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Maximizing Rewards Points and Miles on Back to School Shopping

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Editor’s note, Dec. 18, 2014: Since this post was written, ShopDiscover has become Discover Deals, which continues to offer Discover card customers special access to exclusive shopping deals.

If you’re one of the record 3-in-10 Americans with children between the ages of 6 and 17, back to school spending will be high on the priority list as school approaches. School supplies can rack up a big tab, as the National Retail Federation’s new survey shows that the average back to school receipt for a family of K-12 students totals $688. Even though concerns about the economy are still fresh in shoppers’ minds, a healthy 31% of consumers plan to spend more on back to school shopping in 2012 than last year, compared to only 24% who aim to spend less.

Many of these purchases are unavoidable as well. Clothes from last year are too small and every new grade comes with a new list of necessary supplies. The good news, though, is that you can score great rewards points and miles on these purchases that you were already planning to make.

Nearly 40% of parents noted that they were going to buy at least one item online during back to school season, so if you’re a part of this 40%, there’s no excuse not to be saving on these buys. Online rewards malls are easy, no-cost ways to earn bonus points, miles, or cash back on your purchases. We broke down some of the best rewards mall deals at popular back to school shopping categories.  This list is by no means complete, but you can use our online deal aggregator to find the best deals for your shopping needs.

Department Stores

The convenience of one stop shopping and low prices attracts shoppers every back to school season, but this year in particular shopper will flock to these retailers. The National Retail Federation found in a study that 6 in 10 shoppers this year plan to shop at a chain department store, the largest number in the NRF survey’s history.

Luckily, rewards malls have responded in kind to bump up their rewards rates at department stores. If you’re a Discover cardholder, shopping through ShopDiscover’s portal will net you 10% cash back at Macy’s, Target, and Kohl’s. Wal-Mart customers will do nicely accessing Wal-Mart’s shopping site through Upromise.com, which gives 5% cash back and FatWallet.com, which gives 3%. Bank of America’s WorldPoints Mall gives 6 bonus points per dollar at Target, as well.

School Supplies

Shoppers who favor OfficeMax can find great rewards rates at many different rewards malls. ShopDiscover and Upromise.com both give 5%, while Capital One Perk Central, United Mileage Plus Shopping, Bank of America WorldPoints Mall, and Fatwallet.com all give 4%. Office Depot partners with ShopDiscover and Upromise.com to offer 5% cash back to portal customers, and Bank of America WorldPoints Mall gives 4 points per dollar at Office Depot as well.

Staples is one of the best back to school deals for Chase cardholders. Chase’s Ultimate Rewards Mall gives its Ink cardholders 5 points per dollar spent at Staples’ online store and 4 points per dollar for its Freedom and Sapphire cardholders. Chase’s Ink Bold for small business owners already gives 5 points per dollar for office supplies, so buying online at Staples with the Ink Bold will get you 10 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per dollar.

Computers and Electronics

According to a study sponsored by eBates.com, a whopping 42% of students desired high tech items the most for going back to school. Again, rewards malls have responded to this demand. ShopDiscover bumped its rewards rate up to 10% back at Microsoft’s online store, and Capital One Perk Central follows with 7%.

Rewards rates at Apple as unusually high as well. ShopDiscover and Upromise.com give a 5% rate, while shopping at Apple through Bank of America’s WorldPoints Mall will net you 4 points per dollar. eBates.com and FatWallet.com give 3.6% at Best Buy, too.

Clothing

Sears is one of the best clothing deals for members at Chase’s Ultimate Rewards Mall, as Ink and Sapphire cardholders will net 10 points per dollar. Their popular Chase Freedom card, however, will only get 3 bonus points per dollar.  ShopDiscover increased its rewards rate at Sears too, up from 5% to 10%.

At Old Navy, Southwest Rapid Rewards Shopping customers can expect 4 bonus miles per dollar after accessing Old Navy through Southwest’s portal. Bank of America WorldPoints members can net 8 bonus points per dollar at Nordstrom, and ShopDiscover has a great 10% rate here as well.

Other Overlooked Offers

While some rewards mall like ShopDiscover increased rewards rates in large back to school campaigns, some rewards malls tried different approaches. Delta SkyMiles Shopping offers a back to school promotion until 8/25/12 that grants an additional 250 bonus miles per $250 spent with SkyMiles Shopping, up to 2500 bonus miles.

Other rewards programs might very well try similar approaches as the school year approaches and shopping heats up. For now, however, the best advice for maximizing rewards on school supplies is to look around at a variety of rewards programs. If you’re a member of a program that doesn’t seem to be giving a lot of rewards, like jetBlue’s Shop True, or a program that’s been temporarily shut down like American Express’ Bonus Points Mall, you may find somewhere new to do your back to school saving. There are plenty of fine options.