Portal woes

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Readers are reporting that portals are failing to pay out for their recent Kohl’s and Amex gift card purchases.  What’s going on?

Online shopping portals can be a fantastic way to earn extra points, miles, or cash back.  Usually, the idea is to go through a shopping portal to buy things you would have bought anyway so as to get a nice extra rebate for that purchase.  Sometimes, though, shopping portal rewards are so lucrative that it can make sense to buy things you don’t really want with the goal of reselling the items or liquidating them in other ways to get most of your money back.  Regardless of your motivation for using shopping portals, there is always a risk that, for whatever reason, the portal will fail to pay you the miles, points, or cash back you were expecting.

There are many reasons that a portal transaction may fail.  Problems can come from your side: cookies not enabled, a browser toolbar stealing the click-through referral, etc.  Or, the problem can be on the merchant’s side: they fail to report the transaction to the portal, they report the wrong dollar amount for the transaction, they incorrectly believe the transaction is not valid for portal payouts, etc.  Or, the problem can be with the portal itself: technical issues between the portal and the merchant, tracking issues, etc.

Often, portals don’t fail, but they are slow.  I’ve increasingly seen a trend where large purchases ($500 and up, typically) can take many weeks to show up as tracked purchases in a portal.  And, sometimes this is a systematic issue where many people are effected.  Here are a couple of recent posts where I and others have had to wait many weeks to see if our purchases posted correctly:

Waiting and watching for points to post: Last year, Sears ran a fantastic promotion through the MileagePlus Shopping portal where they offered up to 16 miles per dollar.  Most people eventually received all of the miles they expected, but for many it took weeks for the miles to appear.

Waiting (and hoping) for Amex gift card 3X miles to post: In December of last year, both the Delta SkyMiles portal and the Alaska MileagePlan Shopping portal offered 3 miles per dollar for Amex gift cards purchased via their portals.  While some small transactions posted promptly, most of us had to wait a long time.  It took a full 4 weeks for my miles to post, for example.

Current Issue: Amex gift cards

When Barclaycard’s Arrival RewardsBoost portal offered 4 miles per dollar last month for Amex gift card purchases, many jumped on that deal.  Unfortunately, around mid-month, the portal seemed to have stopped paying out.  In my case, for example, purchases made February 11th and earlier, posted quickly to the portal.  Purchases made February 12th and later have yet to post at all.  Similarly, purchases I made in February via the Alaska MileagePlan Shopping portal have not yet posted at all.  People have reported similar experiences in the comments of this Quick Deal.

Current Issue: Kohl’s

Through the comments in the Frequent Miler Laboratory, and comments on this Quick Deal post, I’ve learned that Kohl’s seems to have stopped paying out portal rewards for most people as of early to mid-February.

Failure or delay?

With the recent Kohl’s and Amex gift card issues, my best guess is that portal payouts are simply delayed.  I’m used to portal payouts taking up to a month to post even with merchants that usually payout within days.  If you can’t wait, it doesn’t hurt to contact the portal’s customer support.  Sometimes people do get their payouts more quickly that way.  The trouble is if you didn’t comply exactly the the terms and conditions of the portal offer.  For example, the T&C for Amex gift cards usually says that you can’t use discount codes not found on that portal.  In practice, the portals usually payout anyway, but a little thing like that can make it hard to get help from the portal’s customer service team.

Of course, I could be wrong.  It’s possible that the portals won’t pay out at all for these transactions.  I’d suggest waiting at least a month from your transaction date before giving up on it.  If a month comes and goes without a payout, you might get help from the portal’s customer service team, or you might not.  Using a portal is always a bit of a gamble.

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