Memorial Day sales. Black Friday. Cyber Monday. There are any number of days of the year that retailers have “adopted” to separate you from your money (The cynics among us would say that those days are any that end in the letter -y.). So if you’re going to spend, you might as well max out what you get for it. Ya know, go shopping for miles.
Shopping for Miles
Most people already know that you can get miles, points or cash back from your credit card when you shop, but some may not have known that you can get additional bonuses by starting your cyber shopping trip at an airline’s or hotel’s website (For the sake of simplicity, I will use the term “points” to refer both to airline miles and hotel points.).
Before the internet, back in the days when your parents had to walk to school uphill both ways in the snow, merchants had no need to incentivize you to visit them. You went to the shopping mall or department store and bought what was available. But the internet has become the great equalizer. Instead of being forced to wander from store to store to compare prices, shoppers can do it with a few keystrokes. So what better way than giving consumers something back?
How It Works
The premise is simple: You use an online shopping mall to access a merchant’s website. The merchant pays the shopping mall “owner” a commission, which they will share with you in the form of points. Thousands of retailers are represented, with the major exception being Amazon.* Almost every airline and hotel has an online shopping mall, making it easy for you to get points from the provider of your choice, and their links will take you to the same home page as if you had just gone to the site itself. Imagine if a physical shopping mall gave you cash back at stores just because you entered through a certain door. This is the virtual version.
Let’s look at an example with American Airlines’ online mall:
Helpful hint: Before entering the online shopping mall of choice, be sure to clear your cookies and cache. That way, any cookies that the merchant had previously left on your computer will be erased and the purchase will track through the mall.
We’re going to shop at Nordstrom, which will offer four miles for every dollar you spend. Obviously, since we entered the mall at American’s website, we will be earning AA miles today. So click on the Nordstrom banner and the site will take you to Nordstrom’s site, with a tracking link to show that you had make the purchase on AA’s website. In a few weeks, the miles will be credited to your account. And that’s it. Points for doing exactly what you would have done, anyway. Same shop, same prices. Just an added bonus.
A note on flowers: Around the holidays, particularly Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day, online florists will offer huge bonuses, up to 30 or 35 miles per dollar spent. Since they make their money by partnering with local florists and taking a huge commission on the sale, the online florists are willing to kick back a generous percentage of that commission to the online shopping malls to send traffic their way. There’s a downside, though: The flowers that I have gotten through the FTDs of the world have been of very low quality. The local merchant that delivers the flowers has no incentive to give you the good ones for the same reason that hotel companies won’t give you points on a stay booked through Expedia: You’re buying from them based on price and they’re losing a big percentage of that revenue to the intermediary.
Keep in Mind…
I rarely have a problem using coupons on the shopping site, but every once in a while, the miles won’t process in conjunction with the coupon code. You’re almost always better off with the coupon, so the miles only represent a bonus.
The airlines don’t run the shops themselves. They outsource the site management to a partner, such as Cartera. If your points don’t post, there is an appeals process, but it could take a while. My suggestion is to keep screenshots and receipts.
Here are the links to the largest of the travel shopping sites. If your favorite isn’t here, check directly on the provider’s website.
Here’s what I like about online shopping malls: They’ll cost you nothing. If you’re going to be shopping at one of these merchants anyway, you might as well earn some points.
*Just because Amazon isn’t at an online mall doesn’t mean that you can’t do some good with it. Make your Amazon purchase through Amazon Smile and they’ll donate 0.5% of the purchase to a charitable organization of your choice.