Rakuten (formerly Ebates), Airline Dining/Shopping Programs, and Travel Rewards
You can really go down the rabbit hole with supermarket and retail store programs offering perks, or “free” stuff. And of course I use “free” very loosely here since the cost is built into everything we buy anyway, and they are getting valuable info after all. So unless you’re buying everything in cash to stay off the radar you might as well grab a few of the perks. Some are making it pretty easy too, which is pretty much the only reason I use these. I know the value of my time and sanity so I’m not chasing rebates to an extreme level. I hope you get some use out of this all the same.
You’ll find that some aren’t worth the time and effort it takes to use them and others are just too invasive, for me at least. Like the email scanners, that’s just going too far for me. Maybe at some point that’ll change… I suggest taking a little time to evaluate what might work best for you so that you don’t waste time and money though. There’s going to be a bit of trial and error with finding if/what works for you. But since the programs I’m talking about here are free, it’s kind of hard to find a reason not to give them a try.,
I’ve tried quite a few, and still do now and then. But in general I keep it pretty simple lately with Rakuten and the major US airlines dining and shopping programs being the main programs I use, at least regularly.
The airline programs are great for making sure your miles don’t expire. In case you aren’t aware, most, actually all but Delta to my knowledge, will delete your miles if you don’t earn any for a period of time (usually 2 years). And if you have a frequent flier number there’s not much more you have to do to get started. Each airline website has a shopping portal that you can use to connect to the affiliated stores site. Click on the store link while on the shopping portal page and you’re set, just shop and earn miles for the purchase. You’ll find they have a lot of specials that give extra miles or even extra discounts, which can be good if they happen to come when you’re already planning to do some shopping. Just be careful, this is definitely a marketing tactic to get you to shop! For the shopping I highly recommend downloading the web browser extensions (more on that below). With the dining programs you just need to sign up and load a credit/debit card number. Then you’re ready to search to see if there are restaurants you’re interested in nearby. If you’re going to sign up for more than one of these programs you should know that you can’t have the same card linked to more than one program. If you sign up for emails you’ll go from earning 1 mile per dollar to 3 and after you visit 11 participating restaurants in the year you’d make VIP getting 5 miles per dollar. This can be great if your favorite restaurants are in the program.
Rakuten and most of the airline shopping programs have the web extensions that I mentioned above. These make the programs really easy to use, which I appreciate. Whenever you’re on a site they’re partnered with you’ll get a pop-up that you can use to active the reward or there’s an “activate later” option to get it off your screen. The popups can bug me a little, so I set them so that I just click the icon to activate. You can also enter specific site URLs so that they don’t show up. I do this for sites I’m a contributor to and don’t plan to buy from. I’m a little picky about this kind of thing, but I’ve also gotten used to having the plugins. You might want to leave them active at least while you get used to having them, you don’t miss out on anything.
Most of the time you’ll find that all of them are affiliated with most of the same sites so they’ll all pop-up, but you also get to see the deal offered right there so you can choose which one you want to use; as far as I understand only the last one you active is actually active for the shopping session.
Rakuten has a mobile app, though you have to open it and then transfer to a particular store; so it’s not as easy to use. I’ve never even tried to use the airline programs on a mobile device, but I don’t see any reason you couldn’t do it through a web browser.
Some other websites with reward programs that could be of use if you use the sites a lot are;
Expedia (points/stay based program)
Hotels.com (stay 10 nights get 1 free)
Orbitz (No confusing points: $1 Orbuck = $1 USD)
I also find AwardWallet to be a good tool for tracking your membership/reward accounts.