One of the things that I’ve always tried to preach (and practice) on the blog is that little bits add up. A few dollars or cents may not make much off a difference in your life, but if you repeat the process frequently, it will do so. For example, if you earn $1 from completing a survey, that won’t get you much. But if you earn $10 per week from those extras, that’s $500 per year. That’s why online shopping portals are so helpful.
Helpful Hint: Clear your browser’s cookies and cache before shopping. It will help your discounts track. If you’re not sure how to do that, it’s a simple process described here.
Shopping Discounts And Rebates
Cash Back from Shopping Portals
(Note: The cash back portals give me a small commission if you use my links below when signing up. You certainly aren’t under any obligation to do so, but it costs nothing and I really appreciate the support.)
An online shopping portal is just what it sounds like: go to the shopping site before you shop and let the portal direct you to your merchant. They’ll get a referral fee and share it with you.
Here’s how it works: Imagine if you went into the mall and wanted to buy something at Macy’s (or enter your favorite store here; I’m using Macy’s as an example). If you go straight to Macy’s, you’ll pay regular price for anything you buy. But if you stop at the information desk, they’ll give you a 10% rebate on your purchases.
That’s how online shopping portals work. Instead of going to Macy’s (or whatever store you choose) directly, you access it through one off the sites below. The store will then give that site a commission for directing you to them, and the portal site will share the commission with you. Different portals pay different commissions, and it varies per merchant.*
Beginner’s Hint: The shopping portals below will direct you to the same exact merchant site that you would access directly. All they’re doing is acting as the middle-man, allowing them to earn a commission
The Best Shopping Portals
I determine best by a combination of two factors: First, what are they paying me? And second, how reliable are they about posting rebates without my chasing them?
There are several cash back shopping portals. Ebates is the best-known of these programs, but it usually doesn’t pay the most. It’s a good one, though, and worth joining.
My favorite is Mr. Rebates. It doesn’t always have the single-highest payback for each merchant, but it’s always in the top 20% or so, has a wide variety and, most importantly, reliably gives you cash back without your having to chase them. For example, in the above Macy’s example, Mr. Rebates would give you 6% cash back. Mr. Rebates is always my first choice and I’ll give up a percent or two somewhere else simply because of their reliability.
Two others that I’d recommend are Be Frugal and Coupon Cactus. Be Frugal is particularly good with cash back for booking travel. Since travel purchases are often high-dollar ones, you’ll make a nice chunk of change here. Since you’re going to the same travel site that you would have accessed directly anyway, you’ll obviously earn all your points at the airline, hotel, etc. Coupon Cactus is usually the first or second highest paying for general purchases.
One final option is Top Cash Back, which has high rebates but sometimes doesn’t credit correctly.
You don’t have to be buying physical goods. There is a lot of money to be made in online shopping travel.
Airlines aren’t particularly generous. American will give you a dollar per order and JetBlue will give you money back on vacations, but your better bet is hotels and car rentals, which still pay some commissions and are happy to pass them along to you. Remember, Be Frugal and Mr. Rebates are your best bet for travel rebates.
Search by brand (e.g., search for “Westin” instead of “Starwood.”). Almost every major hotel chain is covered and will rebate you 3-10%. For example, in the above picture from the Mr. Rebates travel section, you can see that Holiday Inn hotels would give you back 8% on your stay. Just click on the link to book your stay. Remember, the links are taking you right to the hotel’s home page. You are getting something back because the hotel companies give the shopping portals a commission, which they share with you.
Every major rental car company is represented for travel rebates. Again, free money. Coupons should still work and you’ll be entitled to any benefits that the vendor offers.
Online Travel Agents
I generally don’t use online travel agents, such as Expedia, Orbitz or Travelocity. There’s rarely an advantage over the travel provider’s website and you then have a third party involved. In addition, hotels generally don’t give points or elite benefits if you book through an online travel agent. And now, with the three set to merge, both benefits and service will get worse. Each has its own rewards program, but they aren’t particularly generous.
Priceline and Hotwire are also represented in this category. If you use them already, you might as well get a rebate for it.
Having said that, if you are using one, look for the triple (or even quadruple!)-dip, since there’s no reason that you should only get one set of points.
Example: You buy a plane ticket on Orbitz through Mr Rebates. You earn cash back from Mr Rebates (1), Orbitz bucks from Orbitz (2), points from whatever credit card you used to make the purchase (3) and miles on the airline (4). That’s four bonuses for one purchase!
Hotels are a triple dip, because they will usually not give you points if you do not book on their website.
*Why would Macy’s agree to this arrangement? Because they have to. Way back when, when the internet was just a baby, merchants began offering portals a commission to direct traffic to them. Once one merchant did so, all of its competitors were forced to match.
**The “big kahuna” exception is Amazon, which only offers rebates in certain categories, such as toys; clothing; and music, or through JetBlue (any purchase at JetBlue made while on an airplane). You can also shop at Amazon Smile for a donation to your favorite charity on any purchase.