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 Rewards.
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)|
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 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 should turn 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.
In the above terms, they first seem to define “Eligible Card Account” as the Amex card you use to enroll in this program. Then, they use that same term when saying that you must checkout with an Eligible Card Account.
Conversely, in the Ebates Q&A on this topic, part of the answer to the question “How can I earn Membership Rewards points on Ebates?” is: “Purchase: Place your order as you normally would.” In other words, as long as you successfully make the purchase, with any card, you should be good to go.
My best guess is that Amex would like you to use your Amex card for these purchases, but that Ebates isn’t going to verify whether you did or not. This is how things have worked for years in other portals and I don’t see why it would be any different here.
If you disagree with my guess, then don’t bother with the Ebates credit card until we get official word from Ebates or we hear many successful (or unsuccessful) attempts to use the credit card to earn 3X 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 Program||Best Uses|
|Air Canada Aeroplan||Redeem for Star Alliance flights. Multiple stopovers allowed on international flights. Reasonable award prices to Europe for business and first class.|
|ANA Mileage Club||Redeem 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 LifeMiles||Avianca 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.|
|Etihad Guest||Etihad has a very competitive award chart for American Airlines flights, among others. For example, they charge only 50,000 miles one-way for business class flights from North America to Europe. Partner awards must be booked over the phone.|
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.
The challenge with existing accounts
If you already have an Ebates account, then things get a little tricky. Since they don’t yet allow converting an existing account to a Membership Rewards earning account, you’ll have to find a way to create a new account. Here are some options that I can think of:
- Close your existing account and then re-open the account with the special link: www.ebates.com/american-express; or
- Create a new account with a different email address; or
- Create a new account for a family member
Personally, I didn’t want to do option 1 since I’ve used my current account’s referral link on this blog and so I would presumably lose any not-yet-paid referral credits if I were to close the existing account. I also have some charges made through Ebates that haven’t yet been paid out.
I also was hesitant to do option 2 since a Doctor of Credit reader asserted that people have been shut down for doing so. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I didn’t want to risk it.
I went with option 3. My son now has a nice new Membership Rewards earning Ebates account. The one tricky part was that his only Membership Rewards card is the Business Platinum card and you can’t setup your Ebates account with a business Amex card. So, when signing up for Ebates my son logged into my Amex account to link to my personal Membership Rewards cards. That worked. Hopefully this won’t cause an issue down the road! If not for needing to get setup for researching this post I may have had my son sign up for a consumer Membership Rewards card instead. The Amex Everyday card would have been a great choice for him since it has no annual fee (he’s a college student with limited income).
A tougher problem is for those who already have the Ebates Visa card. Is it even possible to change which Ebates account that card is linked to? I don’t know. One option, for those with understanding family members, is to have them open an Ebates Membership Rewards account and the Ebates Visa, and then use their account and card for Ebates purchases.
Q & A
Q: Are the rewards rates different depending upon whether you sign up for 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: Probably not. See the section above titled “Wait, don’t you have to pay with your Amex card for this to work?”
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: Yes-ish. I want to sign up for the card, but it’s unclear to me whether I’ll be able to link the card to my son’s Ebates account. It’s safer to have my son sign up for the card, but he’ll probably get a very low credit limit.
Q: Where can I find the terms and conditions for this Ebates / Amex stuff?
Q: Where can I get answers to questions you didn’t already answer?
Ebates has a decent FAQ for their partnership with Amex here.
Last updated on March 6th, 2019