How to get free shipping on online purchases

Your favorite credit card may unlock free shipping benefits – but you have other options, including memberships, discount codes and holiday promos

Best credit cards for free shipping

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Looking for a deal on shipping? You might not have to search any farther than your own pocket.

A number of credit cards offer free shipping services, which can save you a tidy bundle, especially over the holiday season.

In addition to cards, shopping experts have a handful of hacks that can get free shipping for those items in your shopping cart.

Here are nine tips that can help you score free shipping on your online purchases.

See related: 10 tips to simplify online shopping returns

1. Pay with a credit card that offers free shipping

A number of credit cards offer free shipping as one of their perks. Here are a few that might be in your wallet:

  • American Express cards: Many American Express cards – including Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express and American Express Cash MagnetTM Card – as well as some Mastercard World and World Elite cards – check your guide to benefits to confirm eligibility – offer a complimentary ShopRunner subscription. If you sign up, ShopRunner provides free two-day shipping and free return shipping with over 100 retailers. “That doesn’t cover every place you shop, but it has a good selection of stores,” says Michelle Madhok, publisher of SheFinds.com.
  • Target Redcard: If you took out a Target card, you were probably focused on the 5 percent discount. But the card has another benefit you might not have discovered: When you place an order with Target.com and use your RedCard, you also get free standard shipping.

But drill down to find out exactly where that free shipping comes from – and if you have options to get it cheaper.

  • For instance, with the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature card, free shipping on Amazon orders comes with the Prime subscription (which is a prerequisite to get the card), not the credit card itself.
  • So, if you want, you can score free shipping on Amazon purchases without adding a new card to your wallet – and your credit report.
  • Do the math to see which of your options makes the most sense for your finances – and keep in mind that you can get free shipping on many Amazon purchases even if you don’t have Prime.

See related: Is Amazon Prime worth it?

Likewise, if you don’t have an eligible American Express or Mastercard, you can purchase a stand-alone annual ShopRunner membership for $79.

Tip

Tip: Visit your credit card’s website regularly, says Hillary Mendelsohn, author of ThePurpleBook: The Definitive Guide to Exceptional Online Shopping. That’s where you’ll find information about special deals (like free shipping) exclusive to card customers – and how to take advantage of them.

2. Get free shipping with your free membership

A number of retailers will give free shipping to members of their loyalty clubs.

You register for free, often get discounts and coupons, and also score access to free shipping.

A few of the retailers that do this include Bloomingdale’s, Columbia and Nike, says Rebecca Lehmann, senior marketing manager for Brad’s Deals.

And if you’re a PayPal member, you can get a free one-year subscription to ShopRunner.

See related: Is PayPal safe? 10 security tips to protect yourself

3. Shop retailers that don’t charge for shipping at all

There are a handful of retailers that offer free shipping across the board. While some are exclusive shops that specialize in pricey merchandise, others are very affordable.

Some of the most famous include Apple, Coach, Dell, DKNY, Keds, Lululemon, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Tiffany & Company, and Zappos.

Tip

Tip: Some retail store cards, such as the J. Crew card and Gap Silver, offer complimentary free shipping on all orders. Before applying for or using a retail store credit card, however, keep in mind that store cards have, on average, an APR of 25.42 percent – that is more than 8 percentage points higher than the national average APR for regular credit cards. Also, some store credit cards may charge deferred interest, which could make carrying a balance on the card even more expensive.

4. Use an app to unlock free shipping perks

Many retailers have apps, and they want you to try them. So, they’ll offer incentives, like rewards points or free shipping.

One example: Kohl’s. If you’re in the store and it’s out of the item you want, you can order it through the app and get free shipping.

5. Crack the free shipping code

Sometimes getting free shipping is as easy as knowing the coupon code. Without the magic letter-number combo, you pay full freight. Literally.

  • Check the retailer’s site, and then plug the store name and “coupon code,” “promo code” or “free shipping,” into a search engine, says Mendelsohn. For two minutes’ time, you can save enough to treat yourself to a few cups of that latte you really like.
  • Sometimes, you need timing and the right combination of circumstances. A recent Kohl’s offer involved using the store card plus a coupon code to get free shipping, says Lehmann. And “it’s not available all the time.”

Expect more of these types of offers from retailers as we move into the holiday season, she says.

6. Explore paid subscriptions

With some retailers, like warehouse clubs and Amazon, membership comes with free shipping and an annual fee.

Overstock.com’s Club O, for example, is $19.95 a year and gives free shipping on all orders plus two returns a month.

And don’t ignore membership organizations like AARP and AAA, says Mendelsohn. “They offer promos, too.”

Tip

Tip: Do the math on this one. And recognize it’s not “free” shipping if you’re buying a subscription to get it, says Joe Ridout, spokesman for Consumer Action. But if membership fees lower your overall expenses, it could make sense.

7. Skip the membership – hit the threshold instead

With some retailers, you get free shipping if you purchase above a certain dollar amount. For instance, the threshold is $25 at Amazon – for non-Prime customers – and $99 at Macys.com

But those thresholds could be lower than you think – especially during the holidays.

You hit Amazon and put a couple items in your cart. But you’re nowhere near the $25 requirement for free shipping. So, log out and leave those goodies in your cart. Keep adding to it as you need things, and just place the order when you hit $25.

“I stash things in my Amazon cart all the time,” says Lehmann. “It’s one of those things. A quirk. There’s no such thing as an abandoned cart with Amazon.”

Another strategy: If it’s a store where you shop regularly, you can also add a store gift card to your cart to hit that threshold, says Ridout. But, he warns, “it’s not necessarily a good idea if you don’t have a way to liquidate the gift card soon because you’re spending money to save money.”

See related: These gift cards add an extra bonus: discounts, even cash back

8. Learn the rules

Sometimes retailers have oddball rules that can net you a free shipping deal.

For example, you can earn free shipping on any purchase at Macy’s if you are a Star Rewards Platinum or Gold Member and use your Macy’s card.

But you can get free shipping without getting the card or earning elite status. Buying anything from the beauty department earns free shipping.

If you add a beauty item – any item – “then your entire order ships free,” says Lehmann.

So picking up a $3 facial mask or $6 lip balm could cut $11 from your bill. Net benefit: A few bucks in your pocket, and a little pampering, too.

9. Take advantage of holiday savings

Don’t take paid shipping as a given at the holidays. Check your favorite sites to see if their policies have changed, even temporarily.

“Around the holidays, almost everybody’s going to offer you free shipping,” says Madhok. And many will also significantly lower the spending threshold that triggers free shipping. One site that can help you keep track of which retailers are offering shipping deals: FreeShipping.com.

Recalls Lehmann, “One of the things Brad [Wilson, founder and CEO of Brad’s Deals], says [is], if you’re paying for shipping during the holidays, you’re paying too much.”


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Updated: 11-15-2018