When you decide to buy something online, do you just go to that website and place your order? If so, you're missing out on an easy way to earn free travel, including frequent flyer miles. Here are a few ways to do it.
Shop via loyalty portal. If all your miles are on one particular airline or you're trying to build up enough points to stay at a Starwood hotel, you can click through to Home Depot or Banana Republic from the shopping portal on their sites. Your purchase will automatically earn bonus points or miles for that program. United's MileagePlus Shopping site is offering two miles per dollar spent at Macy's, for example.
Added bonus: You can keep miles or points from expiring (in many different rewards programs) for as little as 99 cents by ordering a song from iTunes via shopping portal.
Download a menu bar for the rewards program. Many airline and hotel loyalty programs give you the option to install a toolbar that tracks any purchases you make that qualify for points. Pros: Once you have a rewards toolbar in place, you don't have to take the extra step of calling going to the airline's shopping portal before shopping online. Points accrue automatically. Cons: By installing a toolbar, you're allowing the program to monitor your spending habits. You're also limited to earning points through that rewards program. Some toolbars will offer you a mile for every three Internet searches, capping earnings at 100 miles per month. This may prove too much effort for the payoff.
Added bonus: Rewards programs sometimes offer bonus points for downloading their toolbar. If you download US Airways new shopping portal toolbar by October 31, you can earn a 500-mile bonus. You can claim a 1,000-mile bonus for downloading the United toolbar within the same timeframe and using it on a search. Hawaiian Airlines is awarding up to 5,000 miles per month for searching via their toolbar.
Find the best rewards bang for your buck. If you have points and miles spread out over several programs, you can compare the payoff for a particular purchase before you buy. On evreward, you can plug in the ecommerce site you're about to buy from and it will show you which rewards programs are offering bonus points for that retailer. Evreward tracks more than 40,000 rewards and coupons over 10,000+ online retailers and services, and allows you to compare deals at a glance.
For example, if you search for Buy.com right now on evreward, you'll see Amtrak awards 4 points per dollar spent there, airlines are offering 1 mile per dollar, and Big Crumbs gives you a 7 percent discount. You'll also discover Citi ThankYou gives you 2 points per dollar at Buy.com compared to the 1 point offered by Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Added bonus: Evrewards shows coupon codes along with reward points, making it easy to get the best deal on a purchase even while maximizing travel rewards. Did I mention this service is free?
Fodors.com contributor Cathleen McCarthy is rewards expert for CreditCards.com, covers entertainment and travel deals on Save on Cities, and has written for The Washington Post, WSJ, Amtrak ARRIVE, Town & Country, and inflight magazines. Follow her @clmccarthy.
Photo credit: Online shopping via Shutterstock