A few days ago I received a question from a reader about shopping portals and how to make the most of her upcoming $499 Apple iPad product purchase. I am a big fan of strategizing how to make the most of purchases that you were going to make anyway, so I was very excited to have the chance to help someone else do the same thing for her family! While her individual situation was a bit unique, it got me thinking about some tips regarding shopping portals that could be applicable to lots of us. Here is her question and my thoughts.
Thanks in advance for your time and attention to my email. I read your blog pieces on portal shopping for points. Thanks for the info.
I need to purchase an IPad accessory and would like to get points (it’ll cost about $499) AND be able to pick it up at their store in Oregon (i live in Hawaii). How would I research which portal to use to make the best use of this purchase and pick it up in Oregon?
Also, when using the AA.com shopping portal for instance, do I need to have a credit card registered with them (like I do for the dining program)? Last night I used the AA portal for a REI gift card but used my SPG card.
My first thought was holy moly, an iPad accessory costs $499!?! I thought that was the cost of the iPad. I will count my lucky stars I was able to score a $149 32G HP Touchpad! After I got over that initial sticker shock for an accessory, I started to do a little research for this reader. Her email boiled down to three main questions. 1. How to decide which portal to use? 2. Which retailers offer in-store pick-up? 3. Which credit card do I use while making purchases through a shopping portal?
How to decide which shopping portal to use?
There are literally dozens of different miles and points shopping portals available, not to mention the cash-back portals. There are many different opinions about which is the best portal overall, and then probably even more opinions out there for which portal is best for any specific individual purchase. I have mentioned before that I have a strong personal preference for three main portals: Amex Membership Rewards Shopping, United MileagePlus Shopping (especially with the Months of Miles promo, if you were targeted), and Chase Ultimate Rewards. I know that the American Airlines Aadvantage Shopping Mall has many supporters out there as well…..or at least did until the 83K miles for a $5 phone accessory fiasco. :) I outlined some additional info about specific shopping portals, especially as they relate to purchasing Groupons, here.
However, what is best for me, isn’t necessarily what is best for someone else. I told this reader to give consideration to three main things. What program do you currently want/need miles or points in; does that shopping portal have a retailer that sells what you need; and what is the number of points/miles that the shopping portal awards for using that retailer. You can use a site like this to help give you an overview of how many miles you would earn from various portals for your selected retailer (just be aware that not all of the info on the site is 100% up-to-date, so always double check with the specific retailer/portal before pressing purchase).
Always double check the fine print of the selected retailer/shopping portal combo. Best Buy is a great example of a retailer that has significant restrictions about what purchases qualify for miles on some portals, but then has very few restrictions on other portals. It is crazy how much it can vary with some retailers, so check the fine print. More and more I am also seeing that the use of coupons or promo codes can negate your points or miles earnings with some retailers, so weigh your points costs appropriately if you are in that situation.
Evaluate your options using those criteria and you will likely be able to make an informed decision about which portal is the best for your situation. Realistically, you may not be able to evaluate all of those criteria with every purchase. I am a busy mom, so I sometimes just pick a shopping portal that I know I have had good success with and don’t bother looking at other options. As long as you are using some shopping portal, you are doing great!
Which retailers offer in-store pick-up?
While 80% of my online purchases get delivered to me by my friends at UPS, Fedex, or the USPS, there are about 20% of my online purchases that are best served by being in-store pick-ups. Picking the item up at the retail store can be the best option when you want to avoid shipping charges, the item is too large to ship, or you are in a different location than a reliable mailing address. The reader with the iPad order needed her item in Oregon when her address was in Hawaii. She wanted to be able to pick her item up in a store, so we found a store where that is possible – Best Buy. Walmart is another good example of a common shopping portal retailer that allows site-to-store shipping for no fee. I have also had success picking items that were too large to ship at Lowe’s. As a side note, fencing material for the backyard = lots ‘o miles!
Which credit card to use while making purchases through a shopping portal?
One of the great things about shopping portals is that you do not usually have to use any specific credit card to take advantage of the portal’s point and miles bonuses. The exception to this is when you are shopping through a credit card specific portal, such as American Express Membership Rewards portal. However, the airline and hotel portals don’t typically require the use of any specific card. This is great since most of us often have a minimum spend we are working toward achieving. Some of the portals offer bonus points for shopping in physical retail stores as well, and in those cases you need to have pre-registered your card numbers on the portal website. An example of a physical store that awards points is Barnes and Noble with the United Mileage Plus Shopping program (albeit with a high minimum purchase).
In this reader’s case, I did a little online research and learned that while Apple is a retail partner on some shopping portals, it does not allow for in-store pick-up. However, I knew that Best Buy does carry Apple products and does allow for in-store pick-up. Best Buy also has their own rewards program that allows you to “double-dip” and earn miles while you are earning Best Buy credit. Best Buy is a common shopping portal retailer, so this option worked out well! The reader chose to use the US Airways portal and should be set to go with her new iPad accessory – and a hefty side of miles to go with it. I’m still curious to know which accessory costs that much!!