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Before You Shop, Drop Into Your Credit Card’s Bonus Mall

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Before embarking on your next online shopping spree, start by looking for deals from your credit card’s online bonus mall.

With only a few seconds of effort, you can double or triple the points you earn on everyday purchases through affiliate links marketed by your credit card company. And because most major bonus malls offer hundreds of merchants to choose from, you probably won’t need to change your shopping habits much to take advantage of these deals.

How bonus malls work

A credit card bonus mall is a website that offers affiliate links to several online retailers. It also offers cash back or points for every dollar spent at a certain retailer, sometimes in addition to the rewards you’d normally earn.

To use your credit card bonus mall, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Visit your credit card’s bonus mall. Links are provided in the table below.
  2. Click on the merchant you’re interested in. Many bonus malls offer deals from hundreds of popular online merchants and list the rewards rates for each outlet. If you have multiple credit cards, you might want to compare rewards rates across multiple platforms to make sure you’re getting the best deal.
  3. Navigate to the merchant’s website and make your purchases. Once you’re at the seller’s website, you can shop and check out as you normally would.

After you complete the transaction, the bank will typically pay you the promised rewards or discount, and the merchant will pay the bank a commission, says Jeff Berry, research director of loyalty firm Colloquy.

“The issuer is trying to get the cardholder to be loyal to the brand, and the merchants are getting access to a new customer base,” says Berry, noting that merchants typically only pay the issuer when they make sales.

Bonus mall rewards rates

While bonus malls often include hundreds of merchants, they don’t always include major retailers. To determine what you might expect to earn through a bonus mall on everyday purchases, we compared rewards rates offered by the 10 top-selling retailers on the National Retail Federations’s 2015 list across various credit card bonus malls. Here’s what we found:

  • Discover offered the highest rewards rates, with an average of 5% cash back.
  • The average rewards rate among the existing offers surveyed was about 2.7%.
  • At the time of writing, none of the bonus malls surveyed offered rewards at Amazon.com, Costco or CVS, so those retailers, while in the top 10 nationally, are not included in the table below.
 Apple StoreBest BuyHome DepotLowe'sTargetWalmartWalgreens
We assumed a 1 cent value per point. For example, 3 points earned per dollar would translate to 3%.

We excluded McDonald's, Public Super Markets, Safeway and The Kroger Co. from our analysis because they don't have traditional online stores.

Rewards rates are current as of Jan. 11, 2016.
Barclaycard RewardsBoost2%N/A2%3%N/A2%2%
Chase Ultimate Rewards2%1%2%3%N/A2%2%
Citi Bonus Cash Center2%1%2%3%N/A2%2%
Discover Deals5%5%5%N/AN/A5%5%
Wells Fargo Earn More Mall1%N/A3%3%1%1%7%

Most bonus malls list several niche companies as well. These sites, which offer products such as discounted magazine subscriptions, skin care treatments or security devices, tend to offer higher rewards rates, sometimes 10% to 30%. Often, the brands hire an affiliate aggregator, a third-party company with affiliate relationships, to get listed, Berry says. The higher rewards rates are meant to grab consumers’ attention.

“(The bonus mall) gives them exposure to customers, even though they might not make a sale,” he says.

If you can purchase what you would normally buy through these boutique sites, these 10% to 30% rewards rates can be a fantastic deal. If not, a major online retailer may still give you a decent bonus.

» MORE: NerdWallet’s best rewards credit cards of 2016

The fine print

Bonus mall policies can vary, depending on both the issuer and the merchant. Watch out for these caveats in the terms and conditions before you shop:

  • Exclusions. Bonus malls don’t let you earn extra rewards on shipping, handling or taxes. Depending on the merchant, you also might not be able to earn more rewards on installation fees, gift certificates or certain products.
  • Coupons. If you’re shopping through a bonus mall, some merchants won’t let you use additional discount codes at checkout.
  • Categorizations. In some cases, transactions routed through your issuer are categorized differently than if you had shopped through a merchant directly. This means that the bonus categories you earn on your card — say, for travel or home improvement — can’t always be combined with the bonus mall rewards.
  • Earn policy. In many cases, you have to use your issuer’s card to earn the extra rewards. If you forget to shop through your card’s bonus mall, you typically can’t get the rewards added to your account retroactively.

These terms can sometimes make it hard to maximize rewards by shopping with certain merchants. But if these exclusions don’t affect you, using your issuer’s bonus mall could be a good way to increase your earnings.

» MORE: How to use credit card bonus malls

Malls are disappearing

Like brick-and-mortar shopping malls, credit card bonus malls are slowly disappearing — in part, it seems, because people have a hard time remembering to use them.

The American Express Bonus Points Mall, for example, was used by only 2% of cardholders, AmEx told cardholders when it closed its mall in 2013. Bank of America® and Capital One have also shuttered their bonus malls.

That’s not to say affiliate link deals will disappear entirely. American Express still advertises a few affiliate deals on users’ online portals, and Bank of America® offers a slimmed-down twist on the traditional bonus mall with BankAmeriDeals, for example. But current trends suggest that credit card bonus malls with hundreds of merchants may become rarer, giving way to other bonus mall sites, such as Ebates.com or FatWallet.com. These free sites offer their own cash-back rewards but aren’t linked to a particular product, and tend to include deals from more partners.

Today, finding extra rewards from major brands, such as Wal-Mart or Apple, is relatively easy — but it might not always be that way, especially if more credit card companies decide to end their bonus mall programs. So consider this an opportunity. Take the free money while you still can.

Claire Tsosie is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: claire@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @ideclaire7.


Image via iStock.