Portals are an easy and lucrative way to maximize rewards points — if done right
Shopping portals are online gateways offered by some credit card issuers and loyalty programs that allow you to earn extra rewards points at designated online retailers.
By going through portals, you can earn double, triple or even 10 times the points you’d earn using just your rewards card, says Stephanie Zito, author of Upgrade Unlocked, a guide to using miles, points and unconventional strategies to see the world.
Go to “2017 holiday shopping guide”
Portals are “the easiest and most lucrative way to maximize point earning” on items you’re already buying, such as decorations, holiday outfits and gifts, Zito says.
“You can really earn a lot of points around the holidays,” she says.
How shopping portals work
Most cardholders have a variety of shopping portal choices available, including portals from their card issuers, as well as airline frequent-flyer and hotel loyalty programs.
But how, exactly, do they work? Here are the four steps to shopping through a portal:
1. Go to the site.
To get to a card’s shopping portal, you have to go to the issuer’s site or company that owns the portal and enter your login credentials. Commonly used portals include: Chase’s Ultimate Rewards, available to holders of certain Chase cards, Barclaycard’s RewardsBoost and Delta’s SkyMiles Shopping.
2. Find the deal.
Once you’ve entered the portal, search for the retailer you want to shop to see if the portal offers extra points for purchases from that store. For example, Delta’s portal now offers one mile per dollar spent at Home Depot, one mile per dollar spent at Samsung and three miles per dollar spent at Saks Fifth Avenue. However, the amount of bonus points offered by portals can and does change regularly, says Nick Serati, a contributor to ThriftyTraveler.com.
3. Shop as usual.
When you click on the retailer name from the portal, you will be taken to the retailer’s site, where you shop as you normally would. You must also use an eligible card from that issuer to make your purchase through a bank portal. However, if you go through an airline or hotel loyalty program portal, you typically can use any form of payment, even gift cards, Zito says.
If you make your purchase with a rewards card, even if you used your card issuer’s portal, your points will get awarded in two batches: first, your rewards card points and second your bonus points from the portal, Zito says.
Making the most of shopping portals
Know the tricks and glitches of shopping portals to make sure you get the points you’re due and supercharge your earnings. Here are six tips from portal pros:
1. Pick the right portal.
Use the portal that will give you the best bang for your buck and that fits in with your overall rewards earning strategy, Serati says.
If you’re making a big purchase, check rewards comparison sites such as Evreward.com to see which portals offer the most points for the retailer you plan to shop, Serati recommends.
If you plan to buy a MacBook, for example, you could type in Apple and see that you’d get 2 percent cash back through the Citi Bonus Cash Center.
Always double-check at the portal because comparison sites sometimes make errors, Zito says. “But they’re a good starting point,” she says.
2. Look for special deals.
Shopping portals offer holiday bonus points and special discounts this time of year.
For example, United Airline’s MileagePlus portal has a special offering 500 bonus miles when you spend $150, 2,500 bonus miles when you spend $750 and 5,000 bonus miles when you spend $1,500 through November 19.
Portals also typically offer deals on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Memorial Day and other holidays, as well as Thanksgiving through New Year’s. “They tend to have these deals anytime stores would have sales,” Zito says.
3. Make a smooth transaction.
It’s important to complete your transaction correctly or you could lose a slew of bonus points.
For example, AJ Saleem, who works for a tutoring company in Houston, lost out on 5 points per dollar when going through the Discover portal to buy a $1,500 MacBook Pro at Apple.com.
“I had a couple of tabs open comparing the different models,” he explains. He accidentally clicked a tab he hadn’t arrived at by going through the portal, and didn’t realize his mistake until the 7,500 bonus points failed to appear in his account.
To avoid this problem, shop around first and decide exactly what you want to buy. Then close all windows open on your computer and open a new one to go through the portal to the retailer, Zito recommends. Don’t get up and walk away from your device or refresh the screen during the purchase.
“Be careful to make sure it’s one smooth transaction, especially if you’re buying something big,” Zito says.
4. Track your bonuses.
Whenever you make a purchase through a portal, record the transaction, including which portal you used, the purchase date, the merchant name, the purchase amount and your order or confirmation number. Check your account periodically to make sure your points post, which can take six to eight weeks.
Even if you did everything right, you can hit a glitch. For example, Serati once almost didn’t get his bonus points for buying a pair of Bose headphones through the Chase portal.
He called Chase. “I said I’m 99 percent sure I did go through the portal,” he says. Chase was able to verify that he did click through the portal, and they awarded him the points. “Chase did work with me on that,” he says.
5. Maximize your points.
There are tricks you can use to pile up even more points, Zito says.
For example, say you want to buy a $1,000 MacBook and you have a Chase Ink Cash business card that offers you 5 percent cash back at office supply stores. You can buy Apple gift cards from an office supply store using your credit card to get 5 percent cash back.
Then you can visit an airline portal that offers, say, 2 points per dollar on purchases from Apple.com. Because it’s an airline portal rather than a credit card issuer portal, you should be able to use the gift cards to check out.
First, check the fine print to make sure the use of gift cards is OK, Zito says. “You get a little double-dip action,” she says.
6. Get in the portal habit.
It’s easy to just start shopping online and forget to use your card’s portal. “I even forget sometimes,” Zito says.
As a reminder, consider setting a portal as your home page, she recommends. Even if you’re an in-person shopper, you can buy an item online from your phone while you’re standing in the store and use the pick-up-in-store option, Zito says.
One man Zito featured in her book remodeled his bathroom by buying Lowe’s gift cards with his Chase Ink Business card (Chase has replaced this card with the Chase Ink Business Preferred card) at an office supply store to get 5 points per dollar. He then went through a portal to shop online at Lowe’s to get another 5 points per dollar spent. He picked up the items at his local store.
“They’d be there waiting for him, so he didn’t have to shop,” Zito says. He spent $10,000 on the remodel, and he got enough points to take his family to Hawaii. “He’d have earned 0 points had he just written a check to his contractor,” she says.
If you use a portal every time you shop this holiday season and maximize your rewards in every way possible, you also might earn enough to buy a ticket somewhere warm to de-stress after the holidays.
See related: Cheap ways to keep flier miles active, Best ways to earn, redeem rewards points over the holidays