The best portal finders get better

I write often about ways to use online shopping portals to earn extra points or cash back.  The basic idea is that when you plan to buy something online, you can earn extra points or cash back simply by starting your shopping in an online shopping portal.  From the portal, you find and click through to the store in which you want to shop.  Then, when you complete a purchase, you will earn points or cash back.

The hardest part in all this is finding the best portal to start with.  For example, let’s say you want to buy something from Sears.  Which portal offers the most points or cash back?  That’s were “portal finders” come in.  These are web sites that let you search for a merchant to find all of the best portal options for that merchant. 

The problem is that portal finders are often incomplete or wrong…

In previous posts (here and here) I detailed my experiments with multiple portal finders.  Every portal finder I tried sometimes returned incorrect and/or incomplete information.  However, in both tests one site was far better than the rest: Cashback Holics.  At the time, Cashback Holics didn’t include mile-earning portals, but it still usually returned the best results because it did include Chase’s Ultimate Rewards Mall which more often than not has better point earning opportunities than any other mile-earning portal.

Cashback Holics adds mile-earning portals!

I don’t know when they snuck in this feature, but in recent Cashback Holics searches, I noticed that mile-earning portals were now included in the results!  Here’s an example of the results when I searched for “Sears”:

image

As you can see above, the results include not just cash back sites, but also mile-earning sites such as AAdvantageeShopping.com, Southwest.com, etc.

NerdWallet Shopping adds multiple Chase views

Chase’s Ultimate Rewards Mall often has different payout amounts depending on whether you log in with your Sapphire, Freedom, or Ink account.  Until recently, all portal finders (that I knew of) reported the rate for just one of these cards (probably the Freedom card).  NerdWallet, though, has made a fantastic improvement by adding in rates for all three types of cards!  Here is an example of the results when searching for 123InkJets:

image

As you can see above, NerdWallet Shopping correctly lists 7X for “Ink+Bold” and 6X for “Chase Sapphire” and “Chase Freedom”.  If the past is any guide, the Ink Bold rates should be the same for Ink Plus, Ink Classic, and Ink Cash cardholders.  Similarly, the Sapphire rates should be the same for Sapphire Preferred cards.

I see this as a fantastic addition to NerdWallet’s portal finder.  And, I’d love to see them expand this even further.  I believe that both the United and AA shopping portals sometimes offer better rates for credit card holders.  How about showing that difference too?

A new experiment

Now that two of my favorite portal finders have improved, it’s time to face them off against each other.  I’ll also throw in Ev’Reward since it’s a popular portal finder as well.  Let’s take the merchants I mentioned yesterday and see how each portal finder does towards finding the best portals.  In each case below, I list the best cash options and best points options that each portal finder found.  I also throw in an airline and/or hotel result or two…

Kohl’s

  • Cashback Holics: Chase 10X, Ebates 6%, TopCashBack 6%, AA 2X
  • Ev’Reward: Chase 10X, Ebates 6%, Marriott 3X, AA 2x
  • Nerdwallet Shopping: Chase 10X, Ebates 6%, Marriott 3X, AA 2x

All three portal finders correctly identified Chase’s Ultimate Rewards Mall as the best points option.  All three correctly listed Ebates at 6% back and AAdvantageeShopping at 2 miles per dollar.  Only Cashback Holics found TopCashback at 6%.  On the other hand, Cashback Holics did not list any hotel offers such as Marriott at 3X, which both of the other sites found.

I’ll call this round a tie.

Sears

  • Cashback Holics: uPromise 8%, Chase 5X, AA 4X, United 6X
  • Ev’Reward: uPromise 8%, Chase 5X, AA 4X, United 2X
  • Nerdwallet Shopping: eBates 6%, Chase 5X, AA 4X, United 6X

In this round, Ev’Reward slipped up by not identifying that United’s portal is temporarily offering 6X at Sears.  Cashback Holics correctly identified United at 6X, but had it sorted near the bottom as if it were still 2X.  Nerdwallet had its sorting correct, but missed the best cash back back offer (uPromise 8%).

Winner of this round, by a nose: Cashback Holics

OfficeMax

  • Cashback Holics: TopCashBack 6%, Chase 5X, Delta 2X
  • Ev’Reward: uPromise & ShopDiscover 5%, Chase 5X, AA 3X
  • Nerdwallet Shopping: ShopDiscover 5%, Chase 5X, AA 3X

This round, CashBack Holics was the only one to find TopCashBack at 6%, but it failed to find American Airlines at 3X. 

Cashback Holics has a slight edge on this round for finding the best options: TopCashBack at 6% and Chase at 5X, but I’m really disappointed in the fact that it missed the AA 3X offer.  Let’s call this round a tie again.

Staples

  • Cashback Holics: TopCashBack 5.5%, Chase 2X, AA 2X
  • Ev’Reward: uPromise & ShopDiscover 5%, Chase 2X, AA 2X
  • Nerdwallet Shopping: ShopDiscover 5%, Chase 2X, AA 2X

The only significant difference between the portal finders in this round was that, again, only Cashback Holics found the best cash back offer, TopCashBack at 5.5%.

Winner of this round, by a nose: Cashback Holics

Lowes

  • Cashback Holics: TopCashBack 6%, Chase 5X, AA 3X
  • Ev’Reward: uPromise & ShopDiscover 5%, Chase 5X, AA 3X
  • Nerdwallet Shopping: ShopDiscover 5%, Chase 5X, AA 3X

Same story again.  The only significant difference between the portal finders in this round was that only Cashback Holics found TopCashBack at 6%.

Winner of this round, by a nose: Cashback Holics

OpenSky

  • Cashback Holics: BeFrugal & others 15%, AA 7X
  • Ev’Reward: Big Crumbs 10.5%, MyPoints 50X, Hilton 11X, AA 7X
  • Nerdwallet Shopping: Hilton 11X, AA 7X

In this round, Cashback Holics correctly identified the best cash back and airline mile options, but did not list the best hotel options.  Ev’Reward dropped the ball by listing a defunct MyPoints offer and by failing to list the best cash back options.  Nerdwallet Shopping also left out the best cash back options.

Winner of this round: Cashback Holics

Summary

As in my previous reviews of portal finders, Cashback Holics came out ahead. The difference this time, though, is much smaller than in previous tests. All of the portal finders seemed to have improved.  Cashback Holics now lists some airline mile options, but doesn’t do a great job of it.  Nerdwallet Shopping had accurate results, but left out some key cash back sites.  And, Ev’Reward had fewer inaccuracies than in past tests.

As things stand right now, I’ll continue to use Cashback Holics as my go-to portal finder.  However, if/when NerdWallet adds cash back sites like TopCashBack, uPromise, ShopAtHome, etc. I’ll switch to them.  That is, unless Cashback Holics improves their airline & hotel results…

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Comments

  1. Sometimes united and Aadvantage shopping mall gives different miles per dollar depending on your status. For example, I am golden premier of united, my sears.com shows 3*2=6 miles per dollar. But my husband is 1k, his sears.com shows 4*2=8 miles per dollar. My kid have no status. Dear.com shows 6 miles per dollar. But during last Christmas united step up promotion, my kid and I all got 50% more but my husband only got 25% more. A advantage also has the same difference. Do not ignore some other shopping promotion, last Christmas, virgin Atlantic had 3* promotion, hotel.com was 18 miles per dollar, which can be exchange to Hilton points and it is 36 Hilton points per dollar.

    Not a single cash back site can do that timely.

  2. I always book hotel stays through the hotel web site. Am I leaving points on the table by not using something like Ultimate Rewards Mall? Does one still accummulate hotel points from the stay? If one needs to change or cancel a reservation is it more complicated if it is done through a portal? thanks very much for any advice!

    • Katherine: Yes, you are leaving points on the table by not going through an online portal first. When you go to a site like Marriott.com via a portal everything is exactly the same for you as going to Marriott.com directly including the ability to earn hotel points, stay credits, and make changes. Typically, portal points are not awarded until after you complete your stay.

  3. @Katherine, if you go to UR mall before going to Marriott, it will work just the same ad if you went to Marriott directly. Probably doesn’t matter when you book award stays, but all paid stays should earn you extra points.

  4. Great post!! Something I’ve been researching just this week. I’m new to all of this, and have a really basic question. How do I know whether 10x points is better or whether 6% is better. I suppose it depends on who is giving the points and how they will be used. But, what would be your choice?

  5. @Jana, it depends if you value 10x more than 6% cash back. For example, if it were 10x Hilton or Delta skymiles, people would probably take 6% cash back.

  6. Nice update. Yeah. The comparison shopping of portals can be a pain in a the butt. I hope these portal comparisons continue to improve.

    One quibble: I find it odd that Perk Central (Capital One’s portal) is often excluded. Having both a Capital One and Chase card, I have access to both portals and I can tell you that Chase, overall, is not superior to Perk Central. YMMV but the things I purchase have been mixed in terms of the better pay out. Regardless, I have never gotten the impression that Chase is better than the non-card issuer sites like Top Cash Back. But again, YMMV.

    • John V: I think of Capital One points as being equivalent to cash back. With Chase, though, each point can be worth considerably more than a penny each as long as you or your spouse has one of the special Ultimate Rewards cards: Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold, or Ink Plus,… Here are some examples of how Chase’s points can be worth more: Use points to book travel and each point is worth 1.25 cents. Transfer to Southwest and book “Wanna Getaway” fares and each point is worth 1.67 cents. Transfer to United or British Airways and, depending on how you use the miles, each point can be worth anywhere from 2 to 7 cents each.

  7. Since this is a points site, 10X points is better. In my experience, my favorite portals are Ultimate Rewards and ShopDiscover. Still haven’t received TopCashBack, but they accurately listed all my purchases.

  8. Ugh. Except TopCashBack doesn’t pay, doesn’t care when they don’t pay. I’d like to see a portal finding site list TCB as 0% for every purchase with an “*” and then the hypothetical amount you could get if the planets align properly.

  9. Nice analysis – it seems to me the real difference above between Nerd & Holic is that TopCashBack results are delivered by Holic (and were not at all by Nerd), is that correct?

    For some people who are done with TopCashBack not delivering (perhaps the people @ Nerd have excluded them for this reason?) this might actually be an advantage for Nerd?

    • Steelsnow: Nerdwallet missed a bunch of cash back sites, not just TopCashBack. Take a look at the OpenSky results, for example. I don’t think that leaving out results is ever a good thing. If people don’t want to use TopCashBack they can always just look down the list to the next best option.

  10. agree re Topcashback payments – maybe you’ll never get it. to be fair, they have paid me each time – but it’s usually a major hassle & has taken up to 4 months! Too bad they don’t realize that this directly affects their success in a huge way – word of mouth is quick, & if you pay promptly, everyone will use your site & you’ll make even more $$$. if not, people just quickly stop. the effect is very large wish Topcashback would get it together.

  11. I had one transaction with topcashback that was rejected because they said I went through another portal, another where they gave me half and said there was no record of it, and I have transactions for one store going back to July they haven’t paid me for.

    I have been using FW, Mr. rebates, and ebates for a long time with no issues.

  12. I’m wondering why you are so into Topcashback. You do happen to mention them quite a bit. I think they are a really bad shopping portal. I just got paid for my hotel transactions (club carlson) from the summer!! That’s a 5 month wait! And then, when the transactions are finally payable, instead of having it automated (like Bigcrumbs) they make you click on their button that you want to get paid. It’s probably better that Nerd doesn’t mention TCB at all!

    • DealsSeeker and others: I’ve had mostly very good experiences with TopCashBack and they do almost always offer the best cashback amounts. Regardless, the point of this post was to see how well each portal finder found the best options based on rate of return. Users can easily skip down to the next result in the list if they don’t like the top one.

  13. hi , thanks for this post. Great info. Just wondering if you need to use ur chase cc to purchase on UR? And do you get more if you do?

    • mark: No, you don’t need to use your Chase cc, but if anything goes wrong Chase won’t help you unless you did use your Chase UR card. Yes, you get both portal points and the usual points you get for any purchases with your credit card. For example, if you buy $100 worth of stuff from Kohl’s, you’ll get 10 X 100 = 1000 points from the UR mall and you’ll get the usual 100 points (1 point per dollar) from your credit card.

  14. I was denied any earnings by Upromise on a Best Buy purchase. When I complained they delayed and sent some messages that they needed my order # and receipt. When I provided those they still denied to provide anything. One possible reason given was that there was another reward in conjunction with theirs (there was the 5% at BB for Chase Freedom last quarter). Not sure if that is what did it, but double dipping doesn’t seem to work there.

    • Captain What’s His Name: I can’t say why uPromise didn’t work for you, but I’m sure it had nothing to do with using your Freedom card. The uPromise portal wouldn’t know (or care) whether you were getting extra points from your credit card company.

  15. Jana: Yes, it certainly depends on how much you value each type of point. With Chase, points are worth at least 1 cent each so 10X is worth at least 10% back. Better yet, Chase points (Ultimate Rewards) can be transferred to certain airline and hotel programs so that you can get considerably more than 1 cent value for each point. You could look at my Fair Trading Prices chart to get an idea of the relative values of different types of points: http://frequentmiler.boardingarea.com/fair-trading-prices/

  16. Fair enough, FrequentMiler, with regard to Chase points often being better than a penny…and hence better than Perk Central. I guess I am sort of ambivalent to that difference since I don’t travel as much as most around here. I tend to value both at a penny since I most often just redeem the cash (and usually invest it or something). I don’t really do anything with airline miles yet…just hotel points. My wife has a venture and generally saves those miles to book our once-per-year (if that!) flight.

  17. I’ll tell you, these stories I keep seeing about Topcashback make me very reluctant to use them. I haven’t used them since yet…just Big Crumbs so far. Maybe the extra points they may offer just aren’t worth it if I have to wait so long. I prefer using the card-issuer based sites since they conveniently award them into your pool of miles/points through the card.

  18. Hey FM,

    Here’s one for valentines day– go through the UR mall to groupon, and buy the FTD $20 for $40 deal (San Diego). Get the redemption code, then go back through the UR Mall to FTD and receive more UR points– just apply the groupon code at checkout.

  19. this is a truly great posting. before i have time to track and research, i have two questions to seek your answers:

    1. Half of online shopping is at amazon.com. Could you please advise which portal(s) gives best return at amazon.com?

    2. My most intensive online purchase experience is travel related: I reserve hotels (marriott.com, spg.com, hhonors.com, wyndhamreward.com, etc.) and buy airline tickets (delta.com, aa.com, jetblue.com, usairways.com, southwest.com). I always book at hotel or airline website directly because I am afraid I may not get reward points or miles if I book through a thrid-party. Am I right? Or, do you use portal to book hotels and airline tickets? If so, plase advcise wich one(s)?

    3. Ocassionally, I book at priceline.com, hotwire.com, and travelocity.com. Do you count them as portals? or, could you offer advices on which portals provide best returns for the above two websites, priceline.com and hotwire.com?

    Thanks a lot in advance for your time and help.

    • Andy:
      1) Try FatWallet. Unfortunately, no one pays out for all Amazon purchases anymore. They only pay out for certain categories.
      2) Using a portal is always safe for getting points & miles since you end up at the same hotel or airline website.
      3) When you book through online travel agencies (OTAs) like these, you will still earn airline miles, but you might not earn hotel points. No, i don’t consider these to be portals, but there are portals that will payout if you go through them to one of these OTAs. I’d suggest looking up “priceline”, “hotwire”, etc. on cashback holics and/or Nerdwallet to find the best portal options.
      4) You didn’t ask, but its worth mentioning that some credit cards automatically give extra points for these types of purchases. For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred gives 2X points for all travel purchases. This would be in addition to any points earned from a portal.

      • thanks a lot! really appreciate your great answer and advice.

        at least, going forward, i should use portals to purchase tickets at delta.com, aa.com, usairways.com and southwest.com. you already gave the answer for southwest.com. do you have answers for aa.com, delta.com and usairways.com? (i will search for answers myself but just want to compare my answers with yours — i treat your as a standard solution.)

  20. correct a typo:
    1. Half of my online shopping is at amazon.com. Could you please advise which portal(s) gives best return at amazon.com?

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