When Should You NOT Use A Shopping Portal For A Purchase

I’m always looking for ways to maximize the number of miles and points I can earn with every purchase I make. Besides using a credit card with the best multiple for that category, I’ll look to see if I can get extra miles by starting out at a shopping portal (For more information about shopping portals, check out our article on how to find out which one is best for each purchase).

Last week, I was excited when I saw several posts and received an email advertising a limited time offer for bonus points for purchases from the Apple Store.

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There were several things about this offer that immediately made me happy:

  • The usual payout bonus is 1 mile per dollar, so this was a great deal.
  • The offer was good for the newly released Apple iPhone and iPad products, which are often excluded from shopping portal bonuses.
  • There was an offer of 500 bonus points for purchases over $200.

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The only drawback was that this offer was only available through the United MileagePlus shopping portal. While I have no plans to fly with United ever again, there are still uses for MileagePlus points. I logged into the MileagePlus shopping website and clicked through to the Apple Store.

We’re in need of a new device for me to use when we take the Your Mileage May Vary office “mobile”. In normal speak, I needed a new iPad to use when we’re traveling. I’m going to test out Apple’s claim that the new iPad Pro can function as well as a laptop and have had my eyes on a 12.9-inch model.

Option 1) Buy Direct From Apple (5X United Miles)

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I mean I was right there, ready to buy it. Down to the big blue button.

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When I saw the price, I remembered seeing lower prices when I did the Google Shopping search. Several reliable sites were selling the same iPad for $1149. The main difference was the $86.18 sales tax.

Here’s where I overcomplicate things. I’ll save you all the calculations I went over before making a decision. Just know that they looked something, well exactly, like this.

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I figured out that buying from Apple for $1235.18, I’d earn 6675 United miles (6175 + 500 bonus). That’s not including the credit card miles I’d earn.

Option 2) Buy From Adorama (1X Alaska Miles)

One of the stores offering the iPad for list price with free shipping and no sales tax was Adorama. I’ve used them before and would gladly do so again to save $86.18 but what would I be losing? I’d have an option of which portal to use and since I’d rather earn Alaska Miles instead of United, I went with their site. I could earn 1649 Alaska miles from 1X on $1149 plus 500 bonus miles on Alaska’s portal or 5X on $1235 if I bought from Apple direct with the United bonus.

That’s 5,025 miles difference. Quite a big number but I’d be paying $86 extra to get those miles. I’m essentially buying the United miles at 1.7 cents each. There’s a sale until December 17th where you can buy United points for as little as 1.9 cents and I didn’t give a single thought about buying miles then, so why should I now?

OK, so now that buying from Apple’s off the table, can I do even better?

Option 3) Buy from B&H Photo (No Bonus Miles)

I went to the B&H Photo website, somewhere I’ve also purchased from before. I love their prices but they hardly ever give any bonuses to shopping portals. I looked up the iPad I wanted and I found the same price as Adorama. $1149. That is, unless I was willing to get the Space Gray instead of the Silver version which B&H was selling for $50 less than anyone else.

Once again, I could “buy” 1649 Alaska miles for $50, paying just over 3 cents a point. I like Alaska miles but not enough to buy them for 3 cents each without a use in mind.

Sold, to B&H Photo for $1099.00. They also threw in express next day shipping so I’ll have my new toy in time for Christmas.

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Final Thoughts

While I’m still a big believer in using online shopping portals to earn a bunch of points and miles for things you are going to buy anyway, just remember it’s not worth paying extra just to take advantage of a “special offer”. In this example, I gave up earning miles but saved $136. I can buy a one-way flight or book a room with that extra money, something I doubt I’d be able to do with the 6600 points I missed out on. You’ll be doing some math to figure out what the best deal is in your particular case because like most offers, Your Mileage May Vary.

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