Getting the Most from Your Amazon Purchases

If you are America’s largest online retailer, you don’t have to offer coupons or cash back deals to get people to buy from your web store. But if you are an Amazon customer, there are still ways to maximize the savings you get when making purchases on Amazon.com.

First, there’s Amazon Prime, which, for $79 offers 2-day shipping for an entire year on “millions of items” sold on Amazon, and, in my experience, almost all items shipped by Amazon itself. Students can get one year of Amazon Prime for free, and pay only $39 per year subsequently. If you shop a lot online, or are in the market for some bulky item with a high shipping charge, Amazon Prime may be a good deal.

But to get the most out of your Amazon purchases, look into double-dipping. Since August 2011, Hawaiian Airlines’ eMarket has been giving miles, now downgraded to 1 mile per dollar, for purchases made on Amazon.com. US Airways briefly also offered this deal, but has since pulled it down, making the eMarket currently the only portal worth a visit before an Amazon purchase.

earn miles on Amazon purchases through Hawaiian Airlines’ eMarket portal

To double-dip, take a peek in your wallet. This quarter, from January 1st to March 31st, 2012, Chase Freedom cardholders get 5% cash back on up to $1500 spent on gas and Amazon.com. Unless you spend over $100 on gas every week, the $1500 ceiling should be enough to let you effectively get up to 5% in savings when shopping on Amazon until the end of March.

If you don’t have the Chase Freedom card, the Citi Forward card may do the trick as well. Currently, the Citi Forward card, which gives 5 points per dollar on restaurants, books, music, and movies, seems to categorize purchases made on Amazon.com as “books,” effectively yielding 5% cash back when buying through the online retailer. However, unlike Chase Freedom’s deal, which explicitly includes Amazon.com in its 5% cash back category, Citi Forward does not offer a list of retailers eligible for earning 5 points per dollar. In other words, it’s a very sweet deal right now, but you should keep an eye on your statements since Citi can decide at any time that what you’re buying on Amazon doesn’t really count as a book.

On the other hand, if you’re looking to use points and save on cash when buying on Amazon, check your Discover balance instead. In October 2011, Discover announced a new redemption option for its cash back program: spend it on Amazon. The dollars are spent 1-to-1, but while statement credits and direct deposits can only be redeemed in increments of $50, the “pay with Cashback Bonus” option for Amazon allows Discover cardholders to redeem any amount of cash back on an Amazon purchase, which means you don’t have to wait as long to transform the cash back you earned into real cash. For this, all you have to do is link your Discover and Amazon accounts here.

But whether you use the Chase Freedom or Citi Forward card to earn more points, or Discover to redeem points, don’t forget to go through Hawaiian’s eMarket. Even though Amazon’s prices are often already a good deal, and there aren’t many coupons to be found, double-dipping can still maximize what you get out of your Amazon.com purchase.

The Art of Double and Triple Dipping

Most stores do not allow the use of multiple coupons for the same item (an exception is Harris Teeter – I have never shopped there, but apparently the grocery chain allows up to 20 double coupons, and, on some days, triple coupons), but there are other ways to get more than just the coupon discount.  If you have a credit card that gives you cash back, for example, you can easily double dip by using a coupon and getting some cash back by charging on your card.  Or even better, you can redeem your accumulated cash back for a gift card (a better rate for cash) and use a coupon when paying with that gift card – gift cards are not coupons and are thus perfectly compatible with them.

Triple dipping might require a little more effort, but is certainly worth the benefits.  Here are two examples of how I’ve gotten three times the bang for my buck:

Coupon + Cash Back + Miles: I subscribe to J.Crew emails, and a while back I got a coupon code for 20% off one item (Incidentally, there’s a sale going on at jcrew.com right now, and the coupon code EXTRA20 will give you an extra 20% off sale items until this Saturday, July 10th), which I chose to use on an item that I had been meaning to buy.  I made sure to use my Discover card on that purchase, since it was giving me a 5% cash back bonus for purchases at clothing stores during that quarter.  Finally, I also checked my frequent flier options.  Instead of visiting  jcrew.com directly, I accessed it and placed my order through the AAdvantage eShopping program, which gave me 3 American Airlines miles per dollar I spent on that purchase (minus taxes)!

The triple dipping results: An item on sale for $100, bought for $80, giving me another $4 in cash back and 240 miles.

Store Card + Miles + Upromise cash: Two weeks ago I bought a $260 netbook for my mother at Best Buy.  I already had the Best Buy Reward Zone card, which gives $5 in store credit for every $250 spent (a 2% rate), but I made my purchase through Upromise rather than by going directly to bestbuy.com, earning another 2% plus a $10 incentive (Upromise sends emails with extra offers if you don’t use it for a while).  And of course, I used my Citi/American Airlines card so I would get miles as well (a better deal than Discover when outside the bonus period).

The triple dipping results: A $260 purchase, for which I got $5 in store credit at Best Buy and $15 on Upromise as well as 260 miles.

Admittedly, the extras I got for triple dipping were relatively small compared to the price of the purchases, but they made it a much better deal than spending $100 at J.Crew or $260 at Best Buy and not getting any breaks for that.  And all I needed was a little creativity to consider my options among the available offers.

Have you had a great double/ triple (/quadruple?) dipping experience? Please share it in the comments section!