The holidays are just around the corner and today, I’m going to share with you 3 simple tricks on how to earn more miles and points on shopping. As you guys know, I’m not a huge fan of manufactured spending. I don’t believe in spending more money just to earn more miles and points. Instead, I would just rather earn more miles and points for the spending that I already do. All it takes is a little bit of work and you can earn thousands of extra airline miles or travel rewards points at no extra cost.
Quick disclaimer: I will mention several credit cards, stores and airlines in this blog post. I am only mentioning them to give you real life examples of how I earn thousands of bonus miles and points for the spending that I already do. Miles and points are different for different people so do what works for you.
The three tricks I’m going to show you today are:
- Online shopping portals
- Using store gift cards/MileagePlus X App
- In-store shopping portals *NEW*
First and foremost, let’s talk about how you should already have a travel rewards credit card. If you don’t, you should read my introductory post on the different types of miles and travel rewards points earning credit cards and apply for the one that best fits your needs. But even if you don’t have a rewards card, that’s okay. These 3 simple tricks will still apply to you and will help you earn extra miles and points towards that next dream vacation.
Online Shopping Portals
Online shopping portals are the best and if you’re not using them, you’re just wasting miles. Shopping portals are just referral websites for online stores. Most airlines and hotel chains have online shopping portals and so do banks such as Chase and Citi. Online shopping portals are free to use and will earn you award miles or bonus points towards a specific loyalty program. For example, Alaska Airlines’ online shopping portal will earn you Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles. United Airlines’ MileagePlus shopping portal will earn you United MileagePlus miles and Chase’s online shopping portal will earn you Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) points.
Most major brick and mortar stores, as well as online stores, will have a presence through these online shopping portals. Earning rates will vary between the individual stores and the online shopping portals so it pays to check the other online shopping portals before making your purchase.
As an example, I just checked Alaska, American and United’s shopping portals for Macy’s. Both United and American were offering 10 bonus miles for every dollar spent through their online shopping portals but Alaska was only offering 8 bonus miles per dollar spent. United and American were the winners in this case but that won’t be the case for every situation. Always check all the shopping portals when shopping at different stores. You might be surprised.
To earn miles or points using an online shopping portal, all you have to do is create an account. They are free to join and free to use. Just log on, find your store, get referred and shop as you normally would. A few weeks later, your miles will magically appear in your account.
The online shopping portals don’t require you to use their own co-branded credit card or even a credit card at all. You can pay with any credit card, debit card or gift card. And as a reminder, these are bonus points/miles. They are in addition to the points and miles that you earn from your credit card company just for making the purchase.
Do you shop at Amazon often and love JetBlue? Well, did you know you can earn 3 JetBlue TrueBlue points per dollar spent at Amazon just buy using their referral link? That’s right. 3 free points simply for clicking onto JetBlue’s website first before shopping at Amazon. It’s almost too simple.
I love Groupon and I make purchases from their website all the time. From fitness classes to discounted meals and now, Groupon Getaways, I’m a sucker for all these deals. Let’s say there’s a $50 Groupon deal for a new restaurant that I want to try out. What I used to do was jump online, go directly to Groupon’s website and use my credit card to purchase the Groupon directly from their website. Sounds normal right?
Now, I have a Chase Sapphire Reserve card that I use a lot. If I were to use my CSR card, I would earn 50 Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) points for my Groupon purchase ($50 x 1 point/dollar spent = 50 UR points). That’s not bad but we can definitely do better. Instead of going directly to Groupon’s website to make the purchase, I will go to United’s MileagePlus shopping portal, search for Groupon, get referred and then make that same $50 purchase from Groupon’s website. But now, instead of just earning 50 UR points, I will also earn an additional 4 United miles per dollar spent. That’s 50 UR points PLUS 200 United Airlines miles just for visiting one simple website prior to making my purchase.
I used Groupon in this example but the principle can be applied to any online store. Want to buy a fancy necklace for the Mrs. (or your mother) from Macy’s or Nordstrom? Or a new Nintendo Switch for the kids from Best Buy? Using an online shopping portal will earn you hundreds, if not thousands, of additional miles and points FOR FREE! Take a look at the last three purchases I made using an online shopping portal. As you can see, I earned an additional 1,113 miles just by using the online shopping portal and I didn’t spend an extra cent more! The prices are exactly the same.
But what if you hate shopping online and want the instant gratification of picking up something from the store? That’s no problem. Some online retailers will allow you to shop online and pick up in-store. Click. Buy. Earn. Simple.
Store Gift Cards
Store gift cards are free to use and do not cost any additional money to purchase. A $50 gift card to Amazon.com, Macy’s, Best Buy, etc. will only cost you $50. There are no activation fees or additional fees associated with these cards. Store gift cards should not be confused with store charge cards or credit cards. Those are actual credit cards that require a credit inquiry.
Store gift cards should also not be confused with prepaid debit cards or gift cards from banks such as American Express, Mastercard or Visa. Those gift cards are not specific to any store, can be used anywhere American Express, Mastercard and Visa cards are accepted and usually come with an activation fee of several dollars to purchase. For example, a $50 Mastercard gift card will cost you $55.95 ($50 plus a $5.95 activation fee). I’m not talking about these either. I’m only referring to the regular store gift cards like the ones pictured below.
The main way to maximize your miles and points earning potential with store gift cards is through a credit card that earns you bonus points at places where gift cards are sold. For example, I have an American Express Every Day Preferred card that earns me 4.5 points at grocery stores. Do you know what they sell at grocery stores? That’s right. Gift cards. So for every $50 gift card I buy, I will earn 225 American Express Membership Rewards points ($50 x 4.5 MR points).
Don’t have the Amex EDP card? No problem. Just use a credit card that earns you bonus points at office supplies stores, pharmacies or gas stations? Yup, they all sell gift cards too.
Okay, so I have my gift card. Now what?
Let’s take my Groupon example from above again. Instead of just doing what I did… I will now drive to my local grocery store and purchase a $50 Groupon gift card using my Amex EDP card. I will then go home, jump online and instead of going directly to Groupon’s website, I will go to United’s MileagePlus shopping portal (or any other online shopping portal). There, I will search for Groupon, click on the referral link to Groupon’s website and then make my purchase using the $50 gift card that I just purchased from the grocery store.
With both scenarios, my total cash out of pocket is still $50 but there’s a huge difference in the amount of points I will accrue. In the first scenario, I will only earn 50 UR points plus 200 United MileagePlus miles if I used my CSR card to make the purchase. However, by using my Amex EDP card to purchase the gift card first, I will earn 225 MR points instead of 50 UR points. That’s in addition to the 200 United miles I will earn by using the online shopping portal. 225 MR points + 200 UA miles is much better than 50 UR points + 200 UA miles. Makes sense?
And don’t forget. You can pay for you Amazon purchases using an Amazon gift card even with the JetBlue referral link to Amazon. Always be double-dipping!
MileagePlus X App
But what if you don’t have a credit card that earns you any bonus miles anywhere? What can you do? No problem. Let me introduce you to the United MileagePlus X app.
The United MileagePlus X app is basically a giant gift card store that allows you to earn United MileagePlus miles when making purchases. It uses your GPS location to determine which participating stores and restaurants are nearby and when you use it, you can earn up to 5 bonus miles per dollar spent at participating stores and restaurants. The app is a free download for iPhone and Android devices and it is linked directly to your United MileagePlus account. All your miles earned through the MileagePlus X app will automatically appear in your MileagePlus account.
Let’s say my friends and I are heading out to dinner at Red Robin and our bill comes out to be $100. If I used a credit card that earns me double points on dining (Chase Sapphire Preferred, Citi Thank You Preferred, etc.), I would only earn 200 points. Again, that’s not bad but we can do better. So instead of using my credit card directly at Red Robin, I will pull up my United MileagePlus X app, find Red Robin and use the app to purchase a $100 Red Robin gift card first. I will then use the electronic gift card to to pay for our meal. And by doing so, I will earn an additional 500 United MileagePlus miles (5 miles x 1 dollar spent = 500 miles).
But wait! There’s more! By using my CSP card to purchase the Red Robin gift card, I will still earn double points on the gift card purchase as if I used it directly at the restaurant. So in actuality, I will earn:
- 500 UA miles for using the United MileagePlus X app.
- 200 points for using my CSP card to purchase the gift card (double points on dining purchases).
That’s a total of 700 points/miles for the same $100 purchase at Red Robin! Why settle for a single dip when you can double dip??! But why settle for double-dip when you can TRIPLE-dip??!!
Example #4 (Triple-dip!)
Check this out. If you use the United MileagePlus X app to purchase a store gift card and then use that gift card at an online store using a shopping portal, you can earn A TON of extra points and miles.
Let’s say I want to buy a $150 outfit from Banana Republic for a Christmas party. I’ll open up my United MileagePlus X app and buy a $150 gift card to Banana Republic. I’ll then jump online to United’s online shopping portal and get directed to Banana Republic’s website to make my purchase. By doing so, I’ll earn:
- 300 American Express MR points for using my Amex Business Plus credit card (2 points per dollar spent)
- 750 United MileagePlus miles for using the MileagePlus X app (5 miles per dollar spent)
- 450 United MileagePlus miles for using United’s online shopping portal (3 miles per dollar spent)
That’s a total of 1,500 points and miles for a $150 purchase!
The good thing about the United MileagePlus X app is you can keep several credit cards on file. That way you can use different credit cards for different purchases (depending on your category bonuses). Have a credit card that earns you double points on dining? Use that credit card for your restaurant purchases. Have a credit card that earns you five times the points for office supply stores? Use that for purchases at Staples or Office Max. Got it?
Be sure to read my in-depth guide on how to use the United MileagePlus X app including certain downsides you should be aware of.
In-store Shopping Portals – 5,000 Bonus Miles
This one is new but I’m actually surprised it has taken this long to catch on. The dining rewards programs started this years ago and I’m glad to see stores are finally jumping on this. So far, United Airlines is the only one that has this. This is similar to an online shopping portal except you’re shopping at a physical store instead.
The concept is pretty simple. Create an account and log on online. Search for participating restaurants and stores in your area, link them to your preferred credit cards and then pay for your purchases like normal. When MileagePlus shopping sees that your credit card has been used at a participating business, you will automatically earn United MileagePlus miles. This is pretty new and I haven’t had a chance to try it out yet but it looks pretty self-explanatory. Search. Link. Shop. Earn.
And if you need an incentive to try it out, United is offering this little bonus.
The main point to take away is you should always be mindful of other ways to earn miles and points. Don’t just use your credit card at a store. There’s always another way to use a shopping portal or gift card to double-dip on your miles and points earning. The best part about these three simple tricks is they are all FREE. They don’t cost any money to sign up and they don’t cost anymore money to use. You’re not spending any more money. You’re just earning more miles and points for the spending that you already do.
I hope this little guide helps. Please let me know if you guys have any other questions or comments. Thanks for reading!