Make the most of an online shopping bonus category


Online shopping bonus categories can be one the most lucrative if you use them right.

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The Bank of America content was last updated on November 19, 2020.

With the recent update to the Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card, it is clear that online shopping is an up-and-coming bonus category for credit card rewards. Other rewards cards – such as the Uber Visa – already include bonus points or miles on the category. With so many products available online, this can be a very lucrative offering.

But how exactly does an online shopping bonus category work? When it comes to classifying card purchases, issuers utilize merchant category codes. These tell issuers where a purchase was made and signifies whether you should be earning a higher point or cash back rate. But categorizing online purchases is a bit more complicated.

By understanding just how this bonus category works and what purchases qualify, you can get more out of your rewards card and boost your earning potential.

How online purchases are identified

When a merchant or card processor sends a transaction to your credit card issuer, it is identified in a few different ways. Each merchant is assigned a merchant category code (varies by card network), to help issuers recognize which category your purchase falls under. But the transaction information is also classified as being made online or in-person.

If a transaction is noted as being made online, your issuer can then check the merchant category code to ensure the purchase meets any restrictions. Then, you receive any bonus points or cash back.

Which purchases count toward an online shopping bonus?

Both online and app purchases are classified as online transactions, so an online shopping bonus category can be pretty flexible. Each card issuer will have different rules for exactly what purchases will qualify, but here are a few examples of the types of purchases you can earn bonus points or cash back on.

  • Online retailers (Amazon, Etsy)
  • Retailers with both brick-and-mortar and online shops (department stores, boutiques)
  • Merchant apps that let you shop from your phone (Starbucks, Uber)
  • Subscription services (Netflix, Apple Music)
  • Delivery services (Instacart, Postmates)

As long as you make your purchase online and not in the store, most online shopping should qualify for a bonus.

Which purchases don’t count toward an online shopping bonus?

Unfortunately, there are some restrictions that come with an online shopping bonus category. Certain purchases might not earn you bonus points or cash back. These exemptions can vary by issuer, so you’ll want to carefully inspect your card’s terms and conditions. In general, the following purchases won’t earn an online shopping bonus (even though the transaction was classified as online).

  • Utility services (electric, water, telecommunications, cable)
  • Non-retail services (contract services, child care, legal services)
  • Government services (child support, fines, tax payments)
  • Professional services (healthcare, religious organizations, insurance)

If you wouldn’t classify a purchase as shopping when made in person, it probably won’t qualify for an online shopping bonus. Additionally, purchases made at a register rather than in-app or online will not qualify, even if the location offers app payments.

Tips for maximizing an online shopping bonus category

Since online shopping is such a versatile bonus category, it is easy to stack up rewards on these purchases. By following a few simple tips, you can earn even more.

Use your card for all online and app purchases to maximize rewards

By making your card with an online shopping bonus your go-to for digital purchases, you ensure you are getting rewards on every possible transaction. Just be sure you only charge what you can pay in full each month to avoid interest charges.

Shop through shopping portals to stack offers

Online shopping portals offer points or cash back for making purchases at your favorite store through their link. By using one of these sites to make your online purchases, you can earn airline miles, hotel points or cash back on top of credit card rewards.

Pay using a merchant app

If you frequent merchants such as Starbucks that allow you to pay through their app, use this option whenever possible to rack up online shopping bonus category rewards on in-person purchases.

Keep a close eye on your card’s terms and conditions

Each issuer has its own set of restrictions for which purchases qualify as online shopping. To make sure you aren’t missing out on rewards, check your credit card’s terms and conditions regularly and note any changes.

Cards that offer an online shopping bonus category

A few cards offer bonus points or cash back on online shopping, including the Bank of America Cash Rewards card.

Bank of America Cash Rewards card
Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card
Rewards rate
  • 3% cash back on a category of choice (gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores or home improvements and furnishings)
  • 2% cash back on groceries and wholesale club purchases
  • $2,500 combined limit on 2% and 3% categories each quarter
  • 1% cash back on other purchases
Sign-up bonus$200 online cash rewards if you spend $1,000 in first 90 days
Annual fee$0
Estimated yearly rewards value ($1,325 monthly spend)$309

The Bank of America Cash Rewards card also allows cardholders to change their 3 percent bonus category once per calendar month. So if you spend more on online shopping one month, but will spend more on dining the next, you have the flexibility to adapt your rewards as your spending changes.

With the Uber Visa, cardholders can earn a $50 credit for online subscription services each year they spend $5,000, adding up to even more savings on online shopping.

Bottom line

When it comes to credit card rewards bonus categories, online shopping is one of the most flexible options out there. By understanding which purchases rake in points and cash back, you can get even more out of your card.

See related: How merchant category codes can help you leverage card rewards, Bank of America Cash Rewards cardholders can now choose how they earn rewards 

Editorial Disclaimer

The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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