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The beginner’s guide to airline shopping portals

The Points Guy logo The Points Guy 11/28/2020 Liz Hund
a person using a laptop computer sitting on top of a desk © Provided by The Points Guy
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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information and offers.

If you’re new to the points and miles game, it’s easy to assume that the only way to earn points and increase your loyalty with an airline is to fly them frequently or carry their travel rewards credit card.

However, that’s a common misconception for beginners — there are plenty of alternative ways to earn points and miles, one of the most effortless through online shopping portals. That means you can earn extra rewards without even stepping foot outside your door.

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Not only is this is a great way to boost your points on top of flying and earning through credit cards, but it’s a fantastic opportunity to double or even triple dip. There are shopping portals that offer cash back, flexible points and hotel points, but today we’re going to focus specifically on airline shopping portals.

For a deep dive into online shopping portals, check out TPG’s Nick Ewen and Richard Kerr on TPG Talks:

In This Post

Fundamentals of online shopping portals

Online shopping portals allow you to earn bonus points and miles at hundreds of online retailers just by doing business with them through the portal. This already sweet deal gets even more generous when you use a rewards credit card that lets you earn additional points for your spending.

You can earn anywhere from a few extra points on smaller purchases such as ordering photos through Walgreens, or you can reap big rewards when you make significant purchases like buying a new MacBook through the portal — the points add up either way.

A practical time to use the portal is when ordering everyday necessities, like contacts. You might not think about earning additional points through purchases like these, but if you were to order through 1-800-CONTACTS, you could earn 5x miles per dollar spent by starting your shopping through the American Airlines AAdvantage portal. Not only is it convenient, but it adds up and could ultimately lead you to your next vacation just by ordering something you need online and through the portal.

Say you’re spending $500 a year on contacts. Here’s what you could be earning:

  • $500 x 2x miles per dollar on everyday spending with the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card = 1,000 Capital One miles (worth $14 based on TPG valuations)
  • $500 x 5x miles per dollar on 1-800-CONTACTS through the American Airlines shopping portal = 2,500 American Airlines AAdvantage miles (worth $35 based on TPG valuations)

 Now you’ve racked up 3,500 bonus miles just by saving yourself time and preordering your contacts.

Related: Maximizing shopping portals for your online purchases

How to use airline shopping portals

Now that you’ve got a general understanding of the potential points and miles you could earn through these portals, here’s how to make the most of your purchases.

Step 1: Pick an airline

All of the major carriers offer shopping portals, so there’s no issue there. However, it’s essential to pick an airline that you’re most likely to fly and can easily access. Otherwise, what’s the point of earning United miles if they don’t fly out of your base airport?

Step 2: Sign up for the airline’s loyalty program

To earn miles, you have to have an account with the airline of your choice. It’s a super simple but vital task to do before you start earning.

Step 3: Download the Google extension

graphical user interface, text, application © The Points Guy

If you use Google Chrome, it will give you links to all the significant airline shopping portal plug-ins. By downloading the plug-in, you will automatically be notified with a pop-up if a site you’re shopping on offers points. All you have to do is click “activate.”

Step 4: Shop through the link

graphical user interface, website © The Points Guy

If you don’t use Google Chrome, you can earn points by navigating to your preferred portal directly and starting your shopping from there.

Here are some of the more popular airline shopping portals:

Note that, depending on the portal, it can take several weeks for the miles to be credited to your frequent flyer account.

Tips and reminders

graphical user interface, website: (Screenshot courtesy of CashBack Monitor) © The Points Guy (Screenshot courtesy of CashBack Monitor)

This is a relatively straightforward process, but it’s also easy to miss a few steps the first couple of times using it. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. If using the plug-in, you must “activate” the points when alerted by the pop-up. Otherwise, you will miss out on the points completely, which would be a real shame because you were so close.
  2. If using the shopping portal site, you must click through the link on the site and then make a purchase from the page that pops up. Don’t navigate away and come back later as the bonus will no longer be activated.
  3. You must make sure that you have cookies enabled in your browser for the retailer’s site. This is what allows the portal to “track” your purchases and award bonuses accordingly.
  4. Only use promotions or promo codes found on the portal; if you use others, the purchase may become ineligible for bonus points/miles.
  5. Consider using a shopping portal aggregator like CashBack Monitor. The site allows you to pull up a specific retailer and see the earning rate you’d get across all applicable shopping portals. This includes all of the above types of portals, allowing you to quickly compare earning rates and determine which one offers the best return for the individual merchant you are shopping with.

Bottom line

Online shopping portals are a fantastic tool that every type of traveler and online shopper should be taking full advantage of as it’s an effortless way to boost your points and miles balance. This is a great way to get into the points and miles game as it doesn’t require getting approved for a credit card. However, if you do have a travel rewards credit card, this is the perfect opportunity to double-dip.

Additional reporting by Benét J. Wilson

Featured photo by Poike/Getty Images

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These are the best credit cards for dining out, taking out, and ordering in to maximize every meal purchase.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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