September 6, 2012
When shopping online, it’s always a good idea to start with a shopping portal that gives you extra points, miles, or cash back when clicking through to merchants you would shop at anyway. The problem is that depending on where you want to shop, your favorite portal may not have the best (or any) rebate available. That’s why I use websites designed to help find the best shopping portal. I’ll call these “shopping portal finders.”
In March, I did some tests with a number of shopping portal finders. At the time, I tested Ev’reward.com, Nerdwallet Shopping, Cashback Holics, RewardsDB, CashReporter, Webflyer’s Mileage Mall, and CashBackMonitor. In the post “The best portal finder” I revealed my new favorite web site to be Cashbackholics. In four separate tests, Cashbackholics consistently provided the best answers.
The downside of Cashbackholics is that it doesn’t report on sites that earn hotel or airline miles. It does, however, list Chase’s Ultimate Rewards Mall. I’ve found that Chase’s mall almost always offers better point earnings than hotel or airline portals, so for me that has been an OK trade-off.
Why Round 2?
In the comments of my original post, one of the co-founders of NerdWallet wrote:
Hey, thanks for the post! It clearly looks like NerdWallet has some catching up to do… We’ll touch base again soon and see if we can’t change your mind
Recently, he contacted me via email and said:
I’ve made a lot of changes to the way we aggregate the data, so that our numbers are up-to-date (more often), and I’ve been gradually rolling out more features as well. For example, a lot of these rewards malls offer special offers and coupons in addition to bonus miles and cash back, so I’m grabbing those now too.
Coincidentally, around the same time, I received an email about a new portal finder called SavingCashback. They described some cool sounding features on their site and asked if I would give feedback. Great! Let the feedback begin…
Round 2 Setup
In this test, I picked 11 merchants and I dug around to find the best portal options for each one. One of the difficulties in finding the best option is that some portals offer fixed rates for a merchant (i.e. “5% cash back”) whereas others offer different rates depending upon what you buy. In those cases, the portal finders usually list the amount as “up to X%”. So, in reality, “up to 10% back” can be worth less to you than “5% back” depending on what you plan to buy. Another difficulty is that miles and points usually aren’t worth exactly a penny each, so 5X hotel points earned can be worth much more or much less than 5% cashback. To compensate for these issues, I tried to identify multiple “best answers,” as you’ll see below.
Here are the merchants I used for this test and the best portal options I could find (note that these were, in my opinion, the best available on the day I ran this test, but may not be best today):
- Sears: Chase 10X (Freedom cardholders only) or ShopDiscover 10%
- Bloomingdales: Chase 10X (Sapphire cardholders only) or Chase 6X (Ink and Freedom cardholders)
- Buy.com: Chase 10X (Ink cardholders only), BeFrugal Up to 10%, ShopDiscover 5%, or uPromise 5%
- Marriott: BeFrugal Up to 7% or ShopDiscover 5%
- Intercontinental Hotels Group: ShopAtHome 9%
- Avis: TopCashBack 5.5% or Chase 3X
- Budget: uPromise 4%
- Travelocity: TopCashBack Up to 6.25% or ShopDiscover 5%
- PlasticJungle: TopCashBack 4%
- Shoebuy: TopCashBack 17%, BeFrugal 17%, Amtrak 14X, or Chase 10X
- Magazines.com: Chase 30X or BeFrugal Up to 35%
Round 2 Battle
This time around, I only tested four portal finders: Cashbackholics, Nerdwallet Shopping, ev’reward, and the new contender SavingCashBack. I scored the portals on two factors: 1) how often did they list at least one of the answers I identified as best? And, 2) how often were their answers flat-out wrong? In other words, how often did they list the wrong cash back % or point multiplier for a given portal? Note that this second metric wasn’t as thoroughly researched as the first. Each portal finder gives a long list of results for each search. I only tested the top answers.
Round 2 Results
Here were the results:
- Cashbackholics: 10 best answers, 3 errors (all errors were ShopAtHome %s)
- Nerdwallet Shopping: 6 best answers, 4 errors (2 Amtrak errors, 1 FatWallet error, and 1 Chase error)
- Ev’reward: 6 best answers, 3 errors (all were Ebates errors)
- SavingCashBack: 5 best answers, 1 error (ShopDiscover error)
Cashbackholics wins again! Cashbackholics nailed a best answer for all but one merchant (Buy.com). While Cashbackholics had 3 errors, all were with a single cash back site which had probably recently changed its payout amounts. Nerdwallet Shopping and Ev’reward ended in a virtual tie. SavingCashBack trailed the pack with the fewest best answers. While I found fewer errors with SavingCashBack, that may be due to the fact that the site rarely found the best options so I didn’t test as many of it’s recommendations for accuracy.
All of the portal finders listed here provide benefits other than simply finding rewards portals. So, you might find them worth using even if they don’t always give the best answer. Here are some top features of each:
- Cashbackholics: Shows user ratings for each portal. This can be really helpful when you are pointed to a portal you’ve never heard of before.
- Nerdwallet Shopping: Lists additional discounts & coupon codes with each portal/merchant combination.
- ev’reward: Lists additional discounts & coupon codes for each merchant
- Savingcashback: Provides a quick-find browser bookmarklet. Also lists discount gift cards to further stack savings.
This new round of tests has not changed my shopping pattern. I start first at Cashbackholics and sometimes also check Nerdwallet Shopping or ev’reward to see if there are any good mile-earning opportunities. I really, really hope that one of these sites will be enhanced to do it all and get it all right, but they’re just not there yet.