In one fell swoop, Ebates shakes up portal and credit card rewards

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Last week Ebates quietly introduced a new feature to their portal.  New members can now sign up to earn Membership Rewards points rather than cash back.  That alone is huge news.  However, Doctor of Credit points out that this change also means that the Ebates credit card now becomes the card for online purchases.  First the basics, then analysis on why I think this is a really big deal.

The Ebates Shopping Portal

The Ebates shopping portal now allows people to choose to earn Amex Membership Rewards rather than cash back.  This is a one-time choice.  Once you choose one or the other, you can’t switch.  Current Ebates customers get cash back by default and cannot switch to Membership Rewards.  You must sign up new with a special link to get Membership RewardsUpdate: You can now switch your earning preference at any time.  Click here for details.

Offer link (this is not an affiliate or referral link): www.ebates.com/american-express

To take advantage of this opportunity, you must have a consumer American Express card that earns Membership Rewards points.  Here are some cards that should work (press “next” to see additional cards):

Card Info Name and Earning Rate (no offer)
American Express® Gold Card
Base
Travel
Dine
Grocery
Earning rate: 3X points for flights booked with airlines or on amextravel.com ⚬ 4x points at US Supermarkets (up to $25K in purchases, then 1x) ⚬ 4x at restaurants worldwide ⚬ 1X points on other purchases. Terms apply. (Rates & Fees)
American Express® Green Card
Base
Travel
Dine
Earning rate: ⚬ 3X on travel & transit (including flights, hotels, taxis, and rideshares) ⚬ 3X dining ⚬ 1X points on other purchases. Terms apply. See
Business Green Rewards Card from American Express
Base
Travel
Earning rate: ⚬ 2X at AmexTravel.com ⚬ 1X points on other purchases. Terms apply.
The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express
Base
Grocery
Earning rate: ⚬ 2x points at US supermarkets, on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1x) ⚬ 1x on other purchases
The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express
Base
Gas
Grocery
Earning rate: ⚬ 3x points at US supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1x) ⚬ 2x points at US gas stations ⚬ 1x points on other purchases.
The Morgan Stanley Credit Card from American Express
Base
Travel
Dine
Shop
Earning rate: ⚬ 2X U.S. Restaurants ⚬ 2X select U.S. Department Stores ⚬ 2X Car Rentals Purchased Directly from Select Car Rental Companies ⚬ 2X Airfare Purchased Directly from Airlines
The Platinum Card® from American Express
Base
Travel
Earning rate: 5X points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel ⚬ 5X points for prepaid hotels booked through American Express Travel
The Platinum Card® from American Express Exclusively for Morgan Stanley
Base
Travel
Earning rate: ⚬ 5X points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel ⚬ 5X prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel
The Platinum Card® from American Express for Schwab
Base
Travel
Earning rate: ⚬ 5X points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel ⚬ 5X points for prepaid hotels booked through American Express Travel

Once you are signed up to earn Membership Rewards points, the portal works just like a cash back portal.  It even displays cash back rates rather than points for each offer (and yes, the cash back rates are the same regardless of how you sign up for Ebates). When a store is advertised as earning 5% cash back, you’ll really earn 5 Membership Rewards points per dollar. Even though rates are displayed as cash back, you’ll know that you are signed up for the Membership Rewards option because the Ebates home page says so:

In my opinion, Ebates is a very good portal, even for cash back.  While TopCashBack almost always has the best portal rates, Ebates often matches them and occasionally exceeds their rates when offering a special deal.

For those new to portals, the basic idea is this: If you’re going to shop online anyway, you can usually earn extra rewards by starting with a portal and clicking through to the merchant you want to shop with. For example, in the image above you can see that Ebates was offering 6% cash back at Macy’s at the time I wrote this.  If you click through from Ebates to Macy’s and then make a purchase at Macy’s, you would get 6% cash back on your total purchase before taxes and shipping.  Often you’ll receive an email within a few hours stating that the purchase was tracked, but it usually takes much longer for the cash back to become payable.  Once the cash back is payable, Ebates will pay you, at a date determined by their quarterly payout schedule, either in cash back or Membership Rewards points (depending upon how you signed up).

Ebates payout schedule. Membership Rewards points may take up to 12 weeks after the payout date to appear in your account.

Ebates In-Store Cash Back

In addition to online rewards, Ebates offers bonuses for in-store shopping.  You must first link the credit cards you’ll use for purchases and then click “link offer” for each offer of interest.  Once you’ve used an offer it’s often necessary to link the offer again (if still available) to earn rewards a second time.  This is from the Ebates FAQ regarding store-linked offers:

When I link an offer to my card, do I get In-Store Cash Back for all future purchases at the merchant?

No. For some offers, you may make additional qualifying purchases within a 24-hour window following your initial redemption, but, for others, the link is good only for a single redemption. Check “See Details” on the In-Store Cash Back site to determine the rules for a specific offer. After that time, you must re-link the offer to your card to earn Cash Back.

In-store offers result in additional cash back getting added to your Ebates account.  Therefore, if you are signed up with the Membership Rewards option that cash back will pay out as Membership Rewards.

Ebates Credit Card

This is where things get really interesting.  The Ebates Cash Back Visa, issued by Synchrony Bank, offers 3% cash back on qualified purchases made through the Ebates portal and in-store offers, and 1% cash back everywhere else.  When you earn rewards with this card, those rewards are added to your Ebates account and paid out along with your other Ebates rewards.  Therefore, cash back earned with this card turns into Membership Rewards points upon payout.

This card then, sort-of earns 3X for online purchases just like the old Citi AT&T Access More card (no longer available to new applicants).  The difference is that with the AT&T card it was a mystery as to what online purchases would count for 3X.  With this card it’s much more clear: if you can earn portal or in-store rewards, you can earn 3X with the Ebates card.

Why is this awesome?  Some of us avoided the Ebates credit card in the past because we prefer earning airline miles or, better yet, transferable points like Membership Rewards.  Now we can.  I personally wouldn’t use this card anywhere except online when shopping through Ebates or in conjunction with an in-store offer. There, the card earns 3X rewards on top of whatever you earn from Ebates itself.  For example, if you buy gift cards from GiftCardMall or GiftCards.com and earn 1% cash back from the portal, you’ll also earn 3% from the credit card for a total of 4%.  With the Membership Rewards option, that’s 4X rewards when buying gift cards.

The funny thing about all of this is that, if this works, the Ebates Visa card will become the single best Membership Rewards card for most online purchases.  It’s crazy to think that a non-Amex card may offer better Amex Membership Rewards earnings than their own cards.

Wait, don’t you have to pay with your Amex card for this to work?

Some people have pointed out that the Amex terms on the Ebates site make it seem like you have to pay with your linked Amex card for this to work (highlighting in mine):

Additional Membership Rewards® points at Ebates available to U.S. American Express Card Members with a Card enrolled in the Membership Rewards® program (“Eligible Card Account”) only. Card Members must become a new Ebates member and link their Membership Rewards® program account at Ebates.com/american-express. Card Members must use an Eligible Card Account at checkout to earn Membership Rewards points in their Ebates account. Corporate Cards or accounts are not eligible to participate.

Update 10/31/19: Fortunately, in practice, you can use any credit card to make your purchases and you’ll still earn portal rewards just as before.  I’ve personally used my Ebates Visa through the portal many times and have successfully earned Membership Rewards.

Why the Membership Rewards option is exciting

Amex Membership Rewards points can be used towards greater than 1 cent per point value in several different ways.  Those who fly often can get fantastic value by transferring points to any of a large number of airline transfer partners.  That’s why our current Reasonable Redemption Value for Amex Membership Rewards points is pegged at 1.82 cents per point.  Here are a few examples of transfer partners with which it’s possible to get outsized value:

Rewards ProgramBest Uses
Air Canada AeroplanRedeem for Star Alliance flights and/or flights with Air Canada partners (such as Etihad). As of 11/8/20: No fuel surcharges; $39 CAD award booking fee; 5,000 points to add stopover on one-way award. See: Air Canada Aeroplan: Everything you need to know.
ANA Mileage ClubRedeem for Star Alliance flights. Multiple stopovers allowed. Very good award prices for round-the-world travel. See also: How To Find Business Class Awards To Europe For 88,000 Miles Or Points.
Avianca LifeMilesAvianca LifeMiles can be great for Star Alliance awards. They offer reasonable award prices and no fuel surcharges on awards. They also offer shorthaul awards within the US (for flying United, for example) for as few as 7,500 miles one-way. Best of all, their mixed-cabin pricing can lead to fantastic first-class award prices. See this post for details.
Virgin Atlantic Flying ClubVirgin Atlantic miles can be usefully thought of as a way to get a discount off Virgin Atlantic flights (high fuel surcharges make the flights far from free), but there are some better uses. Use miles to upgrade paid flights or to fly partner airlines. A fantastic use is to fly ANA in business or first class thanks to Virgin’s generous ANA partner award chart. Or, if you can find saver level Delta awards for nonstop international travel, you can often book through Virgin Atlantic far cheaper than with Delta directly. Virgin Atlantic also offers great award prices for Air France premium economy awards.

Other options for getting more value out of Membership Rewards points include using points to purchase flights for up to 1.5 cents per point value, or converting points to investment cash at 1.25 cents per point value.  Full details of these options and more can be found in our Complete Guide to Amex Membership Rewards.

Q & A

Q: Are the rewards rates different depending upon whether you sign up for Rakuten/Ebates with the cash back or Membership Rewards option?

A: No, the rewards rates are identical. The only difference is whether you ultimately get paid in cash or in points

Q: Do I have to use my linked Amex credit card when making purchases through Ebates?

A: No

Q: Should I sign up for the Ebates Visa?

A: The value The Ebates card offers depends on how much money you are likely to spend on purchases made through Ebates (or linked to Ebates with in-store offers).  3% is a strong return on online purchases.  3X Membership Rewards is great.  Keep in mind that these are on top of the rewards that Ebates itself offers.  Signing up for this card will count against your 5/24 status though so keep that it mind if you are hoping to sign up for Chase credit cards.

Q: Will you (Greg) sign up for the Ebates Visa?

A: Update 10/31/19: Yes. I signed my son up for the card but with an Ebates account linked to my own Amex account.  It works.

Q: Where can I find the terms and conditions for this Ebates / Amex stuff?

Click here.

Q: Where can I get answers to questions you didn’t already answer?

Ebates has a decent FAQ for their partnership with Amex here.

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