‘Twas the night before Christmas
And all through the house
Could be heard the click-click-clicking
Of a frequent flyer’s mouse
Christmas shopping online not for you? If you are one of those who share this thought, you probably like to enjoy the atmosphere of in-person shopping. Doing your Christmas shopping online, despite all its convenience, lacks that festive mood. The convenience of online shopping has reduced the shopping experience to a browse and click mode, no mood and very little atmosphere.
Over the past five years, loyalty program after program has introduced online shopping malls — hoping to entice shoppers from the brick and mortar stores by offering miles and points.
So, you might say that despite the staggering numbers that show how many people are doing their shopping online, they are still just a small minority out of the entire Christmas shopping population. Well, that may be true but it is changing. A recent poll on InsideFlyer indicates the idea to earn miles for online shopping is still of average interest at best, with 16.6 percent of those polled saying that they will do some of their shopping at frequent flyer malls this holiday. That number is up from 13.0 percent two years ago. But there is hope: 5.3 percent say they do all their shopping at frequent flyer malls. And that is why you are reading this — to learn the where and why of the miles and points.
To ascertain the fact that the Christmas shopping online folks are really a sub-set of the Christmas shopping crowd, just visit Macys, Barnes and Noble or one of the large department stores during the pre-Christmas period, and the crowd you see would highlight the fact that a very large proportion of shoppers are still doing their shopping offline.
And of course, it is this crowd that give rise to the Christmassy feelings. Never mind that you have to wait an hour to find a parking spot or half an hour to pay for your purchases, this feeling enhanced by the jingles that flood the stores is something that doing your Christmas shopping online would never be able to offer.
Having said so much about the value of shopping in-person, are there any merits to doing your Christmas shopping online? Yes, from our research there are at least two major benefits that doing your Christmas shopping online can provide.
First, Christmas shopping online eliminates the hassle of browsing and deciding on the spot. Imagine you are doing shopping with only a vague idea of what to buy for your Aunt Martha and your only reference is some scribbling on a post-it note.
Enter online Christmas shopping, and you are able to browse online and zero in on the category of items that you would like to shop for. One of the biggest values of the Internet is that it allows you to conduct your research and create a comprehensive list of items that you would like to get and compare both prices and miles and points.
The other contribution of online Christmas shopping is the miles and the points. It is estimated that you will spend nearly $853 this holiday season for gifts — more when you add in something for yourself. With bonus offers from double to 100 miles per dollar spent, you may be overlooking from 2-85,000 miles, enough to keep your frequent flyer accounts active and in the case of US Airways, re-qualify for your elite level.
Doing your Christmas shopping online frees up more time for you to actually enjoy the holidays. It also takes care of the inconvenience of bringing a lot of stuff home (online shopping would have the purchase delivered right to your door steps — or Aunt Marthas and in many cases, shipping is free).
There you have it! Online Christmas shopping allows you to reward yourself for this arduous task and enjoy the magic of shopping under the thick Christmas atmosphere provided by shopping malls with fewer things on your mind to worry about. Really, we don’t suggest you buy everything online, but we have long advised our readers to make this your first stop. So put on some Christmas music and turn on your computer — let’s shop!
Missing the point vs. Missing the points
Even if you like to shop and know the basics of shopping online, you may get frustrated as you spend hours trying to find an online merchant selling the item you want. Most search engines don’t catalog every item sold by every vendor, and you can’t possibly page through the millions of available merchant sites yourself. If you’re looking for the widest selection of merchandise, or if you want to find the best bonus offers for miles and points without digging through hundreds of merchant sites, there are three search engines for you (see Search Engines section later in this article). We highly recommend you use them for locating which merchants participate in which programs and for ferreting out the richest bonus offers.
Perhaps you are looking to purchase an iPod for someone on your shopping list. It would be nice to know that American gives away bonus miles for that, but United and US Airways does not. And of course if you simply have run out of ideas and want to take advantage of the trendiest gift for the holidays — gift certificates, you’ll also find it handy to know who is giving away the most miles for those purchases (the answer is American, Continental and Northwest).
And if you find yourself running a little short of money and be tempted to redeem your miles for gifts, that is possible on a much smaller scale — another day, another time for that information. But, we can tell you that since gift certificates are the hottest idea going, you can do yourself well by redeeming United Mileage Plus miles for dining certificates through restaurant.com. Redeem 1,000 miles for a $25 certificate or 2,000 miles for four $25 certificates. Imagine, 2,000 miles buying you a gift worth $100! Certificates are valid at nearly 7,000 restaurants nationwide. See www.insideflyer.com/link/?35 for more information. We believe this is the richest reward currently offered by any program in the world and our search of local restaurants in which to use the certificates turned up every known restaurant that we had ever dined in. Highly recommended, now back to earning miles.
While the look and feel varies among these malls, all let you access many different merchants–from dozens to hundreds of them–at one central site. Malls usually let you search through all the stores for a particular item or type of item and then link directly to that merchant’s mall. Because of this, it is very, we repeat, VERY important that you always login when even just surfing these frequent flyer malls. In the early days, thousands of members did not earn their miles because they would click forward into a merchant’s mall, without first logging in and lost their opportunity to be tracked and earn their miles and points. As well, it is extremely important that you change your browser to allow “cookies” because that is the only way that these malls can track your movement and purchases. You will not use a local shopping cart on the frequent flyer mall, rather you will be directed to the shopping cart of the merchant itself. This is often seen as a plus since most of them provide a secure link in which to submit your credit card details. Many malls also offer special sales and advertisements, and if you have the opportunity, it may be worthwhile to register for a specialized e-mail newsletter for deals to come your way later on.
These malls are not quite like an in-person shopping mall, but they can be. We have found a growing number of merchants like Best Buy that allow you to shop online to earn the miles and points and then pick up the merchandise in the store. This opportunity gives you the best of both worlds. Frequent flyer malls typically gather medium-to-large stores along with many smaller merchants that would be hard to find otherwise. You’ll find top retail brands including Bass Pro Shops, eToys.com, HomeDepot.com, Lands’ End, macys.com, REI, Barnes & Noble, giftcertificates.com, StarbucksStore.com, Old Navy, Eddie Bauer and Waterford.
Using The Malls
Your introduction to any frequent flyer mall will be at the Web site’s home page. Take a few minutes to look around here. These programs often stuff a lot of different links and information onto their front page, and you should make sure you’re not overlooking something useful. The page usually displays a prominent search tool that lets you look for either products or stores using simple keywords. The front page typically features some kind of category listing or a link to one. Category types are often common terms such as “Electronics,” “Toys” or “Kids.” You may see a link that lets you browse the entire list of mall merchants. Some malls organize the front page by “tabs,” which let you change the front page’s focus, for example from a list of stores to a list of products or a list of brand names.
The front page is a good place to look for links to special sales and featured merchants. Sites often set up the links to change each time you visit the page to encourage return visits.
All of these items and links can fill the mall’s front page to overflowing, so time spent here can save you time later as you navigate the site. Look for links labeled “How to use this site” or “Help” that may give you clues to using the site efficiently. You may also find information on shipping and refund policies or contact information. Unfortunately, not all malls offer that kind of help, which could leave you to find your own way around.
These are the malls with often hundreds of vendors that can help you earn you many of your miles and points this holiday season. If you don’t find your program listed, such as for JetBlue, Frontier, Southwest, Starwood or HHonors, check the section on Specialty Malls or the partner listing from the American Express BonusPointsMall. Almost any item you can imagine (and some you’d never dream of) is available for purchase here.
Alaska Mileage Plan Shopping
Earn Mileage Plan miles at over 100 brand name online stores including Barnes&Noble.com, Circuit City, Harry and David, Bose, L.L.Bean, Office Max, Gap.com, sharperimage.com, DisneyStore.com and more. Up to eight miles per dollar spent (varies by merchant).
Aloha Airlines AlohaPass Mall
Hosted by MilesMall, this offering of 177 merchants allows an easy way to shop and earn. Features a Add Merchant To My Mall customization feature. New merchants include Ann Taylor LOFT.
American AAdvantage eShopping Mall
One of the largest malls, it offers easy access to hundreds of thousands of items including such retailers as Sur La Table, Stonewall Kitchen and Vermont Teddy Bear. While it provides access by merchant and category it does not have a search engine. If you are patient, it does have mouse-over information about each partner and the offer. We shopped here the most because of the uniqueness of many of the merchants.
American Express Membership Rewards BonusPointsMall
This is actually one of our favorites because it offers double points year round at over 150 merchants. Points can be converted into miles with AirTran, Southwest, GlobalPass, JetBlue, AeroMexico, Aeroplan, Mexicana, Frontier, Hawaiian, Delta and Continental.
Amtrak Rewards Mall
The Amtrak Guest Rewards online mall has been undergoing a complete renovation and recently relaunched. You can use this mall and then transfer points into the following programs: Continental OnePass, Hilton HHonors or Midwest Airlines Midwest Miles.
A smaller mall than some of the others, but they have their bases covered with a good cross selection of merchants. What we liked is the bold Holiday Offers that is displayed at the top of the merchant listings. No category or search listings because the merchant names are easy to see on one Web page.
Delta SkyMiles Shopping
A familiar mall layout with hundreds of merchants, this mall offers a special Home For the Holidays sweepstakes and beyond the normal merchant and category listing, arranges merchants by Gifts For Her, Gifts For Kids, which we liked. We also liked the idea that they promoted Corporate Gifts among the offers, something often overlooked by other malls and it got us shopping.
The GlobalPass Mall offers almost 300 online merchants earning up to 25 GlobalMiles per dollar spent.
Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles Mall
Long list of merchants, good offers. Currently being redesigned as there is no search or category listings. One of the features to be introduced is a geo mapping of partners. Our favorite merchant? Lego.
Marriott Rewards Mall
Maybe it’s just us because this is the same mall that both AAdvantage and Priority Club use but we like this layout better. Easy to navigate, easy to identify Holiday Point Specials (double points through the end of the year). Easy shopping is the name of this game.
Midwest Miles Mall
With 31 merchants it is easy to shop and is hosted by SkyMall so you know you are backed with low price guarantees and excellent customer service. Macys, Nordstroms, The Gap and Target are the standout merchants here.
Northwest WorldPerks Mall
With about 100 merchants, this is a compact and easy mall with really good offers. For instance, it was the only mall we found where you could earn double miles with Apple. You can also register to get Holiday Shopping Promotion e-mails.
Priority Club Shopping
With a double points bonus on everything until the end of the year, this might be worth your visit, it was for us. Hosted by the same mall as the AAdvantage program, it offers over 200 merchants and easy shop now and details for every offer and merchant. Use the Holiday Bonus Offers link to learn where the deals are.
TripRewards Shop Online
With only 18 merchants, it may seem like a small town mall but don’t overlook that you can click through to SkyMall and earn many more points with a variety of other merchants. Tip: remember to login first as it is easy to wander outside the system.
Radisson goldpoints plus
You earn bonus points through the 100 merchants in the Gold Points Reward Network but we can tell you that this was the most consistently rich mall we shopped at. When others are offering two points for Bose shopping, you’ll get five points here. A recommended choice.
United Mileage Plus
The most difficult thing about this mall? Finding it. Not easy to find, but once you do it features hundreds of merchants. We liked the Top Mileage Offers link and learned that we could earn seven miles per dollar spent with Bake Me A Wish.
US Airways Dividend Miles Shopping Mall
Just launched, this mall with over 70 merchants is powered by SkyMall and that provides a plus. The front page offers are the “best sellers” from SkyMall itself, that is, they are for merchandise that people are actually buying. And these “direct buy” offers have among them the richest bonuses, often 5-8 miles per dollar spent.
These sites listed below are not connected from the actual frequent flyer program Web pages but members can still earn miles and points.
With more than 100 merchants, you’ll find pretty much the same selection as the others and can use this mall to convert only into American AAdvantage miles. You’ll find about 35 merchants here that are not part of the regular AAdvantage mall.
A reincarnation from an earlier venture, this Web site is billed as a comparison shopping tool. But it’s not about comparing the earning among its three partners: Alaska Mileage Plan, Delta SkyMiles and US Airways Dividend Miles — it’s about price comparing actual merchandise. There is hope here but for now most of the offers are only one mile per dollar spent.
Here you will see many of the same merchants as other malls, the difference being that while you can earn miles for shopping with both American and Delta, you can also use this mall to earn points into your Starwood SPG account. Starwood does not have a mall of their own. The layout and some of the Web design is a bit clunky, but they do have something we liked, the AirMilesMart Helper which is a browser plug-in that will alert you every time you navigate to an AirMilesMart merchant. A small banner will appear at the top of your screen, letting you know you are at an AirMilesMart partner and giving you the option to earn AirMilesMart points.
Here you will find 177 merchants and the ability to convert your shopping points into miles with Aloha Airlines AlohaPass and Amtrak Guest Rewards. New merchants include Ann Taylor LOFT. One thing we like about this mall is that it allows you to customize the Web page to show just the merchants you want to see.
This mega portal for shopping features just about every merchant you could ever want and can be used as the point mall for the Hilton HHonors program redeeming equally across in the points you earn. Also, it offers an extension for the United Mileage Plus mall and points earned here can be converted at half rate into Mileage Plus miles.
These tools offer you an intelligent way to find merchants and compare bonus offers.
WebFlyer Mileage Mall
Our sister business offers one of the easiest search engines for finding the best offers and matching merchants with their miles and points. In fact, it is the search engine whose focus is on miles and points. You can compare stores, gaze at a listing of limited-time offers — when we visited we noticed there were 52 days left to earn 10 miles per dollar spent at Things Remembered with the WorldPerks mall. This tool also offers a listing of the top 20 bonus offers.
Click shopping and you’ll find a database of partnerships. Not strictly about miles and points, you’ll have to wade through cash back and other points programs to determine the right earnings ratios. As well, beware using the price comparison since it tends to take you out into the Internet without first being logged in and your purchases won’t earn what you had hoped. But with some caution this can be a valuable tool.
Similar in nature to RewardsDB, we find this search engine easier to use. Simply start by typing in the name of any merchant you might consider shopping at and it provides a listing of what type of rewards you can earn, and like RewardsDB, you’ll have to wade through cash back, college savings and other types of programs to find miles and points. One item we really like here is the Related Stores help screen. This helps you get ideas of where else you might earn miles and points within a similar sub-category.
Well, how’s this for your holiday online shopping guide? We could go on and on but hope you get the idea — we think many of you could learn that this is as easy as any other shopping online. No longer are you required double entry of account information and the early problems with being booted out. Granted, there are still some challenges and some malls are created better than others, but if you learn to use the search engines to find the right merchants and of course the richest bonus, you’re all set. Once you are logged in to your frequent flyer or other account, you are free to move around the shopping malls without denting your car door.
For us, we earned over 10,000 miles/points just doing the research for the story.
And the industry sees positive results ahead for members, Jeff Robertson, General Manager of Delta SkyMiles says, “The retail category continues to be a growing segment of the SkyMiles portfolio. Our customers have asked for more ways to earn miles with the things they do every day. Online malling has played a part in answering that call.”