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.

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ev’reward: An Awesome Shortcut for Miles and Cashback Comparison Shopping

Late last week, I learned about a great website that I think is worth sharing: ev’reward.

I strongly believe in going through a portal whenever I online shop, so once I find something I want to buy, I put it in my check-out basket and then visit several portals to find out which one is giving the highest mileage or cashback return for that store. As I showed a while back, there isn’t one portal that is always the best – some portals have more partner stores than others, and the highest miles/ cashback yield varies by portal and store. And while I still visit several online portals, I admit that checking every one is a fairly time-consuming process if all you want to do is click “buy” and have an item delivered to your house.

Step in ev’reward. Through this website, you don’t have to decide whether visiting each portal is worth it for you – ev’reward automatically visits them and tells you what their deals are! All you have to do is type the name of the online store from which you’re buying something, and ev’reward gives you a list of portals and the miles or cashback each one will give you for making a purchase from that store. This cuts the research process to just a few seconds, and you can immediately see which portal will suit you best.

ev’reward’s output for Banana Republic: portals for cashback, savings, points, and miles

There are only two caveats that I’ve seen so far. First, some rates are a little outdated. For example, United’s Mileage Plus Shopping Portal is currently offering 2.5 miles per dollar spent at Banana Republic online, but ev’reward is showing only 2 miles per dollar. Second, it doesn’t list every portal out there, so that if you typed in “amazon.com,” you wouldn’t know through ev’reward that Hawaiian’s and US Airways’ shopping portals currently give miles for Amazon purchases.

Nonetheless, if you usually check several portals like I do before buying, ev’reward is a great starting point to find out which ones are even worth looking into. In the case of J.Crew, for example, ev’reward correctly does not list ShopDiscover as a cashback portal, so I know there’s no point in checking, which saves me some time. On the other hand, if you are not planning on investigating each portal before buying, with the ev’reward output, you can at least be sure that if you go through any portal on its list, you’ll get more miles or cashback than if you didn’t go through one at all.

Now, Go Through a Portal to Buy on Amazon

To save when shopping online it is well established that you should (1) run a quick search for coupons and (2) shop through an online portal if you can. But until recently, if you were buying anything on Amazon, there was no way to double-dip. You could of course get points/miles through your credit card, but there wasn’t any portal offering points/miles or cash back for Amazon purchases. This changed very recently: now, US Airways’ Shopping Mall now gives 1 mile per $1 spent on amazon.com and Hawaiian Airlines’ eMarket gives 2 miles per $1 spent!

If you are a member of any of these two airline programs and make a lot of purchases on Amazon, this is amazing news. All you have to do is register at the respective portal, and remember to reach Amazon by clicking through the portal link rather than typing it on your browser bar directly when making a purchase.

Amazon.com now on Hawaiian's eMarket

If you shop on Amazon frequently but are not a member of US Airways’ Dividend Miles or Hawaiian’s HawaiianMiles frequent flier programs, there may still be something in it for you. Depending on how much you shop, it may be worthwhile to set up an account with either of the two programs and start accumulating miles anyway. A purchase here and there may not seem to make a difference, but given that membership is free and, for both programs, miles do not expire as long as you have an activity in the account every 18 months, if you buy stuff on Amazon there’s really no reason not to set up an account. In the worst case scenario, your miles expire and you earn nothing – and lose nothing. In the best case scenario, you either shop frequently enough to keep the account going and accumulate miles for a ticket eventually or, even better, you learn that you spend more on Amazon than you anticipated and earn a free ticket in no time.

When deciding for which of the two programs to sign up, there are some things to consider. On one hand, US Airways is a larger airline with more partners, so if you are looking for a mileage program in general, it’s a good bet. Once you’ve set up the account, you can always credit flights you take on US Airways as well as on other Star Alliance members, including United/Continental and international carriers such as Thai and Lufthansa, and accumulate miles even faster.

On the other hand, while Hawaiian is not in an alliance and only has 4 airline partners (Delta, Island Air, Korean Air, and Virgin Atlantic), its portal offers twice as many miles per dollar spent on Amazon. So, if you don’t fly on any of US Airways’ or Hawaiian’s partners, or already have your favorite frequent flier program, Hawaiian may be a good option just for earning those Amazon miles.  Also, as has been pointed out by some very savvy people who know the ins-and-outs of frequent flier programs, every 5000 HawaiianMiles can be converted into 10,000 Hilton HHonors points, making this a compelling deal for Hilton HHonors members too.

Amazon’s new participation in US Airways’ Shopping Mall and Hawaiian’s eMarket portals is exciting news in general.  For members of HawaiianMiles, US Airways’ Dividend Miles, or Hilton HHonors benefits could be great. But even if you aren’t a member of any of these programs, if you shop a lot on Amazon, there are probably still gains to be had by going through one of the two portals. And if you’re still not convinced, you could also sit back and wait: maybe Amazon’s participation in these two portals is a sign of even better times to come, when Amazon is giving miles, points, or cash back on every shopping portal out there.

The MarketPlace is Not Unique, but Isn’t Bad Either

MasterCard has been heavily advertising its new MarketPlace online portal, and it in fact offers some valuable deals.

When it comes to online shopping, portals for discounts, cash, points, or miles already abound.  These are websites that, if you visit an online store through one of their links rather than by typing the store’s name directly, you can get a credit towards your account with the portal.  Even before the MasterCard MarketPlace, there were already many around, including Borders Rewards Perks, Fatwallet, ShopDiscover, Bank of America’s Add It Up, Amtrak’s Points for Shopping, and AAdvantage eShopping, to name just a few.  But one thing the portals have in common is that they all require payment by credit card at the online store, and the portal owners are paid a commission on the purchase their facilitated.  As a credit card company, MasterCard has launched MarketPlace as a way to cut out the middle-man and get a cut not only for the usage of its credit card, but also for the referral through its portal. Continue reading

Rewards in Checking: Bank of America

Barring the rare interest-yielding accounts, it is hard to get much out of your checking account besides the money you already deposited into it and some checks.  But using programs associated with you bank may get you a little more.  Two weeks ago, I wrote on how to make the most of your Citibank account using the ThankYou network, and today I will cover Bank of America.

Bank of America hosts Add It Up, an online shopping portal offering cash back for purchases you make through it.  Of course, there are several other similar portals, such as ShopDiscover, UPromise, and each of the airline portals, and Add It Up won’t always have the best deal.  However, it is worth a visit when you online shop, since the top cash back offer varies by retailer and the cash back earned through Add It Up is deposited directly into your Bank of America checking account – unlike ShopDiscover, for which there are thresholds for cash back redemption, and UPromise, which has a threshold and only makes transfers quarterly. (Click here for a previous post comparing different cash back offers and here for last week’s NYTimes’ Your Money column’s explanation on online shopping portals).

Moreover, unlike most other online portals, Bank of America has a good range of in-store partners as well – at least until the end of 2009.  Once you register your Bank of America checking account for the Add It Up program, you can get a 5% cash back for purchases you make at Staples, Barnes & Noble, Sephora, Macy’s, and Radio Shack stores and at Olive Garden and Burger King restaurants.  This offer runs until December 31, 2009, and is limited to $250 in cash back.  Once you enroll in the Add It Up program, just use your Bank of America check/debit card when shopping at these stores and the bonus will be credited straight into you checking account.  And don’t forget that you can always combine these cash back offers with store coupons.

With Add It Up, it is almost as if Bank of America is paying you to do your holiday shopping – or at least giving you a discount for doing so.

Shop Around for Miles and Cash Back Too

With so many online portals offering miles or cash back if you shop through their website, it pays to look around for the best rewards out there.  So after you’ve done your research for the item you are going to buy and have found the perfect coupon code, you should look for bonus deals on online portals before hitting the purchase button.  You may need some patience to look through them but you will be duly rewarded for that, as the bonuses differ a lot from website to website and from store to store.  Here are four examples:

The Apple Store:

  • Discover’s ShopDiscover: 5% cash back
  • Bank of America’s Add It Up: 2% cash back
  • Upromise: 1% cash back
  • United’s Mileage Plus Mall: 3 miles per $2
  • American Airlines’ AAdvantage eShopping: 1 mile per $1
  • Delta’s SkyMiles Shopping: 1 mile per $1
  • Amtrak’s Points for Shopping: 2 points per $1

Expedia.com:

  • Upromise: 1% cash back
  • Bank of America’s Add It Up: 1% cash back

Macy’s:

  • Upromise: 6% cash back through August 7, usually 3%
  • Discover’s ShopDiscover: 5% cash back
  • Bank of America’s Add It Up: 4% cash back
  • American Airlines’ AAdvantage eShopping: 4 miles per $1 through September 6, usually 3 miles per $1
  • United’s Mileage Plus Mall: 7 miles per $2
  • Delta’s SkyMiles Shopping: 2 miles per $1
  • Amtrak’s Points for Shopping: 3 points per $1

Snapfish:

  • Bank of America’s Add It Up: 15% cash back
  • Discover’s ShopDiscover: 15% cash back
  • Upromise: 9% cash back
  • American Airlines’ AAdvantage eShopping: 6 mile per $1
  • Delta’s SkyMiles Shopping: 6 miles per $1
  • United’s Mileage Plus Mall: 9 miles per $2
  • Amtrak’s Points for Shopping: 5 points per $1

As you can see from the list above, bonuses vary significantly, and some stores even have limited time deals.  So if you have the time, don’t just stick to one portal.  In deciding through which one to shop , consider the size of the bonus as well as in which program you already have some miles or are close to reaching some sort of cash back threshold for redemption.  Either way, you will be turning your good deal purchase into an even better deal.

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Miles Away from Your Next Vacation?

Frequent flier (hereinafter FF) programs may seem like a scam – how can you possibly accumulate 25,000 miles for a domestic flight, let alone 40,000+ for an international flight, if you only get 600 miles on a DC-NY round-trip flight?! – but you will learn to love them once you pay for your first flight with miles.  Over the last 6 years I have flown to South America twice and once to Europe using just accumulated miles plus $150 or so in taxes and fees (these cannot be paid with miles) each time.  How quickly you accumulate enough miles for a ticket will obviously depend on how frequently you travel, but how careful you are to make sure you get those miles also makes a huge difference in the long run.  Here are some general tips to get you on your way to a FF mileage-funded vacation:

  1. This is basic, but make sure your FF number is recorded when you check into a flight and do not throw away the boarding passes and reservation until you see the miles posted to your account.  And if you don’t see those miles in your account 3 weeks after you’ve flown, make sure to chase after them.  While some airline companies allow you to request missing mileage credit online, others require that you send them a copy of your boarding pass and reservation.  American Airlines, for example, generally allows you to request the credit online, but if the mileage is for a Japan Airlines flight that you want to add to your AA account, for instance, you must send a fax instead.  To request mileage from a US Airways flight to a United account, on the other hand, you will need to provide them with your seat number.
  2. If you travel for work, number 1 still applies.  The FF miles are an added benefit to your job, and you should not hesitate to earn them.  You are entitled to them, and since frequent flier miles can only be awarded to the person who actually took that flight, you are not taking away any potential opportunities for earning miles from your company or your boss.
  3. Some car rental and large hotel chains also give you miles.  Check your FF website before booking either of these to find out.  For car rentals, you usually need to give a booking code (found in the FF website) and your FF number to accumulate miles.  There are often deals for double or triple miles depending on the length of your rental, and these frequently come with extra discount codes.
  4. Use the FF website for online shopping.  Whenever you are about to purchase something online, besides searching for discount coupons, make sure to check your FF website to see whether you can get miles for that purchase too.  Most FF programs have a site with links to various retailers that award you miles as long as you purchase from them after clicking on their link (rather than visiting the retailer directly), similar to UPromise and ShopDiscover.  This site is usually listed in the “earn miles” > “gifts and retail” (or similar name) section of your FF website and does not bar you from using coupons as well.  Last week, I purchased an item on sale at J.Crew using a 20% off coupon AND got 300 miles (3 miles per $ spent) from American Airlines!  That’s the same amount of miles I would have gotten for flying from DC to New York.

Obviously, if you don’t travel a lot for work or pleasure or shop online, accumulating enough miles for a trip to the Pacific Islands will take years.  But my reasoning is simple: FF programs should not encourage you to purchase a more expensive ticket just because it will give you miles (having accounts with airlines in the three main groups mostly covers that) nor should you make superfluous online purchases just for the miles.  However, if you were going to take that flight or make that purchase anyway, why not get something for it, even if small?  As I see it, slow but steady wins the trip.