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Nowadays, most bank, airline and hotel programs seem to offer an online shopping portal. Among the crowd, one online shopping portal stands out: Rakuten. Like many portals, Rakuten — formerly known as Ebates — offers members the ability to earn cash back when making online purchases. However, Rakuten offers one feature that no other shopping portal offers: the ability to earn American Express Membership Rewards points.
But does it make sense for you to earn AmEx points from online shopping instead of cash back? And is Rakuten the best shopping portal for your situation? Here's a look at how online shopping portals like Rakuten work and how you can use Rakuten to earn AmEx points.
Is there an AmEx shopping portal?
AmEx doesn't offer a shopping portal so there are generally two ways to earn extra American Express Membership Rewards points when shopping online. The first way is by activating AmEx offers that give extra points for shopping at certain merchants. The second way to get more American Express Membership Rewards points is to make online purchases through the Rakuten shopping portal.
How to use Rakuten to earn AmEx points from online shopping
By default, Rakuten earnings are paid as cash back on a quarterly basis through a "Big Fat Check" or a PayPal deposit. However, in 2019, Rakuten added the option for members to opt into earning Membership Rewards points instead of cash back.
To switch your Rakuten earnings to AmEx points, first, log into your Rakuten account and browse to your account settings. In the "How would you like to get paid?" section, you should see the option to "Switch to Membership Rewards points." Click or tap this link to get started.
A pop-up box explains that any earnings you have earned to date will be paid as cash back on the next payment date. You'll immediately start earning Membership Rewards points on future purchases.
To earn Membership Rewards points through Rakuten, you need to be a card member of an AmEx Membership Rewards points-earning card. You'll be prompted to log into your American Express account to link your accounts.
If you have an eligible Membership Rewards card, you'll get a pop-up saying so. Then, after verifying your email address, you should get a message that you're now earning Membership Rewards points instead of cash back.
As Rakuten notes during this process, you'll continue to see earnings listed as cash back. However, you'll instead earn 1 Membership Rewards point for every 1% of cash back. That means an offer to earn 8% cash back is equal to earning 8 Membership Rewards points per dollar.
These earnings can add up. For example, Norton purchases through Rakuten currently earn 60% cash back — or 60x Membership Rewards points.
Getting 60% cash back is an incredible deal, but earning 60x points can be even more valuable. Say you value Membership Rewards points at 1.2 cents each — which is the baseline value of Delta SkyMiles, one of AmEx's transfer partners. That means you're earning 72 cents in value per dollar spent on Norton.
» Learn more: The best travel credit cards right now
How Rakuten pays out AmEx points
Like with cash-back earnings, Rakuten pays out Membership Rewards points once a quarter. Rakuten's current payment schedule pays out earnings around a month and a half after the close of a quarter. That means the points that you earn from April to June are paid out on Aug. 15. Then, it can take eight to 12 weeks for the points to post to your Membership Rewards account.
Rakuten members need to earn more than 500 points to be eligible to transfer points to your Membership Rewards account. If your balance is under 500 points, it will carry over into the next quarter. If you switch to earning points mid-quarter, you'll still get credit for the cash-back earnings you earned before the switch. For example, if you have $1.03 in accumulated cash back when you opt into earning Membership Rewards points, you need to earn another 398 points to prompt a payout.
» Learn more: Lesser known ways to snag AmEx Membership Rewards
When you should earn AmEx points via Rakuten instead of cash back
Opting to earn Membership Rewards points instead of cash back isn't a choice that all Rakuten users should make. You should know how to redeem Membership Rewards points for more than 1 cent per point before opting to earn Membership Rewards points.
Unfortunately, AmEx offers many ways to redeem Membership Rewards points for less than one cent each. American Express boasts that members can redeem points for Amazon, Dell, GrubHub, PayPal, Saks Fifth Avenue and more. However, the redemption rate for these options is 0.7 cents per point.
These are some of the best ways to use AmEx points for shopping online, and the redemption rate is better than using points to cover card charges. However, the redemption rate is far below what you can get by redeeming AmEx points through airline and hotel transfer partners. Although valuations can vary by transfer partner, NerdWallet estimates the value of these types of redemptions can be as high as 2.8 cents each.
Put simply: You should continue to earn cash back through Rakuten unless you know you can get more than 1 cent in value from Membership Rewards points.
» Learn more: Best benefits of AmEx Membership Rewards
How do online shopping portals work
Rakuten is not the only option. Online shopping portals are a great way of boosting your points, miles or cash-back earnings from online shopping. All you need to do is click a shopping portal link before making an online purchase. By doing so, the merchant knows that the shopping portal referred you to it. The portal earns a reward when you make a purchase, then rewards you with a portion of that earning.
For example, say you want to sign up for the Blue Apron meal delivery service. Just by clicking through the American Airlines AAdvantage eShopping portal before you pay to subscribe, you'll currently earn 2,200 bonus miles.
NerdWallet finds that the base value of AAdvantage miles is 1.7 cents each. That means you're getting over $37 in American miles just for logging into the eShopping portal and signing up through their link. That's not a bad return for such little effort.
The AAdvantage eShopping portal is just one of dozens of online shopping portals that offer members rewards for signing up for Blue Apron through their link. We recommend searching through a shopping portal aggregator like Cashback Monitor to see which portals are offering the highest earning rates.
Then, consider which portal is the best for your situation. For example, earning 2,300 Chase Ultimate Rewards® points or 1,600 Southwest Rapid Rewards points may be more valuable to you than 2,200 AAdvantage miles.
Final thoughts on earning AmEx points from online shopping
Rakuten offers the opportunity to earn Membership Rewards points instead of cash back when you shop online. This gives shoppers yet another way to boost their points and miles earnings from everyday spending.
However, opting to earn Membership Rewards points isn't for everyone. If you'd struggle to get more than 1 cent per point in value, you're better off earning cash back instead. But advanced Membership Rewards users will come out far ahead earning Membership Rewards points.
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 2023, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card