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.
Last year shoppers spent more than $225 billion dollars online, a 16% year-on-year increase, and Internetretailer.com expects double-digit growth to continue for years to come. eCommerce is an explosive industry, and to think just ten years ago typing one’s credit card information into a website was laughable. Even today, shopping online makes many people nervous. But, for deal hunters in the know, the internet is the ultimate playground.
What’s a Rewards Mall?
One way that online shoppers maximize their savings is by using online rewards malls. They’re easy to use websites that reward members with miles, points, or even cash back on purchases at over 3,500 online retailers. How? When a shopper visits a rewards mall and then clicks the link to another store, Macys.com for example, the rewards mall earns a referral fee on any purchase that is made. They then pass on some, but not all, of that referral fee to the shopper. The site earns a little, the shopper gets a reward for their purchase, and the retailer makes a sale! The best part for shoppers is that the price for products remains the same and the rewards can be combined with discounts, sales, and sometimes coupons.
How much of the profit is shared varies from site to site though. To find best payoff use NerdWallet’s comparison tool, which lists the current offerings at 19 different rewards malls.
Which Rewards do you Prefer?
Rewards malls all work the same way, but depending on the mall used one can earn cash, miles, or points back. Many of the large credit card companies, such as Chase, Citi, or Discover, have their own rewards malls for credit card holders.
Chase’s Ultimate Rewards Mall allows members to earn extra Ultimate Rewards points (redeemable for travel, online purchases, or cash back) at a number of stores. This is in addition to any cash back that the credit card offers. Discover’s site, called ShopDiscover, often has the highest rewards rate in this group. For example, shopping at Macys.com after using the link in the Ultimate Rewards Mall gives users 5% back, ShopDiscover gives 10%.
Travel related rewards are another option. Run by airlines, hotel chains, and even Amtrak, these rewards malls allow participants to add extra points to their frequent traveler programs when shopping online. The value for points and miles varies greatly between programs though and shoppers should do the math before choosing. For example, one Hilton Honors point is often valued at .4 cents while a mile in American Airline’s program is often worth more than 1.5 cents.
Those not wanting to bother with points or miles can simply earn cash back from third-party sites. These rewards malls’ sole purpose is to act as intermediaries and reward shoppers for using their links. Signing up is free and easy, often requiring just a username and email. Some payout via check, others also offer PayPal withdrawals, but almost all require a waiting period of 90 days before earnings can be withdrawn (this guarantees purchases aren’t returned and gives the sites time to receive payment from retailers).
Some specialized rewards malls also exist. Upromise.com, run by Sallie May, allows earnings to be easily transferred to pay off Sallie Mae student loans. Alternatively, they can be deposited into a 529 (a tax-incentivized higher-education account) or a Sallie Mae high-yield savings account. The money can be withdrawn by check too, although that’s not the intent of the site. For altruistic shoppers, iGive.com and CharityMall.com allow members to pass earnings on to nonprofits and fundraise for causes.
Credit card in hand image courtesy of Shutterstock.