Want to earn cash back on money you spend anyway – without having to sign up for a credit card? Cash back websites, or discount websites, let shoppers earn money back on their everyday online purchases. Basically, you go to a cash back website or online rewards mall, log in, and click through to your desired retailer’s website. The cash back website tracks your visit, and when you make a purchase, it credits a certain amount back to your account. If you know how to hack the various discount sites, you can earn some pretty sweet discounts on the order of 5-20% just for one website visit.
What are cash back websites? Or rewards malls?
Okay, first a bit of terminology: a web browser is a computer program that takes indecipherable jargon from the Internet and displays it in a user-friendly form. Common browsers are Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari. A cookie is a tiny bit of data that a website attaches to your browser (and also the reason I will eventually get diabetes). Got that? Great. Back to earning money.
When you go to a cash back website – let’s say Upromise from Sallie Mae – and click through to a retailer – Macys.com – Upromise adds a cookie to your browser that lets Macys.com know that you came via their website. Come checkout time, Macy’s recognizes the Upromise cookie, and lets Upromise know how much you purchased from their site. Upromise then adds the appropriate rewards to your account. You can redeem your rewards in different ways, depending on the website – some credit an existing hotel, airline or credit card loyalty account, some mail you a check, some pay out in gift cards. Each specific website will give different bonuses and pay out in different ways.
Do’s and don’ts for cash back
- Look around to find the best bang for your buck. Many websites offer discounts for the same retailer, but it takes some digging to find out which one has the highest value. Our cash back finder can help you identify the top websites for any store you’re looking to shop at.
- Go straight from the cash back website to the retailer. Some cookies expire after a certain amount of time, so you won’t necessarily get credit if you clicked on Upromise a month ago and are just purchasing now.
- Use the same browser to click from the cash back site to the retailer site. If you go to Upromise.com in Chrome and Macys.com in Firefox, you probably won’t get the rewards.
- Cash out as soon as you can. There’s nothing that says cash back websites and the like have to pay out at full value; they’re free to change their terms as they wish. The best way to make sure your money is safe is to get your money out as soon as you reach the threshold to redeem – or you can trust in the goodness of corporations. Good luck with that.
- Buy things you otherwise wouldn’t. This is a way to get a discount on what you’d buy anyway, not an incentive to spend more. I can’t stress this enough: This whole cash back rigmarole is the retailers’ way of getting you to spend more money on their products; the way you get the upper hand is by taking advantage of their incentives without falling prey to their marketing tricks.
- Clear your cookies while on the retailer site. You can get rid of the cookies that websites are using to track you by accessing your browser’s privacy settings. However, if you do that after you’ve gone through the cash back site but before you’ve made your purchase, the retailer has no way of knowing how you got there.
- Try to double up on cash-back websites. You only get credit for the last website you visit. If you click from Upromise to eBates to ShopDiscover, you’ll only get rewards from ShopDiscover. Nice try, though.
The top cash back sites compared
A NerdWallet analysis of the top cash back websites found that ShopDiscover, the rewards mall for Discover credit cards, is consistently one of the best, followed by Capital One Perk Central. However, both of these require that you have a credit card from that issuer in order to access the online malls.
|Rewards Mall||# of Stores with Best Deal||# of Stores with Second-Best Deal|
|Capital One Perk Central||8||5|
|Chase Ultimate Rewards Mall||4||3|
|Marriott ShopMyWay Mall||2||4|
|Amtrak Guest Rewards Shopping||1||5|
|Citi ThankYou Bonus Center||1||3|
|Citi Bonus Cash Center||1||3|
|Bank of America WorldPoints Mall||1||2|
|Choice Hotel Privileges Mall||1||1|
|Hawaiian Airlines eMarket||0||3|
|American Airlines AAdvantage Shopping||0||2|
|Wells Fargo Earn More Mall||0||2|
|Delta SkyMiles Shopping||0||1|
|Hilton HHonors Earnings Mall||0||0|
|jetBlue Shop True||0||0|
|Southwest Rapid Rewards Shopping||0||0|
|United Mileage Plus Shopping||0||0|
|US Airways Dividend Miles Shopping Mall||0||0|
For more information and methodology, see here.
ShopDiscover wins out – but Discover cards have limited acceptance, so if you really want access to ShopDiscover, you might be better off getting a no-fee Discover card and keeping it in your drawer while filling your wallets with better credit cards.
But in the end, it all comes down to the individual website; for specific recommendations, use our discount finder, which will help you identify the top rewards malls and websites for any given store.