Miles and money you may be missing

Many miles and points enthusiasts got into this hobby thanks to business travel that earned them accidental miles & points that they would like to be able to leverage for better vacations. Others wanted to travel more or more comfortably than their means allowed and discovered credit card bonuses as a medium through which to realize their travel dreams. As I’ve written before, my entry to miles & points came from reselling products. It started with an electronics item on such a good sale that I realized that if I bought three and sold two, my wife might let me keep one I might be able to enjoy a product I wanted without feeling the pinch of the cost. That developed into an Amazon / Ebay / Craigslist side gig where I was constantly buying stuff and selling it for a small profit and earning rewards doing it (on my lone credit card at the time). Eventually, I discovered credit card welcome bonuses and realized that with what I was spending on products, I could easily meet spending requirements to earn valuable new credit card bonuses. From there, I discovered shopping portals and that became a game-changer: I could buy stuff I was already buying and using to earn a profit and also earn a pile of airline miles. I picked up a Southwest Companion Pass in just a couple of days (back when double and triple dipping was more prevalent and rewards were higher). I started racking up big mileage balances and enjoying a lot more rewards for each dollar spent. While my reselling activities have waned considerably since starting a family, my shopping portal habits have remained for personal purchases. However, I have become less vigilant than I once was in seeking out opportunities for higher payouts. I recently realized this meant leaving savings on the table. If you’re not shopping around, you may be leaving miles and money on the table — so don’t forget to check all available resources to get the biggest bang for your buck.

CashbackMonitor is one great resource

During my reselling days, one of the most annoying things was having to check half a dozen portals each day to see if any of them had particularly interesting increased payouts and/or to see which one was offering the best payout on a purchase I intended to make. There had been a comparison site that some people talked about, but I often found that particular site to be inaccurate, with the real payouts of portals listed being different (sometimes higher, sometimes lower) than what the comparison site listed. If I still had to manually check for accuracy, the tool wasn’t saving me much time.

One day (before I worked here), Frequent Miler wrote about a tool called CashbackMonitor and it was a total game-changer for me. CashbackMonitor is a shopping portal comparison site that lists all of the shopping portals I had been regularly using as well as some I wouldn’t have otherwise known existed. More importantly, it was accurate. I’d later come to appreciate the challenges in keeping a portal comparison site accurate: Payouts can change every day, so you need to somehow search every portal for changes every day. What time of day do portals change their payouts? If it is midnight, is it midnight Eastern? Pacific? Do any portals update payouts multiple times throughout the day? CashbackMonitor seemed to (and still seems to) have more or less figured out the secret sauce to almost always have up-to-date, accurate information.

Over time, I came to rely on CashbackMonitor more and more heavily and it became a go-to site in my morning routine to check some of my favorite stores. They also continued to add features and functionality that made the site even more useful, such as the ability to assign your own cash values to miles or credit card points in order to compare rates across the board more effectively based on your own valuations. They also constantly added portals to the point where today they now track 47 shopping portals. That’s way more than the number that I actually use, but it’s great having access to all that data. I’ve signed up for more than one portal over the years that I’d found via CashbackMonitor. While, like most people in the game (I think), I’ve actually pared down the number of portals I use regularly for simplicity’s sake, I enjoy having a quick glance at a comparison so I can know which of that half a dozen portals I should use on a particular purchase.

I also love the ability to look at 15-month historical high payouts to get an idea as to how good a particular payout is and whether or not I should hold off in hopes of a better return on spend. The data at CashbackMonitor is very useful to me.

But don’t forget about unlisted portals: they sometimes offer large rewards

However, as terrific a tool as I find CashbackMonitor to be, the fact is that it’s nearly impossible for one site to be a true catch-all. I’m no IT guy, but I imagine that there are technical challenges involved in getting all of the required information from 47 portals each day and there are likely some portals that either present unique challenges or lack interest in having their rates compared. However, this week I stumbled on some instances where those of us who weren’t comparing beyond CashbackMonitor were missing out, so I wanted to highlight a few portals you should keep an eye on. I did reach out to CashbackMonitor about these portals and my suspicion was confirmed that the reason they aren’t listed is generally due to some permeation of technical difficulties and/or indifference on the part of the portal that has made technical challenges difficult to overcome. I get the sense that CashbackMonitor would love to have any reliable, proven portal listed and makes good effort to do so. But there are a few portals you should be checking that aren’t listed for one reason or another.

Upromise

In this week’s Last Chance Deals post, Stephen Pepper highlighted several shopping portal bonuses ending this week. One of those bonuses came from portal UPromise and ended on Sunday (it was good for a bonus $100 back when you spent $1250 or more). Late on Sunday, I decided that I wanted to follow Stephen’s tip that the bonus might be triggered by a Giftcards.com order and I went to Cashbackmonitor to find a link to Upromise’s Giftcards.com payout. Unfortunately, I noticed that Upromise wasn’t listed. I know they had previously been listed on CashbackMonitor, and CashbackMonitor later confirmed for me that Upromise had made some changes to its site that broke the technology previously used to gather the data and they had been unable thus far to connect with Upromise on a solution.

I then went to Upromise directly and I set up an account and clicked through to place an order. When I finished, I came back to the portal and scrolled the promo page. That’s when something caught my eye — 20% cash back at Sam’s Club?? What?!?!?. I couldn’t believe the payout I was seeing at Sam’s Club. It seemed too good to be true. Stephen would later point out to me the possibility that this was a payout just on Sam’s Club memberships (he noted that TopCashBack had been offering 17% on new membership the other day). However, I found a saved screen shot — it was 20% on Sam’s Club purchases, with the same (extensive) exclusions found on most other shopping portals.

That was really notable to me. Even though Sam’s Club excludes many categories from earning cash back/rewards (through all portals), there are plenty of items that still do qualify for cash back. Getting 20% back on groceries could be huge. While we have twice in recent memory seen one-day mileage payouts of 10 miles per dollar from Sam’s Club, I couldn’t recall a cash back payout so high. Indeed, the data at CashbackMonitor backed me up in that recollection.

Twenty percent at Sam’s Club would have been a huge outlier in terms of payout. Unfortunately, I saw that payout about 11 minutes before the shopping portal bonus was set to expire, at which point I figured that the 20% payout would also likely expire, so there wasn’t enough time for me to to get it posted on Frequent Miler.

That said, one gripe I have with Upromise after browsing it for the past couple of days, and I suspect this is something that has likely led to the removal of a portal or two from CashbackMonitor over the years, is that I found their rates to be misleading now and then. For instance, just this morning, I moused over “Holiday Deals” to see that Staples was offering 10% back via Upromise.

That sounded potentially really interesting given that we don’t often see a payout that high for Staples. However, the screen shot above is incredibly misleading. When you click Staples, if you pay close attention, you’ll notice that it’s Staples Print and Marketing offering 10% back. It’s just the print shop offering that return – not the rest of Staples. Funny to me how, after you click the generic Staples logo showing 10%, they magically have a Staples Print & Marketing logo to use both there and on the store page (if you think to click “Terms & Conditions” instead of clicking “Shop Now” without paying close attention). They couldn’t use that logo when you mouse over Holiday Deals? Is it an accident that they use the generic Staples logo in that spot? That’s deceptive in my opinion.

Of course, if I were using a tool like CashbackMonitor, I would see the difference since payouts at separate brands like Staples Print & Marketing are broken out from Staples through plenty of portals. I likely never would have made the mistake of assuming it was 10% back on Staples.com purchases if I were using Cashbackmonitor.

However, in other cases I noticed good payouts at Upromise. Just yesterday, I noticed that they had a couple of high rates by comparison with other portals — including Kohl’s at 10% and Macy’s at 12%, which meet or beat the rates at portals listed at Cashbackmonitor (those rates have since decreased). Still, Upromise might be a portal to watch.

Retailmenot

Anyone who has ever searched online for a coupon code has stumbled on the site Retailmenot. One of the largest resources for coupon codes on the ‘net, Retailmenot launched cash back earning at some point in the last couple of years. An interesting component of Retailmenot is that they have both their website and a phone app. In browsing their app yesterday, I found Office Max & Office Depot to be offering 14% cash back.

I couldn’t believe that. I haven’t seen a payout that high on an office supply store in all the time I’ve had my (no-longer-available-for-new-applicants) Ink Plus credit card that earns 5x at Office Supply stores (the Ink Cash card also earns that category bonus). In fairness, the terms indicated that cash back was limited to a maximum of $50 back. That means the max purchase on which you’d have gotten 14% back would have been $357.14. Still, getting $50 and almost 1,800 points back on a $357 purchase would have been pretty good.

Apps that offer rewards

In addition to cash back portals that are not listed at Cashbackmonitor, there are apps with which you could be earning rewards, and in some cases stacking them with portal payouts.

MileagePlus X

For instance, United’s MIleagePlus X app is essentially a gift card site that offers miles when buying a gift card and (in many cases) allows you to specify the exact amount of the gift card so that you can cover your purchase exactly (and thus avoid being stuck with leftover gift card money). In many cases (but not all – check terms for your given store), you could buy a gift card through Mileage Plus X and then click through a shopping portal to use the gift card to buy stuff and earn portal rewards on the merchandise purchase, effectively double-dipping rewards. When you do this, keep in mind that you are giving up credit card protections like extended warranty and price protection, though with more and more issuers stripping those benefits from their cards you may not be giving up much.

While you can often buy discounted third party gift cards online from various gift card resale sites and potentially save more, I like a few  things about Mileage Plus X:

  1. Gift card delivery is instant (no waiting for a portal to verify your order)
  2. You can buy the exact amount you need (no getting stuck with a small balance to keep track of)
  3. Those with a United credit card, even the no-fee card (downgrade option from the UA Explorer card), earn a 25% bonus in miles earned (no need to use the card to get the bonus)
  4. There are sometimes special offers for even more miles

To that last point, in addition to the ability to earn by purchasing gift cards through Mileage Plus X (more commonly referred to as “MPX” for short), there is also a section of the app called “United Visa Rewards”. This automatically links offers to your card for additional mileage. For example, at the moment, I see Chili’s for 5 miles per dollar spent up to 1,000 miles earned. That is higher than the 4x miles offered when purchasing a gift card through MPX, though it requires me to be carrying and use the physical United card. Personally, I’d rather use a card that offers a better return on restaurant spend and buy the gift card through MPX. In many cases, MPX passes along the merchant category code for the merchant from which you’re buying the gift card, so you may be able to double dip a “restaurants” category bonus with additional miles through MPX. For example, if Chili’s is offering 4x through MPX and I can stack that with a credit card that earns 3x on restaurants, I’d earn even more miles (and keep in mind that since I have a United credit cad, I’d get 5x when buying a Chili’s gift card since I’d get a 25% bonus on top of the 4x).

Dosh and stacking opportunities

We’ve written about Dosh a number of times in the past year or two (here’s an example deal) as the Dosh app has frequently offered pretty good payouts on card-linked offers for in-store purchases. There are a number of such apps these days where you sync up a credit card with the app and then if you make a purchase with an associated retailer you can automatically earn rewards (which is also true when buying online in some cases). I have occasionally picked up unexpected rewards for places where I was spending money anyway and also taken advantage of some promos, like the recent promo that awarded a bonus $25 for a completed hotel booking (through Dosh hotels, so no hotel rewards, and since expired).

In some cases, you can stack / double-dip rewards from more than one card-linked cash back app / site. While a 4% payout might not sound like much, being able to double or triple that same 4% could add up to significant savings, especially when stacked with credit card rewards you were already earning.

Doctor of Credit maintains an excellent resource on these card-linked programs that is well worth reading. If you’re not stacking, you’re leaving money on the table.

List of opportunities not found on Cashbackmonitor

While the above represent some salient examples this week, there are additional portals and apps that are not currently listed at CashbackMonitor. As noted above, in some cases this is due to technological limitations. In others, it may be due to trustworthiness (some portals have been known to have problems / variable rates, and Cashbackmonitor will not list a portal until it has shown a proven track record with a minimum length of time in business). All that is to say that your mileage may vary. That said, here are some of which I’m aware that exist but are not listed on CashbackMonitor. Feel free to share others you know of in the comments and I’ll update the list and work to make a resource page on unlisted portals.

Portals

Popular Apps

Note: If you’re new to Dosh, consider signing up with one of our referral links with our thanks:

Note: If you’re new to Acorns, consider signing up with one of our referral links with our thanks:

 

Hotel booking (Note: It is a stretch to consider these “portals” since, unlike when clicking through Rakuten or TopCashBack, you do not book directly with the hotel chain when using the below options and therefore do not earn hotel points or get access to elite benefits. Consider whether it is worth trading those things for the mileage payout)

  • Rocketmiles
  • LifeMiles hotels
  • Dosh hotels (note that Dosh has a hotel booking portal in-app)
  • Google One (Not really a shopping portal – more of a discount OTA — you can purportedly save big on hotel bookings through Google One. A one-year subscription came with my Chromebook. I’ll be reporting more on this in the future).

Bottom line

CashbackMonitor is a tool that I use daily to compare shopping portal rates and it drives most of my portal decisions on a day-to-day basis. However, it’s worth remembering that there are some portals and stacking opportunities beyond the portals listed there. While some of those options may not offer great returns and others may not be as reliable as your go-to portals, there are times when the payoff may be worth going off-script or the opportunity to top-up a mileage account for an award might be worth sacrificing your normal portal rewards. Don’t forget that just like mama said, you better shop around.

About Nick Reyes

Nick Reyes is a (fairly) regular guy with an animalistic passion for maximizing the value of miles and money to travel the world in comfort and style. There is little in life that he loves more than finding a fantastic deal and helping you shop smarter & harder to achieve your travel dreams.

More articles by Nick Reyes »

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Neil
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Neil

Excellent article.

Jodie
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Jodie

For MPX gift card purchases, will holding the Business version of the United card give the 25% bonus points, or does it have to be a personal card?

DSK
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DSK

Great article Nick! Question for you or anyone–does AMEX Gold pass through the restaurant coding on MPX to earn 4 Membership Rewards points per dollar? I have been about 90% successful paying with my Chase Sapphire Reserve card at 5x restaurants on the MPX app and earning 9.25 points per dollar (3 Ultimate Rewards points from Chase Sapphire Reserve plus 5 MileagePlus miles from using the MPX app plus the 1.25 MileagePlus miles by having a United Explorer card). I tried searching online to see if American Express passes on restaurant coding when using the MPX app but haven’t found anything. Thanks in advance!

Jon
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Jon

Great article!

rich
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rich

Most of us, including myself, are not English experts but geez, please hit the enter key a few times. A 20+ line paragraph is almost impossible to read.

CaveDweller
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CaveDweller

Get a Laptop and be nice or I’ll send him to the Yacht Club ..
CHEERs

rich
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rich

Laptop? I’m trying to read it on a 25″ monitor 🙂

CaveDweller
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CaveDweller

I see it very well on a 14″ LT..
CHEERs

Lee
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Lee

Great article! I found this when I was checking the coupon on RetailmeNot, it’s my first time noticing they also provide cashback. and I even reported this issue to Cashbackmonitor, but maybe it involves some technological issues for cashbackmonitor to track Retailmenot.
My question here is: with so many resources listed, it’s almost impossible to check each one of this, what’s the absolute one(s) you always check before making any purchase?
For me, I check Cashbackmonitor and Retailmenot, and then I just make purchase based on the info I found on these two site.

George
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George

FYI – MPX also has a shopping portal, separate from MileagePlus Shopping, called Featured Apps. It looks like you don’t have to have the merchant’s app installed, at least not for the ones I used (WM Grocery, THD worked fine). There are only a few merchants, but rates are often better than on MileagePlus Shopping – 450mi/order on Walmart Grocery is 15X on the $30 minimum order!

HoKo
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HoKo

I can say from a lot of personal experience that the Upromise portal is a PITA to deal with. I haven’t used it in years but I used to use it a lot back when the upromise credit card automatically added 5% cashback to all purchases made through the portal. I’d say 75% of my purchases never tracked so it was a nightmare trying to stay organized and constantly open dispute tickets which then took months to resolve .

Things may have improved but I do not intend to use them anymore unless I see some sort of blog post saying that things of been working flawlessly over a span of months.

Could you give us some sort of ranking for the Dosh, PEI, acorns, Drop apps in terms of which you find best vs worst?

Patty
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Patty

I used to use United MPX every time I went grocery shopping at Walmart. Then one day the app updated and it ended up that I required a manager approval for it and it took quite awhile for them to work it out. This was a problem with several stores, more the larger one and the market. I finally stopped using it there. Did anyone have that problem and have now found it is working ok?