Thinking in Points and Miles

I love flying using award tickets. Not only because they save me a ton of money, but also because they allow me to put together some freaky routings while technically redeeming for a "round-trip" ticket. While the easiest way to get the miles is applying for credit cards with sign-up bonuses, every mile I can squeeze out of my normal day-to-day spend counts as well. Just for fun, I figured I would share the latest example of how I saved some $ while maximizing my mileage earnings from an American Eagle order.

How a normal person shops

It all started when I received an email from AE advertising 40% off clearance items. I needed a new polo and a t-shirt so I went to check it out, ending up with a couple more things in my shopping cart:

Initial cart - $81.94 worth of clothes for $65.15 (blue polo was not on clearance so no discount there)

At this point, any sane person would just whip out their credit card and place the order, satisfied with the savings (and maybe 65 miles if they use a card that gives 1 mile per $1 spent). And I've done that before myself. But not this time!

The less-sane version

There are many shopping portals that give cashback or  extra points/miles if you go through them to the store you buy from. So by adding this one single and fairly simple step to the process, you can get either extra miles or some cash back for the purchase your were about to make anyways.

normal cashback

It used to be a huge pain in the rear to figure out which one has the best deal, but now I use CashBack Monitor that usually does a pretty good job aggregating the most up-to-date information from all of these portals.

cashback monitor comparison

While Mr. Rebates showed 6%, it was a tiered offer that wasn't going to work for me. It was the same with Fatwallet so I ended up going with Ebates this time, saving me another $2.60 (4% of $65.15). Well, actually a bit more since the 4% cashback would also apply to taxes and shipping charges (more on getting free shipping later).

Also, instead of using just any credit card to pay for this, I remembered that Discover It offers 5% cashback on online purchases this quarter so that's knocking off another $3.26 by just using the card.

The insane version

Let's recap… $81.94, less 40% off clearance, less 4% cashback from Ebates, less 5% from Discover card. $59.29 is not bad at all. But we could do even better!

No more straight-forward discounts, but there is this thing called "double-dipping" - essentially earning extra rewards or cashback by buying a merchant gift card first, then going through the steps above to place the order and pay with that gift card. The idea is to get the extra miles/cashback for buying the gift card as well as for using it later:

more cashback


In this case, I could use my Chase Ink card to get 5 UltimateRewards points per $1 spent at office supply stores. And Staples just happens to be selling American Eagle gift cards. And MilesPlus shopping portal just happened to be running a special for 6 United miles per $1 spent at Staples.

staples cashback

On top of the 6 miles per $1, MilesPlus shopping portal was running a special for 500 extra miles for placing a $25+ order through them.

MilesPlus shopping portal bonus

So, I bought a $25 electronic gift card for American Eagle from Staples, netting 650 United miles (6 x 25 + 500) and 125 UR points (5 x 125) by using my Chase Ink Bold for shopping at an office supplies store.

No taxes are charged on merchant gift cards when buying them in-store, but when buying online, Staples automatically charges a sales tax based on the delivery (not the billing) address. I found out about this the hard way before so this time, I used my friend's address in Oregon for delivery address (it doesn't matter since eGift Card would be emailed to me anyways) to avoid paying the sales tax.

The downside of ordering an electronic gift card from Staples is that it is not delivered until the next day so I just had to sit tight and hope that the things I wanted to buy will still be available. Alternatively, I could of gone to Staples or Office Depot store and bought the $25 gift card there, but then I would not have received the 650 miles for shopping through MilesPlus shopping portal.

gift card

In this case, it turned out that waiting an extra day was even more beneficial as it was October 31st and AE came out with an additional witching sale of 31% on regularly priced items.

AE Halloween sale

So that non-clearance blue polo I wanted also became discounted, bringing the order total down to $44.95 or $48.70 with taxes.

Add all the additional savings:

  • 650 United miles from $25 AE gift card
  • 125 UR points (convertible to United miles) from paying for $25 with my Chase Ink card
  • $1.95 cashback from Ebates on order total after applying the gift card
  • $2.44 cashback from Discover by paying the remainder of the order ($48.70 less $25 gift card) with Discover Card
  • free two-day shipping using ShopRunner (free for AmEx card holders)

And instead of paying $48.70 and earning 49 miles or points with a regular 1 point per $1 card, I netted 775 United miles and 9% discount (on top of AE's own discounts). Not bad!

And the best part? Doing all of the above took just a couple of minutes - far less than the time you spent reading through this. So next time you are buying something online, quickly check CashbackMonitor (I have it bookmarked) to see if you can get more cash and/or points back for making that purchase!

Some of the cashback sites offer referral bonuses so if this is something that peaked your interest, I would sure appreciate if you use the links below if you decide to sign up:

  • TopCashBack, generally referred to as TCB and usually offers the best rates (I will get $10 bonus).
  • Fatwallet, the grand daddy of cashback sites. I used them since 2007 but they seldom have the best offers now (I will get some tiny percentage, not sure exactly how much).
  • Ebates - I just started using them myself with this AE order (I will get $5 bonus)
  • ShopAtHome - another site I just signed up myself (I will get $5 bonus)
Tips & Tricksdima