As I promised, here is the Mommy Points Back to School Shopping Guide! This is the time of year when almost every parent is opening their wallet over and over again for new clothes, new shoes, new backpacks, new pencils, new computers, college tuition, preschool registration, etc. The amount of money that has to be spent is a bit of a downer, but the chance to really maximize all of those expenses in terms of miles and points earnings is pretty fantastic. I get very excited when I am able to maximize purchases that I have to make anyway, so here is a guide on how you can do that with some common back to school expenses.
I do want to add the disclaimer that of course you should continue to compare prices, brands, etc as you always do. If you are paying more for something to just chase the miles then that seriously reduces or negates the value of those miles. Don’t do that. Just use this method when the price is roughly the same or less for the item(s) you want. Also, carefully read the rules in terms of using discount codes via shopping portals. Often some codes are okay and some aren’t. Read the fine print carefully so you don’t have any surprises down the road. Okay, disclaimer over. Now back to the good stuff.
Many, but certainly not all, of these deals reference the Ultimate Rewards Portal and/or a credit card that earns Ultimate Rewards such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, Chase Freedom Visa, Ink Bold Charge Card, or Ink Plus. If you want to learn more about the Ultimate Rewards system, or how the online shopping portal works, read this post.
I’ll start with this one since it is very lucrative. I posted about it last week, but shoes.com is offering up to 21x points through the United Mileage Plus shopping portal. You do have to have a Continental or United credit card linked to your MileagePlus Shopping account to see the 21x bonus. Otherwise you will just see the 12x bonus. I spent $72 on shoes for my daughter using the 21x deal a week ago using a 20% off code available on their site, and the miles are already in my account. Hurray! I will very likely stock up on a couple other items we need for the future (like winter boots for C) since my first transaction worked out so well. Be aware this offer is scheduled to end on 8/20, so act quickly!
Via the US Airways Shopping portal (aka Dividend Miles Storefront) shoes.com is 15x, so that is an option if you don’t have access to the 21x from United. Many other shoe stores are also available via shopping portals. For example 6pm.com, shoebuy.com, and shoemall.com all are available ranging from 6x – 10x points per dollar in the Ultimate Rewards shopping portal. If you have a Chase Freedom card, shoebuy.com is actually currently at 15x via that login in the UR portal, and it might be a chance for a “double dip opportunity”. If you don’t know what I am talking about, mosey over to the The Frequent Miler’s Laboratory and see what I mean (or just email me if you are completely confused).
Clothes and Uniforms:
In terms of clothing, the best points deal out there is Sears.com via the Ultimate Rewards shopping portal. Sears.com is currently 10x if you log in with a Sapphire Preferred or Ink Bold card, and it is a verified “double dip” opportunity to bring your total haul to 20x. 20x Ultimate Reward points is huge. Sears has a line of very affordable school uniforms from Dockers for those who have that clothing requirement at their school. Sadly, even my daughter’s preschool requires uniforms for the older kids! In addition to school uniforms they have tons of “real” clothes, and a great place to get some basics like socks, underwear, etc. 20x for some Fruit of the Loom anyone? You can choose to pick up the items in store to avoid shipping charges.
Some of the best deals currently available from other popular kid’s clothing retailers are:
Old Navy – 6x from MileagePlusShopping.com (must have UA or CO card to get this deal)
Boden USA – 3x from AAdvantageeShopping.com
BabyGap – 4x from Ultimate Rewards
American Eagle – 5x from Ultimate Rewards
Jcrew (Crew Cuts) – 5x from Ultimate Rewards
JC Penney’s – 10x from Ultimate Rewards (using Freedom card log-in)
Kohls – 10x from Ultimate Rewards (using Freedom or Sapphire Preferred log-in)
Unless your child is of the age where they just absolutely have to try things on the in the store, you really are going to likely come out ahead by shopping online. Even if they are particular with sizing, I would just order two different sizes and return the ones you don’t need. Going into malls is torturous this time of year, so save some sanity and earn some miles unless you enjoy that sort of thing.
If you want the lowest price on some school supplies, I am willing to bet that for basics, Walmart probably is king. If you want to go the Walmart route, then you can still go through a shopping portal. The best ones I know of are United’s MileagePlusShopping.com at 3x (again, you must have a CO or UA card, otherwise the bonus is just 1x). If you wish, you can order online and pick up the items in the store.
Alternatively, you can use your Ink Bold, Ink Cash, or Ink Plus to shop at an office supply store for 5x. If you go through an online portal then you can just add to that 5x total. Right now Staples.com is 5x when you log in to the Ultimate Rewards portal using your Ink Bold. That means that your markers, pens, paper, etc. are all being purchased at 10X!
I can’t believe that colleges still have textbooks, but apparently they do. I’m thankfully out of this market these days, but you can try textbooks.com to see if they have what you need. They are paying out at 6x via the Ultimate Rewards portal. I’m open to other suggestions here as I am very much out of the textbooks game!
Before you automatically write a check for tuition, annual registration fees, preschool payments, etc., see if they accept credit or debit cards. Our previous daycare took credit cards with no additional fee, but our new preschool charges a fee that makes it not worth it unless you need the spending to obtain a sign-up bonus on a new credit card. The point is that it varies from school to school, so check to see if you can earn some rewards while paying for your child’s education! The same is true for colleges and universities. I have noticed that some universities (like my old grad school, NYU) don’t accept credit cards at all, some (like my old undergrad school University of Texas) charge a fee to use a credit card, and some (like Lone Star College where I took summer classes) don’t charge any additional fee for using a credit card. I would say on the whole the trend for schools is toward charging fees for using credit cards, but there are still some exceptions out there.
The University of Texas charges a 1.9% fee for using a credit card, but if you time paying tuition with need to hit a spending requirement, it could be a quick and easy way to get that done. The average cost for a semester of tuition is currently about $5,000, so it would cost you $95 to charge that amount. Again, I would not do this on a regular basis, but it could be useful in some situations to hit a spending requirement.
If your kid is going to college or otherwise needs a new computer, that is another great way to make sure to earn some miles and points. I used to make all my Apple purchases via the Membership Rewards portal, but since it is “on vacation”, I have had to look elsewhere. Best Buy just pays out at 1x on most shopping portals, but there is a $20 off a $200 purchase offer via Amex that could help a little. Dell Home is 6x through the United MileagePlus Shoppping portal (again only at 6x for those with a UA or CO card). Dell is available at around 3x from many other shopping portals. Apple is 1x through most portals, but evreward.com says it is 5% through Shop Discover. I don’t have a Discover card, so I can’t verify, but that might be a good alternative if you do have that card.
Backpacks and Lunch Kits:
This part is mainly geared for the parents with little kids, but if you do plan to get super cute monogrammed backpacks and lunch kits via Pottery Barn Kids make sure to go through a portal (plus shipping on those items is currently free). Ultimate Rewards is currently at 3x for Pottery Barn Kids. I think almost every kid in C’s school has either a backpack or lunch kit from there. For the record, we just have the lunch kit. The backpack we use is her Trendy Kids penguin backpack!
I think I have now hit most of the highlights when it comes to back to school purchases (though remind me if I missed one). The basic premise is to not forget shopping portals when it comes to these purchases, and don’t automatically bust out the checkbook when paying for education fees. I’d love to hear about any tips or tricks you have utilized for back to school shopping!
Disclosure: I do receive a commission if you are approved for a credit card using one of my affiliate links. As always, thanks for your support! Happy Shopping!