I have a confession. I call myself a miles and points addict, but my credentials are suspect. Why? I almost never use airline or other shopping portals to earn miles.
For the uninitiated, what are these shopping portals of which I speak? Basically, they are what they sound like. They are websites affiliated with a particular airline, hotel, or credit card points program that aggregate and link out to major online retailers (Macy’s, Gap, Apple Store, etc.). When you start on the portal and click through to the retailers to do your shopping, you earn miles for your purchase. Each mall features a different mix of retailers. And each mall usually offers different payouts for each retailer that vary over time. Many of these portals are run by the same company, Cartera Commerce. The Points Guy has a fairly comprehensive list of the major portals here.
So why don’t I use these portals more often? Two reasons – 1) cost and 2) time. Most of the time, I find that the cost of the products I want to buy are higher through the portals than on the site where I do most of my online shopping — Amazon.com.
Second, I simply don’t have the time to weigh all my options on a $10 baby toy purchase just to earn a few miles. To be sure, you can compare which portal offers the biggest payout for a particular retailer via evreward.com. But it doesn’t end there. You also have to evaluate which retailer to use for a purchase when many retailers may carry the item and have different prices. You then must check other coupons and shipping policies and double check for exclusions (not all purchases earn miles – gift cards and some of the newest release tech gadgets are excluded). Next, you must go through a more extensive checkout process with a new retailer. Then you wait for longer shipment times (since I have Amazon Prime, which offers free 2 day shipping, I can usually get purchases much more quickly from Amazon). Finally, you have to track whether your miles are even credited by the portal, as there are lots of opportunities for technical glitches to cheat you out of those miles. It’s exhausting.
But there are times when using shopping portals pays off big time. Sometimes there are simply awesome payouts (e.g. 10 or 20 miles earned per dollar spent plus additional big discounts or free shipping promos). Even if you have to pay a small premium for using the portal, you can’t buy miles that cheap.
But the best use of portals for my family has been in simply keeping our miles active. Since we live in the San Francisco Bay Area, nearly every major US airline is an option for our travels. And we fly them all (although we’ve been flying Southwest a lot more than most). This means we can often go a year or two without flying a particular carrier just because of the randomness of it all – where we happen to go on our travels in a given time period, which airline has the cheaper fares, etc.
One airline we haven’t flown with our kids in awhile is American. My daughter’s miles will expire in a month, so I needed to keep the miles active. Last night, I was able to use the American Airlines AAdvantage portal to achieve that goal. We needed a new baby gate for her increasingly-active 10 month old baby brother. Petco had the gate for much cheaper than Amazon or any other retailer we spotted. And Petco is on the AAdvantage portal. I signed my daughter up for access to the portal using her AAdvantage number, snagged a Petco discount code, filled out a few web forms, and voila! Her miles are now safe for another 18 months. I considered it a double bonus that I was able to use one of the new credit cards we just applied for to make the purchase so that I could work towards hitting our minimum spend requirement.
What do you think of shopping portals? Do you use them to earn miles? And tips for decreasing the time commitment factor? Leave your thoughts in the comments.