Advertiser Disclosure

Scoring Big Miles with Back to School Shopping

Credit Cards
With so many websites offering free financial tools, it can be hard to know whom to trust. At NerdWallet, we spend literally 1,000s of hours researching partner offers and following strict editorial integrity to match you with the perfect choice. We even share how we make money so you can enjoy our expert advice and researched recommendations with total clarity and confidence.

As the summer winds down, you and your family might be dreading the upcoming school year. The kids might be sad to see the all their leisure time disappear, and you might be cringing at the sight of the back to school shopping list. You might as well make these shopping purchases count, however, towards the next big family vacation. Whether you burned up lots of miles during the summer or can’t wait to take a quick fall trip, utilizing travel rewards malls when you buy online is an easy way to build miles.

We recently did a back to school deals post, breaking down which rewards malls gave the best rates at popular back to school stores. The only problem, however, was that ShopDiscover’s big back to school promotion, in which the card company bumped up its bonus at lots of big retailers from 5% to 10%, overshadowed all the travel rewards deals. But for those of you who are more interested in travel rewards, we decided to do the same back to school comparison chart with just airline, hotel, and train rewards programs.

Amtrak Strong up Front

For our comparison, we used the same methodology as in previous posts. We took a list of 20 of the most popular back to school shopping sites, and looked up each individual program’s rewards rate at that store using our comparison tool. We’ve never done this before with just travel miles, so we were curious to see what we would find.

Amtrak’s Guest Rewards Shopping program was the best travel rewards program featured in our analysis. The shopping mall scored the highest rewards rate at 10 of our 20 stores, and finished in second place at 5 stores. Choice Hotels Privileges Mall was in second overall, with 4 first place finishes and 9 in second.

Marriott ShopMyWay Mall was a close third, tied with Choice’s rewards program with 4 firsts but lagging with 6 second place awards. American Airlines’ AAdvantage Shopping was the first airline carrier program for our rankings with 3 first place rewards rates and 7 good enough for second place.

A Few Qualifiers

First, the standings do not add up to 20 because we included ties. Second, the rates are current as of 8/7/12; we understand that because we factored in back to school promotions, these rankings will change in the future. For current analysis, no matter what the month, check out our discounts finder.

Remember, also, that travel rewards programs tend to give a lesser rewards rate for online shopping than leading credit card rewards programs like ShopDiscover or Chase Ultimate Rewards. Take a good look to see if your card’s rewards program will let you transfer their points into airline miles, as shopping through the card company’s portal and then transferring those points into miles for your trip might actually be a better deal.

For example, Chase allows cardholders of the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Ink Bold Business to transfer points to partner loyalty programs. Chase’s partners include both United and Southwest. While Chase Freedom cardholders do not get access to this special perk, other Chase members should take into consideration how many points they would get by shopping online through Chase’s portal rather than United’s or Southwest’s, and then transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards points. All Ultimate Rewards points transfer to all programs at a 1:1 ratio, but be careful as each airline values its points differently.

Travel Rewards Mall # of 1st Place Deals from our Top 20 Stores List # of 2nd Place Deals from our Top 20 Stores List
Amtrak Guest Rewards Shopping 10 5
Choice Hotels Privileges Mall 4 9
Marriott ShopMyWay Mall 4 6
American Airlines AAdvantage Shopping 3 7
United Mileage Plus Shopping 3 3
Hawaiian Airlines eMarket 2 2
Delta SkyMiles Shopping 1 6
Southwest Rapid Rewards Shopping 1 5
US Airways Dividend Miles Shopping Mall 0 2
jetBlue Shop True 0 0
Hilton HHonors Earnings Mall 0 0

Here’s the chart for the best mall(s) for the 20 retailers as mentioned above:

Retailer Best Mall(s) Rewards Rate
Apple Amtrak Guest Rewards Shopping 4%
Best Buy Amtrak Guest Rewards Shopping 2%
Dell Home Amtrak Guest Rewards Shopping, Choice Hotels Privileges Mall 6%
JCPenney Amtrak Guest Rewards Shopping 8%
Kmart Amtrak Guest Rewards Shopping 6%
Kohl’s Marriott ShopMyWay Mall 4%
Lenovo Marriott ShopMyWay Mall 3%
Macy’s Amtrak Guest Rewards Shopping, Southwest Rapid Rewards Shopping, American Airlines AAdvantage Shopping, Hawaiian Airlines eMarket 4%
Microsoft Store Amtrak Guest Rewards Shopping, Choice Hotels Privileges Mall 5%
Nordstrom Amtrak Guest Rewards Shopping 14%
OfficeDepot United Mileage Plus Shopping 6%
OfficeMax American Airlines AAdvantage Shopping, Hawaiian Airlines eMarket 3%
Old Navy United Mileage Plus Shopping 6%
Sears Amtrak Guest Rewards Shopping 8%
Shoebuy.com Choice Hotels Privileges Mall 15%
Sports Authority Marriott ShopMyWay Mall 5%
Staples Delta SkyMiles Shopping, American Airlines AAdvantage Shopping 3%
Target Marriott ShopMyWay Mall 4%
Walgreens Choice Hotels Privileges Mall, Amtrak Guest Rewards Shopping 5%
Walmart United Mileage Plus Shopping 3%