Credit card rewards can be used to buy merchandise directly through the card issuer. But make sure you get the best deals. Here is how to make the most of credit card bonus malls.
Many credit card rewards programs give you a myriad of ways to redeem rewards. You might get straight up cash back to apply to your statement. Or you might get rewards you can redeem for airline miles.
But one common option is the credit card mall. These programs offer online shopping malls where you can shop using your accumulated credit card rewards points or get additional points for shopping through the portal.
The good news is that these portals are becoming easier and easier to use. And they’re also giving users access to more of their favorite online merchants. The bad news is that these portals can make it easy to overpay for goods and services.
So are rewards malls actually worth your while? And how do you make the most of your points when redeeming them for merchandise? We’re here with some tips and tricks for making the most of your credit card’s shopping portal.
1. Keep your spending in check
The first tip here is really more of a pitfall to avoid. The last thing you want to do is to spend money you don’t really have just to earn 5% cash back or net a seemingly great deal. So the most important thing is that you stick to your budget.
Whether you’re using the portal to shop for things you actually need or things you just want, don’t let your shopping break the bank. Start shopping with your budget in mind. And don’t let that 5% cash back offer sway you. Even with a high cash-back offer, you won’t be able to out-earn yourself if you’re consistently overspending.
2. Don’t forget to comparison shop
This leads us to the next point. Make sure you’re actually getting the best deal. Some credit card malls make that easy to do, but others make it quite difficult.
Take Discover’s shopping portal, for instance. Right now, you can get 5% cash back when you purchase online at Old Navy. But you can only do this if you click into Old Navy’s site through the Discover site. Then once you get to Old Navy’s site, you can only apply the cash back to certain items. And you can’t combine this 5% cash back offer with any other offers. Since Old Navy often runs 10% to 20% off deals, you may not get the best price when you use the Discover cash back option, instead.
And with other credit card malls, such as Citi’s ThankYou store, you have to actually purchase items directly from the mall itself. Unless you pull up another browser tab to comparison shop, you may not know that you’re getting the best deal.
In general, the credit card mall is going to be the best bet when you can’t find a sale or a higher discount on the store or items in question. But you won’t know if you can find a better deal until you look. So be sure you take the time to do this before you purchase something online.
3. Keep a list on hand
One way to make the most of these rewards malls is to keep a list on hand of different items and retailers available in your credit card company’s store. Write down the things you’re interested in, and keep the list handy. That way when you’re shopping online for something you need anyway, you can quickly reference this list. This lets you use the credit card rewards portal for things you’re planning to purchase, anyway.
This also applies to gift cards, by the way. Check out your rewards mall’s list of available gift cards. They’re often rife with options. Keep that list in mind as you’re shopping for gift cards to give away. Or if you want to purchase an item for yourself, you can first use your points to purchase a discounted gift card. Then use the gift card to purchase the items you’re after.
4. Understand all the rules
Of course, it’s essential to understand exactly how the rewards system works and what you can get in return. With some shops, you have to shop with your rewards points. Others let you supplement cash, so you can pay partially in earned points and partially in cash. Others, like Discover’s, don’t require you to use points or cash back at all. You can just shop through the portal, pay with your card as usual, and get bonus cash back.
Be sure, by the way, that you also understand how these cash back bonuses work. Can you get a cash back bonus on top of what you would have earned normally at the retailer when you use your credit card? Or is the cash back listed in the portal what you’ll actually get on your card? You’ll want to understand this so that you can accurately calculate your rewards earnings.
Finally, be sure you understand how any discounting works. For instance, as I noted above, with the Discover card score, you can’t stack the 5% cash back with other rewards through the retailer. Be sure to understand those limitations before you use the bonus.
5. Prioritize gift cards
If you can stack your rewards points to earn discounted gift cards, that’s often going to be your best bet. Here’s why:
Say you buy the gift card for 5% off. So you get a $100 gift card for $95. Then you’re free to use that gift card at the retailer when there’s a major sale. Or you can use it online with a retailer discount code. So overall, you could wind up saving much more than 5%.
Not all credit card malls allow you to purchase gift cards. But unless the malls are running serious discounts on actual products, chances are you’ll get a better deal and more flexibility with a gift card.
6. Have a plan for future rewards
Finally, it’s a good idea to plan for the long-term when you can with your rewards. This is especially true if your rewards expire. There’s no sense in strategically building up a ton of rewards points that you can’t use because they expire too quickly. So take the time to look at how you typically build up rewards and how you might want to spend them in the future.