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What is an Online Rewards Mall Anyway?

Aug. 22, 2012
Shopping, Shopping News
NerdWallet adheres to strict standards of editorial integrity to help you make decisions with confidence. Some of the products we feature are from partners. Here’s how we make money.
We adhere to strict standards of editorial integrity. Some of the products we feature are from our partners. Here’s how we make money.

If you’ve found our site, you’re probably already a super savvy online shopper. You’re no stranger to snuggling on the couch, comparing prices in a few short clicks, and exchanging the weekend mall rush with the comfort of your own home. But even seasoned shoppers tend to overlook online rewards malls.

What are online rewards malls? We’re glad you asked. These are websites that offer shoppers bonuses for the everyday purchases, such as:

  • cash back as a percent of every dollar
  • extra frequent flyer miles to use toward vacation
  • more points to use towards statement credits, gift cards, etc.

In many ways, these are better than using coupons, because there’s nothing to keep track of. You just use your existing bank or airline logins and start shopping. And in many cases, they can even be combined with other discounts, sales, and coupons. So if you’re not utilizing them, you could be losing out on some valuable perks.

Below is some more detailed info to get you up to date on one of the best ways to maximize your savings online. And you can compare these deals for yourself with our Rewards Mall Comparison Tool.

The Different Types of Rewards Malls

1 – Credit Card Bonus Malls

Requirements: A registered credit card with the right rewards program

Banks such as Bank of America and Chase, and credit card companies like Discover and AmEx, provide online malls as a way to give their cardholders more perks, and keep them loyal. Shoppers just need to have online access to their credit cards to start taking advantage of the deals they offer. Unfortunately, if you don’t have an eligible credit card with a particular issuer, you’re out of luck, but most card issuers do have these types of deals.

Once you log in, you’ll probably find the rewards mall portal somewhere under a heading like “Earn More Rewards”. Each offers hundreds of different stores to choose from, most of which are major retailers you probably already shop at regularly. For each store, you’ll find a rewards rate, but not necessarily a detailed list of products available. To find what a retailer has to offer, you still need to click to be redirected to the retailer’s online homepage, where you will do your actual shopping.

There’s a reason why online malls are referred to as “portals” – you don’t actually shop with them per se. Instead, you’re redirected to the real retailers’ sites, and they track which mall referred you in order to credit the right amount of rewards points to your account. After your purchase, the retailer reports your transaction to the online mall since rewards are usually calculated as a percentage of your total purchase.

2 – Travel Bonus Malls

Requirements: No credit card necessary; just a frequent flyer or hotel loyalty login

Airline carriers, hotels, and trains all have their own respective online malls that offer points for shopping through their portal. You have to set up an account to qualify, but you don’t need a specific credit card. Some of the leading travel malls include American Airlines AAdvantage Shopping, Choice Hotels Privileges Mall, and Amtrak Guest Rewards Shopping.

Travel rewards malls function almost exactly the same as credit card issuer malls: login with your username and password, browse the different rewards rates at different online retailers, then click through to get to retailer’s site.

Airline carriers usually offer miles as bonuses instead of points, but they function pretty much the same way. Miles can be redeemed for free flights or upgrades on current travel tickets the same way points are used to redeem products or cash. As a general rule, we assume that all miles are worth 1 cent, but that isn’t necessarily the case for the most savvy travelers, who can eke out a lot more value. So keep that in mind when comparing credit card vs airline bonuses.

General Rule: 1 point/mile= $0.01 (i.e. 1,000 points=$10, 10,000 points=$100)

The values of miles can fluctuate based on both the individual airline carrier’s policies and how you choose to redeem your miles. In the past, we’ve estimated the value of a frequent flyer mile at different airlines. You might be able to increase the value of your frequent flyer miles if you are a smart spender.

3 – Independent Cash Back Sites

Requirements: No eligibility needed, no points, no miles; straight cash back

Independent cash back websites like eBates.com and FatWallet.com don’t have any special requirements to qualify – just sign up and you’ll have access to their rewards mall. These sites help consumers find a store, check out the cash back offers, and then redirect shoppers to the retailer’s website.

These cash back sites also list different retailers’ online coupons. It’s important to remember that the coupon code is not saved while you browse, so make sure you write down the code – you’ll need to enter it at checkout.

Upromise.com is a cash back site as well, but is neither independent nor is it a straight cash back website exclusively. It isn’t quite considered independent since it’s actually an arm of the student loan giant Sallie Mae, and it isn’t quite cash back since your earnings can be invested in a 529 account or Sallie Mae high yield account, or they can be used to pay your Sallie Mae student loans. Upromise is a college savings program that allows shoppers to earn rewards when making a purchase through the online portal. But if you so choose, you can also request a check once per quarter.

Online Shopping image via Shutterstock