At NerdWallet, we strive to help you make financial decisions with confidence. To do this, many or all of the products featured here are from our partners. However, this doesn’t influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.
» This article is being updated.
If your only strategy for earning travel rewards on your holiday shopping is using a rewards credit card (or if you don’t have a strategy at all), it’s time to learn about “virtual malls” — online marketplaces where you earn airline miles or other rewards currency just for shopping.
Chances are you’ve come across the concept already and figured these rewards shopping portals aren’t for you. After all, gift buying is hard enough without limiting the number of stores where you can shop or paying higher prices just to earn miles.
Banish those thoughts. When you shop through a rewards portal, you’re using the same retailer websites you’d shop at anyway — hundreds of them including almost every major retailer you can think of. Macy’s, Apple, Nike, Harry & David, J Crew, Bed, Samsung, Target, 7 for All Mankind, Sears ... and on and on.
Shop through any of these portals and, in most cases, you’re paying the same prices you’d pay if you went to the retailer’s site directly. The only difference is you’re earning extra miles or points. And yes, those miles are on top of any rewards paid to you by your credit card. That means you could earn rewards from two different airlines or programs on the same purchase.
For example, use an American Airlines-branded card shopping through Delta’s SkyMiles Shopping portal and you'll earn both kinds of miles. Or do the same with a United MileagePlus credit card and JetBlue miles. Or use a Bonvoy, Hilton, Chase, Citi or American Express card to earn miles on Alaska Airlines or United at the same time you’re earning points.
That’s the beauty of these shopping portals: They pay extra miles on top of any you’re already earning via your credit card. And earning is easy. Here’s how to rake in extra rewards on your online shopping.
1. Decide which program or programs you want to earn rewards in
Most major airlines have online malls, including American AAdvantage eShopping, United MileagePlus Shopping, Delta SkyMiles Shopping, British Airways Shopping, Alaska Airlines MileagePlan Shopping, JetBlue True Blue Shopping, Southwest Rapid Rewards Shopping and Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles Shopping. Some bank-based rewards programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards® and Wells Fargo Go Far Rewards also have online shopping portals where you can earn points.
You might want to choose more than one program because they compete with each other by offering extra miles at certain retailers for limited times. For example, Delta Air Lines normally pays 2 SkyMiles per $1 spent at Macy’s through their shopping portal. But a recent holiday special upped that to 3 miles per $1.
However, on the same day, we saw that Macy’s at United’s MileagePlus Shopping portal had a better deal. United normally pays 2 miles per $1 at Macy’s, but their recent holiday bonus upped it to 5 MileagePlus miles per $1. If you’re collecting miles in both programs, you can choose the program paying the biggest bonus.
2. Sign up
It’s easy and free. Just go to your preferred airline mall and create an account using your frequent flyer number and a new password (different from the one you use to log in to your frequent flyer program). If you’re not a member of a frequent flyer program, just go to your preferred airline’s website and sign up.
Note that Hawaiian Airlines does it a little differently. You don’t sign up for their shopping portal — instead, you log in to your frequent flyer account, navigate to their online mall and start shopping.
3. Log in to the virtual mall
This is how you get your miles and points: When you sign in, the portal puts a cookie in your browser, which will tell the system to award you points or miles when you make a purchase. Be sure your browser isn’t in incognito mode to ensure you get your rewards.
4. Browse stores and deals
The shopping portals’ home pages highlight limited-time bonus offers, like a recent offer of 20 miles per dollar on purchases at the Vitamin Shoppe through AAdvantage eShopping. You’ll also see promos, like a coupon code for 15% off at Smashbox Cosmetics purchases made through Alaska MileagePlan Shopping. Discounts, free shipping and other deals are offered on top of the points or miles you earn by shopping.
5. Navigate to the merchant of your choice and shop
Starting from the shopping portal, you’ll link directly to the website of your preferred merchant — the same place where you’d shop if you weren’t earning miles. The only difference is that cookie in your browser that tells the portal to pay up your points or miles. Then just wait for the points to show up in your frequent flyer or other travel rewards account anywhere from three to 15 days later.
That’s all it takes to earn travel rewards for purchases you were going to make anyway. So pick your portal, sign in and get shopping.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2020, including those best for:
Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card