number of them out there, so be sure to check all the terms and conditions to make sure the offers will actually benefit you. Some require different minimum amounts before you can cash out and each one has different options for cashing out that have different rules attached to them.
Credit Card Portals
Many different credit cards offer shopping portals where you can earn additional points or cash back in addition to whatever bonus the credit card normally offers. The terms and conditions typically state that you must use the card related to the portal (a Discover card in the case of using the Shop Discover portal for example) in order to receive the bonus, but there are many reports of people being able to click through and then use a different card while still receiving the bonus. I have successfully done this before myself, but your experience will vary and the chances of being rewarded the bonus are almost zero if it doesn’t go through automatically on its own. In my experience, it typically isn’t worth the risk because cash back portals will have a similar % back for most websites.
Loyalty Program Portals
Many loyalty programs offer shopping portals that will earn you that particular form of currency after clicking through to shop. Airlines and hotels are the most common and can be beneficial if you are trying to top off your account for your next redemption, but I typically stick to cash back and credit card portals to retain flexibility with my money. Occasionally these loyalty portals have crazy high returns, so they are worth paying attention to on occasion.
How To Use Shopping Portals
At first glance, it may seem extremely tedious to take advantage of these shopping portals, especially if you had to visit each one to see what their current offers were. Fortunately for us, several websites have been developed to make navigating shopping portals an easy experience. My favorite is Cashback Monitor, but several others exist that offer similar features. Finding the best shopping portal to use is as simple as visiting the portal search and typing in the website you would like to shop at. Cashback Monitor will rank all the different shopping portals available for that website and even sort them by type of portal. Choosing the one you want will depend on your current goals, but I typically go with the highest % in either cash back or a point system I use frequently. Adding points to a loyalty program you will never use means you didn’t actually save any money!
I recommend adding Cashback Monitor or a similar portal aggregator to your bookmarks right next to your favorite coupon code finder and check both every time you shop online. Personally, I check RetailMeNot and Cashback Monitor every time I buy something online because it takes very little time and ensures I’m getting the most out of my money. If I’m making a particularly large purchase or have lots of time to kill, googling for coupon codes and checking other shopping portal aggregators will occasionally yield additional savings, but not often.
Shopping Portals I Have Used
All the portals listed below are ones that I have personally used and haven’t had any issue with so far.
- Top CashBack: This cash back portal has been the top % back for me a few different times while searching Cashback Monitor. They boast a no minimum payout threshold, a bonus when cashing out towards amazon.com, and a “Highest Cash Back Guarantee” although I haven’t taken advantage of that last one yet. They are currently offering a $10 signup bonus for both parties after reaching $10 in total cash back if you use a referral link (Top CashBack). This effectively doubles the % offered for your first $10 in returns.
- Shop Discover: While this is a credit card portal, the credit card reward is cash back via statement credit, so you can pretty much treat this like a cash back portal. The limitation is that you need to have a Discover card to use it. I have combined this portal with my Discover It card’s 5% bonus for all online shopping multiple times this quarter for extra savings. If you plan on signing up for the Discover It, consider using my referral link so we can both get a $50 bonus after your first purchase (Discover It Application). (NOTE: The Discover It card has had a $150 signup bonus after $750 of spend in the past, so it might be in your best interest to wait before signing up).
- Ebates: This is another cash back portal that is currently offering a very generous signup bonus of a $10 gift card (Macy’s, Target, Walmart, and Kohls were all options last time I checked) after your first $25+ purchase through the shopping portal. That means a potential of up to 40% back on top of the regular percent back for your first purchase. Ebates allows you to cash out via check or PayPal after accumulating at least $5.01 in payouts.
Personal Money Metagame Success
Recently, I was able to combine 5 different offers to save a good amount of money on a Petco.com purchase. I’ll take you through my process of finding a decent deal, stumbling across another, and then combining them with a shopping portal to end up saving 37% off my order.
This particular deal started when I found a “Spend $10 or more, get $5 back” Amex Offer for Petco.com in my American Express credit card portal. See http://www.amexoffers.com/ for the basics on Amex Offers, or Frequent Miler’s: Maximizing Amex Sync offers guide for some in depth metagame details.
I knew I needed a couple items for my dog and we haven’t bought him a new toy in a while, so I decided to check out petco’s selection. Upon visiting the website for the first time, I was prompted with the following message:
I’m never shy to sign up for email newsletters if there’s some benefit to be gained. Almost all reputable companies make it very easy to unsubscribe in the future if the emails get annoying. Creating a separate email just for offers like this is also an option if you don’t want to clutter up your normal account. After entering my email and clicking the link that was sent to me, I now had the 20% off added to my cart. I don’t know how long this offer will be available for, but try visiting the website in an incognito tab/browser if it doesn’t show up for you the first time.
Once I found a few items I wanted and added them to my cart, I remembered to check if any shopping portals had Petco.com as one of their current stores. I checked my favorite shopping portal aggregator, Cashback Monitor, and found that lots of different portals have Petco.com as one of their websites, all offering different %’s back.
While Shop Discover did have the best rebate at 10%, I would have had to use my Discover Card and would have missed out on using the Amex Offer of $5 back. Top CashBack had the second best deal at 8% and since I already have an account with them, taking advantage of the deal was easy. After signing into Top CashBack and clicking through their website to Petco.com, the 20% off deal was still in my cart and I was free to continue shopping knowing that an additional 8% would be returned to my final purchase price. Unfortunately, I can’t take advantage of Top CashBack’s Highest Cash Back Guarantee because they specifically exclude the Discover portal, but I do get to take advantage of their 2.5% bonus when redeeming the cash back as an amazon.com gift card.
After adding everything I wanted to my cart, my total was just over the amount required for free shipping (shipping would have cost $5.99 otherwise and would have cancelled out most of the benefit of the overall deal, because I consider most shipping charges to be lost money).
I also noticed a 5% back bonus for the Petco’s Pals Rewards program which I joined in store a while ago, so I made sure to link my new online account to my membership number before checking out.
After checking out, I received an email from Amex almost immediately confirming I had redeemed the Amex Offer. The Amex Offer will typically post to your credit card statement at the same time as the transaction, so the money will never leave your pocket. I count the Amex Offer and 20% off as immediate savings, whereas the other bonuses will take some period of time before I can realize the benefit. The distinction isn’t really important if you look at the long term, but I like to calculate both. Let’s look at the final costs and savings:
|Petco Coupon (20% off)||$-12.99|
|Total Charged to Credit Card||$56.90|
|Amex Offer ($5 off $10+)||$-5.00|
|Top Cashback Portal (8%)||$-4.16|
|Top Cashback Amazon.com Payout Bonus (2.5% of the 8%)||$-0.10|
|Amex Rewards Credit Card (1% back in Membership Rewards points)||$-0.57|
|Petco Pals Rewards Program (5% back in store credit)||$-2.60|
|Normal Cost of Goods (price paid in store or items total + tax)||$71.13|
|Immediate Cost of Order||$51.90|
|Additional Cash Back and Bonuses||$-7.43|
|Final % Savings||37%|
This definitely isn’t the best deal I’ve ever taken advantage of, but is a good example of how you can combine credit card bonuses, coupons, online shopping portals, and more to save a significant amount of money shopping online. The effort involved to take advantage of deals like this may seem tedious, but I assure you it took me more time to calculate how much money I saved than it did to actually save it. The couple extra clicks it takes to add additional percentages off of your online orders are well worth it in my opinion. And while my dog could care less how much money I saved, he certainly does like his new toy.
Taking It To Another Level
Sort of like credit cards, many cash back portals offer sign-up bonuses when you join and use them for the first time. The $10 Top CashBack referral bonus and the $10 Ebates gift card bonus discussed above are just a couple examples, and other cash back portals often offer similar benefits. Taking full advantage of these sign-up bonuses on top of all the other deals involved in online shopping adds yet another layer to the already deep money metagame. This topic might require a blog post of its own somewhere down the line.