Ways to rack up points for last-minute, back-to-school shopping

Summer Hull
Personal Finance Writer
Summer Hull writes the weekly "Get to the Points" column for CreditCards.com

Get to the Points

Whether your kids are already back in class, are starting school very soon, or have a couple more weeks of summer vacation to enjoy, we are unquestionably in the thick of the back-to-school shopping season.

There are seemingly never-ending school supply lists to fill, bigger shoes to buy, longer jeans to find, backpacks to replace and countless other items that need to be purchased as our kids transition from flip flops and swimsuits to lunch kits, button-up shirts and after-school activities. This is an exciting time of the year, but it can also be very expensive, with the average family spending more than $500 to get a child ready to head back to class.

Covering the costs on many of school’s necessities isn’t very much fun, but since I am all about earning miles and points in everyday life, this is actually a very rewarding time of the year for maximizing those necessary purchases.

Here are some tips for maximizing those last-minute purchases so you will have some miles and points to use when school break rolls back around.  

Make your purchases via an airline shopping portal.
I know it may sound strange to pick up backpacks and notebooks by going through an airline’s online shopping site, but you can quite literally rack up thousands of miles by doing this. Most of the major U.S. airlines have websites listing hundreds of popular online stores, such as Target, Walmart, CVS, Gap, Old Navy, Macy’s and Pottery Barn Kids. If you click through, say, the United MileagePlus shopping portal ite before placing your Walmart.com order, you can rack up airline miles for every dollar you spend, even if you need the item right now and select the “pick up in store” option.

Airline shopping portals, such as Southwest Rapid Rewards Shopping, American Airlines AAdvantage Shopping and United MileagePlus Shopping, are even running back-to-school deals of up to 3,000 bonus miles based on your cumulative purchases from all their retailers through today, Aug. 18. These are tiered bonuses that start with just $125 in purchases, so don’t leave easy miles on the table.

Earn extra miles on your Amazon purchases.
At the “Meet the Teacher” events for both of my daughters this week there were classroom “wish lists” with supplies the teachers hoped to have in their classrooms outside of the normal items, such as construction paper and glue sticks. We were more than happy to help make those school supply wishes become realities, so the day before classes started I put my Amazon Prime to good use to order two-day delivery Play-Doh for my second- grader’s class and superhero capes for my 2-year-old’s class. These were items I did not have time to chase around town, but wanted to have in my hands for the first week of school.

If you find yourself turning to Amazon Prime for similar last-minute school needs, then don’t forget you can also go through JetBlue to earn 3 JetBlue points per dollar spent on Amazon. Another easy way to rack up points on Amazon purchases is to grab an Amazon gift card or two at a retailer where you can earn a points bonus by paying with one of your rewards credit cards. For example, I have rewards credit cards that award bonus points at grocery stores, gas stations and office supply stores, all of which sometimes honor Amazon gift cards.

Earn United Miles on in-store school purchases
Sometimes the easiest thing to do for a back-to-school emergency need is just head straight to the store to buy it the old-fashioned way, but that does not mean you have to give up your right to earn valuable airline miles in the process. Even if you don’t have time to place an order online via an airline shopping site and then pick it up in the store, you can still use the United MileagePlus X app to pay for in-store purchases at retailers including Old Navy, Kohl’s, Sears, TJ Maxx, Nike, JCPenney, Kmart and Staples and earn up to 10 miles per dollar in the process.

The way this app works is that when you are ready to check out at the physical store, you simply type in the amount you are about to spend in the app, and then the app instantly sells you a store e-gift card for that amount that you can immediately use. If you are making a $60 purchase at a retailer that is awarding 10x miles per dollar, then that is 600 quick and easy United miles that post instantly in your account!

Back-to-school season may put a dent in your wallet, but the upside of that can be turning those hundreds of dollars in expenses into thousands of miles and points!

See related: Credit card special promotions, limited-time offers, Back-to-school credit guide 2017, Prime members can now earn 2 percent back on Amazon purchases without a credit card


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Updated: 11-25-2017