Feb 13 2017

How to decide which cash back portal to use?

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This blog uses affiliate links and maintains financial relationships with various partners.

I have used cash back portals for years for my online shopping, and I’m sure you have, too. My usual go-to has been Ebates, but sometimes it isn’t the best value. Other times, the retailer isn’t an option at all with Ebates. It can be time-consuming to compare multiple portals to weigh the best deal for your purchase. I have two suggestions:

  1. Pick one rewards portal and stick with it. If you can get a deal through there, great, if not, move on with your life. It also simplifies your follow-ups to make sure your points are properly awarded. Easier to follow up with 1-2 portals rather than a slew.
  2. Use a site that quickly compares all of your options.

I’m using Cash Back Monitor and I’m pleased with the results. I have the bookmarklet pinned in my browser and I use that before making a purchase. What’s neat about this one is it has a customizable monitor. You can add up to 8 of your favorite cash back/points back portals and quickly see the best option among choices you’re likely to use. It has a “best rate history” to get a sense of deals in the past, which is helpful for knowing if you’re getting a standard deal or a great deal.

I have added Ebates, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Marriott, Southwest, American Airlines, Delta, Alaska Airlines, and Swagbucks. My preference is either Ebates or Chase, unless there is a standout bonus for the other options.cash back monitor screenshot

Some things to keep in mind:

  • Some portals have restrictions on which coupons you may use. For instance, Chase and Southwest both often have verbiage like “Not eligible on purchases made with coupon or discount codes that are not found on this site.” Be sure to read the terms for each offer. If you don’t have a coupon code or it is listed on the portal directly, cool, use it. If not, you might not get the rewards points and you might consider using a portal without restrictions for that purchase.
  • You sometimes have to follow up with a portal to make sure points are properly credited. Kind of a pain.
  • This doesn’t show AmEx Offers or other credit card offers of the sort. For instance, I logged in to my American Express account and saw an AmEx Offer for $10 off a $50 purchase at eBags when I used my AmEx card. That offer isn’t visible in these portals, so you just have to keep an eye out for exclusive deals. You might be able to stack such offers, say Ebates to eBags + an activated AmEx offer.
  • A point doesn’t always = a point. Eight percent back on a $100 Chase Ultimate Rewards purchase might be worth way more than $8 to me, depending on how I redeem it, since there are a variety of redemption possibilities. It depends on how you value a point. You can even assign value to points within the Cash Back Monitor interface (so, if you are getting $0.025 value for every Chase point, you can adjust that; if you are getting $0.007 per Marriott, put that in just to see it in those terms). I haven’t fiddled with assigning value within the interface, myself.

One last trick, if you’re looking for a certain item but aren’t sure which retailer might be the best deal: You can try the Marriott portal, Shop My Way. I used it recently when I was trying to find options on Smartwool socks. I typed in the search terms, clicked “search products” and I could see various prices at retailers and the points back for each.

Bottom line:

Use cash or points back portals to maximize your online purchases. Use coupon codes when applicable of course (while weighing in whether that code negates your points back), and pay with a rewards credit card to rack up the savings.

 


Feb 03 2017

Tagging along on a business trip and points update

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Legoland Discovery Center Michigan

Legoland Discovery Center Michigan

Last week, my kids and I joined my husband on a work trip. We’ve never done that before, largely because the cost didn’t make sense. This time, everything worked out in our favor and we were thrilled to join him. We drove to the Detroit metro (300ish miles one-way). My sister happens to live there and we got to spend time with her. In addition to the getaway mostly paid for by the client, we racked up some more rewards points.

We went to the Legoland Discovery Center. Fun, but definitely track down a “buy adult ticket/get kid ticket free” promo. I found a valid code on Retail Me Not. I’ve also seen coupons at Lego stores and in the free Lego magazine on occasion. We also went to The Henry Ford museum and used our AAA membership for a 10% off admission. Great museum and I would like to visit again!

Here are some points we’ve racked up:

  • Springhill Suites (Marriott owned). Total cost $457. We stayed 3 nights and the client paid for 2, since we added that extra night for our own use. The room rate was the same for 5 people as it was for 1 person. Thanks to a 2x Marriott MegaBonus promotion and my husband’s Silver status gaining another 20% on base points, our stay earned 9,196 Marriott points. You have to opt-in to the promo by March 15, so be sure you do! The points will go toward the 120,000 total we’ll need for our stay in D.C.
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve spend: We’re earning 3x points on travel and restaurant, plus working on getting to the minimum spend required to get the 100,000 bonus points. We earned 1,373 Ultimate Rewards points for the hotel stay (which is $13.73 if I redeemed for cash or 1.5x that in value in their portal, so about $20.59). I could transfer the points 1:1 to various travel partners.
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve travel credit: Their $300 annual travel credit is a great perk to offset the annual fee. It applied as soon as the hotel stay posted to the account, effectively erasing $300 of the $457. The client will still reimburse for their share of the stay. Woo hoo!

The mileage will be reimbursed, as will a few of my husband’s meals.

During the trip, we finished the minimum spend on my Chase Freedom card and my Starwood American Express. My 30,000 Starwood bonus points posted as soon as I hit the threshold. My Chase Freedom points have not, but they’re showing up as pending and will hit my account at the close of this statement.

Exhibit at The Henry Ford museum

Exhibit at the Henry Ford museum

I transferred 26,000 Starwood points to my husband’s account (you can do this if you live in the same household as another SPG member). From there, we took 27,000 SPG points and combine them all on his Marriott account. Annoyingly, you can only transfer points across SPG and Marriott accounts in increments of 1,000. Once the rewards programs are fully combined in 2018, I’m hoping there won’t be the issue of orphan points left to languish. It took 3-4 days for the transfer between SPG accounts to complete. The transfer to Marriott points was within minutes.

I then ordered the e-certificate required to pay for our Marriott stay in D.C. I love that you can book a Marriott hotel on speculative points and then accumulate them before your stay.

So, after all that, here are my current balances:

  • My SPG account: 7,106 Starpoints, with 430 more pending for my next AmEx statement
  • My husband’s SPG: 438 Starpoints
  • Marriott points (after spending the 120,000 on the D.C. e-certificate): 686
  • My Chase Freedom points (which I can combine with my husband’s CSR later): 17,878 balance as of next statement, which includes the 15,000 bonus.
  • My husband’s Chase Sapphire Reserve points: 3,770 posting on next statement
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards: 136k points on husband’s account and 900-1,800 each on the rest of ours. I wish we could combine into a family account like JetBlue or British Airways. I am keeping our smaller accounts active by using the Rapid Rewards shopping portal (I bought a $2 Restaurant.com e-certificate and got some points, resetting the expiration date by another 24m). I can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Southwest in increments of 1,000 if I need to at some point. (These Southwest points came from some Chase Southwest Visa spending and a bunch of Southwest work trips in 2015-2016)
  • PNC cash back Visa: $204. It earns 1.75% on all purchases.

So for this month, we’ll just be working on finishing the minimum spend for the Chase Sapphire Reserve. At $4k in 3 months, this is tricky for me to hit without a lot of work-related reimburseable expenses or other one-off high-ticket expenses. I prefer the lower thresholds like the $500 in 3 months for the Chase Freedom.

I don’t yet have plans for our remaining SPG points. We have enough for 1-2 nights at lower category properties. I plan to keep on using my AmEx and earning more points there, and we’ll just see what plays out.

As to my next card application? To be determined . . .


Posted under Points | Comments Off on Tagging along on a business trip and points update

Hey! I'm Kacie, wife to Shane and mother to Jonathan (8), Vivienne (6) and Amelia (3) . I write about my family's finance: how we save money, improve our spending, and plan for the future.

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I'm adopting a much slower-paced posting schedule, and treating this as a hobby blog now.

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