If you use a rewards credit card to earn cash or points, you’re not alone. Eighty percent of credit card holders have at least one rewards card, according to Auriemma Consulting Group, which offers advisory services to lenders and payment companies.
Where you might have less company, however, is among the virtual aisles of your credit card’s bonus mall, an online portal that offers discounts or a higher rewards rate on purchases made there. Many major credit card issuers have bonus malls, though not all do.
Even if you’re happy with your credit card’s standard rewards rate, you may be able to boost it or find a better deal with strategic use of your bonus mall. Here’s how.
1. Buy online, pick up in store
“Buy online, pick up in store” has become popular with shoppers who don’t want to pay for shipping. And if you use this strategy via your bonus mall, you can also pick up extra rewards while you’re at it.
Let’s say you need to buy cat food and kitty litter once a month. You could visit a physical PetSmart store, make your purchases with your rewards card, and earn your standard rate — perhaps 1% or 2% back. Or, if PetSmart.com is a featured merchant in your card’s bonus mall, you could buy your items there, earn the higher bonus (3 points per dollar spent through Chase’s mall, for example), and pick up your purchases in store the same day.
2. Shop in season
Just as you can get the best-tasting fruits and vegetables when you buy them at the right time of year, you may get the best bonus mall deals during certain seasons. These portals often offer specials for the holidays, plus Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and even back-to-school shopping. You can get extra points or larger discounts on merchandise you’d likely buy in that season.
Some bonus mall offers seem to be evergreen. For example, you can usually find discounts at 1-800-Flowers, ProFlowers or other online flower sellers. Likewise, food purveyors regularly offer a range of bonus rewards or discounts for gift baskets and other items.
3. Go with a gift card
If what you need to buy isn’t in season, and if you don’t mind an extra step or two, a gift card purchase could help net you some extra points.
For instance, maybe home improvement stores aren’t a 5% bonus category on your rotating-category rewards card this quarter. You might still be able to pick up bonus points by buying a gift card for Lowe’s or Home Depot through your bonus mall. You’d earn the portal’s bonus rewards for the amount of the gift card purchase, and then use the gift card to make the planned purchases at the home improvement store.
Also of note: While redeeming rewards for a gift card is often a poor value — it generally gets you 1 cent or less per point or mile, according to NerdWallet research — you can sometimes improve on that rate when you get gift cards via your bonus mall. Some malls might even offer bonus miles on gift card purchases.
4. Don’t forget discount codes or coupons
If you’re a regular online shopper, you’re probably already in the habit of checking for coupons or discount codes before you buy. Why not get the discount and the bonus points?
If an online store offers a discount code you can use at checkout, jot it down, and make sure you’ve arrived at that store’s site through your bonus mall before you pay. You won’t get the bonus if you go directly to the retailer’s site.
Keep in mind that some retailers may not allow you to apply another discount code or coupon you’ve found on the web to your bonus mall purchases.
5. Explore other bonus malls
Not all bonus malls are tied to a credit card. Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta, Southwest and United all have online marketplaces for members of their frequent flyer programs.
You can get similar offers and discounts at these sites — some even offer categories for free shipping — and you can use any credit card. Of course, if your credit card earns points or cash back on all spending, it probably makes sense to use that one.
6. Be patient and vigilant
When you shop through an online portal, be aware that the discount or bonus may not show up on your credit card statement immediately. Chase, for example, notes that it can take up to eight weeks for such a transaction to appear.
If a credit or discount you should have earned doesn’t appear within a couple of billing cycles, call your card issuer and ask to have it credited manually.
Ellen Cannon is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @ellencannon.