You should be getting miles or cashback for every single purchase you make this holiday season. There. I said it. If you play your cards right, you could get earn enough miles for a free vacation just by spending what you were going to spend anyways! Wouldn’t you rather get 10,000 miles for that LCD TV you are going to buy for $1000? Well, pay attention, because I’m going to write about four different ways to get miles or cashback today. After that will go over some advanced ways to combine the options to really kick things into high gear!
- Miles Earning Credit or Debit Cards
- Cashback Credit Cards
- Online Shopping Portals for Miles
- Online Shopping Portals for Cashback
1. Miles Earning Credit or Debit Cards
This is one you should be familiar with if you have been reading this blog for a while. At a minimum you should be getting 1 mile or point per dollar spent. Almost every card on our Top Credit Cards page that lists miles or points as its type will give you this. You get miles for every dollar spent so you should be putting everything you buy on one of these credit cards (and then paying it off right away of course). Some of my favorites are:
- SPG American Express (25K sign on bonus) which gives 1 Starpoint for every dollar spent. For hotel stays these are some of the most valuable points and I have been getting at least $0.05 per Starpoint when I redeem them for Cash and Points stays.
- Amex Premier Rewards Gold (25K sign on bonus) which gives 1 Membership Rewards point for ever dollar spent. This are great because of the flexibility to be able to transfer to several different airlines and hotel programs.
- Chase Sapphire Preferred (40K sign on bonus) which gives 1 Ultimate Rewards point for every dollar spent. These points I would value even higher than the membership rewards points due to their flexibility via a higher number of transfer partners (airlines and hotels).
But you can do better than 1% a lot of times! The Chase Freedom card gives 5X Ultimate Rewards points on Best Buy and Kohl purchases for example The Chase Ink Bold gives 5X UR Points on Office Supply purchases (OfficeMax, Office Depot, and Staples) so it can add up quickly on computers or tablet purchases.
Even if your credit needs work, you can still get 1 miles per dollar spent by using the Suntrust Delta Debit Card I wrote about.
2. Cashback Credit Cards
These cards don’t give you miles, but instead give you cold, hard cash. I started with cash back, but realized that there is much better value in the miles cards if you want to travel the world. Not everyone is the same though so cashback might be a better option if you hate to fly or something. Some of my favorites are:
- Discover It Card: Up to 1% cashback on all purchases. They have an additional bonus for the 4th quarter for 2012 of 5% at all online shopping and department stores up to $1500 in purchases which can be combined with shopping portal earnings.
- Amex Business Simply Cash Card: 5% in Office Supply Stores, 1% at most other places.
- OPEN Savings from Amex Business cards such as the SPG Business Amex: If you have a business Amex, their OPEN program gives you almost instantaneous cashback with a few key vendors. The one that I have used multiple times is 10% back on purchases of $250 or more at Officemax.com. It is only the total purchase amount that matters so gift cards, clearance items, and coupons all work in conjunction with this. Other choices are some Marriott properties, Hertz and Hyatt.
3. Online Shopping Portal for Miles.
This is where the big miles earning opportunities come into play. The way this works is instead of going directly to a merchant, like for example, Homedepot.com, you would instead log into your shopping portal first then click on their link to Home Depot. By the power of cookies the site can tell that you came from the shopping portal and the merchant gives the shopping portal a referral fee, that they rebate to you in the form of miles.
Some of these portals you can use any credit card you want, such at the Southwest Rapid Rewards Mall. I used this mall to get 189,000 miles by shopping earlier this year! Other examples are the American AAdvantage Shopping Mall, the United Mileage Plus Shopping Mall and the Delta Skymiles Mall.
One of the best malls that I have made hundreds of thousands of miles with is the Chase Ultimate Rewards Shopping Mall. Due to the flexibility of the Ultimate Rewards points, this is often my top choice for purchases even if another site has a slightly higher multiplier.
Some merchants even allow you to buy gift cards and get points, then to go back through and get points again on the gift card use. I took advantage of this strategy at Sears when I got double dipped to maximize my miles and got a companion pass in the process.
Two great sites for comparing the miles (and cashback) are EVReward and Cashbackholic. You just have to put the store name in the search box and it will come up with an array of miles and cashback sites. Keep in mind that when you redeem airline miles, you will often get at least $0.02 per mile and Hotel Points closer to $0.01 (except for Starpoints which I value around $0.03.)
4. Online Shopping Portal for Cashback.
This is even more simple than the miles portals. You sign into the portal, then click through to the merchant and then get a % back in cash in usually 4-6 weeks, but it can sometimes be longer. EVReward and Cashbackholic are still the best spots to compare all of the options in one place. My favorites for cashback are:
ShopDiscover: Has 10% for Groupon that I use all the time, and during the holiday season it bumps up the cash back on a lot of its sites to 3-4 times what everyone else is offering (think 15% instead of 5% cash back for instance). I make several hundred dollars per year just on Discover Cashback so with no annual fee, this card is staying in my wallet.
UPromise: Has a larger selection of stores than almost any portal and the tracking of your clicks is rock solid. Even though it bills itself as cashback for education, there are several ways to get the cash back into your hands.
TopCashBack: This cashback site has some of the highest cashback out there, including a whopping 21% recently at Intercontinental Hotels. In my experience the points are a bit slow to post, but eventually it pays out as it should. I use Upromise if the rate is about the same, but will still use this site if it is the highest %.
Once you have the basics above down, you can combine them to find the best option. When I got almost a quarter million Ultimate Rewards points and $1000 cash, I bought gift cards for 10X points using the Ultimate Rewards mall (from section 3) and my Chase Sapphire Preferred card for 1X points (from section 1) and then used those gift cards after clicking through UPromise for 5% cashback (section 4).
You can buy $500 Visa gift cards at OfficeMax or Office Depot getting 5X Ultimate Rewards points (from section 1) then go through Southwest’s Shopping Portal (from Section 2) to get 7X miles from Shoes.com
You can buy $1500 in gift cards at Sears.com on your Discover card getting 5% back on online shopping (from Section 1) using their ShopDiscover portal for 10% cashback (from Section 4) then use those gift cards through UPromise (from Section 4) for another 5%. That is a whopping 20% off of anything total up to $1500 at Sears!
You can go through UPromise to OfficeMax.com (Section 4) to get 5% cashback then use your Amex with OPEN savings to pay for your purchase of $250 or more and get 10% back in a statement credit. (Section 2). 15% off any total at Officemax and that is after any coupons or sales!
If you can’t see the value after reading this article, then go back and read it again! Or ask any questions that you have in the comments.