Reader Question: Shopping Portal Dilemma

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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 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!!

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  1. When I bought my IPAD through the British Air website, I later was informed that there was an exclusion for earning miles for IPAD purchases in the fine print.

  2. Don’t forget the double dip with BestBuy. They have a rewards program that for ever $250 spend you get a $5 cash coupon off anything. If you spend $2500 per year with them they bonus us 25% on points the rest of the year and the next year as well. So, portal points, BB points, and CC points = 3x points for 1 buy!

  3. My only complain with best buy is their stingy electronics return policy. Usually they charge a hefty 25% restocking fee if I remember correctly and that keeps me away unless I find a bargain that is hard to resist

  4. So after you have decided on Best Buy you can go to and find the best mall. With best buy I would have picked Continentals 2 M/$.

  5. You mentioned that there is a restriction on the type of cc you can use on the Amex Membership Rewards Portal. Can I use any Amex card (ie SPG) or does it have to be one that links to my MR account? Also, how long does it take for points to show up in your accept?
    Thanks for a great blog 

  6. As a side note…I believe as far as Barnes and Noble you can use the card you registered card at AA or United Mileage malls in their stores for points. I was trying to do this with United for the months of miles but I noticed that it stated a $140 minimum! But American’s shopping mall did not list a minimum. I need to make an additional purchase through AA Shop mall to earn the addl 2500 from the Verizon Accsy nightmare and I want to make a cheap purchase. Just registered my card with the AA Shop Mall and will go into a store shortly to get a very small purchase…

    • Kelly, doesn’t it make you wonder how they come up with some of the “details”? Hmmmm……let’s stick a $140 minimum purchase requirement on there! I think they then sit around and laugh like Dr. Evil from Austin Powers. Mmmmwhahahahaha. Good catch on the AA in-store B&N purchase (perhaps Dr. Evil only works for the United portal!), and congrats on getting your 5,000 AA miles soon!

      • ok… I was wrong. I could have sworn yesterday when I registered my credit card at AA Shop mall that there was no minimum purchase at Barnes and Noble in their stores…(like there is with United). But today when I went to check to see if my card was registered..the T&C also said $140..hmmm

        So instead I purchased my favorite laundry soap at Sears..they have it for half off the normal price. I stocked up with 2 big boxes…

  7. @m Henner, always good to look out for exclusions. In fact, I am adding that to the post. Some shopping portals seem to have tons of exclusions for Best Buy, while others have very few exclusions (such as United and Continental). Great point to always double check that fine print!
    @deltaGOLDflyer, I love their rewards program – it’s always a nice surprise to learn we have some “free money” waiting to be used! I’m adding that to the post as well.
    @caveman, good point if you aren’t sure you will be keeping the purchase. I guess we usually just keep what we get, so the restocking fee has never hit our family (knock on wood).
    @Carsten, I love sites like that, but so often forget and just check the hard way.
    @Mary, I believe you must use a card that earns Membership Rewards. It tells me that my SPG Amex is ineligible, which makes sense as SPG is a different awards program. You can go here to check which of your Amex cards are eligible. Thanks!

  8. I’m not a fan of USAirways (have orphan miles), but the shopping portal always delivers the miles to my USAir account in a timely manner.

    With all the recent talk about the AA shopping portal, I’m more comfortable than ever using the USAir site.

  9. I don’t ever pick up my purchases in-store. However, I have noticed that many sites exclude in-store pick-ups from earning cashback/point, etc.

    • Sears and Best Buy let you pick up in store and earn miles…but sometimes Best Buy doesn’t have the best prices. I have to weight using Best Buy vs when I shop. I live in TX so sales tax is over 8%. I have to factor that in every purchase! I have found that can be very competitive and you can get points on most shopping portals. Amazon is included in the US Air shop mall along with

  10. I went on a tear using amazon via the Hawaiian Airlines shopping portal 2x miles. I haven’t received one mile yet and it has been 6 weeks. I’m reverting to the 1x mile via US Airways. Not as lucrative but they seem to post their miles better.

  11. I recently purchased a laptop from instore pick-up free shipping).
    I used the ultimate rewards portal (chase sapphire preferred card).They offer 2 bonus points per $ spent at bestbuy in addition to the standard 1 point/$. Transfer these 3 points/$ to continental, BA etc and also get the BestBuy rewards points to maximize most electronic purchases.

    • Forgot to add – these earned points also get a 7% additional bonus at the end of the year, so that makes it 3.21 points/$ 🙂

  12. @Zhanna, you are right, it doesn’t work for all retailers. Kelly listed some that do work. I also have to look out for that sales tax! 🙂
    @EricT, that is interesting to know. Please keep me posted on that. Hopefully they will come through, but that is slow.
    @DGuy, that sounds like a great way to make that purchase. Good job! Thanks for sharing.

  13. Recently I just realized that through Continental ShopOnePass won’t offer any miles at all once a discount code is used. Just wish I knew this before I did all of these shopping. Thanks.

  14. Amex does 4x points for Apple Store on MR linked cards using Insite or their portal. Macmall on the Cartera Commerce portal essentially does the same: 3x AAdvantage miles plus the normal credit card miles, and no sales tax depending on your state of residence. So the BA Visa using Macmall on Cartera would get you 4.25 miles for the purchase by my estimation.

    EVreward is the best place to check if you have a specific merchant in mind, as it will give you the list of portals and the best bonus offers.

  15. You linked to evrewards, which is a great concept, but most of the information they provide is inaccurate or outdated, or their links to portals are not working. For instance, ebay no longer gives rebates through portals, and some of their claims of 10% back through ShopDiscover are based on quarterly bonuses that have ended. Very misleading site, actually, if you were to use it thinking you were getting the best rebates.

  16. Jade, good point. Some of these retailers/shopping malls like to add lots of fine print to what qualifies. More and more I have seen that discount codes negate points earnings.

    Carl, sounds like those are great options for earning miles for Apple purchases! (assuming you aren’t trying to pick-up in store as this reader was) Thanks for sharing.

    Terri, I agree it does not always have the most up-to-date info. It is good to get an overview, but it is always good to double check. I will add a little note about that in the post. Thanks!

    • Mary, in my experience it takes a full billing cycle…..sometimes two. It is also pretty hard to tell which points are from which purchase. I really wish they would improve that feature. My points do usually eventually show up though!

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